How to be the Best SPS Chapter Ever

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Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Congress (PhysCon)

November 3, 2016 to November 5, 2016

San Francisco, CA

Meeting host:

Sigma Pi Sigma


Laura Goodman, David Calvert and Robert Valdillez

SPS Chapter:

Want to help your SPS Chapter thrive? Create a community of students who love physics? Inspire others? No matter whether you are just starting a chapter or if you have one that meets every week for activities, there are tips and tricks to make the whole SPS experience even better for everyone. Hint: it’s more than just pizza.

Dr. Gary White, former SPS Director and current SPS Advisor from The George Washington University, engaged students with ways to make their SPS chapter shine.

During this year’s PhysCon in San Francisco, several workshops were hosted to help students develop skills, learn about their options, and build a community. Those of us interested in “Taking Your Chapter to the Next Level” found a workshop meant not just to inspire our chapters and increase our membership, outreach, and events, but also gave us the opportunity to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of other chapters. Everyone left with a list of personalized ideas for their home SPS chapter that they thought could make a huge difference.

Gary White, SPS Advisor at George Washington University and former SPS director, led this event.

Dr. White asked workshop participants to put on  diffraction glasses to look at all sorts of light sources. Hydrogen lamps gave off separated spectral lines, while looking at the fluorescent lights showed off the full continuous rainbow. After a quick science lesson about diffraction and absorption spectra, Gary White reminded us that SPS chapters are much like these spectra. Lasers diffract into singular intense points of light of the same color, just like some chapters contain a few individual students who are very involved and intense. The overhead lights on the other hand have wide diffuse continuous spectrums, just like some chapters have a wide range of members, but members may not be intensely involved with SPS.

1. Students from all types of chapters shared the challenges their chapters had as well as what their chapters did well, and together we crafted ideas for how to improve our chapters. We came up with ten ideas for chapters to borrow or adapt for their own physics communities.Find out what students want!

The easiest way to figure out what students want to do with SPS is to ask. Whether you already have ideas or are stumped, you should still find out what chapter members want.  White suggests “hosting a back to school event where people can vote for what they want to do over the year.”  

2. Embrace an inclusive philosophy 

If you want more members in your SPS community, go beyond the doors of your physics department and open it up to anyone interested in science. Making SPS open to anyone with a curiosity for science gives the club more depth and allows for a diversity of opinions.   

3. Plan for the long term 

Gary White also suggested planning an event a year or more in the future. This provides continuity in the chapter so that the chapter isn’t super busy one year and then nonexistent the next. This also means that when SPS leadership changes as students graduate, there are already plans in the works for the new leaders to start on. If you are looking for inspiration on what to plan for, consider having your university host an SPS Zone Meeting!   

4. Form a tradition or two

Traditions give members something to look forward to each year. These are also events that provide continuity for the chapter. Some of the traditions that other SPS chapters mentioned were liquid-nitrogen ice cream parties, a full night with the department spent in the observatory dome, and pumpkin drops. Get creative and make your own tradition! 

5. Science Outreach  

Another way to create a sense of community in your chapter and make a difference in your community is to engage your chapter in science outreach. There are so many ways to get your chapter involved. From showing physics demonstrations at local festivals, to giving mini science lessons to kids, to volunteering at events at a local museum, to tutoring students in science and math, there are so many ways to share your excitement about physics with others. 

Students from chapters across the country gathered in small groups to share best practices and challenges.

6. Make invitations personal

Personalize the experience for each of your members. Sending out a blanket email about upcoming events can be easily overlooked with all the rest of the emails that students get. This also goes for posts on Facebook about upcoming events, that can easily be overlooked. Try texting or group messaging members to remind them of your meetings or reach out personally. People are a lot more likely to respond if they know you asked them directly to come out and share in the fun.

7. Leverage SPS National

Get to know what SPS National can offer to your chapter and your members! Get in the habit of making announcements every month about opportunities coming up through SPS. There are grants, internships, conferences and more. Keeping your chapter up to date on these resources expands what your chapter is able to do. 

8. Road Trip!

A way to get students excited about being a part of SPS is by hosting a road trip. This could be the perfect opportunity to bring your students to tour a national lab or check out Google’s headquarters, or visit another university that is doing research that isn’t offered at your home institution. Not only is this an opportunity for professional development, as well as broadening perspectives, but it also creates memories and a more tight-knit bond for all the participants. 

9. Socialize! (And make sure there is FOOD!)

Give your members opportunities to socialize and get to know one another. People are more likely to go to events if their friends are going, so help your SPS members become friends! SPS meetings are a great place to foster connections with others interested in physics. Make sure food is incorporated into events. This is the key to any success of any college organization. Try having pizza at your SPS meetings or invite your chapter to go out to monthly dinners and invite faculty to join. Regardless, eating food together is a key ingredient to any community.

  1. Don’t forget the physics

Of course, the Society of Physics Students is targeted to students who are interested in physics. So make sure to bring the physics into your meetings. A lot of chapters will do physics demonstrations during meetings so that students can have hands-on learning that isn’t restricted by the number of people or time limits of a classroom. Other chapters have created group physics projects to build and work on together. Even including physics jokes or cartoons in your presentations goes a long way. No matter what manner your chapter finds best, make sure to connect the physics with your members.

Regardless of where in the spectrum your chapter falls, these suggestions will make your chapter shine!