April 2021: Benjamin Pollard
University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
- Member since 2016
- Postdoctoral researcher
- Boulder, Colorado
For me, physics has always been about doing experiments. I’ve always loved discovering how the universe works by building, tinkering, and measuring. That process of discovery helps make my life fulfilling and wondrous; the fact that it’s my job is just an added bonus. Early on in my training as a physicist, I had the chance to teach as an undergraduate course mentor and as a graduate student teaching assistant. I discovered that sharing that sense of wonder with others is just as fulfilling for me as actually doing physics experiments.
In the middle of my time as an experimental physics graduate student, I started to seriously consider being a physics education researcher (aka, a PER person). I wanted to combine the personal fulfillment of teaching with the personal fulfillment of discovering how to teach better. I went to my first Summer AAPT meeting around that time. There I discovered a community of physicists who were as excited as I was, or more so, about physics teaching and learning. It was wonderous! I got very close to switching into PER as a graduate student, but ultimately, and with the support and advice of my mentors, I decided to finish graduate school as a "traditional" experimental physicist.
I've now been an official PER person for several years. Among many other things I’ve learned, I have come to appreciate how central issues of social justice are to physics teaching and learning. Here is one reason why: as physics educators, it is our job to support our students in learning physics, and students don’t learn physics in an isolated bubble (or in a closed system, as some might say). To understand physics learning and be excellent physics teachers, we need to consider students as complete, complex human beings. We need to make metaphorical space for students to figure out how physics identity fits in with their other identities, and we need to support them on that journey. Our students figuring that out is different than them being assimilated into physics. To allow all of our students to explore physics fully, physics culture must also change. And physics culture has a long way to go. In AAPT, I have found wonderful people to learn from and to learn with, so that we can together build that better physics culture. For me now, it is also that work that makes my life wondrous.