Physics Recruitment

Meet Our Graduate Students

Meet Lavanya Taneja

Short bio: 
I am beginning my fourth year in the PhD program in the Simon lab, where I am working with crazy optical cavities to make ‘wormholes’ and to interconvert optical and mm-wave photons. I did my BS in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. I come from a city in the Himalayan foothills in India called Dehradun.
Who inspires you?
I don’t think I have a specific answer! I can think of many people in my life — parents, friends, teachers — who inspire me in different contexts. Their dedication and excitement for their work pushes me to try my best. Their sincerity and discipline, and ability to have loving, inclusive interactions and mentor effectively, encourage me to practice these values and skills. Their disposition to serve others while also ensuring their own basic well-being inspires me. I feel grateful to have been around them!

Why did you choose to study physics?
It started with a very naive objective of figuring out everything outside and inside me. At school, I enjoyed solving math problems and building janky setups to test the principles we learned in class. Studying Physics in undergrad seemed the most natural decision. Even though I started learning about the capabilities and limits of science along the way, I still felt that childlike excitement when things added up. I worked in a quantum optics lab in undergrad with an amazing advisor — the experience got me hooked on experimental quantum optics and brought me to grad school!

Why did you choose UChicago?
I am always amused by how things turned out to be. During applications, I wasn’t so sure about UChicago because although I found research at Simon lab and Chin lab here very exciting, having more options would have felt safer. However, after receiving the offer, I had a video call (I was on the other side of the globe) with my to-be advisor Jon Simon about the group’s super cool research with optical cavities and atoms. He also connected me with my to-be labmates who gave a great overview of the lab and its mentoring style. Moreover, I also had a very pleasant call with our chair, Young-Kee, who gave an introduction to the department. Everyone I talked to seemed so cheerful, energetic and supportive, that I was convinced about coming here! The idea of living in Chicago for a considerable chunk of time was also a factor..
What are the best things about your PhD program?
I like the flexibility that the program initially provides. There is no pressure of qualifying exams which gives a chance to comfortably settle in the academic environment. There are many groups working in a variety of fields that potentially present a lot of options. We also have a variety of fun events throughout the year (Forget The Year, Ping-Pong tournament, etc) which brings the department closer. The administration is very accessible and quick to respond to students. Research-wise, our advisor’s creativity, availability and wacky sense of humour makes it fun and comfortable to work with him. I really enjoy my time in the lab because of the very kind and knowledgeable colleagues and great hands-on science.

What was the best surprise about UChicago or life in Chicago?
I was pleasantly surprised by how the University brings together so many different traditions and bodies of knowledge in the same place. The library has texts from all over the world. There are open-to-all talks by experts in different fields, from arts to medicine to other sciences. One can even take classes in other departments like Philosophy or Dance. This is true of Chicago as well — there are so many neighborhoods to explore, so much theatre to experience, so many museums to visit!

If you could share any advice to your colleagues, what would it be?
Hmmm, I’d say a PhD is a long haul — so it’s important to feel comfortable and build a solid support system. For me, my labmates and advisor have been a great resource to vent out to, feel validated and receive constructive feedback from, especially during the pandemic. There are a lot of people and groups in the department who are happy to listen, even if they don’t have all the answers!
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