CUWiP: Virtual Edition!

Last year, I attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at the University of California-Irvine and had a really great time. It offered everything from panels on current areas of research in physics to networking opportunities, plus a chance to hang out with other cool Mudders! In fact, I wrote a blog post about how much fun I had. Unfortunately, holding in person conferences right now is not safe. So this year, the American Physical Society (APS), which hosts CUWiP, moved it online.

Text reading "APS physics Virtual 2021 CUWiP" over a scrolling background of equations.

This header has been on the emails from CUWiP. It’s pretty cool!

The application was mostly the same this year, but when confirming attendance we had to select which panels we wanted to attend in advance. Each round of panels had two options, one held in the morning East Coast time and one in the afternoon. This year, like last year, several Mudders went. We couldn’t physically be there, but we did set up a Discord server for chatting and sharing notes on different presentations.

The conference had a central website, with links to different panels and sessions. Most of the talks were held on Zoom, but there were also several other platforms, including one called Gather where you could move an avatar around and only hear/see the people closest to you. CUWiP used Gather for the career fair, so that you could ‘wander’ from booth to booth and talk to representatives from different graduate schools and industry companies. Some booths had videos that would play too. It was super cool!

CUWiP also added in opportunities to meet other students and speak with panelists. We did ‘Speed Geeking’, which involved being placed in Zoom breakout rooms with a couple of other people for ten minutes or so to talk. Speakers and panelists held thirty minute breakout sessions after events too!

A Cartoon style drawing of three women in front of a screen reading "APS Physics Virtual 2021 CUWiP"

Photo credit: APS

Being online did allow CUWiP to expand who could attend. Normally, several different locations across the country host regional conferences. However, since it was online there was just one. This let us meet people from across the country rather than just our area, which was pretty cool. In addition, this year there were some international students who could attend. In total, there were about 500 students attending, which was super awesome.

The other thing that the online platform allowed for was more long-lasting communication. Student attendees set up a Discord server to talk, and CUWiP also set up an online community for discussions. The panels and speakers were also recorded and posted to the online community so that we could watch ones that we might have missed! That was definitely appreciated–it was sometimes hard to pick which panel I wanted to go to at different times. Overall, I had a lot of fun at CUWiP this year. It’s definitely not the same as attending in person, but they did a really great job of planning and moving it online, plus adding some things that would not have been possible at an in-person conference.