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Undergraduate Women Physicists to Convene on Campus

  • Welcome, women physicists:
    Welcome, women physicists:  Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of CERN, will deliver a webcast keynote address for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Irina Novikova, associate professor of physics, leads a group of female William & Mary physics students in organizing the regional conference at the university.  Photo by Claudia Marcelloni/CERN
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In 1918, William & Mary welcomed its first female residential students. A century later, the university is preparing to host its first Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. The conference is funded in part by the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund.

"When the American Physical Society selected us to host the conference, they specifically mentioned the 100th year of women students at William & Mary,” said Irina Novikova, associate professor of physics, who is spearheading planning efforts. Organizers are firming up the schedule.

Highlights of the William & Mary CUWIP are scientific talks, a tour of Jefferson Lab, and breakout sessions on topics such as application to graduate schools, undergraduate research experience, LGBT/inclusiveness, and communication/negotiation skills. A poster session will feature the research of the undergraduate attendees.

The path to a career in physics isn’t always straight.  Anne Blackwell ’19 is a physics major who has attended CUWiP events twice, and says having a speaker lineup of successful women physicists serves as inspiration for students like her.

Blackwell said she heard a speaker at 2016 CUWiP explain that she graduated with a liberal arts degree and wanted to be a NASCAR driver. The speaker is now a physicist and the director of a nuclear power plant.

“Even if they’ve stumbled, had a major setback, they’re still where they are today,” Blackwell said. “If they can do it and face that much adversity, then I can do it and I’ll hopefully have an easier time.”

Novikova is assembling a set of talks that highlight issues such as physics careers outside academia, the importance of science communication, and the prevalence of imposter syndrome among women physicists.

“Imposter syndrome — when a person doesn’t feel qualified for what they are doing — is a known issue,” Novikova explained. “It can happen in both sexes, but it’s more common in women. That’s why one of the workshops we are planning will address imposter syndrome and how to prevent yourself from being caught in it.”  

Blackwell stresses that although CUWiP has “women” in its title, it’s important for men to attend. She hopes men will feel welcome to participate in the events alongside their female colleagues.

“We talk about a lot of the issues women face in physics, and we know the issues because we face them — but the guys don’t,” Blackwell explained. “I think that if they came to these conferences and heard ‘these are the issues we’re facing,’ then maybe they’ll be more conscientious.”