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Helping Graduate and Professional Students Thrive

JoEllen McBride

Former physics major JoEllen McBride ’04 works to create a setting where graduate and professional students can thrive. At the University of Pennsylvania, she implements programming that supports academic and intellectual development while advocating for a more inclusive and supportive environment.

Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?

Since my degrees were all in physics, it was very useful to have had such a broad education at Dickinson. Being exposed to the knowledge of other fields of study really helped me remember that the tiny thing I was studying wasn’t the only thing worth knowing. It also helped me see the broader impacts of physics and astronomy. This has helped immensely in my science communication. Also, my physics courses at Dickinson focused a lot on writing and presenting, which turned out to be very useful when I went on to get my master’s and Ph.D. 

What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?

I was a part of many organizations at Dickinson, but if I had to choose one, I really loved being a Dickinson Red Devil Cheerleader. It was a wonderful group. We were all at different experience levels and worked together as a team to put on great routines!

What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?

Some of my favorite memories involve milkshake dates with friends at The Quarry and working late into the night in Tome on my various physics homework assignments and projects. Also observing with the Britton telescope and learning how to reduce the data with Professor of Physics and Astronomy Robert Boyle and Professor Windsor Morgan. And finally, who could forget Professor of Physics Hans Pfister’s handstands in his workshop physics course!

How do you stay involved with Dickinson? 

I still meet with my advisors from undergrad periodically. Professor Boyle has been a supportive mentor to me throughout my time at Dickinson and beyond.

How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?

I became interested in working with graduate students while I was a graduate student myself at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We had very high student fees that we had to pay out of our small stipends, and I joined the Graduate and Professional Student Federation to work to decrease fees and increase the minimum stipend for all graduate students. From there, I also became interested in science communication and writing. I love using my communication skills to advocate for graduate and professional students and create a more inclusive and supportive environment so they can thrive.

What does your current work entail?

I currently implement programming that supports the academic and intellectual development of graduate and professional students at the University of Pennsylvania. I also oversee graduate student fellows who do the same. My responsibilities also include advocating for graduate students on various university committees. 

What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?

Earning my Ph.D. in physics! I got to travel to Chile many times to work at the SOAR telescope on Cerro Pachón as part of my dissertation work. 

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Published December 4, 2020