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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.

#WomenonWednesdays: Christina Schoettler

For our final interview of the term, we spoke to Dr. Christina Schoettler, a Research Associate in the Astrophysics group.

As an introduction, what is your area of expertise within Physics?

I’m an astronomer by trade and by experience as well. I work mainly in star and planet formation, trying to figure out how planetary systems form around stars and how they’re affected by their birth environments, which is something I talked about a few weeks ago as well (in the Research Frontiers lecture). I’m looking at how the birth environment affects star clusters and planet formation with the end goal of trying to figure out why we find so few systems that look like ours for example and just generally trying to better understand the universe around us.


#WomenonWednesdays: Sarah Thomas

This week we spoke to Dr. Sarah Thomas, a Research Fellow in quantum optics and an alumni of the CDT in Controlled Quantum Dynamics.

What was your path into Physics like?

As a child I was always very curious and inquisitive, and was always trying to work out how things worked. My family is also very science-y, my grandad was a physicist, so I was always encouraged to figure out how things worked and solve puzzles. I really enjoyed Maths and Physics at school, and I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to do, so for my undergrad I did Maths and Physics for my first year. From the second year on, I decided to focus on Physics. I think for me, it was because I enjoyed that it was more practical, more related to the real world, and I enjoyed that aspect more than the more abstract side of Maths.


#WomenonWednesdays: Alie Craplet

Today we bring you an interview with Alie Craplet, a PhD student in the High Energy Physics group who also did her undergrad at Imperial!

Describe your path into physics. Who were your inspirations?

My path into physics was actually one of indecisiveness. I come from the French system, I’m originally French, and I always liked science – I was good at it, but without really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I got told that Physics keeps as many doors open as a subject can. At first, I wanted to do Maths and then I realised that I was not that mathsy, so I went into Theoretical Physics instead. I knew I wanted to stay in London, so for me it was almost more of a university-based approach rather than a subject-based approach. I was interested in Quantum Physics; I’d read a few books about it. My grandad actually did a PhD in Physics in France many years ago, but it’s not like a family trade – he never really talked to me about it, I knew he had done it, but I wouldn’t say he inspired me.


#WomenonWednesdays: Adriana Bercebal

This week for #WomenonWednesdays we spoke to fourth-year undergraduate and Imperial Physics Review co-founder Adriana Bercebal!

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

When I was small, my dad used to tell me bedtime stories. Every night I would ask “What have you discovered today?”, and he would explain the science news he had read that day. This really made me enjoy astrophysics and particle physics. Since then I have always been eager to learn more and more.


#WomenonWednesdays: Elizabeth Pasatembou

Today we’re really excited to bring you an interview with Elizabeth Pasatembou, a PhD student in the High Energy Physics group!

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

Growing up in a small town in Cyprus, I did not have any connection with science, let alone physics. I grew up being a very curious child, always exploring my surroundings, asking a lot of “whys”, and generally loved learning new things, curious about what could be beyond the small town I was raised in. I commuted to the “big city” for high school and was lucky enough to have great science teachers who sparked my interest in science. I did not consider a career in physics, or barely knew what that was, until I started my physics GCSE. I will be forever grateful to the first physicist I have ever met who happened to be my physics teacher who believed in me and inspired me to continue my physics journey. I never felt like an outlier in his classes, being one of the very few girls and that was very encouraging. The more I studied physics the more I loved it and decided to pursue physics, moving to an even bigger city, London to follow my dreams. I am now a first generation graduate having graduated with an MSci degree in Physics and an MSc in Space Science and Engineering from UCL.


#WomenonWednesdays: Katie Marrow

This week for #WomenonWednesdays we spoke to Katie Marrow, a first-year PhD student in the Plasma Physics group and University Challenge contestant for Imperial.

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

I’ve wanted to be a physicist since I was about 9. I was very interested in space so had toyed with the idea of becoming an astronaut, but then I heard about the LHC and decided a particle physicist was much cooler. This ambition persisted to the point that several years later I persuaded my family to go on holiday to Geneva so that we could visit CERN. Once I came to university, a combination of my first-year research project and UROPs made me realise that I really love plasma physics and I want to go into experimental research. Now I’m lucky enough to be starting a PhD in plasma at Imperial in October.


#WomenonWednesdays: Meriame Berboucha

This week we talked to Meriame Berboucha, a PhD student in the Plasma Physics group currently based at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California.

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

During my A levels I was taken to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot for a medical physics masterclass and I fell in love with the subject – I was interested in helping others and I loved physics and maths and it seemed like the perfect subject for me.

Even though I had written my personal statement for medical school already, I scraped it a few months before the deadline, to apply for physics degrees at university. At the time I felt like I was taking a gamble and my parents wanted me to do medicine, but deep down I really enjoyed physics and that is what I wanted to do. I owe a lot to my physics A level teacher though for really making me feel included in the class and not ‘weird’ for studying the subject. I then became the first woman at that school to take physics onto higher education.


#WomenonWednesdays: Trinity Stenhouse

For our first Women on Wednesdays this academic year, we’ve talked to Trinity Stenhouse, a third-year student on the MSci Physics with Theoretical Physics course. She’s also currently Vice-President (Activities) of the RCSU and is involved in the IC WNBiP committee!

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

I’ve always been interested in how things work, but I’ve also always had really broad interests. For me, physics was a way to understand how, fundamentally, everything works.

I was also really lucky to have a teacher at my high school who took me under his wing and taught me physics content well above A level. He saw that I was always bored and doodling in lessons so gave me a project to do investigating dynamical theories above the standard model that could explain the Higgs hierarchy problem. I got really invested in it and spent a lot of time researching theories. This helped me recognise my passion for research and establish that I would like to do a PhD one day in particle physics.


Physics is for everyone

The Women in Physics Society stand against the recent comments from the government’s social mobility commissioner, Katherine Birbalsingh. Her unsubstantiated remarks have absolutely no scientific backing and are at odds with the wealth of scientific research that shows physics is for everyone, regardless of background, race, or gender.

In addition to highlighting the outstanding women physicists at Imperial, including our own Head of Department, the President of Imperial College has also provided evidence to the government to counter the social mobility commissioner’s damaging comments.

As a society, we will work tirelessly to showcase the incredible women working in the department, and to create an environment where all physicists can achieve to the best of their ability.