SPS and the Physics of Connection

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SPS and the Physics of Connection


Megan Anderson, SPS Member, William Jewell College

Megan Anderson. Photo courtesy of SPS National Office.Physicists live in a world of relationships… at least mathematically speaking. From beginning studies of Newtonian mechanics to ongoing research for a theory of everything, people connected to the field of physics seek to better understand reality through the interconnectedness of physical phenomena. This work of learning and discovery can be exhilarating, and mathematical relationships are crucial to its development. 

Human relationships aren’t nearly as fundamental to the study of physics, and there is nothing very “scientific” about them. However, these relationships are fundamental to our development as scientists.

Like many students, I began my physics degree without really knowing what it would entail. Equipped with far more enthusiasm than ability, I joined the email list for my school’s SPS chapter and decided to attend an event. I hoped I would meet some nice people along the way, but I expected it to end there. Little did I know that this physics community offers far more than familiar faces—it cultivates friendships.

As SPS members, we can experience the physics community through multiple avenues: our local chapters, affiliate zones, and, every so often, through coming together as an entire organization for PhysCon. This last form of connection is by far the rarest, which is why I’m really excited about Making Waves and Breaking Boundaries this November. The 2019 Physics Congress will give us the opportunity to learn from incredible physicists, tour state-of-the-art research facilities, and present our own research. Perhaps more valuable, however, is the way it will grow our physics community, promoting the kind of atmosphere where a famous scientist is just as approachable as a fellow student.

Here are eight ways you can prepare for connection at PhysCon:

1. Go over the spherical cow metaphor
Be ready to smile knowingly when you see it floating around on SPS merchandise. Plus, use it as a friendly reminder of the ways our assumptions sometimes limit us.

2. Read about the plenary speakers
The speakers are remarkable people! You never know who you may run into at a workshop or lunch table. Having background knowledge on the speakers will help you appreciate their talks even more, and it can give you talking points in case you find yourself sitting next to one of them. One great thing about PhysCon is that you can make connections with anyone, even notable physicists and Nobel laureates.

3. Get your contact information ready
Is email your go-to? Have you been meaning to create a LinkedIn account? Do you have business cards? You’ll want to have some form of contact information available so you can stay connected with new friends and professional contacts after PhysCon.

4. Make a research poster for the student poster presentations
Are you doing research or do you plan to this summer? A research poster is a chance to show off your research and discuss your work with other physicists, both aspiring and experienced. Don’t worry—there’s a template on the SPS website you can use to help format your findings. Once you make your poster, ask a friend to listen to you talk about it. This will help you know what needs further explanation, and you’ll feel much more comfortable once you’re presenting during the actual poster session.

5. Apply for an SPS Travel or Reporter Award
If you’re planning to present research at PhysCon, you may qualify for $200 that can go toward the cost of your trip. If you’re more interested in writing than in research, try applying for the Reporter Award instead. It provides funding for students to document their time at PhysCon, interview leading physicists at the congress, and write about it. Your piece may even be featured in a SPS publication such as the SPS Observer or Radiations!

6. Learn more about Providence, Rhode Island
You may want to look up restaurants or local attractions to visit during the off-hours of the congress. You’ll be in the capital city of Rhode Island, home to a lot of history as well as fun. Exploring the city with fellow PhysCon attendees is another great way to bond with each other.

7. Design a T-shirt your chapter can wear with pride
This will give you the chance to share the uniqueness of your chapter and enter the T-shirt design contest at PhysCon. Make sure your chapter brings enough shirts to participate in the exchange session where you’ll be able to see what other chapters are doing across the country and swap extra shirts. (Plus, who doesn’t like a good tee?)

8. Think about what is and isn’t working for your SPS chapter
You’re about to attend an event with literally HUNDREDS of other people going through a similar experience. It’s a perfect time to learn from one another.

From once-in-a-lifetime conversations to ongoing friendships, we physicists gain a great deal of insight and inspiration when we connect. I hope you’re able to join us for this powerful event!

Want to know more about PhysCon 2019? Go to sigmapisigma.org/congress/2019.

For more information on SPS Travel and Reporter Awards, visit spsnational.org/awards.

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