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Education: WHS grad awaits word on Rhodes Scholarship

Jim Talbert has a big weekend coming up. The Waccamaw High grad is a Rhodes Scholar and Marshall Scholarship finalist. Both will be announced this weekend.

Talbert, who was valedictorian at Waccamaw, is a Baccalaureus Artium et Scientiae (Bachelor of Arts and Sciences) major in the South Carolina Honors College, focusing on physics, philosophy of science and science in society. The degree is the most selective undergraduate degree program at USC and allows students a chance to develop a program of study that satisfies requirements for both a BS and a BA degree. For Talbert, the program offered him a chance to earn essentially a full physics degree with a heavy concentration of courses in the philosophy of science.

“In my opinion, it’s provided complementary ways to look at things. I feel like I’m studying the same thing in the philosophy of science as I am in physics, I’m just asking different questions. And that’s given me a broader context to understand physics and the role it plays,” he said.

It also allowed him to do research work with two professors – work he called “my most formative experience. Had I not joined with the professor I joined with, I may not have been a physics major.”

At USC, he began his physics research in gamma-ray astrophysics, but now works in theoretical nuclear/particle physics with Fred Myhrer in USC’s physics department. He also is researching the nature of scientific models with Michael Stoeltzner in USC’s philosophy department.

“Both of those professors are my primary research mentors. They’ve been extremely helpful and engaging. I owe quite a lot to them,” he said.

Talbert was first drawn to physics in high school, and after doing some outside reading on the subject, he thought it might be the right field for him. It turned out he was right. He plans to complete a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, become a professor and researcher and may explore working at a national or international laboratory.

“It’s one of those disciplines where you feel you are making a significant contribution. You can arrive at amazing conclusions with ingenuity, insight and hard work,” he said. “Ultimately I want to get back to a university. I want to stay integrated with other parts of the community, and possibly serve on a science policy advisory board. I also want to contribute to philosophical discussions. I think that’s why a university will be the best place for me.”

Talbert, 21, grew up along the South Carolina coast, living in Andrews until the seventh grade when his family moved to Pawleys Island. He is a graduate of Waccamaw High School and is the son of Ron and Denise Talbert of Pawleys Island. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, holds the Carolina Scholar Pepsi Scholarship and is a Palmetto Fellow.

“USC was the best option for me. I considered a lot of different schools on the East Coast. This seemed to be the right move,” Talbert said. “USC offered me a bunch of opportunities. And they spent time trying to get me here. I appreciated that.”

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