Evan Reed

Class of 2006, Astrophysics Emphasis

Systems Engineer for a Defense Contractor in the Marshall Islands

Q & A

I maintain and operate various radar. I keep them calibrated, within requirement specs, and when things inevitably go wrong, I help find a solution. That entails everything from analyzing the data to physically going out with people and trying to solve the problem.

So many things. I like that no two days are the same. Sometimes I show up and everything is quiet and I can work on projects and get a lot of various things done. Then there are other times when, because we are working on real-world systems, I show up, and as soon as I walk in the door people are asking me questions and we are solving problems that just cropped up in real-time. It's never dull and there is always something interesting and exciting to work with.
One thing that sticks out is when we measured the speed of light down the hallway. I expected to get something within 10 or 20 percent, but the fact that we were able to measure the speed of light down to single-digit precision just blew me away. Real-world things are never that clean. Another standout memory was my techniques course where we operated a 2.1-meter telescope for a week at the McDonnel Observatory in Ft. Davis, Texas.
Everything? I have worked for multiple companies in a systems engineer capacity. The interesting thing is that in every single company it has been very different. I work with other systems engineers and depending on their backgrounds they bring different expertise and approaches to problems. If you have a hardware background you look at the hardware. If you have a software background you look at software. With physics, especially going into radars, you think about it from an electromagnetic standpoint and think about how the systems operate. Data reduction is also huge and that ties in with everything you do in physics, taking measurements and analyzing data. In every job I've had, physics has been directly applicable and even more so now.
I was a paraprof after graduating, then I worked outside of Colorado Springs on missile defense simulations for Northrup Grumman for five years. I then switched over and was part of a startup company. It was a company of two people and we worked on simulations of airborne radar. That was for the Air Force and it was a two-year contract. After two years they said "Wow good work guys, we don't have any more money for you. Good luck!" Then I worked for a year on a radar program doing data analysis and other things. Later, I started working on an avenue to work in the Marshall Islands. So I came out here and it's been a little over four years working here on actual radars here, not just simulations.
All my life, I was fascinated with taking things apart and trying to find out how they worked. When I entered college, I was looking at two subjects: physics, because physics is how everything works, and psychology, because psychology is how the brain works. Both of those fascinate me. One of the reasons I went with physics was because psychology 101 was almost impossible to get into. I was looking at taking both courses but realized it was much easier to get into the physics classes I wanted, so I studied physics. That's a big reason why I'm looking at machine systems instead of humans. I don't recommend that approach, but it turned out ok for me.
If you had told me five years ago that I would be taking helicopter rides and flying to work every day in a tiny airplane I would have laughed at you. Back in school, this was (no pun intended) not at all on my radar. I had no intention of going into missile defense. It just so happened I set up a talk with an alumnus who worked in it and I chatted with him afterward. Next thing you know, I'm interviewing and got a job offer. I could have been doing something totally different but I ended up here. It's interesting that the skills and knowledge base from a physics degree are applicable in so many different fields.
It is definitely interesting. It's a trade-off. We don't have restaurants or a city with things to do. Food comes in occasionally so sometimes if there is an issue with the barge you may not get eggs that week. We essentially live in a small town on a tiny island surrounded by the world's biggest moat. So you need to work with your community and it's a very community-paced location. It's not unusual for someone to post on Facebook, "Hey I need basil, who's growing basil?" and some random person will respond. One downside is if you want to go anywhere, it takes two days to get there. The opportunities for traveling westward from here are amazing, though, and I've visited 19 countries since I moved here.

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