May 2020: Alexis Knaub

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Alexis Knaub

  • Member since 2014
  • Consultant/Evaluator
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan

About Alexis

When I was an undergrad (Smith College, class of 2006), someone asked me about why I was a physics major. I was (and am!) genuinely interested in physics and at the time, the computational nuclear physics research I worked on as a student research. However, it wasn't just being interested in physics that led me to being a physics major. Part of the reason I majored in physics was I liked my department and classmates; I figured that if I were going to spend a considerable amount of my life working, ideally I would like my work, make the world a little or a lot better, and like the people with whom I am working. Since I was an undergrad, I've shifted over to physics/STEM education research during my graduate studies in hopes of contributing to positive change to physics doctoral education. After my graduate work, I've shifted yet again albeit quite as extreme. While I am often working on sustained change research and doing evaluation, I mostly describe my work as "it depends on what day you’re asking" as each project has different needs and employ different methods, participants, etc. Despite the changes in my career trajectory, striving to work with good people doing good things has been a consistent theme and a privilege I have been lucky to have in multiple endeavors.

Right now, we are well into the COVID-19 pandemic. Life is even more difficult in so many ways for our students, our loved ones, our personal and professional communities, and ourselves. There is a lot that can be said as things have unfolded and continue to do so.

One thing I will say is that I've been encouraged by the outpouring of support and caring from many within AAPT and the many ways in which support and caring have manifested. Instructors are changing their courses to better support their students' well-being. Resources are being shared on how to virtualize courses and conferences. There have been multiple virtual meetups to offer support in many forms including purely social. Colleagues/friends are checking in regularly through both personal correspondences and meetings. The co-organizers for PERC (Beth Cunningham, Lin Ding, Steve Maier) have been in regular communication to think through many matters regarding virtualization of conferences and longer-term needs of our communities. This is only a small sample of what all is being done to make the world a little better. People at all walks of life and with all sorts of constraints/power/privilege are stepping up to support each other in new and much needed ways.

These actions aren't unique to the current state of the world. For example, the Committee on Diversity (chaired by Arlene Modeste Knowles and previously chaired by David Marasco) has been working on different ways to engage physics educators beyond the conferences. When I reflect on why I choose to be involved with various work and service within physics/STEM education, it all comes back to wanting to work with good people doing good work. As challenging as times can be and how I wish things were better in many ways or had easy solutions, I'm thankful for accomplices who are thinking about what is in their purview and are towards positive change, who have included me in their work and who have supported me in my projects and ideas.