Week 10: SPS: Endgame

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Friday, August 9, 2019


Terance Schuh

The term “week 10” is misleading. It’s taken me just about 2 weeks to put this last blog post together and it’s not even really about my last week.

Instead, this post is more of a reflection on my time as an undergraduate and how SPS has played a significant role in helping me grow not just as a physicist, but as a human being. As some of you are aware, I graduated from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) almost 3 months ago, but knowing I had one weekend at home before I transitioned into the SPS internship, I grouped the experience in with my time as an undergrad. Before even arriving in DC, I viewed the internship that awaited me as a sort of epilogue to my last 4 years.

And an epilogue it was!

I’m sad that the 10 weeks is up and I had to say goodbye to yet another tight-knit group of young physicists, but it was time to move on. It’s true that we, as humans, enjoy the comfort of what we know, what we are familiar with, but there come moments in life when we must delve into the depths of the unknown; everyone hates change, but we’ll never get anywhere in life if we just stay where we’re content. Think of that guy in your hometown who peaked in high school and continues to milk those days even though they’re long gone. You need to cut those people out. They are holding you back. You can’t get anywhere in this world if you surround yourself with people like that. The carousel never stops turning and you better make sure you’re always on it.

All of this applies to my time at TCNJ. During the past couple years, I became very content with my surroundings. From my professors and fellow classmates to my weekly routines, I was comfortable at college. I could’ve stayed there forever and prolonged my life in the real world like some college students try to do, but simply being able to say exactly that was a clear sign that my time was up.

I’m not saying it’s easy to move on. I completely understand why some people never do. It’s scary, there’s no hiding that fact, but if you have something to motivate you, give you reassurance that you can do it, that sure does help. SPS was my reassurance!

From the very beginning of my undergraduate physics career, SPS was there for me. I still remember going to TCNJ’s first SPS chapter meeting of the year as a naïve freshman. I had only done okay in high school physics, but majored in the subject nonetheless because something about it was alluring. Humble beginnings one might say. Anyway, I was surprised to see a bunch of students in the department across all 4 years in attendance. It was completely unexpected, and I left the meeting immediately feeling like I was in the right place and everything was going to be perfectly fine. As the year went on and I continued to go to weekly meetings, I started to get to know more and more people. The connections I was making were crucial in my early development as a physics student. I started to feel like I could find success through a career in physics (something I believe everyone should be able to say regardless of their field).

By the time my sophomore year ended I felt mature enough to get involved in my SPS chapter as more than just an ordinary member. From confidence in my scientific abilities to lifelong friendships, SPS had done so much for me in such a short time, and I wanted to provide those with less experience than me with the same things that I was given. Using that exact line, I was elected treasurer of our club going into my junior year.

Being treasurer was a nice stepping stone for me. I didn’t have the most responsibilities, but I was in a position where I could still impact underclassmen majors through more direct methods. I had enough power to inspire students the same way that I was inspired. With an executive role under my belt I was in a good spot, but I still felt like I could do more. It was a tough decision due to the inevitable time commitment, but it was the right decision. I ran for president of TCNJ’s SPS chapter going into my senior year and was elected. In the smallest big-headed way, I knew I was right for the job. Like I just described, I had climbed through the ranks and had been a loyal SPS member for my entire college career thus far. I had the experience and skillset to run the very organization that fostered me not so long ago. It was time to give back in the biggest way possible.

Now this is my opinion, but as TCNJ’s SPS president, I believe I did a pretty gosh darn good job! I probably put more time into planning events and looking for better ways to unify our department than I did into some of my schoolwork. Our meetings were just about every Wednesday and I viewed them as a nice escape from work and stress. They were a way to remind, not just myself, but the many attendees, of the bigger picture going on. They were a way to reinforce the idea that we are young problem solvers working together to advance society through science, whether it be through outreach, research, policy, etc. I feel as if I did exactly that. I brought passion for physics, leadership and communication skills, and creativity all to the table and the results don’t lie. In my 4 years at TCNJ, my time as president saw the greatest number of active members in the club and the greatest number of events!

You may be thinking I’m tooting my own horn, but why don’t you just ask SPS national? After all, I have many reasons to believe that I was selected for the SPS internship largely because of my success as a scientific leader in my community. Sure, I was a good physics student, but there are loads of those out there. Rather, it was my SPS involvement and dedication that set me apart from others. Looking at it through a different lens, I see it as SPS provided me with resources at the beginning of my physics journey, I then gave back to SPS and my community only to be rewarded with one final resource via SPS, this very internship.

Hopefully that story provided you with a nice road map to how I got to where I am today, but more importantly I hope it showed you why I’m so grateful for SPS. However, it does not quite wrap up the part about how SPS and this internship gave me the reassurance I needed to know that I’m going to be okay going forward.

If you read my week 9 post, you might remember me mentioning my plan to go to graduate school for physics in the near future. With that being said, I want to discuss all that further and explain how SPS saved the day yet again.

During my time at TCNJ, from the moment I decided I wanted to attend grad school (that was a tough decision and another story in itself) all everyone ever told me was that I had to go into it right after I graduated. I was told that if I didn’t, I would just keep pushing it off until I gave up on the idea completely. Some would even tell me that life would catch up to you and before you knew it, you’d be married with children and it would be totally impossible to do. While those things can and do happen, I am here to tell you that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL RIGHT AWAY! IN MANY WAYS IT’S ACTUALLY BETTER TO TAKE A YEAR OR TWO OFF! I didn’t have the luxury of someone yelling that at me like I just did to you, instead I had to learn it the hard way.

Almost a year ago, feeling like I had to apply to grad programs as a senior, I was writing personal statements, taking entrance exams (curse you physics GRE), and gathering up letters of recommendation. Little did I know that I would spend $1000+ just to get rejected from all 10 schools that I applied to. (Oh, did I not mention? Applying to grad school is incredibly expensive and I had to learn that one the hard way too!) Now, you might be thinking that I probably applied to too many prestigious schools and set the bar too high for myself and that’s why it didn’t work out, but you’d be wrong. I applied to a great mix of schools and the same people that told me to apply while in undergrad also told me that I would definitely get into at least 2 or 3 places. Well, just like you were wrong, they were also wrong. (If I seem bitter and sarcastic about everything, I promise I’m not. I wouldn’t be telling this story if I still felt those ways, I just hate spending a lot of money to learn a life lesson.)

No grad school acceptances, having to convey the bad news to my supporters, not much of a plan going forward, things were not looking so good for me at this point. So, where did I decide to turn? SPS of course! Just like they were there for me at the start, they were there for me at the end. While all this was going on, I applied for the SPS internship with little hope of getting accepting. Having just applied to 10 grad schools, I didn’t see the harm in applying for one more thing. A few weeks later I found out I was going to be working at NASA on a research project for 10 weeks! It gave me something to be excited about, and I could only hope that it would help me transition into post-undergrad life while also boosting my chances of getting into grad school the next time around. Well, hot dog, I was right! As you’ve heard through my past 9 blog posts, I had an awesome experience with the SPS internship and would recommend it to any physics student. The people I met and learned from were amazing, the skills I developed were incredibly significant, and the doors that weren’t open before, but are open now have some great looking paths behind them.

Sure, this past year didn’t go at all like I expected, but sometimes that’s a good thing. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I’m NOT attending grad school this fall. I need the time off, I need to rethink exactly what area of physics I want to apply for, and I need to live in the real world for a year. There are so many things this forced gap year can do for me. I almost feel bad for the people going right out of undergrad because they won’t get to have the experiences that I’m going to have, yet I know I will one day soon have the experiences they’re going to have. Coincidentally, since my change of plans, tons of people who I didn’t even really know while I was applying have told me that they took gap years and would’ve encouraged the same for me from the start. Just about all of them said they wouldn’t be where they are and as happy as they are today if they went right in without a break.

And who I do have to thank for all this newfound wisdom? You guessed it, SPS! With that in mind, I cannot thank you enough Society of Physics Students for being my reassurance the past 4 years. Thank you for providing me with the family I never knew I needed, thank you for all that you taught me, and thank you for letting me know that everything will be okay as I step into the unknown this coming year. I would not be where I am today without you. For the last time, Terry Schuh signing off.

P.S. In this final post I also wanted to highlight the titles of all my posts because they all have something in common. Maybe you’ve recognized that some of them are parodies of more well-known media such as songs and movies. Well, it turns out that they are all parodies! About a week before the internship started, I decided I was going to attempt this feat and I’ve had a lot of fun doing so. With that being said, check out to see how many you knew. I bet no one got all 10!

Week 1: Buses, Trains & Rocketships --> Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987 movie title)

Week 2: Oh, Magic Gourd --> Oh, Magic Conch Shell (quote from 2002 SpongeBob SquarePants episode)

Week 3: α β γ, easy as 1 2 3 --> a b c, easy as 1 2 3 (lyric from 1970 Jackson 5 song)

Week 4: The Rat in the Hat --> The Cat in the Hat (1957 Dr. Seuss book title)

Week 5: We Are The Crossword Champions --> We Are The Champions (1977 Queen song title)

Week 6: National Mall’s Vacation --> National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983 movie title)

Week 7: Star Tours --> Star Wars (original 1977 movie title)

Week 8: The Hunt for Red Zero --> The Hunt for Red October (1984 Tom Clancy book title/1990 movie title)

Week 9: It’s the End of the SPS Internship as We Know It --> It’s the End of the World as We Know It (1987 R.E.M. song title)

Week 10: SPS: Endgame --> Avengers: Endgame (2019 movie title)

Terance Schuh