Where Are They Now?

Categories: Alumni

We’ve been wondering where our graduates go when they leave MIT – where does a Course XII or Course XIX degree lead? When alumni from 2016, 2011, 2006, 2001, 1996, and 1971 responded to our quick survey, we were amazed at the variety of careers paths. Your interesting stories show just how our interdisciplinary research in EAPS can lead to many fascinating experiences and opportunities!

What was happening in 2016?
  • Gravitational waves detected by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
  • Antarctic ozone layer shows first signs of healing.
  • AI developed by Google-owned DeepMind beat a world-class human player at the ancient game ‘Go’ for the first time.
  • Zika virus declared a global public-health emergency.
  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return mission launched, bound for asteroid Bennu.

Megan Mansfield SB ’16
Advisor: Richard Binzel

Area of Study: 
My specific area of study was planetary science, and my thesis was focused on observing a light curve of Pluto to detect volatile transport across its surface.

What are you doing now?
I just recently defended my PhD thesis at the University of Chicago, where I have been a grad student in the Department of Geophysical Sciences since graduating from MIT. I will be graduating with my PhD in June, and next fall I’ll be starting a postdoc as a NASA Sagan Fellow at the University of Arizona. My current research focuses on spectroscopic observations of transiting exoplanets, with the main goals of understanding their atmospheric compositions and climates. Right now I mostly study large, gas giant planets, but ultimately I hope to use this research to also look for life on smaller, terrestrial planets.

What do you like best about your work?
I love that my work gives me the chance to discover new things about distant planets that no one has learned before! I also love the people I work with, who are all very smart and supportive, and the fact that being a grad student has given me lots of opportunities to travel for observing and for conferences. In the five years I’ve been in grad school, I’ve gone to Hawaii, Iceland, England, and many other places! This photo is a photo of me observing from the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii in February 2020.

Chunquan Yu PhD ’16
Advisor: Robert van der Hilst

Area of Study: 
Geophysics/Seismology. The focus of my thesis was seismic imaging of crust and mantle structures with teleseismic reflected waves.

What are you doing now?
Associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech)

What do you like best about your work?
Carrying out interesting research projects and working together with students to solve scientific questions.

What was Happening in 2011?
  • NASA concluded the final mission of the space shuttle program.
  • A magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck Japan, triggering tsunamis which devastated the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
  • Kepler 20 f and Kepler 20 e, the first Earth-sized exoplanets, are discovered orbiting their star 950 light years from Earth.
  • IBM’s Watson computer wins on Jeopardy!
  • Bones and teeth found in England and Italy signaled humans’ arrival in Europe 5,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Rachel Bowens-Rubin SB ’11, SM ’12
Advisor: Benjamin Weiss

Area of Study: 
Planetary science. Thesis: Paleomagnetism conglomerate test on Archean conglomerate rock from Jack Hills, Australia

What are you doing now?
I am in my third year of the PhD program in Astronomy & Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz where I research extrasolar planets and build adaptive optics instrumentation. I’m advised by two fellow MIT alumni, Becky Jensen-Clem and Phil Hinz. Before I started graduate school, I spent two summer seasons at South Pole Station, Antarctica working on the BICEP telescope array and one winter at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

What do you like best about your work?
I can’t believe I get to find exoplanets for a living! The field of exoplanet science is still so young that it’s constantly growing, and I love being a part of building that science. I love that my work could reveal what planets in the nearest solar systems are like.


Jessie Kneeland PhD ’11
Advisor: Konrad Hughen

Area of Study: 
Oceanography – I studied the biochemical impact of temperature and disease stress on corals and their symbiotic algae.

What are you doing now?
I’m a Principal Scientist at Gradient, doing environmental consulting. I help clients understand sources and sinks of chemicals in the environment, and I help companies understand the environmental impact of new chemicals they bring to market.

What do you like best about your work?
I like that I get to translate science for business leaders and lawyers to solve real-world complicated environmental problems.


Matthieu Talpe SB ’11, SM ’12
Advisor: Maria Zuber

Area of Study: 
Planetary Sciences; Crater Morphology at the Moon and Mercury using LOLA and MLA Laser Altimeters onboard LRO and MESSENGER.

What are you doing now?
Ocean altimetry at JPL using Jason-3 and Sentinel-6A satellites, currently transitioning to Spire to leverage their satellite constellation for GNSS Reflectometry.

What do you like best about your work?
Heavy data engineering; interactions with between scientific community, engineering, and operational teams; the inspiring JPL campus and colleagues; contributing to the long record of sea level and satellite oceanography; the dependencies between satellite altimetry and other branches of earth geodesy; the multi-disciplinary sea level height measurement system.

What was Happening in 2006?

  • While Pluto is relegated to dwarf planet status by the IAU, NASA’s New Horizons takes off on its nine year journey to the newly-demoted Pluto.
  • The elusive element-118 is rediscovered experimentally, and added back to the periodic table.
  • Twitter is launched.
  • A nearly-complete Australopithecus afarensis skeleton is discovered in Ethiopia — that of a toddler living 3.3 million years ago, making it also the earliest juvenile hominin ever found.
  • The documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming An Inconvenient Truth premieres.

Susan Benecchi PhD ’06
Advisor: Jim Elliot

Area of Study: 
My specific area of study was planetary astronomy, specifically the observational aspects of this. I was part of a project to discover small bodies in at the outer edges of our Solar System referred to as Trans Neptunian Objects. During the course of my thesis work our team discovered and tracked 500 objects. For about 30 the newly discovered objects I then collected additional rotational and reflectivity (color) information on them and also searched for binary companions, discovering a few.

What are you doing now?
I am a part time soft money senior research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute working as a Co-I on the NASA New Horizons Kuiper belt Extended Mission, an astronomy instructor for an online homeschool (Freedom Project Academy), and a stay-at-home mom schooling my own children.

What do you like best about your work?
I like that I can contribute in the scientific arena in a meaningful way, but that I also have the freedom to raise my children myself, as well as investing in the next generation.

Benjamin Crosby PhD ’06
Advisor: Kelin Whipple

Area of Study: 
Geology. Thesis focus: The evolution of river profiles following disturbance.

What are you doing now?
Professor and Department Chair, Idaho State University Geosciences

What do you like best about your work?
I enjoy working with graduate and undergraduate students and helping them attain their professional and personal aspirations through research experiences.

Maureen Long PhD ’06
Advisor: Robert van der Hilst

Area of Study: 
Seismology/geophysics. My thesis focused on understanding patterns of flow in the Earth’s mantle through the measurement and interpretation of seismic anisotropy (the directional dependence of seismic wave speeds).

What are you doing now?
I’m currently Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Yale University.

What was Happening in 2001?

  • The human genome is decoded and the draft sequence is published.
  • Wikipedia is launched.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope detects sodium in the atmosphere of HD 209458 b, the first exoplanet atmosphere to be measured.
  • The NASA NEAR Shoemaker orbiter becomes the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid as it touched down on 433 Eros.
  • The world’s first self-contained artificial heart is implanted.

Stephanie Shaw PhD ’01
Advisor: Ron Prinn

Area of Study: 
Atmospheric chemistry and biogeochemistry. I investigated the physiological controls on emissions of gaseous hydrocarbons from marine microbes (phytoplankton and cyanobacteria) that could help form remote smog. I also UROPed in EAPS and Course X as an MIT undergraduate (Course X, 1995. One of my first projects was measuring the reduction in emissions from a simulated coal-fired power plant combustion stack due to a new sorbent-catalyst ceramic.

What are you doing now?
I am a Technical Executive and research program manager at the Electric Power Research Institute. I have created and manage multiple programs on the environmental impacts of clean energy and battery energy storage technologies. I’m also responsible for the strategic research direction of ambient air quality monitoring as relates to energy and electricity technologies. I also serve as the Safety and Environmental Impacts Technical Subcommittee co-lead for the Low Carbon Resources Initiative, a >$100M multi-stakeholder R&D effort focused on alternate energy carriers, including hydrogen and ammonia.

What do you like best about your work?
Our vigilance to scout, understand and improve our knowledge base on the potential implications of engineering developments allows the electricity and energy industries to make robust decisions, mitigate concerns early, and accelerate deployment of novel energy systems in a responsible and sustainable manner. The other best part is that I am still learning something brand new every day!

Alison Wood SB ’01
Advisor: John Edmond

Area of Study: 
Regulating climate via the global energy balance, deep ocean currents.

What are you doing now?
I have a Masters in Oriental Medicine and am a licensed acupuncturist specializing in women’s health, natural immunity and ecological and holistic medicine (independent from the pharmaco-coroporate machinery). I own an herbal apothecary and Chinese Medicine clinic in Point Reyes Station, California.

What do you like best about your work?
I love that my work brings me out into nature and in connection with both the land that supports me, my garden, and also the elements, which are woven into the ancient principles of Chinese medicine. I love seeing the transformation as people take ownership of their health and start to recover from things that have confounded Western medicine.

What was Happening in 1996?

  • Construction began on the International Space Station.
  • Dolly the sheep was born, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.
  • The Google web search engine was born as a research project titled “BackRub”.
  • The HIV/AIDS protease inhibitor combination therapy, now known as the “triple cocktail”, was introduced.
  • Scientists demonstrate the existence of what is later identified to be a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Chris Forest PhD ’96
Advisor: Kerry Emanuel and Peter Molnar

Area of Study: 
Paleoaltitude estimates based on plant leaf fossils using conservation of moist static energy principles.

What are you doing now?
I’m a professor of climate dynamics at Pennsylvania State University.

What do you like best about your work?
I enjoy teaching both graduate and undergraduate students about the climate/Earth system and working on assessing the risks of climate change to prepare how best to create resilient strategies to manage the expected changes. I’m also working on how to create portfolios of solutions to get to net zero.

Cathy Olkin PhD ’96
Advisor: Jim Elliot

Area of Study:
Planetary astronomy. The atmosphere of Triton from stellar occultations.

What are you doing now?
Institute Scientist at Southwest Research Institute and Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s Lucy mission and Principal Investigator for the Ralph instrument on NASA’s New Horizons mission. Right now the Lucy spacecraft is in thermal vacuum testing preparing for launch in October 2021.

What do you like best about your work?
I love learning new things about our solar system.

What was Happening in 1971?

  • Apollo 14 lands on the moon.
  • NASA’s Mariner 9 probe is launched and enters Mars orbit.
  • Intel releases the world’s first microprocessor.
  • The first CT scan is used to diagnose a patient.
  • Bell Labs proposes the first cellular telephone network.

Andre Berger SM ’71
Advisor: Hurd Willett

Area of Study: 
Meteorology. Thesis on the solar-terrestrial relationship: Investigation of anomalies of minimum and of maximum temperature for winter and summer at Omaha, Nebraska.

What are you doing now?
I was professor of climatology and meteorology up to 2007 at the Université catholique de Louvain in Louvain la Neuve (UCL) Belgium. I am now retired but still active as Senior Researcher at the UCL. I continue my research on the astronomical theory of paleoclimates and still publish.

What do you like best about your work?
Research and teaching. I have spent my life improving the astronomical theory of paleoclimates.


James M. Kingsley III SM ’71
Advisor: Norman Phillips

Area of Study:
Oceanography- Electromagnetic Scattering from a Surface Wave Sinusoid.

What are you doing now?
A.  I have created a new mathematical model for the sun and stars that only uses Newton’s Laws and Universal Gravitation.
B.  I have created a new equilibrium mathematical model for the temperature of the Earth as a function of depth.
C.  Using this model I have created a new model for the oceanic tides by computing the force of the Moon on an arbitrary atom in the Earth and summing over all atoms to determine the crustal deformation.
D.  I’m finishing a physics text on the foundations of physics [A, B, and C are a result of this research].  My thesis is that all of experimental physics can be derived from Newton’s Laws, the Galilean Transform, the vector additivity of light, the Michelson Morley experiment and my new mathematical model for a charge neutral, solid mass atom to replace the Q.M. model for the atom and a charge neutral, solid mass photon to replace the e.m. field of Maxwell.

What do you like best about your work?
Being able to clear up concepts taught to me in physics classes that are physically wrong.


John Schatz PhD ’71
Advisor: Gene Simmons

Area of Study:
Geophysics. The thermal conductivity of earth materials at high temperatures. I helped to answer the question of whether convection was required in the mantle to account for observed heat flow at the surface.

What are you doing now?
I am retired. I was principal of John F. Schatz Research & Consulting, Inc.  Right now, I play golf, garden, tinker, and play with my grandchildren.

What do you like best about your work?
In my work I loved interacting with clients around the world primarily in the petroleum industry.