Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Neil Foegen, PhD Candidate in Chemical Physics

Neil Foegen

Where did you grow up? 
I was born in Minneapolis, MN, and grew up in Appleton, WI.

What drew you to your field? 
In my junior year as an undergraduate, I took an introductory chemistry class, and everything took off from there. I had been a geoscience major but then added chemistry as a second major, and within three years was accepted to Columbia to pursue a PhD.

How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field? 
I am researching molecular materials to contribute to the advancement of renewable energy. I hope to develop an understanding of how molecular architectures dictate their own material performance in microelectronic devices and which architectures are suitable for various device applications.

What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
The number of opportunities for professional development. I’ve held fellowships with the Center for Teaching and Learning, Columbia Technology Ventures, and the GSAS Fellowships in Academic Administration (with the Professional Development and Leadership Program of Columbia Engineering). These experiences have added significant value in the form of broader knowledge — beyond academic research — as well as professional skills and connections.

What Columbia resources or opportunities have been most valuable to you?
The Center for Career Education has been a wonderful resource for learning about all the possible career paths available for PhD students. I’ve attended many events to learn which career path is right for me.

Is there a common misconception about a topic in your field that you wish you could correct?
Yes — that renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal are necessary to achieve carbon-neutral power production. We’ve had the means to produce carbon-neutral energy since the 1960s with nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, through a successful lobbying campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry, many people have been convinced that nuclear power is dangerous. Michael Shellenberger has written some fabulous articles about this.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
As a first-generation college student, just getting accepted to Columbia was beyond the realm of what I thought possible. Luckily, I had an undergraduate advisor (big shout-out to Professor Jason D’Acchioli at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point) who knew my application would be competitive at elite universities and encouraged me to aim higher than I had originally intended.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Spider-Man is my favorite superhero because he’s a nerd like me, and Batman gets an honorable mention because he doesn’t have any real superpowers, which is pretty gnarly.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My hero is anyone who ruthlessly criticizes themselves; learns from their mistakes; and tries their best to be thoughtful, tough, kind, and honest, even though they know they’re going to fail every single day and that others will condemn them despite their most genuine efforts.

What is your favorite blog or website?
Dndbeyond.com is my favorite website because I love Dungeons & Dragons.

Where is your favorite place to eat on or around campus?
I love to cook, so I want to say my own apartment. However, I get the blueberry-pancake special at Community for breakfast almost every week.