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Posted on:
Jan 31, 2012
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7th Annual Western Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (report)

On January 13-15, approximately 160 undergraduate physics majors from 55 institutions in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, plus a few others states converged onto the Stanford and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory campuses. What more, they were all female. This year, a record breaking number of students attended the 7th Annual Western Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, an event sponsored by the NSF, DOE, SLAC, Google, and numerous sources within Stanford University, including the Applied Physics department.


The primary goal for the conference was to encourage networking and the exchange of knowledge. Students from different universities interacted through a student poster session; tours of SLAC, Stanford, and the KIPAC Visualization Lab; and shared accommodations and meals. Students and professionals, both academic and industrial, interacted through talks, panels, workshops, and a joint career and graduate school fair. A variety of subfields within physics were emphasized with talks about health physics, the Higgs, nanostructures, and the formation of the universe. Speakers were encouraged to talk about their career paths and work-life balance behind the science to add an extra dimension relevant to students just starting out in their careers. A variety of trajectories after undergraduate life were also emphasized. Scientific talks were balanced by a panel on non-academic opportunities with a physics background; a workshop on graduate school was countered with a workshop on getting a jobs in industry.


Many graduate students in the Applied Physics department played an important role at the conference: helping at registration and socializing during the opening reception on the first day; representing the department at the graduate school fair (along with a research associate from Applied Physics); being involved in the two student-run workshops (“Communicating Undergraduate Research Through Conference Talks, Posters, and Publishing” and “Applying for Summer Research”). Also, Professor Kam Moler from the Applied Physics department was the first speaker of the conference with a engaging talk about “Quantum Mechanics of Nanostructures”.


Much thanks goes to all of the staff, speakers and volunteers who made the 7th Annual Western Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics possible. I for one had a wonderful time listening to the talks and socializing with the students. This conference definitely increased the awareness of opportunities and the tools needed for success as a physics undergraduate and beyond for many enthusiastic young women.


Helen Craig (Ph.D. Candidate, Applied Physics at Stanford)
Local Organizing Committee Member