The Right Path is Your Path

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The Right Path is Your Path


Madison Swirtz, Graduate Student in Physics Education Research, University of Utah

I thought I did my undergrad wrong. I was passionate about my community and did too much service work. My CV is stacked with proof that I know and care about equity issues, but not nearly as much traditional physics research.

I wanted to be connected to queer issues in physics, but that was the one issue my department wouldn’t talk about. So I sought out queer spaces in the broader physics community. That’s where I learned about queer research happening in physics education research. I met my current advisor right as I was applying to graduate school and feel incredibly lucky that I am pursuing “queer physics” in a research capacity within a physics department.

I’ve been meeting many new people recently, and when they ask what I do for a living it becomes a bit of a monologue. “I’m a graduate student” usually covers me for a quick acquaintance, but if they want any more detail, I explain: “I’m a physicist in a physics PhD program. My subfield is physics education research, but I don’t do education at all and don’t like teaching. My research is on the social networks and career trajectories of LGBT+ physicists. More broadly, I apply queer theory in a physics context.” Explaining this can make me feel like an outsider in my own field, but everyone replies similarly: “I’m glad there are people doing this work, and it’s awesome that you can do something you’re so passionate about.”

I did my undergrad wrong. And I’m probably doing grad school wrong. But by not following the “correct” path, I ended up pursuing the research I always wanted to do.


Madison Swirtz



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