"Before I Was a Scientist"


There is no single path to becoming a scientist … just ask Caltech’s faculty. Here are some of the varied experiences they had on the road to their current careers. 

Jean Paul (Pablo) Ampuero Saenz
Professor of Seismology 

  • T-shirt graphic artist 

  • Bass player in punk/metal bands 

  • Translator at a trade fair 

  • Jeep chauffeur in Cuba 

  • Indian food delivery guy 

Frances Arnold
Nobel Laureate; Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry; Director, Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center

  • Jazz club cocktail waitress 

  • Taxi driver 

  • Worker in a factory building nuclear reactor parts 

Rob Phillips 
Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics, Biology, and Physics 

  • [Left high school at 17] 

  • Computer store clerk 

  • Electrician 

  • Surfboard shaper 

Dean Mobbs 
Assistant Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience 

  • [Left high school at 15] 

  • Part-time garbage man 

  • House painter 

  • Amateur boxer 

Some people are surprised when they learn I got my undergraduate degree in English. Your focus can change as your horizons broaden, but it is focus that lets you know when that change is important, it’s focus that lets you dream new concepts that will surprise you, focus that ultimately sets your imagination free.
— France Córdova (PhD ’79), NSF Director, at Caltech Commencement 2019

See the video of Córdova’s commencement address.

SoCaltech, Fall 2019Jon Nalick