Undergraduate Research Takes Center Stage

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SPS Chapters on Professional Development

Undergraduate Research Takes Center Stage


Evan Trommer, Former SPS Chapter President, Stony Brook University


Attendees circulate during the undergraduate poster symposium. Photo courtesy of the Stony Brook University SPS chapter. 

For an undergraduate, tracking down and talking to a professor at the top of their field can be both difficult and intimidating. In fact, students in our SPS chapter have often expressed feeling disconnected from faculty members, which may limit the research they’re exposed to in our physics and astronomy department. 

Research experience is highly encouraged for physics majors, yet for students there are few professional avenues for discussing the groundbreaking work that physicists do. In addition, a sizable portion of the undergraduate population in our department is involved in research in some manner, but there are only a handful of events where we can present our work on campus. 

To address these challenges, our chapter recently organized and hosted our department’s inaugural Undergraduate Research Day, an environment for open, engaging conversation between Stony Brook University undergraduates and physics and astronomy professors. Through this event, students gained experience presenting their scientific work in a conference-style setting and demonstrated to department members just how active we are in research. 

First, in a series of six talks, professors discussed departmental research in dark matter, quantum entanglement, exotic states of matter, ferroelectric materials, and physics beyond the standard model. Then five professors in various research areas and at different stages of their careers participated in a panel, answering questions from students and providing invaluable insight into topics such as obtaining research experience, improving diversity in physics, and achieving work-life balance. 


Stony Brook undergraduate Tobias Weiss gives a talk during the Undergraduate Colloqium. Photo by Will Daniels.

During the final event of Undergraduate Research Day, 19 undergraduates presented posters on their research during a three-hour symposium. More than 50 undergraduate students and 10 professors attended, including the physics and astronomy undergraduate program director and the director of Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities  program. Many students took the opportunity to ask professors about their work. Four faculty judges voted on the best posters, and those students were invited to give 10-minute presentations at the department’s first Undergraduate Colloquium, attended by a sizable number of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members.

In the lead-up to this event, our chapter’s executive board collaborated with many people across the department and the university. We arranged for event space, food and drinks for attendees, and print services and supplies for the poster symposium. We even held a meeting to teach symposium participants how to make and present a professional-level poster. 

The event was a resounding success, and our chapter received lots of positive feedback and compliments from participants. Professor Jan Bernauer, a presenter during the morning talk, said he genuinely enjoyed the whole day. “It was eye-opening and a delight to see the strong participation of the students,” he said. “I have rarely seen a poster session so well attended, and the level of posters was definitely above what you see at many conferences.” 

Professor Chang Kee Jung, chair of the physics and astronomy department, called the event “a great success,” adding, “The positive engagement, enthusiasm, and energy, along with high scientific content, were wonderful to see.” 

Given the large turnout and positive feedback, our chapter plans to make this an annual event, and the department has agreed to host an annual Undergraduate Colloquium in conjunction. We plan to build upon the successes and hope to include more graduate and faculty members in future planning. Also, the experience inspired us to plan a Physics Town Hall, a fall event to welcome new students by showcasing research from graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members, opening first-year students’ eyes to the possibilities ahead.

SPS Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research

These monetary awards recognize individuals for exceptional physics or astronomy research conducted as an undergraduate. Applications are due March 15 each year. Learn more at spsnational.org/awards/outstanding-undergraduate-research.

Publish Your Undergraduate Research

The Journal of Undergraduate Research in Physics and Astronomy (JURPA) is a peer-reviewed SPS publication that consists of papers by undergraduate physics and astronomy researchers. Manuscripts must be submitted by March 15 each year for print consideration. Learn more at spsnational.org/jurpa


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