Grinnell College Students Attend the National Society of Black Physicists Conference

February 21, 2018

The National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) aims to develop and support initiatives to increase African Americans in the field of physics and to increase their numbers and visibility of their scientific work.

Recently, the Wilson Center for Innovation & Leadership helped Avery Barnett ’21, Courtney Carter ’21 and Chad Harper ‘18 attend the annual NSBP conference at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, from November 3-5. The nationally recognized conference, the largest academic meeting of minority physicists in the United States, brings together a broad range of experts from various fields of physics including astrophysics, biophysics, and particle physics, among others.

Lessons From the Conference

The NSBP Conference consisted of multiple education sessions, exhibitions, and poster sessions on cutting edge topics related to current trends in physics and science.

For Carter, a talk by Dr. Sylvester Gates – a pioneering physicist known for his work in supersymmetry and supergravity – was particularly engaging. “Dr. Gates discussed how he used innovative thinking to discover an entire sub-branch of physics. I became acquainted with new, cutting-edge, and innovative research topics within physics that I was completely unaware of beforehand,” she describes.

In the same vein, Barnett echoed this sentiment, highlighting the importance of mentorship and modeling from individuals who share similar identities. “Hearing of the achievements of those before me such as Dr. Gates has allowed me to gain confidence in myself and strengthened the drive in me to be a leader in the activities I am passionate about, while learning from those around me,” she writes. 

Additionally, group discussions such as the Women in Physics and Medical Physics discussions during the conference helped Barnett and Carter to identify critical traits of leadership and as equally important, allowed them to embrace the challenges associated with leadership in the context of being members of a minority group in an underrepresented field.

“Some of the persistent traits I identified in successful leading physicists at the conference, whether through formal  presentations or conversation were tenacity, having a strong support network, having a growth mindset, and being willing to step outside one’s comfort zone,” Carter writes.

Similarly, Barnett discusses that the broader discussions at the conference allowed her to explore and has grounded her opinion for the “skills needed to be a good leader, such as initiative and determination.”

“The conference has taught me to take initiative by being in charge of my life first. Consequently, I will be able to extend those qualities to lead other areas and become more involved in my surroundings,” she describes. “Overall, I had the opportunity to interact with many leaders in the field. It was amazing to learn about their research and their journey to their achievements,” Barnett concludes.

The Wilson Center seeks to inspire and prepare students as innovators and leaders through courses, personal development, and events that emphasize experiential learning.