Pittsburgh-wide committee hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at CMU

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 31 March 2020

Written by Emily Payne. Read the full article from the CMU Department of Physics

In January, Carnegie Mellon University hosted 173 young physicists for a regional American Physical Society (APS) Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). The conference is held at a dozen institutions across the United States each year, making it one of the largest conferences of its kind in the country. It brings together women in physics from all ages, professions and backgrounds to share their experiences, advice and ideas.

“Science thrives when it is inclusive. For generations, physics has been male-dominated. This must change,” said Physics Department Head Scott Dodelson. “Hosting CUWiP was one of the most important steps that MCS is taking to drive that change.”

Over 67 people were involved in the planning, organization and running of the event, including undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff and faculty. The leadership committee consisted of Becca Rapp (a third-year graduate student at CMU physics who headed the effort), Diane Turnshek, Diana Parno and Jyoti Katoch (CMU); Fatiha Benmokhtar (Duquesne); Rachel Bezanson, Chandralekha Singh and Arthur Kosowsky (Pitt); and Mike McCracken (W&J), all of whom helped recruit diverse speakers, lead fundraising efforts, coordinate budgets, and organize meals and lab tours.

The Pittsburgh Quantum Institute participated in the Career Fair and handed out PQI espresso mugs and fidget spinners while discussing opportunities in the quantum-related cross-disciplinary graduate research that takes place at CMU, Pitt, and Duquesne.

“We wanted to show that you don’t just have to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in physics,” said Rapp, who has attended numerous CUWiPs as an undergraduate and graduate student. Instead, they invited speakers from academia and industry and people who have taken physics into non-traditional career paths such as data science or finance.

CUWiP has been shown to not only get women into physics but to keep them there. “CUWiP has become a wonderful institution for building community for young women in physics and young non-binary people in physics,” said Parno, who also moderated a panel on LGBT+ experiences in physics. 

For some students, it might be the first time they encounter other female physics majors. And that experience can have an impact far beyond the conference.  

“Giving students the ability to network and meet diverse physicists is the primary goal of the conference, and it's something I think we accomplished,” said Rapp. Multiple students have reached out to her since about the connections they made with each other.  

And the impact goes many ways.

“Part of being a leading physics department is the ability and drive to give back to the physics community, and we were delighted to be able to do just that,” Parno said.