April 2020: Yasemin Kalender

Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Yasemin Kalender

  • Member since 2017
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate
  • Ithaca, New York

About Yasemin

I am writing this narrative from my home under quarantine. These are unprecedented times for all of us. As the world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the things that we, as society, still value maintaining is teaching and learning! Despite the disheartening news and injunctions to stay home, educational practices continue through various sorts of digital means. This fact reminded me of why I chose to pursue my career in education and science. No matter what happens or when it happens, teaching and learning is the best investment we can do for our future generations.

To be a scientist was always a planned career for me although I knew very little about what a scientist does or looks like. Neither of my parents are college graduates but they have been the major support for my academic decisions to pursue STEM. I studied physics at Bogazici University in Istanbul, which was the first American Institution founded outside of the U.S.A in 1863. I was strongly encouraged to apply for Ph.D. programs in the U.S. by my undergrad advisor Dr. Levent Kurnaz (PhD. in physics, University of Pittsburgh in 1993). With his constant support throughout my undergrad education, I got accepted to University of Pittsburgh where I pursued physics education research advised by Dr. Chandralekha Singh. This is when I was first introduced to Physics Education Research (PER) community in the U.S. and AAPT.

For my Ph.D. thesis and research interest in the field, I decided to investigate the representation gaps in the physics not only because this is a concerning issue for the physics community that it lacks diverse perspectives and opinions, but also from my own experiences as a woman and first generation college student. Although the lack of diversity is an issue in many STEM disciplines, the representation gap is especially pronounced in physics. The historical underrepresentation of women, people of color, LGBTQ members, students from low socio-economics backgrounds, first-generation college students etc. highlights the great need for more actionable efforts within our community. Annual AAPT gatherings are where I see these efforts the most among any physics platforms I have been to before. At recent AAPT and PERC meetings, I have noticed the increase in commitments to diversify the physics community especially in terms of research interests, published papers, workshops, and diversity sessions.

As evidence of this, last year when I was returning from the summer meeting, I saw one of the poster boards where someone wrote “You Belong Darling!”. It encapsulated how I feel about the physics education community: we all belong. At the last two AAPT meetings, I had an opportunity to give several workshops with my advisor and colleagues regarding how to address some common issues in physics instruction across the U.S., specifically diversity and inclusion in the classroom. During these workshops, I shared my research that indicates how a growth mindset and a sense of belonging are crucial for student success and retention, especially for minorities. Moreover, I also had an opportunity to discuss with many of my colleagues in the summer meetings about the cultural and systematic barriers for minority groups that also need to be considered by college educators. Today, over the past couple of weeks and in the ensuing months, one big and common issue in education not just in the U.S. but around the world is how can we continue instructing our students through a digital platform, as we create and maintain an equitable learning environment. As we navigate these challenging times, we hopefully have come to a better understanding how important it is to be mindful of each students’ unique strengths and challenges. I do hope to see this momentum keep going in our physics education community.