Female Physicists Address Inequalities

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Attending the 5th International Conference on Women in Physics in Waterloo, Canada, August 5–8, 2014

Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics

August 5, 2014 to August 8, 2014

Waterloo, Canada


Christine O’Donnell, Graduate Student, University of Arizona, Tucson, 2013 SPS Intern and Toni Sauncy, former SPS Director and Chair, Department of Physics, Texas Lutheran University, Seguin

The US Delegation at the 5th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP). Photo courtesy of ICWIP.

Imagine walking into a room of nearly 250 physicists. Everyone is sharing stories about exciting discoveries and classroom experiences while waiting for a world-class plenary lecture to begin.
Now imagine that nearly everyone in the room is a woman.

At the 5th International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP5), the scenario described above did not have to be simulated, modeled, or otherwise imagined. It was observed! As she took the stage, conference host Shohini Ghose of Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) quipped, “Now I know what it feels like to be a man in physics!”

The remark was a well-intended jest, but the reality is that female physicists in the United States and around the world often have no other female colleagues in their departments. While statistics tell us the number of women in physics at all levels is rising, the rise is slow and the overall percentage of physicists who are female remains low.

ICWIP is organized every three years by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Working Group on Women in Physics, formed in 1999 to survey the situation of women in physics, report findings, and suggest means to improve the situation. Over 50 countries were represented at this year’s conference, with teams from industrialized countries providing support for attendees from developing nations.

The 2014 conference delivered on its promise of spurring meaningful conversation about a wide range of topics important to physics: research, education, diversity, career development, and more. Distinguished plenary speakers covered a variety of disciplines, including astronomy, particle physics, solid-state physics, and biophysics.

Participants in breakout workshops at the conference helped to develop new IUPAP resolutions related to gender studies, workplace strategies, professional development, and physics education. These recommendations, prioritized by the conference attendees, will be fine-tuned by the working group for presentation to the IUPAP General Assembly.

The talks, workshops, and sessions offered opportunities for women to learn, expand their professional networks, and have a voice in the activities of the working group. Posters presented by each country detailed both scientific achievements and efforts to attract and retain women in physics. The conference even incorporated cultural events such as an entertaining evening of music provided by WLU faculty.

In addition to its poster, the US team also undertook a video project entitled “HERstories: Wisdom and Encouragement from Women in Physics.” Female attendees from across the world were asked to “tell their stories” in video interviews that captured the wisdom, enthusiasm, advice, and spirit of these women. Over 40 interviews were collected. Selected interviews were compiled into a video released in mid-October 2014. By presenting a diverse range of success stories tied to the common experience of being a woman, the project aims to engage, recruit, and retain young women interested in physics (see “Physics HERstories”).
ICWIP5 was a unique and life-enriching experience that added new chapters to the stories of those who participated. We hope the outcomes of the conference will inspire even more women! //

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