The University of Iowa Department of Physics and Astronomy will host the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) Jan. 20-22, 2023. The UI conference is part of a series sponsored by the American Physical Society (APS), the professional organization for physicists in the United States.
The goal of APS CUWiP is to help undergraduate women continue in physics by providing them with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics of all ages with whom they can share experiences, advice, and ideas. The national and local organizing committees of APS CUWiP strive to create a welcoming environment for all, including undergraduate women and gender minorities.
The conference will bring approximately 100 to 120 undergraduates studying physics and physics-adjacent fields (e.g., mathematics, chemistry, engineering, biology, and medicine) to the UI campus to learn about future career paths in physics, present their work in research, develop technical skills, and network with other professional physicists at all career stages.
The conference is particularly focused on cultivating the talent of women and gender minorities in physics. “Physics has been and still is a male-dominated field,” says Prof. Casey DeRoo, one of the co-chairs of the UI CUWiP. “As a discipline, this means we are missing talented scientists by either not recruiting them in the first place or failing to retain them in the field. This conference is one step among the many we ought to take to ensure that we intentionally cultivate that talent.”
The Department of Physics and Astronomy will play a key role in leading the conference, with faculty, staff, and students working to host workshops, serve on panels, and welcome visitors. Highlights include plenary talks from UI alumni, including Amanda Acevedo (1996) and Taviare Hawkins (1992). See the full list of speakers and the agenda for more information.
Susanne Byrd, a Physics and Astronomy major, is on the CUWiP organizing committee and is vice president of the UI Society of Physics Students. She says being an underrepresented minority in a field dominated by men comes with a host of challenges. “It tends to wear down on you over time and it can be very discouraging. Seeing other women and gender minorities excel in their field despite those challenges is inspiring and comforting. Additionally, conversing with them helps boost confidence and foster a sense of community. Representation is important; seeing your gender identity represented in a scientific field makes it easier to see yourself being successful in that field.”
Rachel Filwett, adjunct assistant professor and postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Physics and Astronomy is also CUWiP co-chair. She has always been interested in science, and as a child loved looking at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. In high school, she realized that to work in astronomy you need to understand physics.
She attended CUWiP as an undergraduate and learned how important it is to get involved in research and how to apply to graduate school. The conference highlights the achievements of women in physics and provides attendees with a way to strengthen their physics identity.
“Now that I’m a successful scientist I’d like to be able to provide a similar experience to undergraduate women,” she said. “CUWiP is a great way to support women interested in physics because it is still such a male dominated field. Some of the attendees may come from departments where there are only a few women in the program, and over time that can really start to make you feel like you don’t belong.”
To further equitable access to this opportunity, all conference costs are covered for participants. This is made possible by financial support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Perry A. and Helen J. Bond Fund, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the Prairie Section of the American Physical Society as well as support from partnering institutions: Grinnell College, Coe College, and the University of Northern Iowa.
To apply to attend CUWiP at the University of Iowa, go to https://cuwip.physics.uiowa.edu/info. Applications to attend must be submitted to APS by Oct. 10. For more information, see the APS CUWiP at Iowa website, email Phys-CUWiP@uiowa.edu or call 319-335-0094.