CUWiP 2023

This year, WNBiP were able to support two fourth year undergraduates to attend the Conference for Undergraduate Women and Non-Binary Physicists (CUWiP) in Liverpool. Here’s what Yuqing Wu and Adèle Julia have to say about their experiences!

Yuqing: One of the highlights of Term 2 in my final year was being able to represent Imperial College at the 2023 Conference for Undergraduate Women and Non-Binary Physicists (CUWiP). This annual conference aims to encourage greater participation of women, non-binary, and under-represented genders in Physics, by connecting them with other talented Physicists. For me, it was an excellent opportunity to meet other Physics students across the UK, and gain insights into academia which I certainly hope to pursue in the future.

One of the first events of the conference, and probably my favourite, was a visit to one of three science sites near Liverpool. In my case, that was a trip to Daresbury Laboratory, an STFC-funded site focusing on particle physics. Among other things, I saw the detailed construction of a room-sized particle accelerator (sudden flashback to my first year project, where I wrote code to model a beamline, but never saw one in person thanks to covid…), and instrumentation for the time projection chamber of the DUNE experiment (in other words: how to construct a gigantic wire frame to help detect neutrinos). It was fantastic to see the knowledge I gained in four years’ worth of classes brought to life!

As a conference, there was naturally a long list of scientific talks in store for all attendees. We heard from many motivational speakers, such as Prof Carla Figueira de Morisson Faria, Prof Laura Harkness-Brennan, Dr Izzy Jayasinghe, and Dr Susha Parameswaran, to name just a few. The talks mainly centred on their research, and journey through the world of academia as a woman. The talk on chiral molecules and Wikipedia editing, delivered by our very own Dr Jess Wade based on her research and activism at Imperial, was definitely one of my favourites! (More recently, I might even have crossed paths with her group’s demonstrations during the Great Exhibition Road Festival.) There were also plenty of opportunities to discuss life as a scientist more informally, such as a Q&A-style session with a panel of early-career scientists, and small-group chats with some lovely PhD students from the University of Liverpool. On a more serious tone, there were several talks or activities focusing on how to promote gender equality in Physics, or STEM more generally – there were so many creative suggestions, and I sincerely hope I can see some of them implemented one day.

The conference is not entirely academic, however, and there were plenty of icebreaking events, such as quizzes and small-group activities. Liverpool is such a historical city, and our conference organisers took care to show us the best Liverpool has to offer during a self-guided city tour, culminating in a formal dinner at the Maritime Museum. Of course, I also grabbed another few precious hours in Liverpool between the end of the conference and my train journey back. Over these four days, I’ve met so many other aspiring Physicists, several of whom – writing over three months later – I’m still in touch with. I’m incredibly glad to have been offered this opportunity to attend CUWiP.

Adèle Julia and Yuqing Wu at CUWiP 2023
Adèle Julia and Yuqing Wu at CUWiP 2023
Jess Wade talk
Jess Wade inspiring future physicists

Adèle: Hi! I’m Adèle and just finished my Physics MSci at Imperial. I was lucky enough to attend CUWIP in March in Liverpool. CUWIP was a three-day conference, packed with talks, panels and activities, and attended by about 120 female and non-binary students from universities in the UK and Ireland. I had a really great time and would strongly encourage you to attend too.

The team that organised CUWIP was absolutely amazing. All the students were very friendly and the atmosphere was quite relaxed. It was really good to meet and hear from female physicists, from PhDs all the way to professors.

During the talks, speakers presented their research and then told us about their careers. It was very touching to hear the speakers being so honest and vulnerable about their experiences. As I embark on post-grad life and plan for my future, recalling what they had to contend with is reassuring to me. It was also great to meet relatable role models. I was able to identify with all the physicists, who are thriving as scientists. I felt empowered after those three days, with many examples of impactful women in academia who have succeeded through their passion and hard work. It definitely made me more motivated and self-confident about doing a PhD and staying in academia.

On one of the conference days, I chose to join the group that toured the Jodrell Bank Observatory and heard a talk by a female post doc in cosmology. I am really interested in doing a PhD in cosmology and this was a fantastic opportunity for me to find out more about research in this field.

The conference ended with a dinner in the Merseyside Maritime Museum at the docks in Liverpool. It was a very special moment where I felt part of a community, a big one, made up of strong, motivated and smart women all united by our love and passion for physics. Our cohort felt like a giant safe space and that’s a feeling I want to hold on to and seek out in my future career. CUWIP is one of my best memories of my time at Imperial.

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