Top 5 Reasons to Get Involved in SPS
Top 5 Reasons to Get Involved in SPS
Samantha Tietjen, SPS Alum and Barn Manager and Instructor, Lilac Thyme Stables
I’m a bit of a poster child for SPS—I was chapter president for a few years, published multiple articles in the SPS Observer and Radiations, and received SPS Travel Awards and an SPS Leadership Scholarship—but when I started college I had no idea that the organization existed. Thankfully, on a whim, I attended a meeting of my local chapter at Cleveland State University. Being involved in SPS was hugely beneficial for me, both personally and professionally.
Here are my top five reasons why YOU should get involved in your local SPS chapter. If you’re not already an SPS member, you can learn more about SPS and join at spsnational.org, or reach out to the chapter or department chair at your school. If you’re a member but haven’t jumped all the way in yet, give it a try. I suspect you’ll never look back.
Cleveland State is a large school with a tiny physics department. Physics majors take mostly prerequisites and general education courses in their first year, and almost every STEM major takes introductory physics. Because of this, I didn’t meet another physics major until my fourth semester! And that was only because we asked our teaching assistant about the upcoming SPS meeting at the same time.
That meeting was my first peek into any sort of community within the major that I’d been committed to for nearly two years already. It was a turning point. I’d finally met the people I’d sit next to in class for the next two years.
As we progressed into advanced classes, these friends became an essential support system. We studied, hung out, and trudged on toward graduation together. That first meeting helped me establish a local support system that only spread out as we moved on to graduate school and employment. This is no doubt my strongest network, even today.
While SPS has “physics” in its name, its doors—and its community—are open to all students interested in physics or astronomy.
SPS is a society for and led by students. While each chapter has a faculty or staff advisor, most of the leadership is in the hands of students. This presents many opportunities for growth. I went from being a behind-the-scenes person to taking on several SPS officer roles in my chapter—including chapter president.
For multiple years I led our chapter’s outreach team, and I had an amazing time learning to teach children from many different backgrounds and age groups. I wasn’t planning to teach, but here I am, working as an equestrian riding instructor, relying on my outreach experience and understanding of mechanics to teach people the safest and most physically stable way to ride.
SPS gave me a forgiving space to explore my leadership and teaching skills and test my independence. Through outreach, trips to conferences, and running programs with many moving parts, I learned so much about myself from being part of SPS.
As someone who left high school a little bit socially awkward and a lot bit anxious, SPS helped me realize that what seemed like one of the most intimidating parts of professional development—networking—was far simpler than I’d imagined.
Networking is about making meaningful connections. You can network with peers by simply talking to them during SPS chapter meetings and working alongside them during outreach events or other chapter activities. Attending a local conference and making friends from a different school is another step. By the time you hit a national conference, where you’re swimming through a world of professionals, networking often looks like socializing between sessions or at meals.
Through professional development opportunities, internships, the Careers Toolbox, chapter gatherings, and regional meetings, SPS teaches students how to network and provides opportunities for applying that skill in a friendly environment.
The Careers Toolbox
Learn networking and other professional skills with the Careers Toolbox, designed especially for physics and astronomy undergraduates. Go to spsnational.org/sites/all/careerstoolbox.
Get Funding for Conference Travel
Applications for SPS Travel Awards and Reporter Awards are accepted on a rolling basis. Learn more at .
SPS encourages undergraduates to attend conferences and offers $300 in travel assistance to students presenting their research at or reporting on one of many physics and astronomy conferences. SPS Travel Awards helped me fund trips to four national meetings in four great cities—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Providence.
My first conference was the 2016 Physics Congress held in San Francisco, California. I went as an SPS reporter, which means that SPS helped fund my travel and I wrote an article about my experience for SPS to share. That conference set a fire under me to pursue research and present my own work at future meetings, which I did!
Conferences are a great introduction to research, new fields of study, and the professional science community. They provide excellent networking and résumé-building opportunities, and usually time to explore the local area.
Many students enter physics and astronomy programs thinking they already know the research and career they want to pursue, but that often changes wildly as they learn more. SPS introduced me to areas of science and applications of physics that I didn’t even know existed, through conferences, talks at SPS chapter meetings, and articles in the SPS Observer.
I walked into Cleveland State planning to be an astrophysicist, did research in lasers and imaging, and left wanting to be an art conservationist. A visit to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute had me briefly flirting with oceanography and climate science. After touring CalTech during an American Physical Society March Meeting, I had visions of working in particle physics.
There is so much out there beyond what your campus offers, and SPS is a great way to learn about your options. Its resources can be a game changer for physics and astronomy students!
About the Author
Samantha Tietjen graduated from Cleveland State University in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in physics, minors in biology and mathematics, and a master’s degree in physics. For being so active in her local SPS chapter, she was inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics and astronomy honor society, postgraduation.