Jim holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, which he received in 1992. The Ph.D. was followed by several years of post-doctoral work, culminating in a stint with the title Research Professor. He also holds a master's degree.  

Jim was born in a small Alabama town. When he was small, his parents moved to a slightly larger Florida city, on the state's east coast. It was there that he became, years later, the valedictorian of his high school class, the top student in a class of about 500. His classmates voted him Most Likely to Succeed. He was the first-chair trumpet player in the marching band and wind ensemble (think orchestra, but in marching band country there are no strings, just winds and percussion) from his sophomore year onward. He was an officer in the band, and he became president of two academic honor societies, including one he never joined. 

After high school, Jim earned a bachelor's degree, majoring in physics, at Swarthmore College, which at the time was widely regarded as one of the top three small liberal arts colleges in the United States (with Williams and Amherst). At Swarthmore, Jim studied math and physics but also English literature, with an emphasis on theater. Never an actor, Jim's interest was in scriptwriting, direction, production and theory of performance. 

Right after college, Jim worked for a while as a newspaper reporter. 
His first gig was at a weekly in small-town North Carolina (think Mayberry); he was hired to do sports but ended up being a news writer instead, covering church socials, public works issues (is the wastewater treatment plant falling into the Dan River?) and small-town corruption (did the mayor use his influence to get his friend a permit to build a go-cart race track?) This gig was also his first professional exposure to photography, a lifelong interest: He took black-and-white photos of sunsets, local celebrities, council meetings, and oddly shaped and oversized vegetables; many of his photos ended up on the newspaper's front page. He wrote a weekly column about whatever was on his mind--his brother's marriage, New Jersey bowlers, laundromats, dealing with pinhead bosses (to the amusement of his editor and publisher), Florida road trips. Eventually he applied to graduate school and figured out it paid better, and Chapel Hill sounded fun. So he put his writing career on hold and endeavored to become a scientist, soon earning a master's degree and then a Ph.D. in physics. 

His work in physics was, in a way, a continuation of his interest in photography. He studied point defects (molecular-scale imperfections with real-world consequences) in materials of technological interest, including semiconductors and--the subject of his dissertation--silver halides, the materials used in film photography. He used techniques from nuclear physics to study these atomic-scale imperfections, detecting correlated gamma-ray emissions to turn nuclei into little sensors of their local environments. Following the Ph.D., Jim became a postdoc and then held a series of faculty positions, leading up to the title of Research Professor--and then he quit. During his scientific career, which lasted about 10 years including graduate school, he authored or co-authored some 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles, all published in top-tier journals. He also co-edited a book, Accelerator-Based Atomic Physics Techniques and Applications, with nuclear physicist Stephen Shafroth, one of his professors.

Along the way, Jim met a girl. He met her at Swarthmore when he was a sophomore and she (Rachel) was a precocious 16-year-old freshman, but she left Swarthmore soon after. In the following years they were often apart, and yet they stayed together, more or less, and in 1991 they were married. The following year, Jim finished his Ph.D. and Rachel finished hers three years later. Then both were on the academic job market, applying for tenure-track faculty positions. Rachel got an offer, Jim didn't. (With the fall of the iron curtain and the downsizing of corporate labs, it was a tough time to be on the physics job market.) Jim quit physics and followed Rachel to Maine. 

Jim and Rachel moved in to a passive-solar house in a beautiful wooded valley, and Jim became a house-husband, doing manly things like cutting, splitting, and hauling firewood and putting in new floors. They had a child and (after the breastfeeding phase) Jim became the primary parent. In his considerable spare time, he wrote. He got interested in high-end audio and started writing about that. While Rachel was on sabbatical at Princeton University, Jim  founded The Post-Careerist, an online magazine that endeavored to refocus notions of work and leisure, drawing on the ideas of the Epicurians, Henry David Thoreau, and Scott and Helen Nearing, among others. The Post-Careerist published excellent writing by prominent writers and generated an audience that was loyal, diverse, and smart. He also joined the pioneering online publication BlueEar.com, founded by journalist Ethan Casey, as science editor, and started what may have been the world's first science blog. Having established his post-careerist bona-fides, he became a careerist--for a father, the lure of a steady income can be strong. He was offered a regular job with Science magazine's news department--Science is, or was, the best science magazine on the planet--with a special focus on careers. He was Editor of Science Careers for about 8 years and stayed at Science or more than 14 years. 

Eager for something new and tired of dealing with pinheads, in the summer of 2015 Jim followed his wife once more, as she accepted an endowed chair at Barnard College. 

So Jim is now a New Yorker. He spends his time working out (when his aging body allows it), writing (freelance and personal projects, both fiction and nonfiction), and indulging that long-time fascination with photography, semiprofessionally. Photography is an example of Jim's fascination with the idea (and reality) of technology-mediated aesthetic experience; the other is high-end audio: Jim continues to contribute to Stereophile, the highest-circulation high-end audio magazine in the world. Jim has been a Contributing Editor at Stereophile for about 12 years. 

Subpages (1): Publications
Jim Austin,
Oct 7, 2016, 2:26 PM