CUWiP – Women in Physics Conference 2021
Student experience 15th April 2021
In this blog post, second year Physics with Astrophysics undergraduate Louisa Mason discusses her experience of the 2021 CUWiP (Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics) and the inspirational presentations delivered at this year’s event.
This year, coronavirus has affected the way our lives operate, and conferences have been no exception. The perfect conference to attend if you are a female undergraduate physics student is CUWiP (Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics); around 100 students attend each year, with different universities hosting the conference. This year, the conference was organised by the University of Southampton. Having never been to a conference before, I found the experience empowering and inspirational.
There were two organised lab tours, which through the power of Zoom enabled students to travel across the globe. My first tour took place at ATLAS (part of CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research – a particle accelerator spanning across the Swiss-French border). There was something magical about walking around the cavern in real time, rather than googling an image of the detector. Our tour guide was Dr Clara Nellist, a graduate who completed her degree and PhD at the University of Manchester. It was brilliant to see how far students from our university can go after their degree.
A key part of any conference is networking with speakers and peers. Being online posed a challenge to the social aspect of the conference, so I think Gather Town (an online virtual environment) is impressive! You can talk to fellow students as well as presenting research posters, hosting discussions and meeting speakers in a more informal virtual setting.
All participants were invited to produce and present a poster during the conference, either highlighting their own research or a notable woman in physics. The two winners each received £100 (quite a good prize!) and the posters presented spanned from supernova to brain research.
The aim of the conference is to empower and encourage female physics undergraduates into research, industry and management roles. In 2021, there is still a difference in the number of males and females in STEM related fields, and the challenges facing female students relate to having the confidence to pursue their careers and finding role models to be inspired and encouraged by. The conference showcases the work of many women in a variety of fields, and I would like to share with you their top advice:
- Prof Carole Mundell – Chief Scientific Adviser & Head of Astrophysics at the University of Bath
“Every field requires intelligence and hard work, not just physics… Physics is imaginative!”
Professor Carole’s talk focussed on the exciting journey of her career, from her PhD on Active Galactic Nuclei at Jodrell Bank to working with the Foreign Office to promote international scientific collaboration.
- Prof Michele Dougherty – Head of Physics at Imperial College London, Part of ESA’s Cassini and JUICE Missions
“Be Brave. Don’t be afraid to take on things that you don’t think you can do.”
Professor Michele didn’t have a strong background in physics and engineering, having to teach herself these subjects at home with her father. If she had chosen only to apply for careers within her skill set, Michele wouldn’t have constructed equipment for ESA (European Space Agency) exploration projects.
- Dr Clara Nellist – Particle Physicist at ATLAS, CERN.
“It was hard to go from the highest achiever at high school to not being the top of the class at university…
Go out and find your place in Physics.”
Dr Clara talked about how not being the best in your class doesn’t stop you from becoming a physicist. She also talked about some of the amazing research at CERN, from antimatter production to Lepton Flavor Violation.
- Prof Penny Endersby – First Female CEO of Met Office
“Before (in the past) you had to be tough and shrug off teasing. That shouldn’t be a filter for talent.”
“Don’t obsess over the perfect job. Take the opportunity and go for it…
You never know where you will be in 20 years.”
Penny’s experience designing military weapons makes her career journey very unique. She became head of the Met Office and stresses the importance of working in a team, and not being afraid of managing people.
- Prof Rohini Godbole – Professor at the Centre for High Energy Physics in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
“Don’t let anyone bring you down. But that power is in your hands.”
“Beginnings are always difficult, but these are the most crucial years in the life of a scientist.”
Professor Rohini has been overlooked many times in her field and would like to encourage the next generation of female physicists, so they won’t be overlooked.
- Dr Izzy Jayasinghe, Applied Biophotonics Group and recipient of the Pride in STEM Award 2019
“You shouldn’t gatekeep and say ‘this is how I did it, so you should do it this way too.”
Dr Izzy strives for collaboration and fairer representation of all the physicists who contribute to their fields, no matter what their background, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
The keynote talk for the CUWiP conference was Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, a well-known female astrophysicist who, during her PhD, discovered pulsars. But Jocelyn’s talk didn’t focus at all on her career journey. Instead, her talk focussed on the future of science and the proportion of women taking to research and university positions. Thinking back to when Jocelyn first studied physics at high school, she remembered her teacher thinking his first female students “were dynamite!”. I think the entire conference gave that feel; no matter the career path, family or lack of, awards and accreditation, women are explosive in the fields of science and – if undeterred – can be just as successful as their peers.
But the underlying story of the speakers, students and all who participated in the conference was a message that we all have commitments that we need to juggle. Whether we are students studying to pass exams, whether we have part-time jobs or volunteering positions, or whether we are in a career in research, industry or the civil service – everyone has to juggle and battle, not just females.
active galactic nucleiantimatter productionastrophysicsbiophotonicsbrain researchCERNEuropean Space AgencyLepton Flavor Violationmet officeparticle acceleratorresearchSTEMsupernovaundergraduateWomen in Physicswomen in science