The MIT SPS/ΣΠΣ Chapter: Bringing People Together

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The MIT SPS/ΣΠΣ Chapter: Bringing People Together


Kendra Redmond, Contributing Editor

Food, physics, and fellowship—that’s what fuels the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SPS and ΣΠΣ chapters. The two chapters go hand in hand; students are inducted into the honor society as seniors, so most of the activities fall under the SPS umbrella.

Weekly SPS study breaks offer physics students a chance to blow off some steam and fill up before attacking the next problem set. The breaks take place at different times each week, in an effort to facilitate camaraderie among one of the largest physics departments in the country. Most breaks draw 40–50 students into the physics common room.MIT physics students enjoy an SPS-sponsored study break. Photo by Emma Dunn, MIT.

As a way of breaking down barriers between faculty and students, about once a month a faculty member and ten physics students (chosen by lottery from those interested) head out to a local restaurant for dinner.

“The idea is to create an opportunity for undergraduates to ask professors about career paths, their research, personal experiences, and advice in an informal setting,” explains SPS chapter president Megan Yamoah.The chapter organizes similar lunches with the physics department colloquium speaker every other week. The small nature of these gatherings gives attendees the opportunity to connect with peers and experts who share similar interests.

In November, the SPS students hosted the first ever Greater Boston Undergraduate Physics Conference, an expanded version of a traditional MIT-Harvard undergraduate physics conference. The conference brought together students from several area institutions for research presentations, keynote talks, and a lunchtime social. The informal conversations were one of the highlights and inspired discussions about future joint events, says Yamoah. For example, the MIT and Wellesley College SPS chapters are discussing joint outreach workshops for local K-12 students.

The MIT chapter is no stranger to outreach events, but Yamoah hopes to expand their reach. “A lot of our events access a certain demographic—maybe kids whose parents are academics or who are otherwise involved in that community. I’m especially interested in reaching out to kids who don’t have that background,” she says.

Speaking of joint events, next fall SPS and ΣΠΣ members from around the country will have a chance to visit with members of the MIT chapter in their native environments—during a PhysCon tour of MIT and its labs. The chapter is already preparing for this unique opportunity and looking forward to engaging with so many physics students.

From departmental events to national engagement, what kind of food fuels all of this activity? “Before my time, I think a lot of events had Thai food,” explains Yamoah. “I’ve tried to spice it up a bit (so to speak) with other options. Generally, we do international options like Mediterranean, Indian, and Vietnamese,” she says. It’s just one more way—albeit a delicious way—that the chapter is working to bring people together. The winning design of the 2017 MIT SPS T-shirt contest. Image by Alfred Zong.

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