Building Momentum for the Next Generation of Physicists

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Message from the President

Building Momentum for the Next Generation of Physicists


DJ Wagner, Past President of SPS National, SPS Chapter Advisor and Professor of Physics, Grove City College

Photo courtesy of  DJ Wagner.As I look through the contents of this issue of Radiations, I think about how much has changed since my own Sigma Pi Sigma induction 30 years ago. I don’t recall having access to any resources about careers in physics. Of course, the World Wide Web hadn’t been invented yet, so dissemination of information was very different! Now, many physics departments offer multiple concentrations to help students tailor their studies to their chosen path, career services offices are often (or at least sometimes) better informed about the diverse careers physics majors pursue, and many excellent career resources abound, such as the Careers Toolbox and the profiles of physicists available on the SPS website. Departments, and SPS, continue to evolve to meet the changing needs and resources of each generation.

One amazing resource not available when I was a student is the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress—PhysCon. Attending conferences and getting a sense of what it means to be a professional is a valuable experience for students, and I strongly encourage all of my students to attend conferences whenever possible. The Sigma Pi Sigma Congress is unique because it is a conference designed with the physics undergraduate in mind—whether a speaker will be understandable by and accessible to undergraduate students is a key criterion of Sigma Pi Sigma Congress planning. There are also interactive workshops relevant to the undergraduate; opportunities for students to present posters on science outreach and research (in any stage and at any level of significance); a physics “phine art” contest and exhibit; fascinating tours; talks by world-class physicists; opportunities for chapters to share ideas; networking, both with peers and with professionals in the field; and much more.

My first experience with the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress was in 2004, attending with one student. As the conference wore on, I thought, “This is the best conference I have ever attended! I am bringing a busload of students to the next one!” So I did—I have brought between 20 and 33 students to each Sigma Pi Sigma Congress since then. Whether it is meeting famous speakers such as Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who has graciously posed with my students at the past three congresses (see photo), getting to share research ideas with both students and professionals in the field, learning about some cutting-edge advance in the field, making connections that lead to a summer internship, job, or graduate school, or just finding out how many other physics students are out there who share their interests, the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress has been a valuable part of my students’ educational experience. 

Members of the Grove City College Physics Club with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell at the 2019 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress. Photo courtesy of DJ Wagner.

I encourage you to help the next generation of physicists by getting involved in the upcoming Sigma Pi Sigma Congress taking place in Washington, DC, in October 2022. Please also consider attending—the conference is open to everyone, and we are hoping to attract a large number of alumni for this centennial celebration of Sigma Pi Sigma. If you are connected to an undergraduate physics program, encourage students (and faculty) to attend and do whatever you can to support their trip. If you are able, donate to help defray travel expenses: to your local chapter or your alma mater, with instructions to use the funds for Sigma Pi Sigma Congress student travel, and/or to the ΣΠΣ Centennial Campaign fund, which specifically supports student travel to the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress. This will be a fantastic event, and I hope I will see you (and the students you encouraged to attend) there! 

The Grove City College Physics Club at 2019 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress.  Photo courtesy of DJ Wagner.

DJ Wagner is a member of the College of William & Mary ΣΠΣ chapter (‘91) and advisor of the Grove City College chapter. She served on the National Council for 11 years, four as SPS president, and has been a key member of the planning committees for three Sigma Pi Sigma Congresses, including the upcoming Congress in 2022.

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