APS News

Inside APS

Crystal Bailey, Careers Program Manager

Crystal Bailey photo
Photo: Emily Conover

Crystal Bailey

In this new series to appear occasionally, APS News sits down with APS employees to learn about their jobs, their goals, and the things that make them tick. This month we chat with Careers Program Manager Crystal Bailey.

What do you do at APS?
In a nutshell, I work on programs to help inform students and their faculty mentors about the career opportunities for those with a physics degree, as well as create resources and guidance that will help students better prepare for their future careers, and help their faculty mentors become better career advisers.

What career resources should APS members be aware of?
Most of the resources that I have worked on are easily accessed through the Careers in Physics website. The “Becoming a Physicist” section is for people who are exploring what physicists do. We also have a new section called “Job Prospects for Physicists,” with profiles of career tracks — for example, physics bachelors working in the private sector. We try to emphasize nonacademic tracks, because the majority of graduates will go into the private sector. In the “Career Guidance” section, there are targeted resources for people who are moving towards actually getting a career. The best resource, I think, is the online Professional Guidebook, which kind of takes you through the key elements of a job search — everything from self assessment, to building a network, to doing informational interviews, writing a resume, doing a good interview, negotiation, the whole arc. Our job board is also one of the most highly visited pages on the entire APS website.

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?
Industrial Physics Fellow Steven Lambert and I are working on getting an industry mentoring program off the ground. It’s called IMPact, and currently it’s for grad students and postdocs, but at some point in the future we might also open it up to undergrads.

How did you come to work at APS?
I got this job the way 80% of all human beings do — through networking. I was nearing the completion of my Ph.D., and I was friends with APS Director of Education and Diversity Ted Hodapp. I let him know that I was looking for opportunities, and he said, “As a matter of fact there’s a new position — you should apply for it.”

I feel it proves a really important point about careers, which is that I would’ve never thought that this would be a job that I really enjoyed. I went from doing a Ph.D. in nuclear physics with an intention to go into physics education research, and here I am a program manager at a nonprofit talking about careers. That seems like a 180, but in my role at APS I’m actually still teaching. I go to colloquia; I talk to students; I talk to faculty. The point being — we all have little itches that we like to scratch, and unexpected careers can still scratch the same itch.

What do you enjoy about working at APS?
One of the reasons I was attracted to physics education research was that I loved the idea of serving my community, and I’m certainly still serving my community, probably in an even more impactful way, here, than I would have as a faculty member or a teacher, perhaps. This kind of a job gives you a bird’s-eye view so you can help people make connections in the field, in ways that benefit everyone.

How did you first get interested in physics?
When I started as an undergrad I was an electrical engineering major. But in my second year I took a physics class on electricity and magnetism, and I remember this very specific moment. We were doing a lab. We had a fixed magnet and a wire and a battery. You were supposed to clip one end of the wire to the battery, and then touch the other end of the wire to the other pole of the battery, creating a magnetic field, which interacts with the magnetic field of the fixed magnet, making the wire jump out. I wasn’t surprised by what happened, it was more that I had this intense moment where I could see the entire process unfolding. I understood the math; I could see the field lines; it all just came together in this beautiful elegant picture. And the intimacy between the abstract world of math and the actual physical reality just struck me as profoundly mysterious. So, it was like angels sang and the heavens opened up and I thought, “Wow, this is beautiful, I have to do this for the rest of my life.” That was an intensely emotionally moving experience for me. I think that scientists tend to discredit the emotional component of science. Emotion shouldn’t affect their judgment or their work, but science would not exist if there was not an emotional reward for understanding new things.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I do Morris Dancing (a type of English folk dancing); I’m the foreman of the Rock Creek Morris Women, which is the local women’s team, and that’s a load of fun. We have a lot of performances we do in the fall and the spring, which are also incidentally the two busiest seasons of my professional life. I also play traditional Irish music, so I play the fiddle and the banjo. I love yoga, and in the summer I garden, if I can manage to find some time.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Emily Conover
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik