Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at George Washington University

Share This:

Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics

January 12, 2018 to January 14, 2018

Washington, DC

Meeting host:

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Sarah Monk

SPS Chapter:

The 2018 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at George Washington University was not the first CUWiP that I’ve attended, but as a graduating senior, it will likely be my last. I was very fortunate to get to experience my final CUWiP at George Washington with an amazing group of women in attendance. I was excited to attend with a group of several other young women from my home institution, The University of Maryland. For most of them it was their first time experiencing the CUWiP, and I was thrilled to see the enthusiasm and empowerment on their faces as we underwent the conference together. The weekend was filled with great experiences for students ranging from graduating seniors down to freshman.



UMD Undergraduates at the GW CUWiP with conference organizer Evie Downie. From left: Melanie Rowland, Ruhi Perez, Stephanie Williams, Mackenzie Carlson, Evie Downie, Junellie Gonzalez-Quiles, Sophie Sarcano, and Sarah Monk

CUWiP at GW kicked off with a tour of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center before the official opening banquet that evening. The opening banquet was where we first met the conference organizers, who I can tell you, really outdid themselves with a spectacular conference this year.  It was a wonderful dinner with heartfelt welcomes from Evie Downie, representing the conference organizing committee, as well as representatives from GW, and APS. My table was lucky enough to have after-dinner speaker Christine Jones, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, seated with us. It was great getting to speak with her in a less formal setting, and hearing about some of her experiences. Those at our table studying astronomy were really excited to learn that she had developed the software used in their astronomy courses.

The next morning we started early, ready for a full day of conference activities. We started off hearing from plenary speak Kawtar Hafidi. Dr. Hafidi is an experimental nuclear physicist and currently serves as director of the Physics Division of Argonne National Labs. We learned of her upbringing in Morocco, her travels all over the world, and how she ended up in her position through hard work and dedication, while balancing a husband and child. Next we had our first panel discussion, “How to battle issues of diversity, bias & intersectionality: mentoring and building a diverse community” which included panelist from different areas of physics, including university faculty, national lab researchers, and an APS representative. For me, this was one of the most impactful sessions at the conference. Getting to hear first hand from these women about how they overcame so many struggles to get where they are really stood out to me. Next we jumped right in to the poster session. It was so great to see so many young women presenting their outstanding research. Later on we also got to celebrate two of our undergrads from UMD who won poster awards, Stephanie Williams for 2nd place, and Junellie Gonzalez-Quiles for 3rd place.

Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent with parallel panels and workshops, with choices from applying to jobs in academia, industry, or education, and student success in college via study strategy, internships, or career development. I was disappointed I couldn’t attend all the different panels and workshops, but those I did attend were very helpful and insightful. I commend GW on the wide range of careers and pathways they drew attention to. It’s refreshing to see focus not solely on academic paths, and to know that whatever we want to do as a physicist, we have those options. That afternoon we also enjoyed APS Keynote Speaker, Dr. Patricia Burchat from the Physics Department at Stanford University. She has an inspiring story as a “first-gen” high school graduate who has risen to the top of her field in experimental particle physics and cosmology. We wrapped up sessions before dinner with an entertaining outreach fair led by Gary White, a faculty member at GW who specializes in Physics Education, and the local Society of Physics Students chapter, which gave everyone the chance to have fun and unwind a bit with some physics demos and games. We closed the day after dinner with Physics Jeopardy before everyone headed back to the hotel, exhausted after a fun-filled day.

Our final day at CUWiP started off with a plenary talk by Nancy Jo Nicholas, Principal Associate Director for Global Security for Los Alamos National Laboratory before we got into more parallel workshops and panels. Today’s sessions were focused on life as a physicist, and included panel discussions of life in graduate school and managing work/life balance, as well as workshops on LGBTQ+ experiences and health and self-care. Again, everything sounded wonderful and I was sorry not to be able to attend them all. Our final plenary speaker of the conference was Dr. Luz Martinez-Miranda, who I was excited to see there from my home institution, University of Maryland. She shared some of her research on x-ray scattering techniques of liquid crystal and other materials that she does in the UMD Materials Sciences Department.

Finally our CUWiP was coming to a close. After closing remarks from Evie Downie, we all said our heartfelt thank yous and goodbyes for an extraordinary conference. Attending the CUWiPs has truly been one of my favorite events in my academic career. I hope that every young woman entering the field gets the chance to experience the camaraderie, solidarity, and empowerment that goes along with it.