What is your educational background?
My primary and secondary education were primarily through homeschooling, followed by undergraduate degrees in Physics and Mathematics/Computer Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I then took part in the inaugural year of Perimeter Scholars International, a new Masters program in theoretical physics offered bythe Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo. I am currently nearing completion of my PhD in Physics (Quantum Information), also at the University of Waterloo.
What is your current research all about, and what got you interested in it?
My current research has several threads that each support the goal of building quantum information processing devices at a significantly larger scale than has been realized thus far. For instance, part of my work concerns how to use quantum resources as a tool to produce further quantum resources by drawing on techniques from classical statistics and machine learning together with new developments in quantum simulation. I became interested in these kinds of issues by working as a theorist in a very experimental group, such that I am continually exposed to experimental challenges and opportunities, leading me to explore how to better bridge the gap between theoretical and experimental concerns.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m not so sure that there is a typical day for me, per se. I juggle a lot of projects, all of which are always at different stages. Some days are all about writing up results, some days are taken up with debugging simulation or inference libraries, while other days still are taken up with discussing new research directions with collaborators. There’s not a lot of routine to it, really.
What are some challenges you face as a researcher in your PhD program?
My work tends to be strongly interdisciplinary, which create a lot of opportunities, but also a different set of challenges. Some of these challenges are quite technical, for instance, those arising from applying statistical techniques in different scenarios where common assumptions tend to fail. Some challenges are cultural, and stem from trying to find the right way of communicating about problems whose solutions necessarily draw on very different areas of expertise. Perhaps the most profound challenges, though, that I have found as a researcher aren’t even about research, but rather are about balancing research with the rest of my life. Left to its own devices, research can take up as much of my time as I let it, but that’s neither a good way of getting things done, nor is it good for one’s health.
How does the ‘War on Science’ affect your work?
In a lot of ways, quantum information research is relatively well shielded from more general problems with science funding, so my own work is not directly affected yet. Partly, I think this is because quantum information has thus far been relatively apolitical in its implications.
What would you recommend as good policy solutions to Canada’s problems in science policy today?
At a high level, I think that treating research as a business is a significant policy mistake, even from the perspective of enabling private development. Academic research is at its best when it is able to explore. It is this very exploration that is threatened by imposing a business-like model on academic research. By prioritizing business development over all else, we endanger that advantage, and perhaps ironically, even endanger the benefit that academics can provide to private development.
What are some your interests outside your research work? How do they complement your research?
In many ways, research has given me an outlet for lifelong interests that I continue to explore outside of a research context. For instance, I have been interested in programming for quite a number of years, and continue to cultivate this interest even in the absence of a direct benefit to my research. I also maintain interests that are more purely social, such as tabletop gaming. These have proven especially useful to me in maintaining focus and drive.