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Natalie Rugg (she/her/hers) - Undergraduate 2021

PhysCon 2019 took place November 14-16 at the Providence Convention Center. Forty of our undergraduate students were funded by the department to attend. Natalie Rugg '21 shares her experience below. 

Tell us a bit about your experience at PhysCon 2019?

PhysCon was scheduled to be full of plenaries, workshops, panels, fairs, etc., and it was a whirlwind. I really enjoyed the congress portion of PhysCon, where chapters from all over the country come together and discuss problems facing their experience in physics. Topics discussed included funding, mental health, class offerings, everything. Additionally, I found the workshops (of which I attended the science policy, physics visualization, and grad student panel) to be extremely helpful in seeing physics through a different lens.

What was your biggest takeaway?

A major issue with physics as a discipline is that the general public view it as impossibly difficult and completely removed from daily life. So, as a Coordinator for the DUG, I focused on asking as many questions as possible to other schools’ chapters about how we can improve the DUG, especially in outreach. I found many ways we can hold fun, accessible public events to educate younger children and their parents and other Brown students and have them engage with physics. 

But for me, personally, I found the biggest takeaway to be that my path through physics doesn’t have to look like others’. There are so many options: there’s grad school, research, industry, science policy, education, science communication, and so much more! Having the opportunity to meet with students outside the Brown Bubble was really refreshing and reminded me to consider what I really want to do with my life and where I can be most useful.

What was the most enjoyable aspect about the meeting?

Honestly, it was getting to know my classmates at Brown better. We walked between campus and the Convention Center together, and talked about our experiences and things that inspired us at the Congress, and that was a really magical thing. We discussed ways to improve the DUG, and I felt that we really stood together as a team. Not to mention all the help the Coordinators got from the DUG when we threw our astronomically large High Energy Chocolate! I am so grateful to the Brown Physics Department and the Society of Physics Students for completely funding all our tickets!

Is this an experience you would recommend for your peers and why?

Absolutely. I learned so much about the possible pathways through physics. Coming from a first-gen background, the concept of attending graduate school was completely alien to me. I learned so much from the graduate school panel, such as the application process, the day-to-day life of a grad student, and the reasons one might want to attend grad school. In addition, I was able to explore what careers in physics look like. I had lunch with a quantum computer engineer at IBM, attended a plenary by a Brown alum who now works at the US Patent Office, and went to a workshop about science policy. PhysCon is an amazing opportunity to experience what physics is like and the people who love physics are like outside of Brown.

What was it like to meet influential physicists?

When I heard Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was a plenary at PhysCon, I knew I had to attend. She was someone I’d read about in textbooks and whose research won a Nobel Prize. I was so excited to volunteer with her in the days leading up to PhysCon. She was kind and witty, and it was unexpected how down-to-earth she was even with being so influential in modern astrophysics. I do wish I’d been a bit more bold and talked to her! I did speak with Dr. John Mather, Nobel Prize winner for the COBE telescope and the Cosmic Microwave Background. I was fortunate enough to be seated with him during the banquet dinner before his plenary, and I mustered up the strength to ask a few questions about climate change and the satellite graveyard. He was incredibly humble and kind and a good listener. Meeting these incredibly impassioned physicists makes me want to discover my passion and improve the world in the way I know and enjoy best.