April 25, 2018, by Meghan Gray
Highlights from the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics
Three 4th-year physicists from the University of Nottingham recently attended the fourth Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) UK in the Department of Physics at Oxford University.
This annual 3-day conference is hosted by the The Oxford Women in Physics Society. It was a unique opportunity for networking and sparking discussions between 100+ female physicists. The programme included a wide variety of presentations, panels, workshops and tours of both the Oxford laboratories and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. In this guest post Lily, Maddy, and Rikke each share their personal experiences and highlights from the conference.
The CUWiP was a totally unforgettable experience, one I would consider unmissable for any young female Physics undergrad who is given the chance. You should be prepared for a jam-packed schedule, attending talks by women who are leading Physics researchers, each with a unique story to share about the path they carved in such male-dominated environments in order to reach the positions they hold today. I was struck by the tenacity, courage and forward thinking that these women had demonstrated throughout their lives in order to reach their current positions. They told us about their experiences of being the only woman in the room during meetings, and their feelings of frustration due to the implications of this, such as their ideas being hijacked by a male colleague. What I will really take with me from the conference is the inspiration that I have gained from the fierce positivity of all these women- they demonstrated great determination that the gender imbalance in STEM subjects, particularly Physics, can and will be amended.
The attendees of the conference, over 100 fellow female Physics undergrads, travelled from all over the UK and Ireland to take part in this awe-inspiring conference. The organisers really didn’t slack on the food, there were coffee breaks every couple hours, 3 course dinners and plenty of free wine! Each break and evening activity (e.g. quiz, going to the college bar) was another chance to meet more of the other attendees and the guest speakers, who happily came along. It was a really great opportunity and privilege to ask questions to those with Phds and years of experience working in research (at CERN for example) or in a physics related career.
During Cuwip we had a series of lectures by inspirational women talking about their research and journeys into physics. The highlight of my weekend was a talk given by Sonia Antoranz Contera, an enthusiastic Spanish lecturer who specialised in biomedical imaging. She started off by introducing her field and went on to talk about what can be done to tackle sexism in science. Although there is a clear gender gap in research, it doesn’t dishearten Sonia but instead she channels her research to find ways to overcome these barriers. After the talk we had the opportunity to visit her labs and talk to her PhD students, who seemed equally inspired by her. This was an amazing experience for me as I’m studying at Oxford next year and hope I get the opportunity to work with Sonia!
Each day of the conference had a packed and varied schedule of events and talks. We were constantly meeting new people, both students, speakers and panelists. My favourite part was hearing people such as Suzie Imber and Merritt More talk about not only their passion for physics, but also their incredible achievements outside of academia in mountaineering and ballet! I was inspired by their enthusiasm for taking on very different types of challenges, and realised the significant value of holding onto interests outside of physics as well.
The general atmosphere of the conference also really stuck with me; everyone seemed to radiate a tireless enthusiasm and will to learn and discover. I am about to begin my own career in research, and I know that by remembering these women and their attitudes, it will make challenging times easier and help me stay curious and positive.
Being a female student in a subject as male-dominated as physics can be overwhelming, so inspiring and uplifting events like these are priceless!