08 August 2008

Undergrad community in the Carleton physics department

A few years ago, I complained about the lack of community in my department. This morning, I read a post by Prof. Melissa Eblen-Zayas about the undergrad community in the Carleton physics department. Carleton College is a prestigious liberal arts college in Minnesota.

In particular, she notes the distinction between tightly knit and loosely woven communities. Tightly knit means the stereotypical hard core physics majors who do all their problem sets in the student lounge until midnight and try to sneak into lab to get more data. (I know, my undergraduate department was like that.) Loosely woven means people who just do physics as a major and spend time on other extracurricular activities, for example, being on an athletic team or being part of a theater group. Prof. Eblen-Zayas thinks there should be both a tightly knit and a loosely woven community in her department. She speculates that women science majors prefer a loosely woven community, so they end up choosing a major like biology or chemistry instead of physics. I'm not sure if there's room for two types of communities in a small school like Carleton.

I was always part of a tightly knit community from birth (nuclear family) to college (my living group, undergrad physics department), so I have always preferred my work and social circles to be tight. Maybe that's why I had problems in grad school. Our department is loosely woven, though some experimental groups can be tight. I'm getting more used to the loosely woven scheme, though I can definitely say that tight knit is a better fit for me.

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