Student Spotlight: Ryan Kim

| Thu, 02/23/23
This is a headshot of Ryan Kim.
Physics doctoral student and Fermilab Scholar Ryan Kim. Courtesy photo.

Ryan Kim is a doctoral student in the Department of Physics, part of the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida State University. He specializes in experimental high energy particle physics and conducts research in collaboration with physics professor Todd Adams. Kim earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame in 2019 before earning his master’s degree from FSU in 2020. During his time at Florida State, he has worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant for general physics courses on campus, and he currently serves as a Fermilab LHC Physics Center Graduate Scholar as part of a year-long research fellowship.

What year are you in school, and when do you expect to graduate?

I am in my fourth year of my doctoral program, and I expect to graduate in about two years.

Tell us a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to FSU.

I immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when I was 10 years old, and I have been fascinated by physics since I was in high school. The physics department at Florida State University is fantastic, and the university’s particle physics group is renowned in the field. When I was applying for graduate schools, FSU was one of the first programs that my undergraduate adviser recommended to me. When I visited for the accepted student visit, the tight-knit and collaborative community in the physics department was ultimately what sold me.

What inspired you to pursue a Ph.D. in physics?

The questions that have captivated me since I was a child are related to physics: How does the universe work? What is it made of? What are we made of? I learned that particle physicists attempt to answer these questions at the most fundamental level, so I pursued research in this field as an undergraduate student. I knew attending graduate school was my next step to dig deeper into these research questions I continue to consider.

What aspect of your area of study do you find most interesting? What lab do you currently work in?

In particle physics, we learn about the smallest particles that make up everything in the universe! This includes the stars, galaxies, and you and me. Yet, all the particles we currently understand still do not explain many unique phenomena in the universe. To study these known particles and to search for new particles beyond our current understanding of them, we rely on huge experiments operated by thousands of physicists around the world. I work on the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) Experiment, which is one of four main experiments at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland also known as CERN. Though I work directly with Professor Adams, we regularly work with scientists from all over the world.

Tell us about your experience as a Fermilab LHC Physics Center Graduate Scholar. How did you receive this honor and what are its impacts?

Fermilab is a U.S. national particle physics research laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, near the Chicago area, which is funded by the Department of Energy. This lab works very closely with CERN and serves as the hub for U.S. scientists working on the CMS Experiment. With the support of my adviser and physics professor Todd Adams, FSU professor of physics Ted Kolberg, and Fermilab scientist Harry Cheung, I was fortunately selected for a research fellowship that allows doctoral students working on the CMS Experiment to carry out their dissertation research for a year at Fermilab. It has been awesome to learn from experts in my field and work closely with them. My funding has recently been renewed for a second year, so I will be working at Fermilab until the end of my fifth year in my doctoral program.

How has serving as a graduate assistant in both a research and teaching capacity contributed to your academic success?

I value having an “outside-in” perspective on my field of research. After thinking a certain way about physics for a long time, gaining a fresh perspective can help me move forward. This is one of my favorite things about teaching; every time I teach physics to students from different backgrounds, I gain new perspectives and ways of thinking about physics. This has cultivated a rich doctoral experience for me alongside collaborating internationally for research.

What on-campus resources have you utilized most during your time at FSU?

Before I began working at Fermilab near Chicago, Dirac Science Library was my campus go-to! I like the study rooms you can book online and, of course, the Starbucks inside.

Are there any faculty or staff who have helped or inspired you? Why/how so?

FSU physics professor and my adviser, Todd Adams, is very kind, supportive and patient with me. Even if my research progress is slow over long periods of time, he is always understanding and helpful. Professor Adams is a great mentor and role model.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing schoolwork or research?

I like staying active via biking, tennis and table tennis. I recently started training for a half marathon, which I am already starting to regret a little bit. I also spend time tutoring and mentoring younger students in STEM, as it is very important to have access to STEM topics at an early age. I enjoy hanging out with friends and eating good food. There is good food in various pockets of Tallahassee, but it does not compete with the food around the Chicago area!

What advice do you have for fellow students?

This answer has changed for me over time. As of right now, it is for all of us to remember that grad school and our research are not everything in life. As grad students, it is so easy to feel like we need to spend all our time working. Though it is important to make progress, grad school should not occur at the cost of our physical and mental health, or relationships that are important to us. It is easier said than done, and it is certainly easier said as an older grad student finished with courses and qualifying exams. But it took me too long before I started to prioritize my physical and mental health. Never forget there are more important things in life.