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How to Welcome Astronomy
How to Welcome Astronomy
SPS aims to support all physics and astronomy clubsBy:
Brad R. Conrad, Director, SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, and Andrew Zeidell, Assistant Director, Sigma Pi Sigma
On behalf of the SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma Executive Committee, the SPS Council, and the 846 chapters formed over a century of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, we’re excited to welcome all those interested in astronomy and physics to SPS! While SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma have been composed of physicists and astronomers since the start, we changed our constitution and bylaws in 2021 to explicitly codify our focus on serving physics and astronomy students. Though this may not seem like a big change to some, it is an important acknowledgment in our journey to ensure that the organizations support all those interested in physics and astronomy.
We believe that student clubs should first and foremost serve undergraduates and the departments they occupy. To help achieve this goal, the SPS leadership wanted to offer some thoughts on what embracing astronomy could mean for SPS chapters, Sigma Pi Sigma chapters, and other physics and astronomy department clubs and groups.
Our overarching guidance is that SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma chapters should seek to welcome all students interested in physics and astronomy and strive to build an inclusive and equitable community. We suggest that local clubs and advisors consider making SPS an umbrella organization for all undergraduates in the department. There may be several student groups within a department, each with its own identity (for example, Physics Club, Women in Physics, Astronomy Club, etc.), and yet all may be part of the same overarching Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma chapters. This organizational structure would give all clubs the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of being an officially recognized chapter of SPS.
To ensure that your chapter is inviting and fully welcoming astronomy students, we encourage you to take the following steps.
- Extend the full range of SPS opportunities to students in your school’s astronomy community. This will look different at each institution, as it depends on whether your school has a stand-alone astronomy department, a combined physics and astronomy department, or a department primarily focused on physics.
- If you have an astronomy club on campus, reach out to its student leaders to see how you might partner.
- If applicable, invite eligible astronomy students to be inducted into your Sigma Pi Sigma chapter. Also consider inducting astronomy alums who may have been overlooked, especially if your astronomy department has not been involved in Sigma Pi Sigma in the past.
- Reexamine your chapter bylaws. Each SPS chapter has bylaws that govern membership, elections, officers, and responsibilities. Officers should examine these bylaws yearly and explain them to their members. Make sure your chapter supports physics and astronomy students, and consider codifying this in your bylaws. If you don’t have access to your chapter bylaws, talk with your chapter advisor or the entity that authorizes campus clubs, or reach out to SPS Headquarters.
- Post an SPS code of conduct and rules for common areas. Doing so is important for new and returning students, allowing members to hold each other accountable and support everyone in the department.
- Explore physics and astronomy career options. AIP’s Statistical Research Center shows that physics majors go into various disciplines, including astronomy and astrophysics, and astronomy majors often go into physics. Make sure astronomy is represented in your events and discussions. Examples could include hosting observing events and star parties or having astrophysicists speak to your club.
- When designing outreach events for the coming year, help the public understand that physics and astronomy are strongly connected—AND SUPER COOL! One of the most important activities for many clubs is local outreach to potential majors and the general public. For many people who won’t major in physics and astronomy, outreach events hosted by SPS are among their most memorable connections to the field.
You are SPS, and collectively we can have a huge impact on this world. Have questions about what your chapter can do to implement these changes? Reach out to sps [at] aip.org or your regional elected officials, and together we can make our community even more stellar.