Senior Spotlight: Emi Eastman

Poet wants to take on cancer with physics

Brianna Wilson


Photo Courtesy of Emi Eastman

Photo Courtesy of Emi Eastman

The interdisciplinary goals of a liberal arts education, close relationships between faculty and staff, and diverse community are just a handful of things that make Whittier College an ideal school for students who choose to enroll. One such student is fourth-year Emi Eastman, who grew up less than a mile from the College. Although she spent her first year in college at the University of California San Diego, she quickly realized its environment was not for her and decided to transfer. “Something always brings me back [to Whittier],” said Eastman. In this case, it was the small class sizes and accessibility to professors — an environment which she was confident she would thrive in — that brought her back to home.

Eastman chose a Physics major early on in her college career, but switched to Business and later Chemistry before ultimately returning back to Physics. “Physics is hard,” she said. “My [first] year, I was like: ‘I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,’ so I tried out a Business class. Then I was like: ‘I miss Physics so much,’ so I switched back to Physics.”

This May, Eastman is set to graduate with a Physics degree, but not before turning in her 20-page paper and giving her 40-minute presentation on radiation therapy.

Currently, physicians are making advances on radiation therapy — an alternative cancer treatment to chemotherapy — which is part of the reason Eastman chose to do her capstone project on it. Another major contribution to this specific research topic was her interest in becoming a medical physician; she plans to move on to graduate school to get her PhD in Medical Physics and believes her current research will help her develop a better understanding of what she will learn later on.

Past research has also helped Eastman come to conclusions about her career path. Over the summer, Eastman had the opportunity to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Notre Dame. “I never knew what an REU was until [Professor of Physics Glenn] Piner introduced it and told us to apply to them,” said Eastman. “I got into one, and it was there that I was introduced to Medical Physics as a field and what it’s like doing research, and I realized I love doing research.” She is currently interning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a non-profit organization that is doing research on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology.

Eastman has also strongly considered pursuing further research in the medical field. She would not mind being in the background instead of the forefront of medical treatment. “I either want to become a medical physicist in an actual hospital or work on research in the radiation physics field [. . .] I’d [either] be directly administering the treatment that could help people, or I’d be creating technologies that could be used to help people. I’d be okay with that; they’re both good options,” she said. Her ultimate goal is to help others, and she feels physics will help her accomplish this.

Eastman is ready to take the next big steps onto her career path. “I either want to go to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which is a PhD and accreditation program, or San Diego State, which is a Master’s and accreditation program,” said Eastman. “I want to stay in California, definitely. I’m taking a year off to work and prep for the Graduate Record Examinations and all the applications. I’m applying to both of those schools and — hopefully — getting in. Those are the only two accreditation programs in California.”

Though she will be leaving the small, cozy environment of Whittier and the College to pursue accreditation to become a medical physicist, she is confident that she will do just fine in either the much larger city of San Diego or the 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio at UCLA. “As an undergraduate, I didn’t do my research beforehand, so I wasn’t very prepared for what was to come. [At Whittier] I got the opportunity to develop all the life skills that you need — the time management and the self-motivation to get stuff done. I think that I could handle the big school again,” she said.

It is very likely that Whittier will not have to truly say goodbye to Eastman after she graduates in May. She expressed interest in becoming a professor later on in her career and responded excitedly to being asked if she would like to return to Whittier College to do so: “Oh, that’d be great. That could be an end goal — to come back to Whittier.” Whether it will be a job as a professor or her research bringing something new into the Physics major, Whittier is not done with Eastman yet.