Decades-old physics student organization encourages science majors

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Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Physics students at UT have a lot of potential­ — when they’re not referring to energy in their school work, they’re bringing it to club meetings.

UT’s Society of Physics Students has been around since the ’70s but has never been more committed to helping science, technology, engineering and math students explore the possibilities of their degree. Members of SPS help each other find research opportunities, succeed in classes and set goals beyond their diploma.

“We assist people with their vocation, not just academics,” said Jack McDaniel, physics senior and president of SPS. “We try and guide people and help them realize if they don’t want to go to physics grad school that they don’t have to go, they have a lot of options open with their physics degree.”

Socializing isn’t rocket science for members of SPS. According to physics and computer engineering senior Saad Najmi, the club is a great platform for physics students to mingle.

“It also creates a sense of a physics community,” Najmi said. “The easiest way I can think of meeting other physics majors, outside of doing homework together, is coming to SPS meetings and SPS events.”

Apart from the social aspects of the club, Noah Vaughan, SPS vice president and physics and math senior, works closely with underclassmen as a mentor of a first-year interest group and said the club is also an important resource for freshmen.

“Especially for first-year students it’s kind of daunting to come into physics,” Vaughan said. “A lot of them have a big ego and then they come in and take their first classes and feel really broken. It’s kind of neat to have these (meetings) and say, ‘This is what you can do with your degree,’ and see really amazing stuff that’s not done anywhere else besides UT.”

For physics sophomore Margaret Duncan, an SPS meeting was the springboard for a bigger research opportunity.

“I met the professor that I did research with through SPS,” Duncan said. “It was a speaker who came and gave a talk about his research. I followed up with him after and said, ‘Hey, this was really cool. I want to be you in the future and do this kind of research.’ And that was my foot in the door and I got to start doing work with him.”

Although SPS is a platform for physics majors to socialize and get excited about their degree, meetings are open to other majors looking for career inspiration.

“We’ve had a lot of alumni speakers talk about the industry and their paths after physics, not necessarily going into grad school but going into other things,” physics and astronomy sophomore Blaire McLeod said. “It touches on a lot of different bases.”

At the end of the day, SPS members bond over more than just their majors. After all, the club also has a history of planning events involving laser tag and group trips to Taco Joint.

“I was freshman representative three years ago, and I’d probably say the most friends I’ve kept from freshman year are all in physics,” McDaniel said.

For some SPS members, the club is more than an extracurricular activity — it’s also a way to encourage a new era of science students. 

“I love talking with these students, seeing what they think and getting them excited about it,” Vaughan said.