#20: Physicist Sarah Demers

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

Last week, physics (yes, physics!) grabbed the headlines: a group of scientists at Switzerland’s European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) presented results suggesting that subatomic particles known as neutrinos had been clocked going faster than the speed of light.

The news reports, even for those of us reading them at the most lay level possible, were fascinating, but I found myself even more interested in the lives of the people pursuing this kind of research. At the very same moment that I was banging my head against the wall trying to get a fairly simple software program to work (a program, by the way, that comes with a comprehensive users’ manual that tells me exactly what to do), these people, these physicists, were working on nothing less than cracking the secrets of the universe. I found myself wanting to speak directly with such a person, and Sarah Demers, who appears to travel fairly close to the speed of light herself, graciously agreed.

About Sarah Demers: Sarah Demers (pictured here with her son Jonah and daughter Alina) is an assistant professor of physics at Yale University. She also works on the ATLAS experiment at CERN. Sarah did her undergraduate work at Harvard, and she received her Ph.D. from the University of Rochester. I like that her To Do list includes things like “Find the Higgs boson.”


#19: Mediator Tom Melancon

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

After 15 years spent working as a wordsmith or a spin doctor (depending on who you ask), I found myself wanting to change tracks. I was drawn to mediation because it seemed to require many of the same skills (in mediation, spin is called “reframing”) and yet it has such an appealing goal: rather than working for, say, a few more points of market share, I would be (cue the music!) Brokering Peace. Maybe not *world* peace, but peace nonetheless.

Mediators help divorced parents create parenting plans…they help feuding neighbors arrive at workable arrangements…they help businesses resolve disputes…they facilitate difficult workplace conversations that might otherwise lead to litigation. It’s very, very satisfying stuff. But it turns out that it’s also a hard way to make a living. In my conversation with Tom, we discussed both issues: the incredible appeal of mediation on the one hand, and the difficulty of making a career out of it on the other.

About Tom Melancon: Tom Melancon is a certified mediator who manages the largest ‘shared neutrals’ mediation program in the United States: the Seattle Federal Executive Board’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program. Through this program, a consortium of 80 mediators (most of whom are federal employees themselves) conduct hundreds of mediations and facilitations every year for a wide range of government agencies. The program, which typically achieves annual settlement rates that exceed 85% and is credited with saving federal agencies millions of dollars each year, has now been emulated in cities nationwide.