OSU Physicists for Inclusion in Science (PhIS) has had an amazing year! We are a student organization sponsored by the physics department and our aim is to increase the number of female and underrepresented minority physics majors on campus by fostering a more inclusive environment. We have continued working towards that goal this year through a number of education, mentoring, community building, outreach, and social events.

Fall Term:

Our goal in the fall term was to focus on mentoring and we were very successful. During orientation, we attended the Women in Science luncheon with the first year women physics graduate students. We were able to connect with people from other departments and meet and talk with new students in our department. We also participated in both the Beaver Community Fair and the College of Science Open House where we gave out candy, buttons, and stickers to promote our group and signed up lots of new students! This led to a significant increase in undergrad presence in our meetings. We kicked off the term with both an undergraduate student mixer and a graduate student mixer. Both of the mixers were heavily attended and gave us opportunities to meet and engage with new students in the department.

We had our own table at Discovery Days this year and made a laser maze demo. We gave it a Halloween theme for extra spooky fun. We also handed out stickers commemorating the new Nobel Prize winner, Donna Strickland. Outreach for elementary schoolers was a great opportunity to mentor outside of our department. Kids and volunteers both enjoyed this event a lot.

Our biggest mentoring event in the fall term was our annual coffee breaks.Through this event, we provided the opportunity for undergraduate students interested in physics to meet and talk with physics graduate students and faculty members one on one in a casual setting. This was a great opportunity for mentorship and to discuss research, graduate school, and diversity-related issues in physics as well as build community in our department. This is the third term we have organized this event but the first time we involved faculty members and the feedback we received was very positive.

The PhIS book club read “Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society” by Cordelia Fine in the fall term, which aimed to disprove the myth that sex inequalities in society can be attributed to evolved sex differences in the brain and to men’s high levels of testosterone. The book was very thorough in the scientific studies it presented and touched on a lot of topics that are relevant to our own experiences of sex and society, particularly working in scientific fields. We had a lot of new members join our book club this term, including students from other departments. Book club also had faculty involvement; our advisor, Professor Liz Gire hosted one of our meetings!

In the fall term, PhIS continued to sponsor a one credit seminar that meets once a week to discuss articles and essays relating to social topics in physics. The seminar, Social Topics in Physics (STiP), has a mix of undergraduate and graduate student attendance. This seminar has been a great way for students to engage in interesting and important discussions.

Working in STEM is emotionally and mentally demanding so we made it a goal to check in with each other more often. As a group, we really want to work on building a sense of community and support in the physics department. We hosted our first board game night at the end of the fall term which drew many students from outside of our group and was a fun break from work and stress.

Winter Term:

In winter term, our goal was to focus on building community in our department. We achieved this through our biggest event of the year, our second annual departmental dinner. Our dinner was attended by graduate and undergraduate students, faculty members, and friends and family of the physics department. This year, we held the event at the HSRC on campus. The event included dinner, a silent auction, and trivia, all prepared and presented by members of PhIS. It also featured a display of self-described identities of members of our department, highlighting the diverse range of experiences. The event was a big success and lots of fun.

For the third year in a row, PhIS represented the physics department in the outreach event, Discovering the Scientist Within. This is a workshop hosted by the Center for Outreach in Science and Engineering for Youth designed to introduce middle school girls to careers in science, technology and engineering. For the event, we showed the girls how to make their own pinhole cameras, pushed them on the hovercraft, had them solve our laser mazes, and gave them diffraction glasses. We were very appreciative to once again have Ari Denison help the girls make light-art with long exposure photography. Finally, as always, we ended the session with liquid nitrogen ice cream.

In the winter term, the PhIS book club read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. As a book about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being Black in the United States, this book was a departure from the themes of our recent book club books and was particularly impactful. It fostered a number of very interesting and important discussions.

Spring Term:

In the spring term, one of our main goals was to focus on self-care, which we achieved through a number of self-care group activities. We had two coloring events in Yunker Library where, as a group, we worked on a large coloring poster together. Coloring is a great way to relax and relieve stress and also provided an opportunity to socialize and build community in our department. PhIS had a movie night and pajama party, hosted at our advisor, Liz Gire’s house. Everyone got comfy and took their minds off physics for a bit. When the weather got nice, PhIS went for a hike in Peavy Arboretum, where we were able to destress and enjoy some of the beautiful local trails. Finally, as a break during finals week, PhIS hosted our second board game night in the department and everyone had a blast. We are looking forward to more events like these in the future where we focus on taking care of our mental health and creating an environment of communal support.

PhIS has also been continuing our beautification efforts in order to make Weniger a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everybody. Check out our newly decorated display cases! There are boards featuring PhIS, STiP, and the History of Weniger on the 3rdfloor and a look at “what a physicist looks like” in our department on the 2ndfloor. This is an ongoing effort and we hope to have more display cases decorated (and maybe even some more rooms painted) this summer.

PhIS tabled at the OSU Spring Drag Show, hosted by the Rainbow Continuum, where we were able to increase exposure to our group while supporting other groups on campus who similarly value diversity and inclusion.  

PhIS also participated in the Astronomy Open House, hosted by the Astronomy Club. In our room, we had a number of demos that demonstrated different representations of physics concepts. Attendees were able to interact with gravity visually through a gravity well, audibly through sonification, tactilely through 3D surfaces, as well as mathematically through equations. They also got to interact with waves on a string as well as through light waves and sound waves. In addition to these demos, we presented a diverse array of scientists through scientist profiles that we displayed on the wall.

PhIS was able to offer Social Topics in Physics as a seminar course again in the spring, with growing participation from undergraduate and graduate students. Make sure to register for STiP in the upcoming fall term!

The PhIS book club began reading “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway in the spring term. This book was recommended to us by our 2018 Yunker lecturer, Laura Greene. The book explores how a handful of scientists spread doubt and confusion on the scientific consensus around the dangers of issues such as tobacco smoke and global warming in order to oppose action. It is a fascinating book that we will be continuing to read this summer.

We held elections this term for the 2019-2020 school year. Our new officers are President Acacia Patterson, Vice President Gina Mayonado, Treasurer Abbie Glickman, and returning Secretary Mattia Carbonaro. Our new chairs are Events Chair Georgia Carroll, Outreach Chair Jaden Downing, Recruitment and Retention Co-Chair Kelby Hahn, and Website Chair MacKenzie Lenz. Our new advisor is Davide Lazzati. Congratulations to all!

PhIS expanded our social media presence with our new Instagram. Follow us @osu_phis.

Thank you to all of our members, supporters, and advocates. We have had a great year and are really excited to continue our efforts in the upcoming year!

By Gina Mayonado

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?

Coffee dates:

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.

Mixers:

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.

Book Club:

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.

Journal Club:

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.

Fundraising Dinner:

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.

Colloquium Speakers:

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.

What’s Next?

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.

Contact Us:

Check us out on Facebook , join our listserv, or email the officers at phis-officers@science.oregonstate.edu.