Allegheny to host first local Women in Physics Conference

Three days, twelve workshop sessions and over 200 women physicists amazed Francesca Corrado, ’18 and Kylee Karczewski, ’18, last January at a national Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Princeton University. Coming from a physics department with three women planning to graduate as physics majors in 2018, the wealth of support Corrado and Karczewski found at the national conference inspired them to host the first local Women in Physics conference at Allegheny College on Saturday, Nov. 11, in the lower level of Carr Hall, beginning at 9 a.m. The conference invites undergraduate physicists from approximately 60 schools within a five-hour driving radius of Allegheny to come together to support and learn from each other.

“Kylee and I just had such an awesome experience [at the national conference] that we both agreed this is something we want to bring to Meadville,” Corrado said. Corrado serves as outreach chair and Karczewski serves as president of the Society of Physics Students on campus.

The American Physical Society hosts Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics annually. These conferences aim to inspire young women to continue in the field of physics by exposing them to career and graduate school information, allowing them to experience a professional conference and connecting them to like-minded peers and mentors, according to the APS website. However, these national conferences require time and funding to attend.

“We had to drive four hours, so it was really far out of our way, and we had to pay for the tolls, pay for the gas, pay for the car so it was expensive going into it. So that’s why we wanted to try to have something local,” Karczewski, president of the Society of Physics Students, said. “We wanted to try to do something smaller and affordable.”

Planning began in March, when the Society of Physics Students agreed to sponsor the conference and provided a budget. The planning committee, consisting of Corrado, Karczewski, Adele Poynor, associate professor of physics and adviser of Allegheny’s Society of Physics Students, and physics major Sarah Seitanakis, ’19, contacted Allegheny alumni to speak, chose a keynote speaker, produced an initial itinerary and Seitanakis created the poster for the conference.

The people who go to different schools around you could eventually be in your professional lab or your graduate lab. So you might see them down the road and it’s nice to build those connections now.

— Kylee Karczewski, Class of 2018

The credit for creating the conference belongs to the students, according to Poynor.

“They’ve been doing almost all the work,” Poynor said. “It has really been their idea, their vision and their effort that have made this thing a reality.”

The final product is a full-day conference packed with specialty talks, a keynote address, student poster session, career panel, meals and networking time.

Five female Allegheny physics alumni will present specialty talks and answer questions during a career panel.

“They will give little 20 minute talks on how their career paths have evolved,” Poynor said. “We will be repeating those three times so everyone can go to whichever ones they want.”

Sarah Bolton, the current president of The College of Wooster and a physicist, will present the keynote speech which will cover her career and offer strategies for women to be successful in physics.

The Barbara Lotze Endowed Lectureship Fund is funding the keynote speaker, a contribution the planning committee is grateful for.

“That’s going to allow us to have an extra 10 people come because, now that we are not paying the keynote speaker expenses, we can shift that money to allowing more people to come,” Poynor said.

Students will learn from each other as well as from professionals and a poster session will provide students with the opportunity to present their research. Corrado will present her poster on research she did in the field of experimental nuclear astrophysics, specifically the development of a new barrel ray for fast beams.

“I’m very excited to just meet and hear what the different experiences all the other women have had and just kind of learn more about what they do,” Corrado said. “I looked at some of the posters on the registration form of the people that are going to present. There are things that I don’t know or I used to do as a freshman for research and I’m very excited to just kind of meet them.”

Networking, with peers and mentors, is a central focus of the conference.

“The people who go to different schools around you could eventually be in your professional lab or your graduate lab,” Karczewski said. “So you might see them down the road and it’s nice to build those connections now.”

Apart from professional advantages, meeting fellow physicists provides students with a support network.

“One of the big things that helped me stay in the field was the fact that there are so many amazing people I got to meet because of it and they are very encouraging,” Corrado said.

Support of women in physics doesn’t just come from women though, and everyone is welcome to attend the upcoming conference.

“We are encouraging women to come, but if people who are non-gender binary or a man wants to come, and he is comfortable being around women, he is welcome to come,” Poynor said.

Poynor also said she hopes the Allegheny conference will set a precedent for hosting these conferences elsewhere.

“I hope that in the future we can continue this activity maybe not always at Allegheny, maybe some other schools would like to host, but we hope that this becomes a long term thing,” Poynor said.

The conference planning committee overwhelmingly agrees the goal of the conference is to connect women in physics with each other.

“I would like [the students] to see that they are not alone in physics even if they are alone in their home departments. I would like them to form some connections and network,” Poynor said.

One student is already convinced of the benefits of the upcoming conference. Karczewski received an email from a student who is the only female physics major at her school, expressing her excitement and thanking the planning committee for hosting the conference.

“That’s why we are doing the conference basically, for girls like her,” Karczewski said.