In this edition of the Friday Newsletter, we look at summer research opportunities for undergraduates outside of SMU and announce the Graduate Director ad Interim for the Spring term.
CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
“The Final Stretch”
We’re in the final stretch. It’s exam time, and the semester is nearly at its end. In my encounters with students this week, there has been a mix of stress, relief, and joy.
They are stressed because final exams are anxiety-inducing: you have three hours to demonstrate mastery of a subject. That’s generally not how the real world works, but it’s the mode by which academics generally chooses to assess learning at the end of a term. Students are feeling relief because the non-stop express train of classes, coursework, research, leadership activities, and social obligations is pulling into a station for the first time in 15 weeks. The joy, I would think, is obvious … but tempered by the fact that it’s not over until they turn in that last final exam.
I recall that sensation of being done. I don’t feel it as often as a faculty member and certainly not as a Department Chair, but I do remember the feeling. There is a rush of relief, a wave of euphoria, and sense of a window being opened and fresh air coming into the mind. I remember confidently handing in that final exam, drawing a deep and cleansing breath, and walking out of the exam room knowing that it was done.
Of course, I also remember that one time I got all the way back to my dorm room only to find the essay blue book I turned in was the blank spare they gave us during the political science final exam. My completed essay was in my backpack. I recall sprinting as fast as I could back to the exam hall. I also remember the relief when the teaching assistant, clearly judging that this wasn’t a ruse, accepted the real essay 15 minutes after I left the room. Then I recall immense relief.
See? It always ends in relief.
As we draw this semester to a close and mark it with this, the penultimate newsletter for the fall term, I want all of you to take a deep breath and accept that we are nearly done with this term. I’m not saying that all terms are bad … that they are something to be put in the rear-view mirror and never considered again. I am saying that it’s okay to accept that this chapter is closed and that we can wrap up and take a break over the next few weeks before setting our minds to the new year and the new term. I am saying it’s okay to feel relief.
In this issue of the newsletter, we look ahead to summer research opportunities outside SMU for undergraduates in physics, announce a new Graduate Director ad Interim for the Spring term, and look back on the Department Speaker Series from the fall term.
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
REMINDER: Final Grades for Graduate and Undergraduate Students Due By 72 Hours After Final Exam
This is to remind all faculty that grades for students are due not later than 72 hours after the scheduled final exam. This is also true for graduate students, and for graduate (and undergraduate) students in research courses. The easiest thing to do is head to My.SMU, go to the current term, and click on the grade roster for each of the courses you see listed there. If a grade is requested in the roster, enter it.
The biggest problem we usually have in the department is faculty mentoring research graduate students forgetting to submit grades for research courses. Let’s get ahead of that issue this year simply by being thorough, as scientists should.
Rebecca Clark Joins Main Office Staff
We are pleased to introduce Rebecca Clark, who started this past Monday as a temporary office staffer in the Physics Department Main Office. She joins us as Lacey Breaux is transitioning to her new position in the Department of Economics. Rebecca is in the main office five days a week from 08:30am-5:00pm and is available to help with operational tasks in the department. Academic work that relies on internal access to SMU records and systems will still proceed through Lacey Breaux until December 17th, and after that will need support from other sources until Lacey’s full-time replacement is hired.
Rebecca is an experienced project management and account management professional with more than 15 years in the corporate sector specializing in business operations. She brings with her an accomplished track record in project planning, proposal management and exceptional process improvement skills. Rebecca moved to Dallas a year ago after a twelve year career with the Boeing Company in St. Louis, MO. She earned her Master’s in Communications and Public Relations from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. She is originally from the St. Louis area and has two daughters, ages 13 and 5. During her transition to Dallas, she performed marketing and branding freelance work for small businesses. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, traveling and participating in community volunteer events that give back.
Rebecca was welcomed quickly to the SMU Department this week with orientations and support from Michele Hill and Lacey Breaux, as well as demonstrations of cryogenic physics from Prof. Randy Scalise (which Rebecca said would delight her daughters). We are grateful that she was able to join us so quickly to help keep main office operations going during this transitional period. She will continue to work in the main office until the Academic Operations position is filled.
Watch it Again: The Winter Colloquium with David Nygren
The Department Speaker Series for the fall term is concluded. We invite faculty, staff, and students to suggest potential speakers for the spring series, which will feature SMU Physics faculty who are looking to recruit students for their projects. Meanwhile, you can watch or re-watch talks from the fall series on our YouTube playlist. In particular, if you missed Prof. David Nygren’s talk on “The Art of Experiment and the Pace of Discovery in Particle Physics” we urge you to check it out. It was both an historical and technical look at particle detection, including useful anecdotes about the reality of discovery and personal recollections of his own work.
Learn more: https://www.physics.smu.edu/web/seminars/
All past speaker series events since August 2020 are available in our YouTube playlist.
Prof. Jodi Cooley to Serve as Graduate Director Ad Interim for Spring 2022 Term
Prof. Jodi Cooley has agreed to serve as Graduate Director ad Interim for the Spring 2022 term. This was determined after consultations with current Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in Physics, Fred Olness, with her supervisor in the Dean’s Office, Associate Dean Tom Carr, and with the Department Chair.
Prof. Olness is on approved research leave in the spring and will be located for the term in Muenster, Germany, collaborating with his colleagues at the University of Muenster on fundamental issues in nuclear structure and the determination of nuclear parton distribution functions (nPDFs). This work is essential to the Large Hadron Collider and the forthcoming Electron-Ion Collider. Faculty on such approved leaves are expected to concentrate on their research plan, setting aside teaching and service duties to the institution. This necessitates the identification of individuals suited to step into service roles on an ad interim basis.
Prof. Jodi Cooley has served on the graduate committee for two years and has served as one of the chairs of the Core Proficiency Exam (CPE) committee as it was constituted after a reform process several years ago. This year, she was a lead proponent of a Moody School for Graduate and Advanced Studies recruitment grant, which was successful and has allowed direct in-person recruiting trips by faculty and students to places like Texas A&M-Commerce, East Texas State University, Texas State University in San Marcos, and the Texas Section of the American Physical Society meeting at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. It has also facilitated sharing of materials with other institutions in the region whose student population is more representative of the Southwest.
She is well-known to the graduate students in our program and regarded as a trusted mentor by students. She has received student-initiated nominations and awards for her mentorship while on the faculty at SMU. In addition, she is the Principle Investigator for the SuperCDMS SNOLAB Project at SMU and for the entire SuperCDMS SNOLAB Operations grant, which last year totaled nearly $1 million and is coordinated by SMU but serves multiple NSF-funded institutions within project. She and her colleagues recently submitted the request for the next phase of NSF operations funding, again with SMU as the central coordinating institution and serving multiple institutions. Her management and organization skills are highly recognized inside and outside of SMU.
Graduate students and faculty have been informed of the appointment by email, and should direct concerns or questions to both Dr. Olness and Dr. Cooley during the next month as a transition period ensues between now and the spring term.
What’d I Miss?
We all get too many emails from the University and College. Here are the most important things you might have missed that affect our community.
- All Employees: The University has paused its requirement that all employees provide evidence of COVID-19 vaccination. This is because of a recent judicial ruling. (“Federal vaccine requirements paused at SMU,” sent by the Office of the President, December 8, 2021)
- All: President Turner reminds us that we are all welcome at the all-university holiday celebration on December 15. (“Reminder: All University Holiday Celebration,” sent by the Office of the President, December 6, 2021)
- Graduate Students: There are many fellowships available from outside SMU that can provide both support and prestige to your early career. They are not all limited to domestic students, so don’t let that issue slow you down! Book an appointment with Rachel Ball-Phillips in the Moody School to get the ball rolling on applying for these opportunities! (“Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Newsletter 12.10.2021,” sent by SMU Grad, December 10, 2021)
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of your activities in research, the classroom, and beyond are very welcome!
The department staff continue to work on behalf of Academic Operations (position currently vacant, but receiving ongoing support from Lacey Breaux) and Research Operations (Michele Hill). They can be contacted for assistance, or to make appointments for input and help, through the Department Main Office (FOSC 102).
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of students in research, the classroom, internships or fellowships, awards, etc. are very welcome!
Research Experience for Undergraduates and Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships: Applications Opening!
Our department has twin strengths in collider and astrophysics, cutting across experimental, instrumental, computational, and theoretical areas. While these areas provide fantastic opportunities for undergraduates to conduct meaningful, applicable, hands-on research, there is much more to physics as a field than is represented in our department. In addition, it is a very good idea for undergraduates wishing to pursue research careers to build connections and gain experience outside SMU. This facilitates both constructions networks and reputation with independent institutions, but also builds a foundation for recommendation letters that come from outside SMU.
Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs and Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) programs provide a means to gain these experiences. REU programs are funded by the National Science Foundation, while SULI programs are funded by the Department of Energy (which operates the national laboratory infrastructure). Sites funded through these programs receive money to recruit and retain undergraduates from other universities for summer research activities (some of these can extend beyond just the summer months, but it is program-dependent). This provides living accommodations and usually a stipend to allow for meals and incidentals to be purchased while participating in the program. The programs often have many students from a diverse range of institutions, all collaborating at a single site. The site usually provides a program of courses or lectures, interwoven with long periods of independent inquiry, research, and investigation under the supervision of a mentor and their research group or colleagues.
Applications typically start opening around now and close in the late winter. Institutions usually require the same basic information: a complete application to their program, a statement from the student, and letters of support or recommendation. Students should review the program websites, select institutions that look interesting to them (some provide multiple research areas, some many fewer – read the program sites carefully before applying to help tailor your statements on the application), and apply as early as possible to avoid running into deadlines. Since letters of recommendation are needed, it is best to ask for those as early as possible and keep in close contact with your letter-writers to insure they are reminded of the timeline, deadline, and any materials you think will help them in writing their letter.
Many of our most successful students participated in REUs or SULIs, including at places like Columbia University (in their CERN program, depicted in the accompanying photo that shows Nicole Hartman BS’16 at the ATLAS Detector at CERN while in the Columbia REU program), the University of Michigan (also in their CERN program, although travel was canceled due to the pandemic for this particular student), Duke University, the University of California at Davis, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory near Stanford University. While it’s tough to be away from family, friends, and a support network built at SMU and at home, this provides a good first experience in research outside of a comfort zone but with support, encouragement, and funding.
If you have questions about these programs, you are invited to speak with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Assistant Chair for Undergraduate Studies in Physics, Prof. Simon Dalley; the Undergraduate Advisor, Prof. Durdana Balakishiyeva; and the Department Chair, Prof. Stephen Sekula.
If you are an alum of the doctoral, masters, majors or minor programs in Physics at SMU, or have worked in our program as a post-doctoral researcher, and wish to share news with the community, please send your story to the Physics Department and we’ll work with you to get it included in a future edition.
THE BACK PAGE
Learn about the Science Behind this Year’s Nobel Prize in Physics
The ceremonies marking the Nobel Prizes have concluded. You can learn about this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics from the following resources!