Physics Spotlight

June 2018
Physics Spotlight

Jake Shechter

Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jake Shechter was nominated by Professor Jennifer Ross due to his fundamental work in her lab as well as his many accomplishments he has achieved thus far! Jake presently TA's for Dr. Ross which allows him to express his love for teaching. He is always willing to help other students and contributes a lot to the UMass Amherst campus. He recently was elected as President of the Physics Community Organization (PCO) which is a graduate student group that fosters community and provides professional development opportunities.

What brought you to the University of Massachusetts to continue your studies?

I had a short list of schools that all had strong soft matter groups and was fortunate enough to visit each one. Of them all, Amherst seemed like the place I’d be most comfortable living for the next several years. The downtown area reminded me of home, and I felt like I belonged here.


Where did you do your undergrad? What is your degree in?

I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2014 with a BS in physics and minor in math.


Who is your faculty advisor and why did you pick them?

My advisor is Jenny Ross. When I was deciding on a lab to join, I had a few I was interested in. I spent almost a month talking to the PIs and their students and attending group meetings. Jenny’s lab had a lot of cool experiments going that were biologically motivated, and that really resonated with me. Further, the lab members were friendly and made me feel welcome. Everyone in Jenny’s lab, myself now included, will tell you she is totally awesome and a great mentor! I did a rotation in the lab for a summer and decided to stay.


What has been your favorite Graduate level course?

I took an optics course that by the end of it I knew how to build a microscope from the beginning, all the way from the condenser itself, to using a field stop and aperture stop to adjust illumination and calibrating the magnification onto a camera. Much of what I do in my experiments is microscopy, and this class has been the most valuable by far.


What are some of your research interests?

Anything that is biologically motivated interests me greatly. Mother nature has spent countless generations improving biological systems and function. There are many found in nature that humans haven’t figured out how to recreate. Just a couple hundred years ago, people couldn't fly. Trying to recreate effects or systems in a lab, that are found in nature, makes me really excited for the future.


What are your future plans?

I’ve always really enjoyed teaching, and right now I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I’d like to teach introductory physics to people who have little to no prior physics classes. Physics is commonly seen in a bad light, and part of that, I think, is because people have weak first introductions to physics. I want to fix that.

Is there a trend that you would like to see surface in your field of study?

I’d love it if more people valued teaching and outreach as the great opportunity it is to shape people’s perception of the world and encourage curiosity, rather than as a burden of responsibility or something unnecessary.


Do you have a favorite experiment that you have worked on thus far?

I think any experiment where I get to use optical tweezers is my favorite. They are exactly what they sound like, a pair of tweezers but made from light. It is basically a tractor beam!


Is there a course, seminar or program that you would like to see here on campus?

None that doesn't already exist. UMass Amherst has provided me with all that I need for my studies and career. Shout out to the Office of Professional Development!


What advice would you give to undergraduates considering Graduate programs?

You’re going to be living there for 5-7 years, so choose someplace you’ll be happy. Don’t simply choose the highest-ranking school for your field. Consider the ability to travel back home, the climate and scenery of the university, and of course the graduate students you meet if you visit. Lastly, choose an advisor, not a research project.


Do you have any hobbies?

I go bouldering three times a week at the nearby climbing gym, and on the weekends,  I play tabletop role-playing games with some friends. I’ve recently been getting into the game design of tabletop role-playing games, specifically, the interaction between player actions and rewards, as well as the decisions players make based on numerical value versus perceived value.