Belonging in Physics with SPS

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Belonging in Physics with SPS


Alina Gearba-Sell, PhD, President of the Society of Physics Students and Associate Professor, Department of Physics, United States Air Force Academy

Greetings and welcome to a new and exciting academic year!

I am the president of the Society of Physics Students and faculty advisor of the SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma chapters of the United States Air Force Academy. I previously served as faculty advisor of the University  of Southern Mississippi chapter and zone councilor of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and western Tennessee. Overall, I have had the honor and privilege to mentor students for almost 15 years.

“SPS is the best thing for your career since choosing to study physics” is what the poster on my office door says. I firmly stand by this. SPS is an undergraduate’s first professional society and, in many cases, their first physics community. Through local impacts and national initiatives, SPS provides professional development, networking opportunities, and last, but not least, a sense of belonging. I missed out during my undergraduate career by not having the support of a national student organization. The one thing I want to do during my presidency is to make sure that both students and their faculty mentors are aware of the opportunities SPS has to offer.

SPS provides several types of scholarships to benefit various student demographics. Through its unique summer program, SPS offers research, education and outreach, and science policy internship positions. SPS also provides research and outreach awards, as well as travel grants to present scholarly work at professional meetings. Other professional development resources to check out are the Careers Toolbox, SPS Jobs and GradSchoolShopper.

Another way SPS helps guide the future of the community is by bringing together students from across the globe for the Physics Congress. PhysCon is unlike any other physics meeting; it is part conference, part workshop, part retreat, and most importantly, a congress. The next PhysCon will be held in 2019 in Providence, RI. The theme we chose for this congress, “Making Waves and Breaking Boundaries,” couldn’t have been  more  appropriate for the SPS community, the next generation of physicists who will not only advance the field but also advocate for community engagement, inclusivity, and diversity. If your chapter hasn’t done so already, start planning now for what is shaping up to be the largest gathering in the world for physics undergraduates.

My involvement with SPS has always been rewarding, but serving as president takes that to a whole new level. I became acquainted with students of all backgrounds from across the nation who work tirelessly on increasing their community engagement, are passionate about making physics an inclusive and diverse community, and are ardent advocates of communicating science. These young men and women displayed one characteristic in common: the determination to succeed no matter what it takes. This issue of The SPS Observer is dedicated to the concept of mental grit as an essential and integral component of maintaining a balanced undergraduate experience and, ultimately, a healthy SPS community.

Since a new academic year is starting, I ask each of you to reach out to every student interested in physics, make them feel included, listen to their personal stories, and support them. Our community as a whole will only grow stronger because of who we are as individuals. Together we can accomplish amazing things.

For additional resources to help kick your chapter’s year off well, check out:

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