AIP Foundation

Bridging Worlds: Gizem Doğan's Journey from Physics to Policy at Bowdoin College

JUN 13, 2024
Exploring the Convergence of Science and Government: The Inspiring Story of Gizem Doğan's Impact through SPS and Beyond.
Gizem Dogan

Gizem Doğan

SPS in my first year opened all the doors for me. My first serious internship, at Physics Today, started it all. It got me interested in D.C. and science policy and doing some writing. It also introduced me to some great people who were very supportive.

Gizem Doğan’s interest in physics began when she was a high school student in Istanbul, Turkey, and evolved into a passion for science policy as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College in Maine. Gizem plans to graduate in the spring of 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in physics and government and legal studies, with a concentration in international relations.

Gizem credits the Society of Physics Students (SPS), and its internship programs supported by donations to the AIP Foundation, for stoking her interest in public policy. She was a science writing intern for Physics Today magazine (published by SPS’ parent organization, the American Institute of Physics) and, in the summer of 2023, was an SPS Mather Policy Intern at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In her junior year, she held an internship in science, energy, and environment policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. That same year she authored a research paper at American University on optimizing the performance of the national laboratories. She also pursued international affairs and security studies in Berlin, Germany.

We spoke with Gizem a few months before her graduation to talk about the intersection of science and government, the physics of everyday life and the marvels of fluid dynamics. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

How did you first become interested in physics?

When I took my first physics class in high school, it was so different from chem and bio, in that it actually required a lot of thinking that I had to do by myself. My teachers back in Turkey encouraged us to think a lot about even the simplest subjects of kinematics, why things happen the way they do. I like to keep company with myself, walking around campus alone when I’m not with my friends. That’s what drew me to science. The more you study physics the more it gets involved in your daily life. Even the simplest stuff, like when people are opening a door, I would be like “okay, that’s torque.” It’s nerdy, but I love that.

When did you first get interested in science policy?

Bowdoin has a great government department. I had a lot of friends who constantly talked about politics. It was when I first got to D.C. that I got interested in science policy, especially with the passing of the CHIPS and Science law. It was great going into the congressional offices, talking to scientists who are actually trying to get funding, to get their voices heard so that we would be led by science. It was also the city. I’m from a huge city. It’s the energy of everything coming together and everyone working toward something. I wanted to be a part of it.

What simple physics experiment still amazes you?

Fluid dynamics is one of the most beautiful things that someone can observe. In this one simple experiment, you get a tank of water to rotate at constant speed and your pour some dye at the corners. And the moment you stop the tank, you get complete chaos. Although the dye was moving with the water, the dye and the water don’t stop at the same time. We were demoing it at a small scale, but that’s exactly what happens in oceans and in the atmosphere.

Name one of your science heroes who isn’t J. Robert Oppenheimer.

From the same movie, I really do love Richard Feynman, who was a great teacher and a great professor. He was just a great explainer of things. In my four years of physics education, you come to see that people who know something are not necessarily good at explaining it to other people. I read all four of his books in physics. He’s just so great at coming down to an undergraduate level.

It’s 2064 and you’ve won the Nobel Prize. What problem did you solve for humanity?

That’s a huge question! The sciences would come into play, but I think it would be more about mobility. I do think about people’s ability, especially from different nationalities, to move around the world. There is something inherent to human dignity about mobility, the ability to cross checkpoints with your dignity intact, not being exposed to indignant treatment. So maybe it would be about that.

Any favorite hobbies or pastimes that you wished you could spend more time doing?

I do a lot of listening to podcasts. Very nerdy stuff. Also, we have a thought lab called Gedanken, where physics people get together to work on problem sets. Whenever you have that many physics people together in one room very interesting stuff comes out. The SPS chapter also gets together in that room. Just the other day we made ice cream out of liquid nitrogen. That was pretty cool.

Favorite board game?

I’m not a fan of board games. I like conversations more.

What’s your go-to comfort food after a long study session?

Dark chocolate with sea-salt caramel. I have a sweet tooth.

What’s a movie you’ve watched so many times you stopped counting?

“Pain and Glory,” directed by Pedro Almodovar.

What’s the best line?

The main character has had chronic pain most of his life. It’s more of less autobiographical. At one point he says something like: “The nights when I have the most pain, I believe in God, and I pray to him. On the days when I only suffer less pain, I’m an atheist.”

What book or author has made the biggest impact on you?

I’d say Haruki Murakami. Any of his stories. He just writes in such a way that he’s talking about your inner journey. He’s able to voice the stuff we go through in life in such a mystical way, he’s not trying to confine or constrain it, it just flows.

How has the support you’ve received from the AIP Foundation, along with SPS, Sigma Pi Sigma and APS, helped you in your college experience?

SPS in my first year opened all the doors for me. My first serious internship, at Physics Today, started it all. It got me interested in D.C. and science policy and doing some writing. It also introduced me to some great people who were very supportive. My second internship, at NIST , came from those connections, and it was because I gained those skills that I got the job. So, for two years in a row, I was able to sustain myself all because of SPS.

SPS internships are great in that they have such a huge variety of positions for physics majors. They get physics majors to write, do history teaching, marketing, statistical analysis, diversity training. It’s not something physics majors get recruited to do a lot, especially for internships. So, if you’re multi-dimensional, SPS internships are the only way I know to be involved in those things.

More Stories
Press Release
Yale University student Barkotel Zemenu credits SPS and the scholarships he received from the AIP Foundation for providing financial support and opportunities for personal and academic growth.
Exploring Superconductivity, Coding Dreams, and the Quest for Perfect Beef Tacos: The Inspiring Journey of Collins Kariuki through SPS and Beyond.