PhysCon Is a Congress—Each Student Has a Voice

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Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices

PhysCon Is a Congress—Each Student Has a Voice


Jim Borgardt, Sigma Pi Sigma President

No matter what your political beliefs are, the 2018 elections again showed the importance of being involved in the democratic process, of participating in your local community, and that each individual vote matters. The same is true in regards to your professional life—it’s important to be engaged, connect with others, and have your voice heard. PhysCon 2019, with a theme of Making Waves & Breaking Boundaries will be held November 14–16, 2019, in Providence, Rhode Island, and offers a perfect opportunity to do just that. PhysCon 2019 will be the largest known gathering of undergraduate physics students in the United States, with an anticipated 1,500 participants! PhysCon is different because it’s not a standard conference. It is a gathering of like-minded students: part conference, part retreat, part congress. PhysCon is for students. Not only does it connect you with other students, the National Office, Nobel Prize recipients, and other luminaries in physics, but it also gives you a unique and powerful chance to have your thoughts and ideas heard and to hear and consider those of others you will meet. PhysCons only occur every few years, so this is something you and your SPS chapter should make every effort to take advantage of!

Make your voice heard at…

Plenary Talks
With five plenaries from physics VIPs on a diverse array of physics-related subjects, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to interact with them and ask questions. Based on student input, we’ve arranged speakers who reflect the diversity of our community. We have people who’ve gotten a PhD and who haven’t, who work in academia and industry, and who’ve changed their fields in big ways and small. At PhysCon 2019, we will be seeking your input on who should be invited to the next meeting and what kinds of topics you want to hear about!

Breakout Sessions
After the last PhysCon, some attendees voiced concerns that students had to make hard choices and sometimes missed a workshop they really wanted to attend due to scheduling conflicts. We also solicited student feedback on which sessions you found valuable or wanted more of, which you felt could be left out, and which unrepresented topics you wanted to see included in PhysCon 2019. In short, we heard you! In the upcoming PhysCon, there will be a greater variety of topics, including climate change, entrepreneurship, outreach, data visualization, backyard astronomy, the physics of cooking, graduate school, careers, science policy, career toolbox items, and more! 

Some of the sessions that are anticipated to be more popular will be repeated, giving you more flexibility. We’ll continue to have a congress-wide interactive session where we explore what we need to work on within the community, as a community. We’ll figure out who we are as a group and what we can do to come together more effectively and productively to help reach our collective goals.

Poster Sessions
Based on suggestions from students at the last PhysCon, there will be a stronger footprint here too. PhysCon 2019 will offer not one, but two student poster sessions, with dedicated time for viewing the contributions from an expected 750 poster presenters—about half of all of the students attending! We’ll also be continuing the art competition, which helps explore the profound connection between art and physics.

Graduate School and Career Fair
We are committed to having even more graduate schools, companies looking to hire budding physicists, and representatives from our national labs. PhysCon 2019 will not only have opportunities for you to interact with these groups, but will also include a mix of posters and exhibitors, including AIP Member Societies, to provide a well-rounded experience for students looking for internships or pursuing graduate work in a physics-related field. This is an excellent opportunity to share your experiences and interests—don’t forget your resume!

Providence offers an excellent home base for touring nearby state-of-the-art facilities in a wide range of work steeped in physics. There will be an opportunity to tour nearby physics attractions such as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, New London Naval Research Base, MIT, Harvard, the Rhode Island Hospital Medical Physics facility, and Optikos, the world’s largest manufacturer of equipment for measuring optical image quality.

Breaking Boundaries!
Based on student input, PhysCon 2019 will also feature a new event called “Breaking Boundaries” focused on promoting SPS chapters from across the country. The goal is for students to visit with and learn from one another, while also finding ways to improve their own chapters. Each chapter has its own unique culture, and the aim of this session is to create a space to share ideas and items that other chapters can take home to their own institutions.

This lineup of plenaries, breakout and poster sessions, a career and graduate school fair, tour destinations, and the new Breaking Boundaries event—each envisioned or improved with student representation on the planning committees—promises to “make waves and break boundaries” and make PhysCon 2019 the best to date! With so many opportunities to personally benefit, to enjoy and build our physics community, and to meet and make new connections with about 1,500 physics students from SPS chapters around the country, now is the time to energize your chapter’s plans to join us in Providence, Rhode Island, for PhysCon 2019! I look forward to meeting you and hope to hear your voice there.

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Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices