What’s the hype about SPS?


The University of Louisville's SPS group enjoys a snack.

By Blakesley Burkhart

What’s so special about SPS?

It’s not exactly a secret that physics is a challenging undergraduate major.  Despite the difficult math and occasional brain-twisting problems, people are drawn to physics because nature is beautiful and understanding it is immensely rewarding. They also gravitate toward physics because it allows one to gain knowledge that historically has led to innovation, new  businesses and improved lives for humankind.

In light of this information, what student doesn’t need a support group to keep the magic of physics alive during the tedious times and to occasionally provide a free slice of pizza?  The Society of Physics Students (SPS), sponsored by AIP, does all this and more!

Every local chapter of SPS is different in size, regularity of meeting  and chapter goals. The requirements for joining the local chapter are usually an interest in physics and a small fee. Despite some differences, most SPS groups have similar interests that are very beneficial to physics students.

They are:

1) Social and support group —  Just because we’re physicists doesn’t mean we are anti-social! Productivity goes up when you get to know your fellow classmates and work on problems together. SPS brings everyone closer with meetings, trips, free food, and physics fun! This extends to the entire country when your SPS group attends Zone (or regional) meetings and National SPS events.

2) Attract new Physics majors — An active SPS not only benefits the students, but also the entire physics department.  More students registered as physics majors means more money for the department and more funding for the students.  Cyclic benefits!

3) Leadership — Getting involved in running an SPS group provides excellent training for leadership, networking and speaking skills that are not obtained from classes alone.  All of these are immensely valuable in graduate school and beyond.

4) Promoting research and outreach among undergraduates — You might think free food is more important than outreach and research, but you’d be dead wrong! Strong outreach and research credentials are what graduate schools are really looking for.  These are the skills you need to really make it as a professional physicist, and SPS encourages them from the start!

Conclusions: Physics isn’t just for geeks, and SPS isn’t just about free pizza! Your SPS chapter has the potential to benefit its members, the department, and the local and national community.   Get involved and attend regularly.  You won’t regret it!

Blakesley Burkhart is a graduate student and National Science Foundation fellow in astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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