PHYSICS Professor John Terning grew up in Canada, the son of parents who emigrated from a small town in Norway where an eighth-grade education was the norm. His parents expected him to make the most of the free higher education offered by their adopted home country. Terning attended University of Alberta, which “was big, and I was from a small town, and there were lots of incredibly smart people, and I was terrified of all the professors.” Gradually, he started going to talk to his professors and discovered that in one-on- one conversations they were not the intimidating people they seemed to be in class.
How did you choose a career in higher education?
Terning started his college career wanting to write science fiction, but found that the science but found that the science itself was more interesting. Asked how he became a professor, he says “we’re the stubborn ones.” While doing research is a goal for most physics students, “you can apply your research experience to other kinds of problem-solving in industries like finance. That’s why employers want to hire our students.” he says. But academic careers require a combination of patience and stubbornness. Terning went on to earn his PhD at University of Toronto and did postdoctoral work at Yale, Boston University, UC Berkeley, and Harvard before becoming a professor at UC Davis.
"Connect as much as possible.…this is a big opportunity to expand your horizons, especially if you come from a small town."
What advice would you give to our first-gen students at UC Davis?
“Connect as much as possible. Take advantage of meeting professors one on one and meeting other students.” If it’s hard to get started, “pick the class you find most interesting and make a point of going to the professor’s office and talking to them. This is a big opportunity to expand your horizons, especially if you come from a small town.”