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In June 2010, I attended the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on physics research & education in Mount Holyoke College. As a graduate student attending the GRC for the first time, I had a very pleasant experience. The conference helped in broadening my views about physics education and I strongly recommend that graduate students attend the conferences in this series that take place every two years.
My first impression of the GRC is that of a friendly environment for discussion of ideas. All the professors, researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students lived in the same building and ate together in the same dining hall. We all had lively discussion about our research and other things that brought us closer together during breakfast, lunch and dinner and it was easy for everyone on the table to join in the discussion. The GRC gave us a wonderful opportunity for networking. Just consider the number of people I had dined with during the whole conference--at least one hundred! No other conference has ever provided me such an opportunity to talk to so many professors, researchers and students about physics research and education. I am really grateful for the networking opportunity at the GRC and that is at least one compelling reason for why graduate students should go the GRC.
This GRC focused on experimental research, mentoring of students and labs in physics education. Some researchers discussed how the lab they had developed encouraged students to think about the physics principle behind the experiments. Other researchers discussed how students can participate in contemporary physics such as the Large Hadron Collider. These discussions at the GRC have given me a better perspective. Even my colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) benefited from what I learned at the GRC. For example, when the physics demonstrator at Pitt asked me about a lab setup, the first demonstration that came to my mind was the one we discussed at the GRC.
The speakers presenting at the GRC were mostly from the US but some were also from abroad. Some were from the top research universities such as Harvard and MIT while others were from liberal arts colleges such as Pomona College. Some speakers talked about labs and how students can benefit from them, some talked about physics education research while others discussed how to involve students in traditional physics research. The most memorable presentation for me was by Eric Mazur from Harvard University who talked about how to introduce students to contemporary physics via seminar-based instruction.
Last but not the least, the great food and the traditional lobster dinner added to the fun. The location of the GRC, the Mount Holyoke College, was beautiful.
Guangtian Zhu is a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. He is conducting research in physics education.