Creating Opportunities for Growth
SPS Chapters on Professional Development
Creating Opportunities for Growth
Rebecca Sipen, SPS Chapter Outreach Coordinator, California State University, Northridge
Coming in as a freshman at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), I was scared of the road ahead. Finding fellow physics majors proved difficult, and I was unsure of what I needed to do for classes and my future. I longed for a sense of community with people who were also interested in physics.
After a few weeks in college, I heard about a club for those interested in physics. It was no surprise, then, that I gravitated to the Society of Physics Students (SPS). During my first semester in SPS, it all seemed intimidating. I hid in the back and kept to myself. However, everyone was so friendly and passionate about physics that I was compelled to be more active in the community. The next semester I took a board position, and I haven’t looked back since.
One of the first things I helped create was our peer mentoring program. The program focused on inspiring underclassmen, like me, to grow as physics majors through personal and professional development. Mentors were there to encourage mentees to apply to research and scholarship programs, attend workshops and lectures, and navigate their way around the department and school. The program was also meant to strengthen connections between underclassmen and junior and senior physics students.
I joined in the first round of pairings, even though I was nervous to meet my mentor. I was afraid I wouldn’t get anywhere, that my knowledge would be lacking, and that I might have picked the wrong major. My mentor helped me overcome those fears, guided me through research and scholarship applications, encouraged me after failed tests, and reminded me to take care of myself when things were stressful. Even now, after she has graduated, we stay in contact, and she continues to help me on my journey. Without this pairing, I would never have been accepted into Cal-Bridge, a scholarship program, or been able to get past bad test scores; maybe I would’ve even ended up changing my major. Now I am also a mentor, and I hope to make as much of a positive impact as my mentor had on me.
In addition to the mentoring program, our chapter helps students learn about current research by setting up lectures from professors and graduate students, as well as working with the colloquia held by the department. During the early days of spring 2020, we set up informal meetings with the department’s colloquium speakers. After everything went online, we continued these meetings on Zoom. Whereas colloquia allow questions only about the speaker’s research, these informal meetings give students the chance to ask more personal questions about the speaker’s field of study, graduate school applications, work–life balance, and much more.
During the Fall 2020 semester, we collaborated with professors and our department chair to host a department-wide meeting. Students were given the opportunity to ask about research, classes, and how to get involved. The meeting helped students connect with professors outside of the classroom setting, which can be intimidating. This was also an opportunity to welcome the new class and give them valuable guidance. As someone who came into the school knowing absolutely nothing about the physics department, I would have appreciated this when I was in their seat two years ago.
Since the fall of 2019, our chapter has also introduced a number of workshops on topics including the physics graduate record exam (PGRE), our state’s Cal-Bridge program, and applying to research experiences for undergraduates (REUs). Luckily, we have been able to continue hosting these workshops despite our transition to a fully online semester due to COVID-19.
In addition to our professional development workshops, the SPS board also holds events for community development, such as our Women in Physics events. Our first event, in 2019, featured two women, a CSUN alumna and a University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) alumna, who opened up about their experiences on both academic and personal levels. The event created a safe space for female physics majors to discuss the experiences and hardships that come with being a woman in STEM. After this successful event, we have continued to hold Women in Physics events in which our female students feel heard, understood, and empowered.
From timid freshman to SPS member to SPS outreach coordinator, I can say I’ve found my place within the physics community. Through experiences such as creating lasting personal connections to getting into a scholarship program, I’ve never felt more prepared for my future in physics. I am proud to say that while our chapter has grown, our members have grown exponentially more. Together we have laid the foundation for many amazing programs, and I’m thrilled about the impact SPS can have on future generations.