We’re a student organization sponsored by the physics department. We want to change the atmosphere and culture of physics to be more accessible and inclusive. Currently, only 20% of physics degrees are held by women, and only 11% of Bachelor’s degrees and 7% of PhDs are held by underrepresented minorities in physics. We aim to significantly increase the number of female and underrepresented minority physics majors on campus by providing an inclusive community, professional development opportunities, and mentorship for any woman or minority interested in physics.
What have we done?
We have orchestrated mentoring “coffee dates” where an undergrad is paired with a graduate student who is prepared to spend time with them in a casual setting to answer any questions they may have about diversity, graduate school life and applications, and research interests.
PhIS has hosted both undergraduate and graduate mixers to allow new and old students to acquaint themselves with each other to foster community within the department.
Like reading things that aren’t scientific papers? In winter term of 2017, PhIS started a book club. We read and discuss books related to issues of diversity and inclusion in STEM. Reading books on these topics better educates us and helps foster discussion on their role in the scientific community as a whole and in our own lives. The club is open to graduate and undergraduate students, faculty members, as well as friends and family. In the past we have read “The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club” by Eileen Pollack, “The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science” by Julie Des Jardins, and “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” by Deborah Tannen. We are currently reading “Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us” by Claude M. Steele.
For those who don’t have the time to read a full book, or feel like the book isn’t enough and want more to discuss, we also have a journal article discussion group. Weekly pieces are posted to our facebook group and/or emailed to our listserv. The articles read and discussed regard social justice and ethical issues within physics, science, and academia. This winter term the journal discussion group was adopted by the department and is offered for a seminar credit as “Social Topics in Physics”. We are pleased in the enrollment of both undergraduate graduate students in the course, and will be continuing the course for the foreseeable future. We welcome anyone interested to attend the seminar, regardless of enrollment.
Workshops for Undergraduates:
The PH 199 course was gracious enough to invite our club to organize two days of their class this term. On our first visit, we hosted a social potluck where the students could get to know each other. Our second visit included running a workshop about how to use inclusionary practices with their peers while studying.
Outreach at “Discovering the Scientist Within”:
For several years, the Center for Outreach in Science and Engineering for Youth has hosted middle-school aged girls from around the state for a morning of hands-on science activities and demos in an event called “Discovering the Scientist Within”. The goal is to spark their interest and confidence in doing science by introducing them to cool natural phenomena and the passionate scientists who study them. PhIS officially took over the responsibility of organizing the physics program this year with the theme of light. The attendees made their own pinhole cameras and discussed why an image would appear inverted when viewed through the camera. They saw the emission spectra of different gases, looked at every light source in Weniger through our famous diffraction glasses, and made light-based art with the help of Ari Denison and long exposure photography. We ended the session with liquid nitrogen ice cream, a Discovering the Scientist Within tradition.
PhIS also hosted a fundraising dinner and silent auction open to members of the department and their families. Those who attended enjoyed eating a three course meal, bidding in a silent auction, and participating in a trivia competition, all prepared and presented by members of PhIS. The amount of positive feedback for the event was overwhelming and we will, hopefully, be making the fundraising dinner a yearly occurrence.
Two of the department colloquiums were organised by PhIS this academic year. Stacey York gave a talk “Uncovering and Addressing Implicit Bias” and Mary James gave a talk “What Does Access Really Mean?”. Both speakers were invited by PhIS and provided enriching and thought provoking lectures on issues of inclusion. We hope to continue to be able to invite more speakers in the future.
Other future tasks we are hoping to be able to accomplish in the near future include organizing a community-wide Science Movie Night at the Darkside Theater, spearheading a project to beautify our department’s half of Weniger, and expanding our undergraduate mentorship.