Meet Claire McLellan
Minors: Mathematics and Chemistry
Hometown: Winchester, Va.
Unless you spend time with Claire, you might not know that she enjoys children’s literature. One of her favorite books is “Caps for Sale; A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business.” And unless you spend time with your professors, Claire says, you might not know they do more than teach classes. “Invite your professors to lunch. They have some of the most interesting stories and backgrounds.”
In March, Claire was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The 3-year fellowship provides a $30,000 annual stipend, and it also provides each student’s institution with a $10,500 annual cost-of-education allowance. Claire has been conducting research in the Department of Physics at the Nanotech Center under the guidance of professor Oana Jurchescu. Next year, she will begin a Ph.D. program in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and will be working in a condensed matter experiment lab studying quantum effects on the nanoscale.
As a first-year student, did you know you wanted to study physics?
I knew I wanted to major in physics and become a physicist. But after four years of college and working in a research lab, I now have a passion for the field. Through my internship at the Government Accountability Office in the Center for Science, Technology and Engineering, I discovered I want to advance the sciences through both research and policy.
Tell us about robots in the pool.
Hanes Middle School offers an afterschool program called SeaPerch where students build underwater robots. The WFU Society of Physics Students (SPS) helps the students with the construction process. It’s challenging to teach someone how to solder a circuit and to troubleshoot problems. When the students mastered these skills, I gained a sense of pride for them, and I also learned from their creativity.
Was there a professor who influenced your work?
My mentor and friend, Dr. Oana Jurchescu, has been very influential. When I would submit a poster, proposal or speech to her for review, she would respond, “This looks really good.” The submission would be covered in red ink. She taught me to not accept “good enough” and to have my standard be excellence.
Was there a class you were surprised that you enjoyed?
I complained bitterly that my introductory sociology class would take time from my other interests. But in this course, I learned how my own social and historical context has shaped my interests. The classroom created a sounding board to think through sociological problems. It made me a better citizen and scientist.
Did you study abroad?
The summer of 2010, I worked at the National Institute of Material Science (NIMS) in Tsukuba, Japan. In Japan I began to understand the international scope of science. I met people at NIMS from Japan as well as Hungary, Russia, France, China and Korea to name a few.
The Society of Physics Students hosts a mountain retreat every year for students and professors at the Wake Forest lodge in Fancy Gap, Virginia. Playing charades, star-watching using the department’s telescopes, hiking and roasting marshmallows — this is where I met many of my mentors and good friends.
What will you miss most?
Late night coffees with my dearest friends. I have participated in some great conversations that in one hour span accounting and taxes to singularities in black holes.
Best advice you received?
The people who have advised me through the more stressful times have been fantastic listeners. I learned the importance of listening to others.