As a child, Laura Andre loved math. But as she studied at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, her interests began to change.
“When I went to college, I thought I was going to be a math major,” Andre says. “But when I began to study theoretical math, I thought to myself: why am I studying something so abstract?”
Andre wanted something more applied, and chose physics. “My mentor had this funny saying that optics is like Legos for adults,” Andre says.
“In optics, you put together the components you need in order to steer and manipulate the laser beam. It’s actually more like the Mousetrap game but with light. I ended up just falling in love with optics, tinkering with things and working with my hands.”
I ended up just falling in love with optics, tinkering with things and working with my hands.Laura Andre
Andre performed research on laser cooling of gasses at a nearby naval base. After graduating from St. Mary’s, she continued this research for a year, building her research experience before applying to graduate school.
“In undergrad, I know I didn’t get the full picture of why everything works on a fundamental level, and that grad school would be the next step in my academic career,” Andre says.
Andre researched graduate schools, and found the website of Stephen Rand, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Center for Dynamic Magneto-Optics. Rand wrote about laser cooling of solids, and Andre expressed her interest in working on that research.
“The stars just aligned,” says Andre. “When I sent my email to Dr. Rand that I had accepted Michigan’s offer and would be joining his lab group, he said ‘perfect timing!’” Rand had just received a five-year MURI grant from the Office of Naval Research.
Although Andre worried about the change from an undergraduate school of about 1,500 students to the University of Michigan, she finds graduate school at U-M to be the perfect place for her. She explains, “on the graduate level, it still feels like a small school, there’s just a lot of other people walking around campus.”
“Grad school is a great time in your life because you are funded to focus on a subject you’re really interested in and explore what you’re passionate about,” Andre continues. “At Michigan, there are so many opportunities, the professors are amazing and really care about their students, and, after visiting other schools, everyone just seems happier here.”
Andre believes coming to pursue her PhD at U-M is one of the best decisions in her life. And, she loves to let others know her experience. She helps lead graduate recruiting events, takes prospective students around Ann Arbor, and participates in the College of Engineering’s “Lunch and Lab with a Grad” program, where she mentors undergraduates about grad school over lunch and gives them a lab tour.
“I’m so excited to tell other people how awesome it can be to come to grad school.”