Steve Eichblatt's Story

This is an edited version (written by Steve in December 2016) of Steve Eichblatt’s journey to Australia and his career firstly in Physics, briefly in programming and finally as an actuary in finance.

In 1983, when Steve was 15 years old, in 1983, he came with his mom and brother on a one-year long "working holiday" from Houston, Texas to Melbourne Australia. He fell in love, both with Melbourne, which had wonderful old wooden trains and trams, and with a girl in his school. He completed Year 11 in Melbourne.

As he described it:  “I spent the next year in Houston, miserable and sullen, and determined to return to Melbourne. I worked in a movie theatre in the evenings until I graduated from high school, and then I immediately returned to Melbourne on my own.”

 He worked as a clerk with ANZ for almost 2 years. “Although penniless, I was very happy. I loved the ambiance and record stores in South Yarra, and shopping on Chapel Street, and the very cosmopolitan lifestyle that was going on around me.” 

Steve’s parents were anxious for him to go to College and agreed to let him stay in Melbourne when he was accepted into RMIT Applied Physics.

“I spent 3 happy years at RMIT becoming a young physicist. During that time, my dad had started a new family back in Houston, and I had a baby brother and baby sister that I didn't know. And my parents were insisting that I come back to the USA. I was aiming to get my PhD in physics and my parents convinced me to apply to Rice University, in Houston, and I was accepted there. My girlfriend did not want to come to the USA with me, and so we broke up after all those years. At that point, I had spent 5 years in Australia, between the ages of 15 to 21, and I was headed for home a physicist.

Dr. Snook asked me to stay and do graduate work at RMIT. I would have liked to do that, but at that point, I was ready to move on. I had my sights set on working in the big field of American national laboratories and becoming a great scientist. So, I left Australia almost immediately upon graduating.”

Steve obtained his PhD from Rice University. He spent 15 years as an experimental high energy physicist. He worked at Fermilab and CERN studying the structure of fundamental particles and looking for dark matter in the universe. 

In Steve’s words:

“After 15 years in physics I left physics to become an engineer. This was in the year 2000, and the "dot com" bubble was just about to burst. I landed in Silicon Valley, in San Jose, California, working for IBM analyzing the data from hard disk drives. It was a lot of fun, and I met my wife there, but after several years I wanted to become a computer programmer. 

So I moved to Murray Hill, New Jersey to became a software developer at Lucent technologies. The terms of the employment were somewhat temporary, and my wife didn't like that, so she wanted me to apply for other jobs. A friend of mine suggested that I apply for jobs in finance in New York City, since they were looking for talented physicists. Although physics careers were nearly impossible, the New York City finance community had recently discovered this vast pool of untapped talent, the physicists. They needed people with the same critical thinking skills, willingness to guess and build and test models that the physicist had been trained for.

I didn't think I had any chance of getting such a job, because I knew nothing about finance. But I ended up getting a job at a start-up investment company, and with a lot of hard work, it turned out to be a successful enterprise. So now I have been in New York working in finance for about 8 years*. 

So I look back at the good things in my life, and how my past has brought me here. Of course the kindness of individuals along the way can only be repaid by me being kind to other people, which I try to do at every opportunity. But I look at the kindness of the Australian government, to educate me free of charge. Of course, the expectation was that I would stay there and contribute to the economy of Australia. And because of the way my life worked out, I did not stay there and contribute. But I realized that I could pay it back in another way. And so I contacted my friend **Dougal McCulloch, who is now the head of the RMIT physics department and arranged to donate money each year to the department to help students financially. I don't feel like this is generosity on my part, as much as it is repaying a debt. Although, once my debt is repaid, I plan to continue to contribute to RMIT so that it may continue to educate young people like my younger self, without worrying about the cost. So that they may go on and have a wonderful successful career as a physicist, whatever profession they end up working in.


* Now 12 years

** Dougal has now stepped down from this position.