APS News

APS Sponsors the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

By Halleh B. Balch

For the first time in its six-year history, the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) has taken place with official APS sponsorship. On January 18-20, six universities across the country hosted the Conference under the aegis of the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics.

“Encouraging women to pursue physics is a top priority for us. CUWiP has been very successful over the years and we are delighted to be able to lend our organizational support and resources to the conference,” says Kate Kirby, APS Executive Officer.

The Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics was conceived by two graduate students at the University of Southern California in 2006 and is still organized and run by students at the host universities. Through invited talks by successful women in physics, panel discussions on graduate school and physics careers, and the opportunity for students to present their own research through talks and a poster session, the Conference aims to give young women the resources, motivation, and confidence to pursue graduate work in physics and in careers related to physics.

The focus of APS sponsorship will be to provide an institutional home for the conference, which has grown from twenty-nine attendees in 2006 to almost five hundred in 2011. This year, the conference organizers expect almost one thousand students.

“Adding APS sponsorship has been very transformative,” says Daniela Bortoletto, a professor of physics at Purdue University and the present chair of the CUWiP faculty committee. “We needed a framework that would enable us to organize more effectively.”

Organization is a particularly challenging task for CUWiP because each satellite conference is organized by the local undergraduate students, sometimes with the help of graduate students, post-docs and faculty.

With APS sponsorship, CUWiP will formalize a national organizing committee to maintain continuity in future years. The national committee will be composed of undergraduates who have led past conferences, those who hope to organize future conferences, as well as a current member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics, and a representative from the APS Education and Diversity department.

“Among the goals of the national organizing committee”, says APS Director of Education and Diversity Ted Hodapp, “is to think about how you bring the organization forward, and learn from past conferences.”

Apart from the new CUWiP wiki that both organizes meeting notes and outlines how to organize a conference, APS sponsorship enables CUWiP to apply for multi-year funding grants from federal and private organizations. Until now, organizers had to apply for new government and university grants every year. “The ability to apply for multi-year grants will be very important to the future of the conferences,” says Bortoletto.

“APS sees it in its mission to back these ideas,” says Hodapp. “We put our name behind it; we put our resources behind it.”

Bortoletto agrees. When she helped host the conference at Purdue in 2011, APS provided information on physics graduate and career resources. “Even having the information around made the students more aware of what APS can do for them. APS really does offer a lot of information for students; through the conferences, there is a more direct contact between students and the APS.”

This year’s conferences were held at the California Institute of Technology, Colorado School of Mines, Cornell University, University of Central Florida, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Texas at Austin. A report on these meetings will appear in next month’s APS News.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella