An SPS Symposium for Sharing Summer Research Adventures

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SPS Chapters on Professional Development

An SPS Symposium for Sharing Summer Research Adventures


Lilah Mercadante, SPS Chapter Co-President, Amanda Malnati, SPS Chapter Treasurer, and Dr. Nalini Easwar, SPS Chapter Advisor, Smith College

Event flyer courtesy of the Smith College SPS chapter.While the stereotypical image of a scientist is someone who works in a lab, stares at a computer screen, or crunches numbers all day, we know that communicating your work clearly and coherently can be equally as important as the research. This is why we, the Smith College SPS chapter (also known as the Physics and Astronomy Club), wanted to host a research symposium giving students the opportunity to tell their peers and professors about their summer adventures in physics and astronomy and polish their presentation skills.

The Summer Research Symposium premiered in fall 2019. Many first-year students considering a major or minor in physics and/or astronomy attended the symposium, along with curious professors. The presenters, mainly juniors and seniors, gave presentations that included photos—and sometimes even props—from their summer research experience. The topics ranged from dark matter to CubeSat creation. After each presentation, the student in the spotlight eagerly answered questions from intrigued students and professors. Following the presentations, we held a potluck-style dinner where presenters, professors, and prospective majors could discuss the topics further.

This event served as a time for presenters to share their research, attendees to hear about ongoing research in physics and astronomy, and new physics students to learn about summer research opportunities. It was such a success that we hope to make it an annual event.

We initially thought the remote nature of life in 2020 would present a challenge for holding events such as the symposium. However, we have come to realize it’s an opportunity to expand our audience. Given our new virtual location, we plan to extend symposium invitations to alumni. This adds another valuable dimension to the event: we hope this will allow interested alumni to see how current students are getting involved with research, and in turn, allow students to start networking with our experienced and knowledgeable alumni. This could facilitate a follow-up event in which alumni participate in a panel discussion for students.

The Smith chapter of SPS is committed to recruiting and retaining women in physics, a field where the representation of women has stayed at around 20% for the last two decades. As a historically women’s college, we believe in the importance of representation, building relationships among women within the scientific community, and preparing our members for the challenges that come with a career in professional physics and astronomy. The symposium is one way in which we can support students in developing the key skill of effectively communicating their research.

Physics students from Howard University and Morehouse College at the 2019 National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) meeting in Providence, RI, which was also the site of PhysCon 2019. Photo courtesy of the Howard University 2019-20 SPS chapter report.

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SPS Chapters on Professional Development