Physics doctoral student excited to learn about condensed matter

Jennifer Sittler
Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, Jennifer Sittler worked on the Large Hadron Collider, writing code to increase the accuracy of results.

This article is one in a series of stories that spotlight incoming graduate students and the obstacles they’ve overcome to pursue an advanced degree.

Growing up in Alpharetta, Ga., Jennifer Sittler was always interested in physics but wasn’t sure what to do about it. She wondered how gravity worked and looked up difficult problems to solve online like cryptographs.

Then her family got interested in the TV show The Big Bang Theory. “When I saw what they did,” she said, “I thought, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’”

Sittler completed her undergraduate work at Florida State University and worked at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee. She also worked on the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle collider in the world, writing code to increase the accuracy of results.

She came to UC Santa Cruz to learn from physics professor Sriram Shastry about condensed matter research. “I’m excited about Dr. Shastry’s research,” she said, adding that she appreciates the freedom given to students to follow their interests. Sittler also loved that the university offers the UCSC Women in Physics and Astrophysics program to promote diversity.

She had a difficult experience as an undergraduate dealing with prevalent sexism. She felt she was not taken seriously by both professors and students. “I felt like no matter how well I did, it was hard to get my peers to see it,” she said.

Sittler also had to overcome learning disabilities in her early years in college. Once she figured out the accommodations she needed to work best, she took off, earning a 3.9 GPA while still finding time for research and volunteering.

After earning her doctoral degree, Sittler plans to become a professor, a completely different career path than her parents (her father works for the airlines and her mother owns a girls’ birthday party business.). “My mom never heard of atoms,” she joked, adding that both parents think what she is doing is cool.