volunteer sa

Things I Learnt at my First Physics Conference

I spent most of the past week volunteering at the SA Institute for Physics’ Annual Conference. Although I was there as a volunteer and not as a delegate, I could attend any and all the events that I wanted to. Here’s what I learnt:

1) How to give a bad presentation. Since most of the actual physics went far above my head (#undergradproblems), I could focus on the actual quality of the presentations. Things to avoid - reading off the slides, not bringing any energy, claiming to know everything and *not* admitting the gaps in your knowledge.

2) Academic hierarchy is silly. It’s perfectly okay to talk to professors and postgrads, even if you feel like a kid who know nothing. It’s also okay to ask questions. Most people are really nice, if you give them a chance. Make friends with the postdocs for some real talk about the academic life.

3) If you meet a cute, fellow scientist, ask for his contact sooner rather than later.

4) It’s worth getting up early to attend the 8:30 a.m. plenary. Somehow, those turned out to be the most interesting, and you have more brainpower to concentrate than the ones at lunch. 

5) It’s perfectly acceptable to sit and do work on your laptop during a talk/presentation. Weird, right? Physicists are busy people and aren’t afraid to show it. 

6) For some reason that I don’t understand, no-one sits in front anymore. Everyone automatically moves to the back of the room during talks and presentations. Someone please explain this to me?

7) We need more racial diversity, but no-one will talk about it. Sure, Women in Physics by a White Feminist is a safe topic to tackle when you need to look good for the social justice people, but race? In a country like South Africa? Shoved under the table. Very few (if any) POC as invited plenary speakers. Thankfully, there were a significant number of Black delegates at the conference. Still, no-one spoke about race.

8) Herbal tea is a good alternative to coffee. Want something warm and soothing to your stomach after that conference lunch, but you’re buzzing from too much caffeine and intellectual stimulation? Herbal tea. Green tea, rooibos, e.t.c. it’s all good.

9) There are SO MANY interesting branches of physics. Theoretical/computational, applied physics, astronomy, space science, biophysics….Use this opportunity to explore as many of them as you can and see what reallly interests you. 

10) Good, interesting research is happening all across the country. Conferences are the perfect chance to see what’s happening where. It might lead to you moving somewhere else to pursue all kinds of interesting science.

I hope you find this interesting/helpful! Let me know if you have any questions. Happy studying!

xx Munira