I’m in PER because of lucky circumstances, should it be that way?

posted by Nicholas Young, Michigan State on

In late September, I took part in a science communication conference for physics and astronomy graduate students. It was the start of a breakout session, so naturally the moderator had each of us introduce ourselves and what we hoped to achieve through our science communication efforts. When it was my turn, I said that I did physics education research and I wanted to tell people about this field as many people’s first exposure to physics education research is meeting someone who does physics education research, like myself. A few people in the room chuckled, but before then, I had never considered how physicists learn about physics education research. My PER journey started as a subject in a problem-solving study, which led me to work with a physics education research group. But what if I hadn’t had that experience and had went to an undergraduate institution that didn’t have a physics education research program? Would I still be a physics education research graduate student? Would I even know what physics education research is?

As someone who dabbles in science communication, reflecting on my PER origin story makes me uncomfortable. On one hand, I want to inspire people by communicating science, but on the other, I’m in the field I am because of pure luck: I was lucky enough to go to a university that had a PER program and lucky enough to have that program studying the physics course I was taking. Despite meeting with several physics faculty during my college search, I did not know that PER even existed until two years into my program. Thinking back to our most recent PERC conference, we engaged in many great discussions about informal physics education and how we can develop interest in and excitement for physics in people of all ages and backgrounds. But what about developing interest and excitement for physics education research? Our work impacts individuals regardless of whether they identify as members of the physics education research community. So how then do we make sure our work reaches both groups?

To be honest, I’m not sure what the answers to these questions are. The PER community recognized early on how important it was to make the work accessible to everyone, shown through our primary journal being open access. However, just because the work is available to everyone does not mean that the work is approachable or understandable to most. As we move into a new decade of PER, I think it is a good time to critically reflect on how we can ensure our work reaches those who our work is designed to support. While journal articles may be the standard way for us to communicate as researchers, they do not need to be the way we communicate with the larger physics community. Indeed, we should explore how we can use other media such as blogs, video, and social media to disseminate our work. Our community has developed best practices with regards to teaching and in the coming years, we should also establish best practices for communicating our work within the PER community and to the larger physics community.

Tags: identity  PER  science communication  

Re: I’m in PER because of lucky circumstances, should it be that way? -
Alexis Knaub
19 Posts

This has me thinking about how much luck or chance has played a role in my life, along with systematic matters that play a role in the odds of x or y thing happening.

I'm also thinking about people I encounter who have few interactions with academics. There are a lot of great free resources out there, and yet people may not know because they're not in the PER network.

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