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Published: 12 April 2019

The fifth annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) took place last month (March 14-17) at Oxford University, with support from The Ogden Trust. Hosted by The Oxford Women in Physics Society at the Department of Physics, the event attracted 100 undergraduate physicists from across the UK.

The goal of this annual event, which was launched in 2015, is to help undergraduates who identify as women continue in physics through participation in a conference focused on their development as scientists, as well as showcasing options for their educational and professional futures.

Attendees were able to meet, network with, and be inspired by successful women in physics, they enjoyed presentations by distinguished physicists on their cutting-edge research and personal career paths, including Ms Carole Kenrick, Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro, Dr Fran Day, Dr Rain Irshad, and Dr Suchitra Sebastian.

Carole Kenrick (Ogden Primary Regional Rep, Scientist & Inventor in Residence at Gillespie Primary School, and PhD student) gave an inspiring talk on her work on education. Limited science aspirations affect many childrenfrom lower income backgrounds in the UK.She highlighted her innovative ideas to introduce the scientific method to children by

making then analyse the world around them from studying rocks, fossils and soils to sampling the local mosquito population. These methods help young children develop analytical skill and consider a future scientific career.

Panels of experts were also on hand to answer questions on graduate study and career opportunities outside academia; whilst workshop on effective assertiveness and successful marketing through CVs, cover letters, and interviews gave valuable life lessons. Tours of several laboratories at the University of Oxford and the facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory were also available.

“This event encourages female undergraduate students to develop a strong physics identity and to become more confident. At the conference, students understand that they are not alone but they are part of a community of women physicists. The event makes them more likely to persist in physics-based careers after graduation,” explains Professor Bortoletto who led the organisation of the event. She notes that the success of the event is due to the fact that speakers and the panellists are not only talking about their science but they are also very honest and open and share the difficulties that they have encountered in their careers. “It is very important when you are so used to be the only woman physicist in the room to see role models who look and talk like you,” Professor Bortoletto concludes.

The event this year was as successful as in the previous editions. A student said: “seeing women in a field that I love, thriving in so many different ways, who have taken non-linear paths and still managed to be successful in what they are passionate about has been amazing.” Another participant stated that it is “valuable …to have this conference so heavily subsidised so it is accessible to all. The variety of different backgrounds was another great success of the conference. I learnt from and enjoyed the whole weekend so much more because everyone was bringing different things to the table.” She also said: “This weekend has had a profound influence on me and my colleagues. I believe it will have a huge positive impact on our future as physicists.”

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