Reflections on the Society of Physics Students

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Reflections on the Society of Physics Students


DJ Wagner, Outgoing President of the Society of Physics Students

Society of Physics Students President 2013-2017 DJ Wagner (left). Photo courtesy of DJ Wagner.

Nearly 30 years ago I said “Sure,” when a classmate invited me to an SPS meeting. That simple response opened doors to a host of opportunities that continue to this day. As an undergraduate student, I participated in outreach events that are among the most vivid of my college memories and presented my research at a national conference. As a professor, I have supported several SPS chapters and mentored many SPS members. And, as an advisor of two chapters, I have encouraged students to become involved in outreach and attend professional meetings. Through taking students to professional meetings, I found out about the SPS National Council and was encouraged to run for election. Now, as a member of the National Council, I have had the privilege to help guide the society while meeting and working with countless numbers of incredibly talented and dedicated students and faculty from around the world. These opportunities have all occurred because someone asked me to a meeting in 1988.

When I reflect on SPS, several themes arise: community, professional development, and diversity.

SPS is, above all else, a community of individuals interested in physics. I ultimately attribute my 30 years of SPS involvement not to my saying “Sure,” but to my classmate asking me to the meeting. Someone reached out to me personally and made me feel that my presence was desired.

Yet invitations are just the beginning of building a robust community. When someone arrives at your meeting or event, is that person welcomed? Do you mentor underclassmen and encourage them when they struggle? Is the atmosphere of your meetings and meeting space such that all attendees (and potential attendees) feel comfortable and included? Do you reach out to everyone interested in physics, not just physics majors or people who seem similar to yourself? I encourage each of you to think deeply about how to strengthen and expand your chapter’s community, and to spend chapter meeting time soliciting and discussing ideas.

In addition to enriching your community, SPS also does an exceptional job supporting your professional development. In a previous Observer article, I described the benefits of professional society membership and of attending professional meetings. SPS not only provides funding for students to attend national meetings of the AIP Member Societies, it hosts many student-centered meetings: Zone meetings and PhysCon. I first attended a PhysCon in 2004—it was the most incredible conference I had ever attended. The mix of high-profile speakers and interactive workshops at what is now the largest assembly of undergraduate physics students in the world is unparalleled. Your chapter should start now to fundraise and promote PhysCon 2019 in Providence, RI. Contact your zone councilor or associate zone councilor for fundraising or promotional help. 

SPS provides a plethora of career resources. The Careers Toolbox contains useful information and exercises to help prepare for your career, such as tips on how to update your resume and information on the job market. The SPS Jobs site provides job postings tailored for SPS members, along with profiles of physicists pursuing diverse careers. You should check out the Features and related Department articles within this issue for tools to support your development as a researcher and independent thinker.

Finally, the Society of Physics Students is very diverse, not just because we advertise that “Physics is for Everyone” and have a strong history of promoting inclusive practices, but also because each chapter is unique, with its own character and structure. SPS embraces those differences and provides resources and “best practice” advice for chapters of all types. Ultimately, you have to find what works for your chapter—look to SPS for ideas. And don’t forget to apply for travel, outreach, and research awards, scholarships, and internships!

While it is time for me to cycle off the National Council, my connection with SPS will continue. I have no doubt that the next 30 years of my SPS experience will be just as rewarding as the last 30, and I cannot wait to see the continued growth and strengthening of this outstanding organization. I hope you find your SPS experience just as rewarding!

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