Cultivating Physics Identity and Belonging for Women in Physics

Nancy Holincheck
Assistant Professor of STEM Education
George Mason University

This project examines the role of mentorship and leadership in the development of physics identity of undergraduate women in physics. The results of this effort will expand on a well-established model of physics students’ identity (Hazari et al. 2010) to better understand two key aspects of identity: (1) how the ability to conceptualize physics careers beyond the academy impacts women’s physics identity and belonging, and (2) how physics leadership contributes to a student’s identity and sense of belonging. Participants were selected from universities with active Sigma Pi Sigma and/or Society of Physics Students (SPS) chapters; these student groups will use resources from the PION portal to support and engage physics students. With mentorship as a central component of the Pion Program and a best practice in helping students develop a sense of identity and belonging, we will explore the contributions of mentorship to students’ understanding of the career opportunities available to physics degree recipients and to the development of leadership identity. For students who participate in the Pion Program as event leaders and peer mentors, we will explore the development of leadership identity and the connection to physics identity and sense of belonging. These explorations will allow us to broaden our current models of physics identity and belonging.Research Questions:1. How does the development of faculty, peer, and professional mentoring relationships impact the development of sense of belonging and physics identity for women in physics?2. How does understanding the career options (career conceptualization) for a physicist impact sense of belonging and physics identity?3. How does development of leadership identity increase a sense of belonging and physics identity for women in physics? a. In what ways do women who take on leadership and mentorship roles within Pion build their leadership identity within physics?This poster presentation will focus on the theoretical model developed by the research team. Preliminary findings from year 1 will be reviewed, as well as anticipated outcomes and implications of this project. The Pion Program is designed to improve the preparation of the next generation of physics students for graduate school and the workforce. These efforts are aimed at broadening participation in physics by increasing physics identity and sense of belonging among women and students from underrepresented groups. SPS is a professional organization for students and Sigma Pi Sigma is its associated honor society, both of which are part of the American Institute of Physics and have 800 and 580 chapters respectively across the U.S. With this reach for the materials that are part of the Pion Program we expect to have an impact on hundreds of students each year. By studying the implementation of the Pion Program, we seek to expand our understanding of the foundation on which identity and belonging are built as a mechanism for increasing persistence in STEM. This work will be applicable to the development of successful student-led programs in mentorship and career conceptualization across the STEM disciplines, extending the impact well beyond the physics community.


Jessica Rosenberg, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; Nancy Holincheck, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; Ben Dreyfus, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA