CUWiP 2023: A Conference Deferred but Not Denied

Share This:



SPS Chapters on Professional Development

CUWiP 2023: A Conference Deferred but Not Denied


Rajib Chowdhury, SPS Member, University of Central Florida


Physics students from the College of Wooster attend the January 2023 Conference of Undergraduate Women in Physics at Pennsylvania State University. Photo courtesy of the College of Wooster SPS chapter.

In recent years, the University of Central Florida (UCF) has been eager to host a Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Several CUWiPs are held each year, all on the same January weekend but in different geographical regions. We had hoped to host one a few years ago, but that was postponed due to COVID-19. Finally, in January 2023 we were able to host an in-person meeting for our region. As the conference kicked off, the stage was set for a weekend full of research talks, poster presentations, and panel discussions.

Among the sciences, physics usually ranks last in the percentage of women enrolled in degree-granting programs, with doctoral, master’s, and undergraduate percentages hovering in the twenties for the past two decades. The CUWiPs have been instrumental in building community among physics students who are women and from other groups underrepresented in physics. The meetings aim to support, connect, and empower those who may otherwise feel discouraged from continuing in the field.

Our CUWiP had an incredible array of speakers, including Jami Valentine Miller of the US Patent and Trade Office and Rose LeJiste, founder of RL Engineering and Tech Solutions. They shared great anecdotes about physics careers that don’t follow the traditional path of undergraduate to graduate student to professor. LeJiste spoke about starting her own company and applying lessons from her work in physics spaces, such as the Kennedy Space Center, to her own business. Miller explained how her physics background helps her define the scope of patents for new devices. In addition, both speakers touched on how being a woman in a male-dominated field has impacted them.

One of the highlights of the UCF CUWiP was a nighttime excursion to the Robinson Observatory, our in-house astronomical telescope and viewing station used to study binary asteroids, the dust production of comets, variable stars, and exoplanets. Here, under the darkness, attendees viewed stellar objects with small, portable telescopes. They looked at many of the planets in our solar system through our Meade LX90s, equipped with eight-inch mirrors and rotational motors, and checked out the systems required to control our 20-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope, which was then under repair.

Another highlight was the simulcast plenary talk that brought together all of the CUWiP sites. The 2023 Millie Dresselhaus CUWiP Keynote Lecture was given by Nadya Mason, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She works on flexible graphene devices in the context of condensed-matter experiments. Her work lies at the intersection of well-understood classical bulk physics and microscopic quantum phenomena. She gave a fascinating history of graphene, including her graduate work on the properties of graphene and how they change under strain. Professor Mason explained how small developments, such as learning how tears in graphene affect its resistance, were instrumental in developing a method to control the material’s conductance using nanospheres.

After the research portion of the talk, Professor Mason chronicled her path into physics and her career. She spoke about her struggles while pursuing a physics major, which were incredibly relevant to me and the majority of attendees. She also suggested that we think about research opportunities as tools for honing in on what kind of research career to pursue, if any.

Many of our UCF SPS members helped to coordinate and execute the event, and it took a Herculean effort to produce the finished product: a three-day-long intense aggregation of some of the brightest minds in physics and astronomy focused on building community and discussing issues instrumental to success in these fields.

The conference drew more than 200 undergraduates and dozens of faculty members from all over the southeast, including Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Our SPS chapter is proud to have helped make CUWiP@UCF possible!

Women in Physics and Astronomy 

The American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center is your source for data on women in physics and astronomy. See the numbers at

Learn More About CUWiPs

Find out more about the APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at


More from this department

SPS Chapters on Professional Development