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2009 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Yale
[an error occurred while processing this directive] by Eteri Svanidze, SUNY Fredonia

Eteri Svanidze (left) and Mildred Dresselhaus (right), following Dresselhaus's lecture on nanotechnology at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Yale University, January 16-18, 2009.  

While browsing different websites in search of graduate school programs, I accidentally stumbled upon a conference for women in physics. Being the only female in my physics program, I did not have any other perspectives on the situation besides my own. It seemed to be a particularly resourceful event to attend so I registered and waited for a response while trying to complete all my applications in time. I did not have to wait long since I got an email very quickly with all the details about the upcoming event.

There were three locations at which the conference took place in 2009: University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, IL) and Yale University (New Haven, CT). My choice was to attend the latter one. It was quite an adventure – driving ten hours from upstate New York to Rhode Island and then taking the train to New Haven. Luckily, I got there in time and traveling itself was not too overwhelming. The weather was unexpectedly cold and snowy but after a little bit we all got used to it.

The first night there were few events scheduled, so we were not too tired for the next two days filled with talks, panels and social events. A wonderful talk followed a reception that gave us all an opportunity to get acquainted with each other. It was incredibly helpful for me since I did not know anybody before that. I honestly did not expect so many people to attend. I of course have seen a few women at other conferences I have attended but for some reason I did not anticipate such a huge crowd. It was incredibly nice to meet so many women who were able to share their personal experience and things I could relate to.

The welcome reception was held in the Presidents Room of Yale's Woolsey Hall.  

The second day was tightly packed with talks and panels, which covered every area of interest one may have. Various talks presented a wide variety of cutting edge research which included fascinating topics such as spin dynamics in diamond, microstructure of mother of pearl, cannibalism within galaxies, neutrino physics, LHC physics and a personal favorite of mine – nanotechnology. A detailed description of current research was skillfully mixed with personal paths of women physicists. Each one of them not only shared their passion about their work but also gave another example of the possibility of having it all – an interesting and fulfilling career along with normal everyday life. Each one of the presenters in some way or another reflected on the current situation with women in physics and science in general.

One of other highlights of the conference was a panel that provided an opportunity to learn about possible careers for women in physics after receiving a doctoral degree. Many people do not really know that there is such a vast variety of possible things to do besides following the traditional academia path. One can choose according to personal preferences and talents without worrying about possible consequences – whether to work for industry, create science movies or explore science policy – the choices are unlimited. It is very important for undergraduate women in science to know who may be their future employer, what kind of things to look for in a potential job and what to expect from it. No matter what the choice is, all can be equally fulfilling and rewarding.

A skylight that decorates a lecture hall in Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University.  

A graduate school panel talked in detail about how graduate school works. It was interesting to hear from current graduate students with different backgrounds and experiences of physics. One of the goals for this conference was to encourage undergraduate female physics major to pursuit doctoral  study despite all of the difficulties and uncertainties.

My personal favorite was a lecture by Mildred Dresselhaus about nanotechnology. As a student, I am deeply interested in the future of nanoscience and all research related to it. Current research of nanostructures is primarily concerned with possible applications of them since a lot of studies have already been done on their properties and characteristics. Nanostructures such as nanotubes, fullerenes and carbon strips have a potential of being very useful in many fields other than physics – chemistry, medicine, engineering and many others. Talking to Dr. Dresselhaus assured me that I made the right decision regarding my future research area.

To view reports and highlights containing data on the education and employment of women in physics in the U.S. and data on working women physicists across the world, visit the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center.  

The equal treatment of women in science is a big issue. Nobody really knows why—maybe historically men had a dominant place in society, which automatically provided them with the authority to “know best”. Nevertheless, a vast number of women have made significant contribution to progress of science and humankind throughout history. In the graph to the left, data about women in science from previous years is presented. As can be seen, physics and engineering have the lowest number of women earning bachelor’s degrees.

Events such as this conference actively and effectively promote physics among young women and are able to convince them not to give up their dreams. It is very uplifting to see women leading creative research and actively participating in modern scientific life. It is necessary for each female scientist to have inspiration and support from fellow scientists. It is also very important for them to know that they are not alone, that others experience similar troubles and have the same everyday question and concerns. After meeting that many people whom we can relate to, each one of us came back with a motivation and inspiration to do as much as possible to promote diversity in science.

Resources on Women in Physics

2009 Hosts of the Conference for Undergraduate Women

Women in Physics, American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center

Women in Physics, American Physical Society

US delegation to 2nd IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics

Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, NSF

Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics

SPS Reporter Program
SPS national sends student reporters to most major AIP Member Society meetings, where they are treated like other members of the press. Many ambitious student reporters succeed in securing interviews with society leadership and prominent invited speakers on such occasions.

SPS Travel Awards
A limited number of grants, on the order of $200 each, are offered to help fund SPS members' travel to national meetings of AIP Member Societies holding a "SPS Session" co-organized by SPS and the Member Society.

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