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Physics graduate finds lifelong passion for research at UK

By Brian Carrico

Photo of a student
Gabija Ziemyte

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 5, 2023) — Walking across the commencement stage and receiving your diploma is a satisfying feeling and is the culmination of a lot of hard work. University of Kentucky graduate Gabija Ziemyte’s family will celebrate her accomplishments for the first time in the United States.

“My parents are from Lithuania, and they both earned master's degrees there,” said Ziemyte, a Lewis Honors student and Chellgren Student Fellow who majored in physics and mathematics with an English minor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I think my parents are proud that I've been able to grow into myself and find success in the things that make me happy.”

Part of what excited Ziemyte about UK was the research opportunities available to undergraduates. Those allowed her to explore her interests and meet other like-minded students.

“Through research, I've learned a lot more depth about modern physics than I would have just in my classes," Ziemyte said. "I was in Chicago last summer doing research, going in and out of the machine shop, the lab and meeting other physicists, and that was the best summer that I can remember having. I can solidly say that research is something that I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.”

Ziemyte, an Owensboro native, was also selected as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador by the Office of Undergraduate Research. Ambassadors must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership potential and be involved in mentored research.

“Being a research ambassador opened my eyes to the other brilliant students around me also participating in research,” Ziemyte said. “I have a narrow-minded enthusiasm about physics, so hearing other students talk about their research in other subjects with my same level of excitement is always really fun.

“I've also been able to see a lot of students grow as people and as researchers. I watched some students go through the process of finding a mentor and actually doing research for the first time. It's a good feeling.”

Research is something Ziemyte is passionate about. She encourages other undergraduates to find ways to get involved in areas they find interesting and offers a piece of advice.

“Find a research mentor that you feel you can connect with. Having an awesome mentor can make you excited about a project that you didn't think you'd find interesting, and having a mentor you don't click with can make research lose some of its luster. Don't hesitate to reach out to the Office of Undergraduate Research if you need help.”

Ziemyte is looking to her next step — pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Notre Dame, where she hopes to get involved in an experimental high energy physics project to better understand the nature of our universe. But she won’t forget her time at UK, from days spent in Chem-Phys to trivia in the Cats Den.

“The most important thing I've learned is that the people you surround yourself with can really make or break your experience somewhere.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $501 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.