Pursuing the Ph.D.

Increasingly, MFS graduates pursue their studies to the Ph.D. level

Fields-of-StudyExamining trends in MFS academic accomplishments after high school graduation, there is a strong uptick in the number of MFS graduates who now pursue their interests to the doctoral level. While it might be speculated that the recent economic downturn caused students to stay in graduate school longer due to the depressed job market, this trend in advanced study started as far back as the late 1980s and has been on a steady upward trajectory. As seen on the list at right the fields are quite varied.

In addition to the alumni profiled in this article, MFS aspiring Ph.D.s are currently enrolled at doctoral programs at universities including UC Berkeley, UCLA, Georgetown, New York University Institute of Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), University of Maryland, University of Colorado, Washington University, Lehigh University, Columbia University, Stanford University, the University of Delaware and the University of Michigan.

Looking back 20 years, approximately one-third of MFS alumni have enrolled in some type of graduate program after college. Previous to that, MFS grads pursuing further study were both fewer in number, and, for the most part, concentrated in the areas of medicine, pharmacy, law or other pre-professional degrees. Both the number of students continuing their studies and the range of interests they are pursuing have greatly broadened.

These profiles feature just a handful of the MFS alumni who have recently completed or are currently enrolled in academic doctoral programs. While some of the recently-minted Ph.D.s are teaching and doing research at institutions including Harvard Medical School, Yale Medical School, the University of Arizona, UC Santa Cruz, SUNY Albany, Mt. Holyoke, Skidmore College and more, others are government or private sector research scientists, working in the curatorial field, or are active in public policy organizations.


Raj Singh ’87

Raj SinghDirector of Interoperability Programs at the Open Geospatial Consortium

  • Ph.D., Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • M.C.P., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • B.A., Brown University

Raj Singh ’87 is representative of the leading group of MFS alumni who pursued Ph.D.s beginning with the late ’80s classes and growing to the present. He and classmate Anne Blood, a neuroscientist, kick- started a trend which by the mid ’90s had as many as five Ph.D. candidates emerging from each small class at MFS.

Singh has been the Director of Interoperability Programs at the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. for eight years. His position involves setting international standards for the mapping and spatial data used by the military, Google Earth, and other organizations. His work aids humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, especially when many organizations need to come together quickly.

“My job is like a diplomat: it’s a negotiation process about what people should do,” said Singh.

While a Ph.D. student in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, Singh’s dissertation topic was similar to the work he does now.

“More than anything, [a Ph.D.] gives you the confidence to tackle tough problems,” said Singh.

Singh, who was raised Quaker, said that his time at MFS also enhanced his ability to problem solve. “[Former English Department Chair] Chuck Boothby’s 5-paragraph essay [assignment] helped me through tough writing assignments and mental blocks, until I was able to develop a writing style of my own. Just like in sports or jazz, you can’t innovate without a firm grounding in the fundamentals.

“[Former Arts Department Chair] Rich Marcucci fostered my love of architecture (I remember designing an architecture independent study elective with him), which probably helped lead me years later to urban design and my masters and Ph.D. in urban planning.

“[Former Science Teacher and Computer Science Coordinator] Bill Smith created the first programming class — writing code in BASIC on the Apple IIe. I remember having to drop French so I could take it. Being able to marry programming with mapping and urban design turned out to be central to my career so far.”

Perhaps most importantly, said Singh, “The friends I made at MFS are still my closest friends.”
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Steven Edmund ’02Steven Edmund

  • Logic Facilities Technology Development Engineer, Intel (Hillsboro, OR)
  • Ph.D., University of Michigan
  • M.S., B.S., Bucknell University

Steven Edmund ’02 recently received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, where he studied the conversion of hydrocarbons into synthesis gas for use in fuel-cell vehicles, emissions treatment and chemical synthesis. While in school, he developed expertise in high temperature catalysis that led to a collaboration with Ford Motor Company and other organizations.

“The choice to enroll in graduate school seemed rather straightforward at the time,” he said. “I was simply not finished learning… pursuing a Ph.D. was a way to fill in the details and take time to explore and teach myself. There are few opportunities in life where you can be paid to learn and grow, developing and trying out new ideas on the cutting edge of science.”

Edmund is currently a Logic Facilities Technology Development Engineer at Intel’s Hillsboro, OR campus. He works with a group that “produces some of the largest quantities of the purest water found on earth.” This pure water is used to support the development of remarkably fast microprocessors.

Of his work with Intel, Edmund writes: “What is striking about the semiconductor industry is the juxtaposition of scale. You have massive infrastructure with millions of square feet of buildings, all to produce a microprocessor with features less than 1/1,000th of the size of a human hair.”

At MFS, Edmund benefited from teachers’ ability to work with him on specific skills. “I benefited greatly from the personalized attention… Tim Clarke was a wonderful physics teacher. A group of us were constantly in his classroom working on our wooden bridges, conqueror-of-the-hill competition cars, robots, air cannons, rockets, anything we could.” In addition, “[Math Department Chair] Michael Omilian was a wonderful math teacher, excellent at reducing the concepts down to a simple description that we could understand.”

Edmund also appreciates the life skills he picked up outside of the classroom. “[Leading] auditorium lightroom and sound taught me the fundamentals of project management, scheduling, personnel, and production… The values at MFS are life-long. A strong commitment to social justice and to civic involvement have stuck with me in life, as has a love for long moments of silence in the midst of a busy day.”
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Erika Richardson Hall ’03Erika Richardson Hall

  • Ph.D. Candidate – Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
  • B.S., University of Maryland

Erika Richardson Hall ’03 is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She is a member of the Management & Organizations department, which focuses on the dynamics of organizations and the people within them. In her work, she researches the psychological factors that affect how people within organizations choose to hire underrepresented minorities and women. Specifically, Hall evaluates the prejudices underrepresented minorities confront in both organizational environments and teams.

She believes that her MFS teachers had a significant impact on her career choices. “In [former History Teacher] Mike Levy’s elective on Malcolm X, he encouraged us to think critically and thoughtfully about race and prejudice in ways that we had not thought of before. Further, [Science Chair] Barbara Kreider encouraged us to think critically about the practical implications of science. For example, in her class on the science of beauty and cosmetology, she explained fascinating ways in which the human mind processes and conceptualizes something as beautiful. These electives cultivated my interests in humans’ psychological attraction to certain job candidates based on the candidates’ demographic backgrounds.”

In addition to building relationships with teachers, Hall made lifelong friends at MFS. Recently, she visited classmate Fanny Mixter’s kindergarten class at Pride Charter Elementary School in Camden, where she read to and danced with students. “Her creative ideas for spreading knowledge to her students helps me cultivate ideas for teaching the MBA students at my school.”

Last October, Hall had lunch with Head of School Larry Van Meter during his visit to Chicago, where they discussed the school’s strategic mission in the context of what she has learned in her Ph.D. program.

In the future, Erika plans to become a management professor at a business school.
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Jennielle Jobson ’07Jennielle Jobson

  • Ph.D. Candidate – Biomedical Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai
  • B.S., University of Pennsylvania

Jennielle Jobson ’07 is a second-year doctoral candidate in Biomedical Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Jobson specializes in genetics and genomic sciences and currently works in a laboratory that focuses on gene therapy—the introduction of genes into specialized tissues in order to prevent and cure genetic and autoimmune diseases.

“I am broadly interested in translational research, or the transformation of theoretical research into its practical applications,” she said. “One major career option I am considering is pharmaceuticals, where I can work in a research division developing large molecule drugs.”

Looking back on her experience at MFS, Jobson reflects on her relationship with [Science Chair] Barbara Kreider, who was her chemistry teacher for three years. “She encouraged and reinvigorated my interest in science… she enabled me to envision career options in the sciences. She nominated me to participate in several programs, including the Women in Engineering Day at Lockheed Martin and the Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology at Rutgers University.” Jobson credits these opportunities with leading to her study of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

She was also strongly influenced by [Science Teacher and former Middle School Dean of Students] Tina Corsey, who served as a personal mentor. “Mrs. Corsey reached out to me and became deeply invested in my personal development, allowing me to confide in her about personal issues and helping me to feel a sense of belonging at MFS. She worked to cultivate safe spaces for me, as a student of color, where I could be myself, bond with other minority students, and feel comfortable enough to excel academically.”

Overall, Jobson believes that her experiences at MFS emboldened her personally and professionally. “The small and nurturing community at MFS ensured that I received individual attention from my teachers, who tracked and encouraged my intellectual and personal development. Extracurricular opportunities allowed me to mature and build the confidence to take leadership positions and succeed in my undergraduate and graduate pursuits.”
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David Sheffield ’07David Sheffield

  • Ph.D. Candidate – Physics and Astronomy, Rutgers University
  • B.S., Brown University

David Sheffield ’07 is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University. He studies particle physics and works on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider — the goal of which is to search for the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter. Sheffield is currently searching for a specific type of supersymmetric particle. After completing his Ph.D., he plans to remain in academia studying accelerator physics.

“What excites me about particle physics is that we’re trying to figure out what the fundamental constituents of the universe are and how they behave,” said Sheffield. “Last year, physicists discovered the final fundamental particle predicted by the Standard Model, which has been an incredibly successful theory but one that was always known to be incomplete. We know that more exists out there and many models attempt to explain what it is.

“Also, colliding protons at incredible energies in a vacuum with lower pressure than the surface of the Moon, surrounded by components colder than intergalactic space, and detecting the results with a machine built from nearly twice as much iron as the Eiffel Tower is pretty cool in and of itself.”

Sheffield decided that he wanted to become a physicist when he was still in Upper School. At MFS, “[Physics Teacher] Tim Clarke and [Science Dept. Chair] Barbara Kreider had the most significant impacts,” said Sheffield. “They did a very good job of providing a rigorous background in physics and chemistry.”

He notes that the physics and math classes he took at MFS prepared him “very well” for undergraduate courses. His other science classes at MFS served as the basis for his understanding of other scientific areas of study. “They gave me a good foundation for understanding the chemistry, biology, etc., that I encounter in reading about other fields of science. The same is true for other subjects, [such as] history.”
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Julie Martin ’08Julie Martin

  • Ph.D. Candidate – Social Psychology, Duke University
  • B.A., Lafayette College

Julie Martin ’08 is currently in her second year at the Social Psychology Ph.D. program at Duke University. Her field focuses on how individuals’ thoughts, emotions and behaviors are influenced by the implied, imagined or real presence of others. Specifically, she studies the importance of perceived belonging for mental and physical health. This past year, she conducted research on how people respond to interpersonal rejection emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.

“All of my teachers at MFS were excellent educators, but I’m especially grateful for my sophomore year English teacher, Debra Galler. She gave me confidence in my writing skills and encouraged me to express myself. Being able to clearly convey your ideas and findings to others in writing is a critical skill for any researcher or student, so I’m very thankful for the English instruction I received at MFS.”

Martin states that her research into psychological well-being helped increase her appreciation for her time at MFS. “There was a strong sense of community and acceptance,” said Martin. “It was a very positive place for me to learn and grow as a person, and I’ve made deep, long-lasting connections with people who I met there. I carry the Quaker values of equality and kindness with me as guiding principles in my everyday life.”

With three years left at Duke, Martin is unsure of whether she wants to go into academia or industry. Ultimately, though, she wants to be “doing research that has a positive impact on people’s lives.”
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Jamal Jones ’04Jamal Jones

  • Ph.D. Candidate – South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
  • B.A., University of Chicago

Jamal Jones ’04 is a student in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His program emphasizes text-based studies of the histories and cultures of South Asian countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and parts of Southeast Asia.

“Because of the textual focus of the program, language study is very important here,” said Jones. “The department houses faculty and students who work in a variety of South Asian languages, including Bangla, Hindi, Malayalam, Pali, Tamil and Telugu. I work on medieval Indian literature — particularly texts from south India written in Sanskrit and classical Telegu.”

After completing his Ph.D., Jones would like to complete translations from Sanskrit and classical Telegu literature and work in a teaching or advising position at the university level.

For Jones, three subjects at MFS were particularly influential in developing the passion necessary for his current endeavors. “Mr. [Peter] Larson, who taught American English junior year, and Mrs. [Katy] Rinehart, who taught both English and Creative Writing senior year, gave indispensable training. The drafting process emphasized in Mr. Larson’s class is the real work of writing. The combination of analytical and creative writing under Mrs. Rinehart’s influence has been important for translation.

“In Spanish, Sra. [Dorothy] Talavera and Sr. [Frank] Console taught me how to learn a language and led my first experience abroad (to Spain in 2004).

“Finally — and this is rather far afield — Mr. [Andrew] Newman’s Molecular Biology elective was formative for the sheer rigor of it.”


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