International Conference on Women in Physics

21 August 2017 | Source: International Conference on Women in Physics

Josie Coltman (from AWE) and Jo Cole (from Brunel University London), both representing the IOP Women in Physics Group, attended the 6th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP 2017) held at the University of Birmingham from July 16th – 20th, as part of the UK team.

This was the first time the conference had been held in the UK and there were approximately 200 delegates from 60 countries including Germany, Uganda, Canada, South Korea, Australia, India, USA, and Egypt. The aim of the conference was to agree a set of resolutions to be presented at the IUPAP General Assembly, as well as to network and be inspired by female physicists from around the world. Recommendations from the conference will be sent to physics institutions and professional bodies worldwide. The UK sent a substantial team (~70 people), led by Dr Barbara Gabrys (University of Oxford) and Dr Jess Wade (Imperial College London), although there were only a couple of UK delegates from industry (both nuclear – AWE and Sellafield) and a couple of UK delegates from schools! The conference was co-sponsored by the IOP, Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick, EPSRC, STFC, RS, NPL and was corporately sponsored by Northrop Grumman, AWE, Canadian Science Publishing, and Quantum Technology.

The conference included 6 plenary talks, 3 workshop sessions (Gender Studies and Intersectionality, Improving the Workplace/Science Practice and Ethics, Professional Development and Leadership, Cultural Perception and Bias, and Physics/Science Education), 4 poster presentation sessions (2 minute talks given by poster authors), 2 country poster viewing sessions showing diversity within physics for different countries, 1 science poster viewing session showing delegate’s physics research/women in physics in the workplace/physics education, 1 session summarising the workshops and resolutions for the IUPAP General Assembly, and optional CPD workshops (People Like Me – a new approach to engaging girls with science qualifications and careers; Unconscious Bias (attended by Josie) – exploring what unconscious bias is, its consequences for equality in the workplace, and what we can do to minimise it; and How to get published – aimed at PhD students or early career researchers to help them write and publish peer-reviewed papers).

Josie presented posters on diversity and inclusion (D&I) at AWE, and on her physics research ‘Modelling Charged Particle Stopping Power Experiments on Orion’.

It was recommended that delegates attend just one workshop theme throughout the week. Both Josie and Jo attended the Gender Studies and Intersectionality workshops, which looked at what intersectionality is (a point at which gender, race, class, age, culture, religion, and other categories meet and create unique circumstances for each individual) and whether we should be tackling this, as well as gender equality to attract and retain diverse and highly qualified physicists.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered pulsars and now has an IOP early career medal (since 2016) named after her) was awarded the IOP President’s Medal during the conference. She gave a fascinating talk on her life including how, during the first two years of her PhD, she helped to build a massive radio telescope to study quasars before analysing the signals produced on rolls and rolls of paper charts (no supercomputers back then!). It was whilst studying the charts that she noticed some anomalies (Little Green Men) that did not fit the patterns produced by quasars – she had discovered pulsars (fast-spinning neutron stars)!

During the conference there was also a piano concert by a very talented 15 year old girl (Lauren Zhang) who has already won several awards and has appeared as a soloist with the University of Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and the Birmingham Conservatoire Junior Symphony Orchestra. Delegates also attended a Gala Dinner where sponsors Northrop Grumman gave a talk on the James Webb Telescope and how it will hopefully be used to see the first light of the universe, watch galaxies collide, see stars and planets being born, find and study exoplanets and study our own galaxy. Julia Higgins (the IOP president-elect) also gave a speech during the Dinner. On the final day, there was even a surprise visit and talk by Malala Yousafzai (Nobel Peace Prize laureate and activist for female education).

It was a very inspiring conference with many female role models, as well as lots of country posters showing that the UK is not alone in trying to get more diversity in physics and other STEM subjects.

If you would like to see/find out more of what went on at the conference, then you can see the tweets sent by delegates during the conference via #ICWIP2017. There are blog entries on ICWIP 2017 by Sarah Tesh and Jessica Wade at physicsworld.com including “A week in which good practice and frustrations could be shared honestly”; Great dames: a tribute to the game changers at ICWiP; Bias, stereotyping and harassment: what women battle; and “One woman can change a lot if she is determined”. There are also blog entries by Jessica Wade on the Digital Science website and ScienceGrrl, and a couple of news articles about Malala Yousafzai and Jocelyn Bell Burnell on the IOP homepage.