A “Wicked Smaht” Review

Meeting Notes

A “Wicked Smaht” Review

The American Physical Society March Meeting

 Alyssa Alvarez, Thao Nguyen, and Eddy Velazquez, SPS Members, St. Mary’s University–San Antonio

Alyssa Alvarez presenting her poster at the APS March Meeting undergraduate poster session. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Alvarez.“You’re a physics major? Well then you must be wicked smaht. Welcome to Boston.” That memorable line was directed to Eddy Velazquez, one of the six undergraduates from St. Mary’s University traveling from San Antonio to Boston for the APS March Meeting. They were definitely encouraging words that got our APS March Meeting experience off to a good start. The week that followed was full of many highlights.

Highlight: Enjoying the Diversity in Weather and Research Areas, by Thao Nguyen

Arriving in Boston for this year’s APS March Meeting from the blazing heat of San Antonio, Texas, the first difference we noticed was, inevitably, the weather. We are accustomed to San Antonio, where the temperature can go up to more than 100 degrees in the summer, so experiencing Boston in March (when the temperature was in the 20s) was definitely something we had to acclimate to. Despite our initial reluctance, however, Boston turned out to be quite pleasant, as did the conference.

Like the weather, the APS meeting turned out to be different than what we were used to but enjoyable. Even though we are interested in completely different fields in physics, all of us were able to attend talks that pertained to our preferences because of how well organized and diverse the March Meeting was. Overall, attending different sessions throughout the week on research in fields within our interests, and even fields we had never heard about, was an intellectually stimulating experience.

Highlight: Participating in the Undergraduate Poster Session, by Alyssa Alvarez

Alyssa Alvarez presenting her poster at the APS March Meeting undergraduate poster session. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Alvarez.

I’ve always found presenting to be nerve wracking, but I recognize the importance of practicing this skill. The APS March Meeting provided me with an excellent opportunity to do so during the undergraduate poster session.

In the summer of 2018, I did research at Rice University on proteins called flavodoxins that are found in the bacteria Clostridium acetobutylicum. At the end of my 10-week research experience, I created a scientific poster. Even though my research was biology focused, I decided to submit an abstract for this poster to the APS March Meeting. APS has a lot of diversity when it comes to the subfields of research that are included in the meeting. This diversity is definitely a positive attribute—not only did I get to present my own research, but I was able to find other presentations within my interest areas.

It was also very interesting to hear from students about their research, learn what schools they were attending, hear about their goals and interests, and even exchange advice on how to improve our presentation abilities. The undergraduate poster session allowed me to develop my poster presentation skills and gain feedback, and connect with other people who are doing research in similar fields.

Highlight: Meeting an Alum, by Eddy Velazquez

Dr. Giovanni Fazio is a senior physicist at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, Harvard University, and an alum of St. Mary’s. The six of us from St. Mary’s who attended the APS meeting were able to talk with Dr. Fazio there. We heard about his experiences at our university when he attended in the 1950s, as well as the challenges he faced on his journey to earning a PhD and becoming an award-winning physicist. He offered us some good advice about graduate school and not giving up, even in the face of adversity.

I think it’s safe to say that every one of us enjoyed our time in Boston. We were able to learn more about fields within our interests, connect with other undergraduates who share similar goals, meet an alum from our university, and practice our presentation skills during the poster session. We are grateful for everyone that supported us and helped us to attend the conference. If you have an opportunity to attend an APS meeting as an undergrad, you should definitely take it—you will have the time of your life. St. Mary's students meet with Dr. Giovanni Fazio, Harvard University. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Alvarez, Thao Nguyen, and Eddy Velazquez.