The Columbia Society for Women in Physics (CSWP) is a newly formed (as of Spring 2016) group comprised of undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctorates aimed at addressing the unique problems faced by underrepresented groups and particularly women in the field of physics. The members of the society gather at meetings once per month. During these sessions we discuss various issues related to the topic of women and other underrepresented groups in physics. This group has the following goals:
- We foster the creation of a friendly and informal environment where women and members of other underrepresented groups can discuss their issues and seek advice. This is important to combat any isolation that results from being part of an underrepresented group within the department, which can hinder equal access to the educational resources provided by Columbia University. The ability to talk freely to fellow students and mentors who share the same experiences or obstacles provides a very effective tool for facing these problems.
- We raise awareness about gender bias and issues that specifically affect women and members of other underrepresented groups in the department (such as imposter syndrome, implicit bias, stereotype threat, harassment, Title IX resources, family planning, etc.). We establish a topic before each meeting and we provide materials such as articles, reviews, and blog posts which are suggested for reading and then used as a foundation for discussion.
- We host special guests such as local or external female professors. We interview the guests to learn about their research and the experiences they have had throughout their career. Providing role models is another way to encourage young minds to pursue physics and to create a sense of belonging within the physics community.
- The Columbia Society for Women in Physics is accessible in multiple ways. There is a webpage on the Physics Department website and a Facebook page which is up-to-date and which gathers material relevant to the topics we discuss in our meetings. Additionally, we reach members of the physics community at Columbia by email.
The field of Physics has long had a gender disparity, with few women in any level of academia from undergraduate to Faculty. The Columbia Department of Physics is no different in that it has historically had few women. However, the diversity of the department is an issue we are actively trying to address. We believe that increasing the diversity of the department will need people from all levels within the department, from undergraduate to Faculty, to take action to bring about change. CSWP is run by students and postdocs for students and postdocs and we will help create a more diverse, welcoming, and supportive department.
The challenges faced by women in physics are unique. In creating CSWP, we join peer institutions (such as Harvard, MIT, Berkeley) that have Women in Physics groups. The creation of this group at Columbia will be uniquely beneficial to those in underrepresented groups and to the general workplace environment within the department.
Chiara Toldo, Heather McCarrick, and Claire Zukowski
May 13th, 2016