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From Tech to Teaching

Nikhil Joshi

Nikhil Joshi

Science and Math Teacher, Raisbeck Aviation High School

A graduate of the UW Master of Science in Physics program, Nikhil Joshi teaches science and math at Raisbeck Aviation High School in the Highline Public School District. Before starting the master’s program, he spent nearly a decade at Microsoft as a program manager.  In this interview, Nikhil describes how the master’s program helped him start a new career teaching in areas he’d long been fascinated by.

Can you tell us a bit about your educational and professional background?

I've always been interested in astronomy and physics. My undergraduate degree was in astronomy from Caltech. I wound up at Microsoft and was there for about 10 years. Then I decided I was done with that career and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. 

What prompted you to earn your master’s in physics?

I was trying to decide if I wanted to go back into academia and jump into a Ph.D. program. The master’s program was a nice way to get back into taking courses and doing science and math work again.

Can you tell us about your current career?

I’m a math and science teacher at Raisbeck Aviation High School. We're a standard public high school, but everything is done as much as possible in an aviation and aerospace context. Project-based learning is a big part of our curriculum and so is getting people in industry to be involved in the classroom – engineers coming into the classroom and working with the kids and judging their projects, for example.

How did you become interested in teaching?

About halfway through the physics master’s program at the UW, I started becoming interested in teaching. I realized that here was something I'm quite passionate about. It seemed to fill my need for something new to do while still allowing me to do math and science, which I've always loved.

Do you think having the master’s in physics helped you get your job?

It was invaluable when I was applying to teaching jobs to be able to say I have a master’s degree in physics. And it certainly helped me pass all the state exams to qualify and be endorsed to teach physics and math.

How has having a master’s degree informed your teaching?

Having a deep conceptual and practical knowledge of the field that you're teaching is invaluable. You need to understand the subject at an advanced level, so when you answer student questions you can make connections to other branches of science. More important, having that deep foundation of a master’s also helps me stay abreast of the field and then bring that into my classroom.

Did you take a specialized track as part of the master’s program?

My first love was always astronomy and astrophysics. I took the three core physics classes that everybody's required to take, and then all of my other coursework was done in the astronomy department.

Can you tell us a bit about your individual study project for the program?

We did a search through the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which is a map, a database of the skies and galaxies, that’s continually updated. I was looking through that for a particular variety of binary star system that's composed of two white dwarfs. Prior to the search, there were only about 11 or 12 of these stars that were known. My adviser team discovered several more, so that was fun, and we even published a paper out of it.

What did the instructors bring to the program?

They were all very helpful and more than willing to answer questions and work with you. It was a nice, very comfortable relationship between the instructors and the students, who were all a little bit older. I could focus just on learning. It felt more like a mentorship; I still keep up with the instructors to this day.

What did you value most about the program?

The relationships and being able to focus on learning. Being able to come back as an older student and interact with professors one on one, ask questions and focus on the material. It wasn't a high pressure environment -- they were there to teach and we were there to learn. It was the way you always wanted college to be.