Wheaton Students at CUWIP 2024

Wheaton College Physics Students at CUWiP 2024

Ten Wheaton College Physics and Engineering students attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor on January 19-21, 2024.

Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) are three-day regional conferences for undergraduate physics majors.” according to the American Physical Society (APS). The goal of CUWiP, according to APS, “is to help undergraduate women continue in physics by providing them with an opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics of all ages with whom they can share experiences, advice, and ideas.”

The main speaker at this year’s conference was Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, University of Oxford, who discovered pulsars as a graduate student in radio astronomy in Cambridge, England. Her supervisor later won a Nobel prize for this discovery. Wheaton College student Emma VanderKooi (’25) reported that she was inspired by what Burnell accomplished “even with discrimination and sexism.”

Conference attendees attended sessions focused on careers in physics, applying to graduate school, and research in physics. VanderKooi attended a session entitled, “Beyond Academia: Industry and Teaching Careers with a Physics Degree.” This session focused on how to apply a physics degree to an industrial or teaching career rather than an academic career.  VanderKooi noted that one speaker started her own data analysis company with a physics degree. Another session focused on, “Figuring Out Graduate School: Program Selection and Applications.” Physics research was not neglected, and one session dealt with, “High Energy Particle Physics, Nuclear Physics, and Astrophysics.”

Even though she is not a physics major, first-year engineering student Abbey Craw (’28), benefited significantly from the conference. She attended a Python coding workshop led by Dr. Shubha Tewari and found the list of Python resources she received at the workshop very helpful. Python is used extensively for data analysis and visualization in both physics and engineering.

Craw was also surprised at the scale of discrimination that the main speaker,  Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, experienced when she was in graduate school. Burnell kept finding a discrepancy in data from her research in radio astronomy, but this was discounted by the rest of the research team as they doubted that she knew how the equipment worked. Burnell had extensive experience with the equipment and the discrepancy in the data led to the first discovery of a pulsar.

Craw was very encouraged when she attended a session on work-life balance which discussed “ strategies for fostering a healthy work-life balance, tailored specifically to cater to the unique challenges faced by undergraduate students.” The session entitled, “The Balancing Act: Academic and Personal Life as Undergraduate Students” also discussed study skills, including the active recall technique, which Craw found very helpful and  implemented after she returned to Wheaton.

The conference organizers facilitated interaction between speakers, graduate students, and conference attendees. Conference attendees were assigned to different tables at mealtimes with conference speakers and graduate students. VanderKooi found this interaction very helpful. She talked to a graduate student about her experience in graduate school and the importance of choosing a suitable advisor.

Having a group of ten student attendees from Wheaton has led to more interactions between the students at Wheaton.  VanderKooi appreciated getting to know first-year and sophomore students who attended CUWiP. A group of students who attended the conference now meet for weekly dinners in Anderson Commons and experience an environment of mutual support and encouragement as they study physics and engineering.  This group of students is also arranging movie and game nights.