Connecting Research Hopefuls and Research Mentors

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SPS Chapters on Professional Development

Connecting Research Hopefuls and Research Mentors


Aidan Keaveney, Former SPS Chapter President and Incoming Chapter Vice President, Appalachian State University

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Dr. James Patrick Sherman explains his research on atmospheric aerosols during an Undergraduate Research Fair at ASU. Photo courtesy of the ASU SPS chapter.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Fair has become an annual tradition for our Physics and Astronomy (PandA) Club at Appalachian State University (ASU). Every year we invite professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy to give lightning-style introductory talks about their research and opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved. 

The highest degree offered in our department is an MS in engineering physics, so undergraduate students are among the primary drivers of research. As such, professors are often seeking research students as eagerly as students are seeking research mentors. Through the fair, we aim to inform students about potential research opportunities and provide a platform for professors seeking research students. 

In February 2022, we hosted one of our most successful events to date. Nine professors shared their work in atmospheric science, optics, biophysics, atomic physics, astronomy, quantum, condensed matter physics, instrumentation, machine learning, environmental science, and diversity and inclusive excellence in STEM. I also shared my experience with external research and internship opportunities, including Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). 

I like to attend every year. Even if I’m not looking for a research opportunity, it’s fascinating to hear about all of the different kinds of research being done in our department and the opportunities for undergraduate students to impact that research.

Dr. Brooke Hester is our PandA co-advisor and recruits students at the fair. She finds the event valuable for everyone in the department. "The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Fair is a clever way to bring faculty members and students together. Students are exposed to the research happening in the department, and have opportunities to interact and ask questions. The faculty doing research are able to find research students more easily, without having to seek out people on their own,” she says. Three students have joined Dr. Hester’s research lab after attending a fair.

Student-faculty interactions aren’t the only benefit, according to Dr. Hester. “Students also see the importance placed on undergraduate research by the department. The fair provides community building and helps to improve department culture as well," she says.

PandA incoming co-president Blake Heckenlaible attended the event for the first time in 2021. “It was awesome!” he says. “I was a freshman at the time; I was curious and wanted to explore physics. Listening to the professors talk about their research opened my eyes to all the various topics that are out there. For me, it made physics much more exciting.”

The 2020 Undergraduate Research Opportunities Fair was the last event we hosted—and the last time we had pizza together—before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. In 2021 we hosted the event virtually, via Zoom, so we were happy when the event (and the pizza!) returned to the physics building in 2022. We’re looking forward to another great event this spring.

Test Drive a Career at SPS Jobs

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SPS Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Awards recognize individuals for exceptional physics or astronomy research conducted as an undergraduate. Winners receive $1,800 in travel funding to present their research at an AIP Member Society meeting, $500 for themselves, and $500 for their SPS chapter. Applications are due March 15. Learn more at



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