How to make an impact in university

Bethany's legacy in the physics community

It all started with a job

I joined the Faculty of Science to be a part of the Physics program and to push the boundaries of physics through the University’s connections to the Institute of Quantum Computing and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. What I didn’t realize was that connections unrelated to physics could ultimately make me a better physicist.

It all started with a chance meeting, through my role as a Science Ambassador. I met the coordinator who runs the Velocity Science lab, who told me about a part-time job opportunity.

I knew about the program for young entrepreneurs testing out their science product or service ideas, having walked by their dedicated lab many times between classes. But I really didn’t think it was for me. For one thing, I didn’t feel I had the “next big idea.” Plus, it was a wet lab; a place us physicists rarely entered.

But after a few conversations with the Velocity Science coordinator, I knew the role’s independence fit with my own goals. I’d ensure the lab was running smoothly (ordering materials, managing inventory, working on community outreach), but any extra time I had could be dedicated to developing ideas to either improve the lab, or better the science community.

On the flip side

My work in the lab was tricky at first. Being in a “wet lab” (where you experiment and test chemicals, biological reactions, and analyze materials requiring water or other piped supplies) was new to me - but I didn’t want that to slow me down.

So, I started researching how these particular labs worked. I talked to the students who were running experiments. I asked a bunch of questions, flipped through instructional manuals, and really just immersed myself in the processes of the lab.

As I felt my confidence grow, I realized I’d identified an opportunity.

I decided to run my own lab tutorial, the Learning New Things: Wet Lab Techniques Seminar, fully supported by Velocity Science. Anyone could attend, but it was designed for those who had little to no exposure to wet labs. We capped the number of attendees to 20, and to my surprise all 20 spots filled up almost immediately. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who thought that these were important skills for all scientists.

Although there wasn’t time to run a second seminar during my 4-month contract, the next Velocity Science assistant has already reached out to run it again. It’s amazing to think that I’ve started something that will continue on for many more students.

The physics community 

I love that I’m part of the physics community here at Waterloo – and the fact that we have these unique opportunities only makes it better. I’m currently president of the Women in STEM club, and I volunteer with the Physics Interconnected program – matching upper-year students with first-year students to help our newest physicists manage their time, understand their choices for classes and labs, and to be a friend whenever they need it.

It’s a great place for anyone who loves physics, and really, anyone who loves science. There are endless opportunities here that I encourage everyone to take advantage of. It might help you build confidence and skills in ways you’ve never imagined, and even go beyond.