|Public engagement event at a local high school with the Women and Minorities in the Physical Sciences group in graduate school|
By: Brean Prefontaine
Changing the world is a really hard thing to do.
I actually started college as an English major with my hopes set on law school. However, it soon became clear that maybe I shouldn’t pay to read the books I was already going to read (and also a field with more job prospects seemed enticing). I was not sure if I wanted to switch to physics, but 20 minutes with the department head convinced me (thank you, Dr. Goldberg, you forever changed my life!). I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and working on astrophysics research. This was okay, but I knew that I really liked working with people more than I liked working with computers. The next project I worked on was through an SPS internship working with the APS Center for History of Physics on creating lesson plans related to women and Black physicists (the project has since been expected to include all sorts of folks – you should check it out here https://www.aip.org/history-programs/physics-history/teaching-guides). I loved this project and I started to really think about physics education. At this point, I had no idea that a field called “physics education research” (PER) existed but I quickly learned about it and was determined to go to graduate school with a PER group.
|At the International Science Festival in NYC with the IceCube collaboration|
Now I focus on studying how informal physics education can help undergraduate and graduate students develop a stronger physics identity. Other research has shown us that physics identities are very important for persistence within the field, and so my research group is interested in physics identities among underrepresented groups of people leading to a more diverse field. Our work had used a theoretical framework called Communities of Practice to study how undergraduate graduate students benefit from teaching and facilitating physics activities in informal spaces. The great news is that it seems like these spaces are super valuable for everyone! (If you want to learn more about this project, you can read one of our papers here: https://journals.aps.org/prper/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.16.020115).
Another aspect of informal physics spaces that excites me, is the idea that we can easily combine physics with other interests (both academic and non-academic). During my free time (pre-COVID), I am usually found at an ice rink skating or coaching figure skating. So, lately, I have been working on a research project that looks at how informal spaces can combine physics with interests like figure skating. I am very excited to explore more research possibilities within this idea!
|Combining physics and ice skating at a public engagement event during National Skating Month (Jan. 2019)|