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Abbie Glickman wearing graduation cap

Graduating senior finds a home in physics

By Mary Hare

Native to Edmonds, Washington, graduating senior Abbie Glickman has always loved math. “It’s kind of like solving puzzles; you get to test out different things and see how they work,” she said. But she credits her high school physics teacher for helping her see how she could apply mathematical concepts to understand the physical world around her. “When I took physics the first time, he made sure that I knew that I belonged in physics,” she said.

With her older brother studying psychology at Oregon State University, Glickman decided to apply as well. “Now I know that was definitely the right decision,” she said. “I was out of my comfort zone because I was so far away from home for the first time and learning to be an adult. But it is a very safe, comforting place where you know you’re going to have support systems.”

“I value the times where I’ve pushed myself to try something, even if I didn’t know it would work." 

Majoring in Honor’s physics, she appreciated the unique structure of junior and senior undergraduate physics courses at Oregon State. For instance, Paradigms in Physics, the junior year course sequence, is a series of six five-week courses that ‘teaches physics as physicists think about it.’ “It’s pretty intensive, but the professors are phenomenal,” she said. “A lot of the professors are doing physics education research or just making sure that people feel included in science.”

Exploring diverse research interests

A member of OSU’s Women’s Rowing Team for three years, Glickman is most proud of the times she’s overcome mental barriers to seek out new opportunities. “I value the times where I’ve pushed myself to try something, even if I didn’t know it would work. Like applying for research – both of the times I went out and tried to do research it paid off in really amazing ways.”

All juniors in the physics major are expected to do a senior thesis research project, as are students in the Honor’s College. Understandably, most Honor’s physics students choose to combine these projects. But when the COVID pandemic began and her plans to study abroad were cancelled, instead of being discouraged, Glickman saw an opportunity to apply herself deeper into research.

“I really do feel like a physicist because of the classes I took and the things I did.”

A mathematics minor, Glickman received funding through the URSA Engage program to research math education under the supervision of Rebekah Elliott in the College of Education. She decided to extend her project to do an additional Honor’s thesis, developing her own theory about how the brain transitions between different subjects, such as math and computer science.   

Glickman snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is one of Glickman's favorite hobbies. Someday she hopes she can put it to test on Greenland's glaciers. 

Last summer, she was selected for a highly competitive internship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography through the National Science Foundation REU program. Working with physical oceanographer Fiamma Straneo, she investigated how seasonal and climatic changes in the ocean can contribute to melting and changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet.

“The support offered at OSU allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone in meeting new people and growing in my problem-solving skills and just becoming a scientist."

Her project honed in on the Sermilik Fjord – a fjord in eastern Greenland that connects to a glacier. “I’m studying how ocean waters reach in on the shelf outside the fjord,” she said. “I want to see how water intrudes into the fjord, and potentially reaches the glacier and causes melting,” she said. After the internship ended, she continued working remotely with the lab to for her second thesis project, entitled “Interannual variability of oceanographic conditions on the continental shelf outside of Sermilik Fjord.”

Even though her project didn’t directly apply the physical methods she learned in her classes, Glickman appreciated the problem solving and reasoning skills she learned – as well as her proficiency in Python and other coding systems.

“The support offered at OSU allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone in meeting new people and growing in my problem-solving skills and just becoming a scientist,” she said. “I really do feel like a physicist because of the classes I took and the things I did.”

Advocating for others

Glickman has also taken a leadership role in making campus a supportive place for other aspiring scientists. She currently serves as Vice President of Physicists for Inclusion in Science, a student-led organization that supports members of underrepresented groups as they pursue their careers.

She first joined the club her freshman year. “I was looking for a place where I knew people would be supporting me in my identity. I felt like I could be a part of that group and know they were there for me,” she said.

“We’re getting a new physics building in a few years, so we’ve been thinking of ways to make it more accessible to students,” she said. “We think it is really important to show that our main entrances are for everybody. That we want everyone here and it’s not an afterthought.”

Glickman plans to take a gap year after graduation before applying for Ph.D. programs. “In the near future, I’m really interested in continuing this physical oceanography research – I want to apply whatever skills I’ve learned to really pressing problems like climate change,” she said.