How to Virtually Maintain a Healthy SPS Chapter

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Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices

How to Virtually Maintain a Healthy SPS Chapter


Anthony Kuchera, Molly McDonough, and Nicole Gugliucci, SPS National Council

SPS chapters face many of the same challenges that make classes, work, and socializing difficult in every other facet of life during the coronavirus pandemic. How can you build community when you’re not allowed within six feet of each other? What do you do if your membership is scattered geographically? How can you support each other through this incredibly unusual time?

The lack of face-to-face interaction and reduced opportunities to gather are significant challenges that require a new way of thinking about getting together. In addition, the switch to virtual meetings has left many of us with computer-screen and Zoom fatigue. All of this can lead to a lack of motivation to plan yet more virtual events.

Further disconnecting ourselves, however, isn’t likely to make our situations any better. Scientists thrive on collaboration, and the mutual support networks built through SPS can help. See suggestions below:

  • Asynchronous communication through a platform such as GroupMe, Signal, or Discord allows your members to interact whenever they want and still feel part of the community. In fact, SPS National has a Discord server for all members with a range of topics in physics and a rather active “meme” channel (to join, please visit Chapters can also make space for a voice channel or video conference room to serve as an SPS “lounge” where members can collaborate on problem sets or just chat.
  • Rethink professional development opportunities by hosting an online poster session, or start a journal club where members suggest papers to read each week and discuss as a group. Host a speaker that you’d never be able to get in person! One advantage of virtual meetings is that they erase the distance between us. Invite an alum from your chapter, a colleague, or a member of the Alumni Engagement Program to give a colloquium talk via videoconferencing; they can make it just as easily from another state or across the country. You can also get together with your chapter and watch the virtual colloquium talks hosted by SPS National. Don’t forget that you can also hold your Sigma Pi Sigma inductions virtually! The National Office has resources for online inductions available at and is always happy to help.
  • Social events have already helped some chapters stay connected. Have an online game night with a sharing platform such as, or host a virtual movie night so members can watch a film together using a separate text chat for discussion. In addition to the usual streaming platforms, chapters can find old science fiction classics for free on YouTube. If you’re missing astronomy outreach, join a virtual star party, such as those hosted by the McDonald Observatory or Universe Today, that feature live telescope views.
  • It’s most important to remember that this pandemic is affecting everyone differently. Not everyone will have the mental bandwidth for more virtual meetings, and that’s okay. Consider setting aside at least an hour each day for doing an activity away from the computer—exercise, yoga, reading, art—anything to reduce screen fatigue. Now more than ever, mental health and self-care are incredibly important.

It’s easy to feel isolated, but your SPS chapter and SPS National are here for you! Be patient with yourself and the people around you. You might not be as productive as you usually are or as you’d like to be, and that’s to be expected. Anxiety may be high, and that’s okay. Remember, physicists are people first! So take care, and keep in touch.

Dr. Renee Horton, NASA, former president of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and NSBP fellow, gives a virtual colloquium to the SPS community discussing the “Adaptability to Thrive.” Image courtesy of SPS National.

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