Students attend women’s physics conference in Chicago

By Farah Bassyouni Feb 3, 2023

Credit: Wanda Lindquist

Eight Illinois Wesleyan physics students attended the 2023 Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at the Argonne National Laboratory, Jan. 20-22. The students who attended are juniors Jaz Belz, Matt Kubas and Ben Racelis, sophomores Jade Kaminska and Joelle McMillan, first-years Otis Buras, Wanda Lindquist and Ashley Porter. The goal of CUWiP is to help undergraduate women studying physics by providing them with the opportunity to experience a professional conference with information about graduate school and professions in physics. The conference allows students access to other women in physics of all ages with whom they can share experience, advice and ideas. 

When it comes to being inclusive and welcoming of women, Physics as a discipline continues to struggle,” Professor and Chair of the IWU Physics Department Dr. Narendrea K. Jaggi said. 

“Nationally, the percentage of Bachelor’s degrees in physics that are awarded to women is under 20 percent. I want all of our students, especially women, to feel that they are seen, and for them to have opportunities to interact in professional settings with other women physicists”

The national and local organizing committees of CUWiP strive to create a welcoming environment for all, including undergraduate women and gender minorities. Their conferences were held in 13 locations, and Dr. Jaggi encouraged students to attend. 

“This conference specifically was a great opportunity to build connections with speakers since they each were women who had been in the same place as us at the beginning of their careers,” said first-year Wanda Lindquist. “Dr. Jaggi pulled me and Jaz Belz aside after class to suggest we attend. I was very interested because of the location at Argonne National Lab, as well as how friendly the conference was to first-year students.” 

Lindquist’s favorite part was a talk given by Prof. Wendy L Freedman, which she described as incredible. Freedman focused on the work she had done on the measurement of the Hubble constant and Cepheid distance scale, and described in a way that was very digestible on an undergraduate level.

The itinerary provided by the conference hosts mainly consisted of various plenary talks and panel discussions, tours of both the Argonne location and its FermiLab, a career fair, and student poster sessions. There were several events planned for networking and talking to various Argonne staff.

Students attended a panel called “Applying to Internships (REUs, SULIs, and more)”, and Lindquist noted it was refreshing, compared to the usual stagnant advice given to undergraduate students. Panelists at the conference had been on hiring committees, and a few were grad students who had recently gone through the internship processes, and gave advice to students who are interested in pursuing the same career paths. 

Dr. Jaggi hopes more students will attend the conference and learn from its opportunities. His advice to undergraduate students and women at IWU is to  “think of this as your department. Think of us physics faculty members as your advocates”. 

“Every course, every lab, every piece of equipment, every software, every resource, every student club, every leadership opportunity, every student job, every research opportunity, all of them are yours to learn from, and enjoy. We want you to flourish in physics, and we know that you can.” Jaggi said. 

The conferences are supported by the National Science Foundation, and the Argonne location reserves a block of rooms at their guest house to accommodate students. Costs are met by the conference, and the three-day regional opportunity is an annual occurrence.

“I would definitely attend the next conference, and hopefully bring along more students from our department,” Lindquist said. 

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