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International Physics Graduate Student Conference Comes to Nation’s Capital

By Krista Freeman


As a physics Ph.D. candidate and the past chair of the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA), I am delighted to invite my fellow graduate students to an upcoming international scientific meeting planned by, and exclusively for, physics graduate students. I am pleased to announce the call for abstracts for the 2017 Canadian-American-Mexican Graduate Student Physics Conference (CAM2017). This unique meeting will be held August 17-19, 2017 in Washington, D.C., and graduate students may submit abstracts and travel award applications from February 8 through April 28.

So what makes this meeting so special? Imagine a general physics conference that fulfills all your expectations — an intimate and collegiate atmosphere with a broad array of interesting, accessible talks. International attendees enjoying each other’s company both professionally and socially. The promise of an attentive audience for your talk, and a feeling of unlimited possibilities for future collaborations. Welcome to CAM, North America’s premier conference series planned by and for physics graduate students! Past CAM attendees have reviewed their experience with comments such as "excellent conference, with interested and interesting student attendees" and "I was impressed at the choice of the program, the quality of the student presentations, and the high degree of interactivity among all participants." The success of the CAM series is the product of more than two decades of collaboration among APS, the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), and the Sociedad Méxicana de Física (SMF).

CAM2017 is expected to attract more than 100 student researchers from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and (for the first time in CAM history) Cuba. The three-day meeting has a busy schedule of plenary talks, parallel student presentation sessions, a poster session, panels, a banquet on Capitol Hill, and more! Senior scientists from each of the four participating countries will serve as plenary speakers and panelists, and will be available throughout the meeting to interact with student participants. The atmosphere, program, and attendees of the conference add up to many opportunities for international networking and, most importantly, the sharing of science.

The meeting is, above all, a platform for graduate students to share their scientific research achievements and learn about those of their international peers. Each student participant will present his or her research through either a contributed talk or a poster presentation. The student research topics covered in past meetings are as diverse as the researchers: CAM conferences have hosted physicists studying everything from gluons to galaxies and at all the length scales in between. This rich variety of research topics (and subsequently low average audience familiarity with each topic) requires student speakers to tailor their talks for a general physics audience. This is good scientific communication practice for the presenters, and it also provides the audience a rare opportunity to learn a topic outside their own subdiscipline from another graduate student.

Some participants may be presenting their research publicly for the first time at the meeting, and we hope that an audience of peers will make this process less intimidating. For other presenters, CAM may be their last conference before a final thesis defense and will serve as a platform to summarize their graduate research achievements. For these students, we hope that a presentation experience with an audience of international peer scientists will help them segue into the next step of their education and/or careers.

Regardless of the stage of a student’s career, however, we believe that CAM will be a unique opportunity for concrete feedback for students to develop their scientific communication skills. For the first time in CAM history, all presenters will be invited to participate in a voluntary peer feedback program. Participating students will write and submit objective and respectful observations about each presentation they attend. In return, they will each receive at the end of the conference a written collection of detailed peer feedback. This feedback will be a great resource for students hoping to improve their presentation skills.

Participants will also enjoy international networking opportunities with their peers and invited senior scientists. Leaders of APS, CAP, SMF, and the Cuban Physical Society will attend the meeting, giving students an excellent opportunity to network within these physical societies. These networking opportunities at CAM meetings are designed to strengthen the scientific infrastructure of North America by promoting partnerships among young physicists. In line with this, student participants will also learn about international research collaborations available through APS, CAP, and SMF, and will be encouraged to maintain their newly-developed international networks through participation in an exclusive CAM2017 Facebook group. The meeting theme this year, "Physicists of the Future: Transcending Boundaries," will embody this spirit of collaboration by highlighting the disciplinary and geographical boundaries increasingly crossed in pursuit of physics research. The theme will be explored with two panel discussions ("Transcending Boundaries: Geographical, Disciplinary & Career" and "Transcending Boundaries: Personal & Societal) exploring the boundaries — both literal and figurative — that physicists encounter.

"Transcending Boundaries" is an intentionally broad phrase, since each physicist has his or her own personal boundaries that are overcome in pursuit of science. This could be as literal as crossing a geographical border for a new experiment or as abstract as starting to explore a new discipline as research results lead outside the realms of "traditional" physics. For some, the most important crossing may be of the unconscious societal boundary that has historically prevented many women and minorities from excelling in physics. For others it might be making a leap into a new and unfamiliar career outside of academia. Common to all, transcending a boundary in pursuit of science is an exciting signifier of a next great step. We hope you will join us in sharing your plans for that next step!

APS and FGSA hope to offer travel awards to many students at U.S. universities, and similar opportunities may be available for Canadian and Mexican students through their physical societies. For more information on CAM2017, and to apply, please visit our website at go.aps.org/2017cam

The author is the immediate Past-Chair of the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs and is a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University.

Krista Freeman

Krista Freeman

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