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By Leah Poffenberger
Each January, the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) bring students together at sites all over the country for an exciting weekend of physics and networking. The goal of CUWiP is to help undergraduate women continue in physics by providing them with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, obtain information about graduate school and professions in physics, and network with other women in physics of all ages. The 2021 CUWiP organizers hope to meet the same goal while looking a little different than usual: CUWiP will be held virtually, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
On January 22 through 24, CUWiP attendees will be able to hear from dynamic speakers, attend enriching workshops, and network with peers, all from the comfort of home. Typically, more than 2,000 undergraduate women in physics attend CUWiP at 10 different locations, and the virtual conference is aiming to serve a similar number of students.
“We’re hoping to have the same size conference as we usually do to make sure we’re still able to offer high-quality networking, which is a big part of these conferences” says Renee Michelle Goertzen, Assistant Director of Programs at APS. “With networking platforms, we hope to give attendees chances to make connections.”
In addition to ample networking opportunities, the virtual CUWiP will offer a slate of workshops on navigating different aspects of physics, from graduate school to alternative careers in physics and much more. CUWiP will also feature talks from inspiring women in physics, with a keynote presentation by Mary James, Professor of Physics at Reed College and the Dean for Institutional Diversity.
While most years the specific workshops and speakers are selected by each site, the 2021 CUWiP will serve as a pilot program for a newly formed student advisory council to help guide what content is included in the conference.
Taken at CUWiP 2020
CUWiP is normally spread over 10 physical locations, but in 2021 it will be a virtual meeting.
“Usually each site has input from students as they plan, but for the virtual CUWiP, we came up with a student advisory council to help plan the conference,” says Kai Wright, Senior Coordinator at APS. “This is something we want to continue moving forward with CUWiP, to have student voices in the national organizing committee.”
The formation of a student advisory council will help ensure CUWiP’s activities are useful for student attendees and will add additional perspectives to the planning process.
“The student advisory council was selected in part based on groups we are looking to reach with the CUWiP conference,” says Goertzen. “We also want this council to amplify diverse voices—we want everyone to feel welcome coming to a CUWiP conference.”
Another change to CUWiP being piloted by the 2021 conference is a new date: Usually CUWiP has been held over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, but organizers are experimenting with shifting the conference date to see if it better accommodates students.
“We’re experimenting with this change to make CUWiP more accessible,” says Goertzen. “We want students to be able to attend CUWiP but also be able to take part in MLK weekend and Day of Service activities.”
Since its inception in 2006 at the University of Southern California, CUWiP has become a hallmark event for undergraduate women in physics, reaching almost every woman in the US who is pursuing a physics degree, according to a recent CUWiP impact report. Funding to support CUWiP and provide an important experience for women seeking physics degrees comes from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Heising-Simons foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Applications for the 2021 CUWiP conference open September 8 and will close on October 30. The application is available on the CUWiP website.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik