May 22, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

In 2020, Nathanael Kazmierczak graduated from Calvin University with a double major in chemistry and music. During his time at Calvin, Kazmierczak had a storied research career, being named both a Beckman and Goldwater Scholar. A year after graduating, he was one of just 12 in the nation to earn a prestigious Hertz Fellowship. We checked in recently with Kazmierczak to see what he's up to now and what advice he has for current college students.

What are you doing professionally and personally right now?

Professionally, I am in my fourth year of PhD studies in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. I work in the research lab of Prof. Ryan Hadt, using metal-containing molecules to develop quantum technologies such as quantum sensing and quantum computing. I seek to understand the factors that make a molecule good or bad at quantum information processing. My days involve running spectroscopy experiments, performing calculations, deriving theoretical equations, and occasionally doing chemical synthesis.

Personally, I married Calvin alumna Joyce Chew (’20) in the summer of 2022. She is also in graduate school in Los Angeles, obtaining her PhD in applied mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles. In my free time, I enjoy birdwatching, stargazing, playing chess, and playing board games.

How did your Calvin education shape you for your current life and role?

My Calvin education gave me the research experience and interdisciplinary training that have propelled me to a successful graduate career. Through work with Prof. Douglas A. Vander Griend, I learned what it means to take ownership of a research project and see it through to completion. Many undergraduate students at large schools work as peripheral assistants to graduate students and postdocs, but in the liberal arts environment of Calvin, the undergraduates are main researchers in the lab to get the project done. This experience is exceptionally valuable for graduate school, where one is judged less by one’s classroom knowledge and more by one’s ability to conceptualize and execute a scientific study.

Calvin’s research experiences gave me the confidence to hit the ground running with my own project ideas and obtain publishable results very early on. The liberal arts writing education helped me to clearly communicate my scientific results. Additionally, my chemistry coursework has prepared me very well for graduate studies in comparison to my peers from major research institutions. My present work involves a lot of physics, computer modeling, and applied data analysis, and I have found my interdisciplinary coursework in computer science and mathematics to be invaluable for this purpose.

How are you serving as Christ's agent of renewal in your world today?

I volunteer in several capacities as an active member of St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Montrose, CA. I serve on the administrative committee and help run the audio/media ministries. Additionally, I sing in the church choir and play classical guitar in the services, using the music education I received at Calvin. I also mentor and tutor a number of younger students, including in high school chemistry and undergraduate students at Caltech. I consider encouraging upcoming students and passing along my knowledge to be a part of my calling to stewardship with the education I have been given.

What advice would you pass along to college students today or recent graduates?

Two pieces of advice, one specific, and one general.

(1) For those in STEM fields, take a course with linear algebra. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a math major. Linear algebra is hands down the most useful topic across all of science and technology – if you master the fundamentals, you’ll be a step ahead of the competition.

(2) It is good to push yourself in your studies and work until you find your limits. You will find that you can do and be things that you didn’t think you were capable of. At the same time, prioritize the things in life that matter most: God, family, friends, community.

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