Carnegie Mellon University
February 15, 2019

Students Attend Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

Pittsburgh to Host Conference Next Year

By Theresa Gabrielli

Jocelyn Duffy

Nine Mellon College of Science physics undergraduate students attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), Jan. 18-20, 2019. They traveled to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) to experience a professional conference, receive information about graduate school and professions in physics, and network with other women in physics of all ages with whom they can share experiences, advice and ideas.

Over the course of the conference, attendees were treated to plenary talks from women professionals, workshops on how to craft academic resumes and personal statements, panel discussions on careers from women in different areas of physics on how their degrees have supported them and a tour of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. A handful of students were invited to give oral presentations to their fellow attendees, including physics junior and president of Carnegie Mellon University's Women in Science club Zhiyao (Olivia) Li.

“I have gone to two previous CUWiPs,” Li said. “I attend the conference with a new perspective every year, which acts like a checkpoint for me to realize how much I have grown.”

This was Li’s first opportunity to give a research presentation. She was feeling nervous and shared her apprehension with a fellow attendee.

“She said that this is the perfect place to get ‘the first time’ out of the way because everyone is here to be supportive,” Li explained. “It warmed my heart and calmed me down.”

Physics graduate student Rebecca Rapp also made the trek to TCNJ to promote Carnegie Mellon's graduate program in physics to prospective students.

“It is such a supportive environment that I find inspirational because it is a collection of intelligent, passionate and successful physicists coming together as a single community,” said Rapp. “I find it very exciting to hear about different career paths and research interests, to learn more about specific work environments and initiatives to become more inclusive and to further develop both my set of professional skills and my own physics network.”

Having previously attended two CUWiPs as an undergraduate, Rapp appreciated the opportunity to attend with the perspective of a grad student.

“I've gotten something new out of each experience, and I was thrilled to be able to attend again this year,” she said. “It was incredibly rewarding to help moderate discussions at meals, answer questions about graduate school and offer my advice [or] input where appropriate, much like older graduate students did for me just a few years ago.”

The Department of Physics is gearing up to host a CUWiP of its own next year. Partnering with the University of Pittsburgh, Washington & Jefferson College and Duquesne University, the department will bring 250-300 undergraduate physics majors who identify as women to Pittsburgh for three days, Jan. 17-19, 2020.

“I cannot wait until we can host our own CUWiP and bring together another wonderful sea of women.”

Twelve of these conferences are held every January, making it one of the largest conferences of its kind in the country, but this will be the first time Pittsburgh has had the opportunity to host.

“It has been shown to be an effective tool in getting women into physics and helps with retention,” said Physics Special Lecturer Diane Turnshek.

Planning is still in the early stages, so more details will be forthcoming. However, excitement in the department is already palpable.

“Meeting other women [at this year’s conference] who were either going through what I had gone through or who had already gone through it was both reassuring and inspiring,” said sophomore Aria Salyapongse. “I cannot wait until we can host our own CUWiP and bring together another wonderful sea of women.”