Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. hosted the American Physical Society's Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) in January 2016. Two physics students, Layan Anabtawi '19 and Yasmina Tabbal '19, attended the conference.
The CUWiP conferences are regional conferences that are held simultaneously at universities throughout the United States. About two hundred undergraduate physicists from around the southeast attended presentations and panel discussions on careers, professional skills, work-life balance, graduate school, and research opportunities. In addition, the students were able to tour Jefferson National Lab, a particle accelerator facility funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, where scientists work daily to conduct research on atomic nuclei. The conference also offers young women the opportunity to interact with other women scientists who are at the forefront of their respective subfields, for example, keynote speaker Ginger Kerrick. The students were able to listen to and gain inspiration from Kerrick who works in the Mission Control Center at the NASA Johnson Space Center as a flight director, supporting both shuttle and International Space Station operations. Kathy Flanagan, a senior scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., also spoke with the students. She has served as both deputy director and director of STScI, which is responsible for the science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.
Of the experience, Anabtawi says: "I never knew studying physics could create so many opportunities outside the physics field. One of the panelists, a patent lawyer, said that if you study physics, regardless of the field, you will attain skills that you can apply to any field outside of physics. Moreover, I realized how large and interdisciplinary the field of physics is. There is high demand for people who have studied physics. It highlighted how a physics graduate will not be restricted only to the academic field of physics. Overall, the conference made me feel better about a possible major and I was able to network with women of different ages and backgrounds who are also interested or work in fields of physics."
Tabbal says, "A quote that resonated throughout the conference was ‘If you think you can, or if you think you can't, either way you're right'. This quote created a motivational, optimistic ambience that made female students more confident in the choice of their career. Overall, meeting these incredible female scientists was reassuring and inspiring and the conference was a great medium to network, learn, and make friends."