CUWiP: The APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics

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Highlights from a few of the CUWiPs

Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics

January 15, 2015 to January 17, 2015

Meeting host:

American Physical Society


SPS Reporters

Participants at the 2015 APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at the University of Texas Brownsville

In January, undergraduate women majoring in physics came together at eight sites across the country. The goal of these regional conferences was to help undergraduate women thrive in physics by providing them with an opportunity to experience a professional conference, to gather information about graduate schools and professions in physics, and to interact with women in physics of all ages with whom they could share experiences, advice, and ideas.

CUWiP @ the University of California, Santa Cruz

by Kayla Mendel, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

As the only woman attending the CUWiP in Santa Cruz from my university, I was excited to have the opportunity to meet other women with similar interests who are coping with the challenges associated with pursuing a career in the male-dominated field of physics. I plan to attend graduate school in medical physics this coming fall, so I was especially interested in meeting other women going to graduate school in physics disciplines.

One of the highlights for me was a poster session for students where I presented a poster about the research I did last summer at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The work was made possible by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) Summer Undergraduate Fellowship Program. My project focused on proton therapy treatment for ocular melanoma, specifically, dose fidelity. I really enjoyed sharing my work with other people and hearing their questions and ideas. Presenting to a group of my peers helped build my confidence and made me feel more inclined to present my research at the next opportunity.

The keynote speaker of the conference, Dr. Gabriela González, gave a talk entitled “LIGO, Gravitational Waves and Me: A Wonderful Life in Physics with More to Come!” She shared her incredible journey and spoke about moving from Argentina to the United States to work at LIGO. This talk was video-cast from another CUWiP site to all of the sites across the country. Over the course of the weekend, we heard from many other inspiring female physicists. Hearing each of these women was incredibly empowering, and at the end I felt encouraged by the support of the community of women in physics.

Prior to the conference, I had felt that I was on my own navigating this male-dominated field. However, I feel better knowing that there is such a strong community of women in physics who care so much about supporting others.

CUWiP @ Duke University

by Jenny Su, Duke University, Durham, NC

At the Research Triangle CUWiP, it was incredibly interesting to get a sense of the vast number of opportunities that are available for physics students. One panel brought together female physicists with careers in areas ranging from patent law and public health to defense think tanks and Silicon Valley startups. Even though some of the work was in fields that seem far from the physics roots of the panelists, it was evident that their love of science (the reason they became physics majors) is still present in the work that they do today. Many of the panelists are still involved in the physics community, helping out at science fairs or working at planetariums. As one of the panelists said, “You don’t have to be an educator to be educating.” Physics is definitely not something that is relevant only to academics or researchers at national labs. The conference also focused on helping students develop workforce skills.

Another highlight was a talk by Christina Hammock, a NASA astronaut candidate, who spoke to us about her exciting life. What stood out to me about Christina and her journey was her dedication to challenging herself. She inspired the audience of physics students not to shy away from things that seem intimidating, but rather to seek out opportunities where we will be “literally in over [our] heads.” Her adventures exploring worldly frontiers and knowledge frontiers demonstrated what we can do if we don’t let fear get in the way of our dreams.

CUWiP @ Purdue University

by Lisa McDonald, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, IA

Talks, panels, tours, and a wonderful banquet speaker carried us through a fast-paced 48 hours at the Purdue University CUWiP. While the talks were very enjoyable, covering topics from research at CERN to geodynamic modeling, the panels gave attendees a more personal chance to speak to graduate students currently working toward their masters and PhDs. During lunch on Sunday I had the opportunity to talk with one such grad student, Cassie Reuter, and find out about the research she’s been conducting for her degree. She came to Purdue with the intention of doing work related to the Large Hadron Collider, but after meeting Professor Rafael Lang, she turned her attention toward the study of dark matter, specifically, investigating claims of discovered dark matter by analyzing systematic errors in dark matter detectors. Not only was hearing her talk about her work fascinating, but discovering that she had taken a year off before grad school to recuperate from her undergraduate experience highlighted the importance of giving yourself the time you need before launching into graduate studies.

The conference event that struck me the most was not a talk given by a physics professional, but one by Professor Tracey Jean Boisseau, director of women’s studies at Purdue. In “Confidential Matters: The Science and the Art of Becoming Confident,” she discussed the challenges women face from external forces and their internal struggles with preconceived notions of gender inequalities. She told an inspiring story about how her mother, after losing her waitressing job at age 40, enrolled in a college programming class. Today her mother works at IBM. The story beautifully illustrated the idea that we are usually our own worst enemy. If we believe in our potential as successful, intelligent physicists, nothing can stop us from achieving our goals.

Next up

The 2016 CUWiPs will take place January 15-17 at the following institutions. For details, visit the American Physical Societyís website at

  • Black Hills State University, Spearfish, SD
  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
  • Ohio State University, Columbus
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis
  • Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, & Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, Newport News, VA
  • Syracuse University, New York
  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT