A Weekend of Inspiration and Learning

Meeting Notes

A Weekend of Inspiration and Learning

Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at The College of New Jersey

Camila López Pérez and Shanjida Khan, SPS Members, Drew University

 CUWiP participants greet each other during a video conference call with keynote speaker Dr. Fabiola Gianotti at the Mayo Concert Hall at The College of New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Andrew Cislak.“I feel like within the department it’s often a competition—who’s got the best lab group, highest GPA, the most awards, etc. This is especially true between women in our program, because there’s almost a vibe of ‘only one of us can make it.’ I really liked that CUWiP was pretty much only about the love of physics and supporting other women,” shared Morgan Caswell, a physics major from Temple University.

Although it was Morgan’s second time attending one of the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), her reaction still captured how we (and most likely, many other students) felt our first time attending the conference. CUWiPs are three-day conferences held annually by the American Physical Society (APS) at various universities across the United States
and Canada.

The College of New Jersey’s CUWiP had an exciting schedule, full of workshops, panel sessions, and networking events relevant to empowering women in physics and providing us with tools and advice relevant to physics careers. We started the first day with immense energy! About 30 of us were taken to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) for a tour before the opening remarks from the representatives from TCNJ and APS. Shortly after, the first plenary speaker—Dr. Jami Valentine Miller, the first African American woman to earn a PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins University—unfolded for us how she decided to work for the US Patent Office. Her animated demeanor really captivated the students.

The next morning, we split up and attended a total of three workshops: Setting Yourself Up for Success: A Journey from College to Industry, Mental Health and Awareness, and Optical Engineering. Soon after, we reunited to attend a networking fair where we met with representatives from graduate schools such as Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon and companies such as Edmund Optics and ExxonMobil.

That afternoon was the keynote address, given by Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, the director general at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. She presented to all of the CUWiP sites through a video call. It was wonderful to hear her explain how she became interested in physics after studying the humanities throughout high school.

The final program of the day was a panel discussion led by the senior program associate of the PPPL, Shannon Greco, with three women in diverse careers: Dr. Emily Conover, a physics reporter from ScienceNews, Nicole Callen, a research technician from ExxonMobil, and Dr. Katey Shirey, program officer at the Knowles Academy. One of the messages, given by Dr. Shirey, that really stuck with us was, “Apply to everything you find . . . and then show up and try!” Listening to the stories of physics career trajectories was very motivating and worthwhile!

The final day of CUWiP started off early with a relaxed and quiet atmosphere. We weren’t sure if students were tired from the two previous long days or if we were sad because it was the last day of the eventful conference. Perhaps it was both. However, we knew we would miss seeing all the amazing women from different universities.

There were many great takeaways from the conference that resonated with both of us. One is how every panelist at the conference mentioned how they were (and still are) affected by the imposter syndrome—feeling like a fraud or like everyone else is just as good or better than you. It was shocking but also really interesting for us to see so many successful women in physics feeling out of place or not competent enough.

All in all, CUWiP was an amazing opportunity to grow as a student and a scientist. It gave us tools to prepare for and plan our careers through informative workshops, networking, and talks by women scientists who shared their experiences and advice with us. After meeting so many women with similar aspirations, we hope to attend CUWiP again next year and recommend that everyone, especially women, attend at least once during their time in college! Camila López Pérez (center) and Shanjida Khan (foreground) observe Galinstan, a compound made of gallium, indium, and tin, during the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory tour. Photo courtesy of Elle Starkman.