Breaking Boundaries in Breakout Sessions

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Breaking Boundaries in Breakout Sessions


Toni Sauncy, PhysCon 2019 Planning Committee Member

Planning for PhysCon 2019 is vastly different than planning for the typical technical conference. There are similarities, of course: plenaries, poster sessions, an expo hall, and a banquet are big events that come to mind. But making this a once-in-a-lifetime event for the anticipated 1,500+ enthusiastic undergraduate students means that the traditional mold must be broken in other ways. At PhysCon, the main way this will happen is with our parallel sessions. Most conferences have these sessions, sometimes referred to as breakouts, where multiple sessions occur simultaneously. They are typically set up like lectures, with speakers talking to a room full of passive onlookers and listeners. PhysCon is anything but passive.

There will be parallel sessions, but don’t expect to just sit back and listen—you are needed to make these sessions a success! Planners have worked for the past three years to design breakouts that are informative and inspiring but, most importantly, interactive. That’s right: audience participation required.

When you register for PhysCon 2019, you will have the opportunity to select options from three sets of breakout sessions that will invite you to stretch your creativity, acquire new skills and knowledge, and expand your professional network as you interact with super-cool presenters and get to know other students. The PhysCon2019 breakouts really do break the boundaries, pushing physics students to think and explore everything from career planning to how physics will have a global impact in solving some of the big problems facing humanity.

Will the breakouts take you out of your comfort zone? Hopefully. That is what the planning committee had in mind as we pored over feedback from previous PhysCons to figure out what physics students really want and need as they navigate the undergraduate physics experience. For PhysCon 2019, the breakouts include workshops and panel sessions where students will engage in a range of topics, which include spanning the maker movement, the role of scientists in science policy and funding, and even the connections between astrophysics and jazz. That’s right. Jazz. And physics. Interested? Take a look at the list of options on the PhysCon website. The only problem with a list of mind-bending breakouts is that you only get to pick three. We can’t wait for you to experience the boundary-breaking breakouts of PhysCon 2019. PhysCon 2016 attendees partook in a wide array of breakouts. Photos courtesy of AIP.  

A Few Boundary-Breaking Breakouts:

Physics for Humans
This is a maker/thinker/problem-solver workshop where you will learn and experience how physicists are at the forefront of solving problems that profoundly affect human life. An expert will challenge participants to create their own hands-on solutions.

The Physics of Climate Change—Putting Numbers to the Issue
What are the facts? What is the role of an individual, a community, a region, a nation, or the whole human population of the planet in climate change? If you have ever wondered how to get to the heart of what really matters and how physics will be at the forefront of solving these problems, this is the workshop for you!

A Day in the Life of a Grad Student
What is the real deal with graduate school? Want to know the scoop on the realities of quality of life and how you might fit in an advanced degree program? Come learn from the experts—current grad students in a wide range of graduate programs—uncensored.

Science Policy for Scientists
If you are interested in how science policy influences science and how scientists can be influential in science policy, this is your chance to interact with a combo team of a science policy expert and a Nobel laureate working on a large, government-funded project. Participants will engage in the process of real decision-making that impacts science and scientists.

See for the complete list of PhysCon breakouts.

Register for Breaking Boundaries at

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