Physics Graduate student Daniel Li is awarded Graduate Student Leader of the Year

The Physics Department is pleased to announce that Daniel Li was honored with a Graduate Student Leader of the Year Award by the Student Activities Office (SAO) in the Leung Gallery of the Campus Center on May 3rd. Daniel was one of three recipients of the award for 2023.

The SAO awards the Graduate Student Leader of the Year to the member of a student group who best demonstrates the qualities of outstanding leadership and membership, such as dependability, dedication, trustworthiness, loyalty, and helpfulness.

Interim Physics Department Chair Gang Xiao feels strongly that Daniel embodies all of these qualities saying “Daniel was an exceptional leader and organizer of the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Brown under the most exceptionally difficult circumstances. He became the chief organizer of this large-scale, three-day event after the conference’s faculty leader, Physics Department Chair Meenakshi Narain, passed away three weeks before the conference. Pushing through the emotional strain of losing the faculty advisor with whom he worked closely for four and a half years, Daniel’s true leadership shone through the adversity and emotional toll that losing Meenakshi exacted on us all.”

CUWiP, a three-day national conference at which Brown hosted groups from 30 national universities, was held January 20 – 22, 2023. Among the attendees were 120 undergraduates, 40 invited speakers, panelists and workshop facilitators, 40 volunteers, and 40 career fair representatives.

After the passing of the conference’s organizer and champion, Daniel moved forward with the myriad aspects of organizing a large-scale event. Professor Xiao and others on the faculty gave Daniel their full support, telling him that given his deep involvement with the project and how closely he worked with Professor Narain, the department trusted his judgment to make decisions that she would have been responsible for. On Daniel’s organization of the conference, Professor Xiao adds that Daniel proceeded with confidence and took complete charge of all aspects of the event, showing exemplary leadership.

After processing the repercussions of Professor Narain's passing, Daniel relates that he recognized how important the conference was to her vision for physics and he used that conviction to ensure the conference was carried out to the standard she would have expected from him were she still there to oversee him.  Knowing that this conference was near to Professor Narain’s heart and how she threw all her energy into ensuring that the conference would be held at Brown in her final days, Daniel had an enormous responsibility, the weight of which would have broken a lesser person.

Daniel recollects that Professor Narain told him early on that to make the conference succeed he needed to learn to delegate tasks wisely and help others feel ownership over those tasks.  He feels that she wanted this to be an opportunity for him to develop as a leader outside of research; she knew of Daniel’s tendency to do things independently but wanted him to learn to trust others in a team environment. Through flawless execution, it is clear that Daniel learned Professor Narain’s final lessons.

“ The impact of Daniel’s management of the 2023 CUWiP Conference cannot be overstated. Daniel’s leadership elevated Brown University’s national profile with the American Physical Society and the many universities that attended this highly successful conference. He was driven to fulfill Professor Narain's vision for a more inclusive and equitable field within physics. Most importantly, in so doing, Daniel cemented Professor Narain’s legacy as a champion of women in physics at Brown and beyond. ”

Gang Xiao Interim Physics Department Chair

Upon learning of his award, Daniel told Physics Communications: "I am forever grateful toward my late mentor and role model, Professor Meenakshi Narain, who demonstrated to me what it meant to labor wholeheartedly toward your passion and convictions. I have only been able to confidently lead others because of the guidance she provided me and the trust and support given to me by countless others within the physics department at Brown. In receiving this recognition, I hope to continue as a leader in our collective efforts toward making physics a more inclusive and equitable field." 

Professor Vesna Mitrović became the CUWiP faculty leader after Professor Narain passed away. She recalls that Daniel ensured that all of the agreed-upon steps were executed to the highest degree of excellence and that he assigned the many volunteers appropriate jobs in the large-scale event production to ensure that all aspects of the conference were covered. The result was a seamless conference with many events over three days.

Professor Mitrović said that if anyone else was dealing with the emotional strain while overseeing the logistics of the event, the conference might not have happened. She remains amazed by Daniel's maturity, professionalism and ability to “step up and do it” in the most trying circumstances.  

Professor Xiao added that working with Daniel was a true pleasure despite the emotional hurdle he had to overcome and he is proud of Daniel’s ability to “get it done” in true leadership form.