About us

"Our voices are stronger together."

-- Jocelyn Bell Burnell speaking at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) UK in March 2015

The Oxford Women in Physics Society exists to promote the career development of women in physics through mentoring and peer support, providing a welcoming community for women in physics at Oxford. We run a termly series of events aimed at providing increased interactions between women of all levels, from undergraduate to permanent staff. By inviting inspiring physicists to speak at our tea sessions, we hope to also increase access to role models for early career scientists.

FAQs

Why does it exist?

Women are underrepresented in the physical sciences. Despite equal representation and performance at age 16, the proportion of female undergraduates drops to 20%, and further to less than one in ten at the professorial level. There is not one simple reason for this drop, rather a combination of factors is responsible. In the Women in Physics Society we aim specifically to address the lack of mentoring and role models, and a feeling of isolation that can be factors in creating the so called ‘leaky pipeline’. To find out more please follow the links on our Resources page.

What does it do?

We are an active society running almost weekly events in term time. These include ‘tea sessions’, which are an informal way to meet other physicists in the department. Frequently we invite inspiring female physicists to speak at these sessions (see below), or have a particular topic to discuss. In addition we run termly banquets, a Christmas lunch and summer picnic.

The society also runs a successful mentoring scheme both for undergraduates and physicists at PhD, postdoc or staff level. More information can be found on our mentoring page.

Are men welcome at our events?

Yes of course! We are always pleased to see anyone supporting women in physics! The society exists both as a way for women to network and meet other women in physics, and also to discuss issues that affect their career progression. Many of these issues also affect men, such as imposter syndrome, caring responsibilities and work-life balance.

What sort of things do you talk about?

Usually our guests will talk briefly about their career, what they’ve enjoyed and what challenges they have faced. This ranges from general challenges, such as finding the next job, to specifically female issues such as being the only woman in a group or at a conference. The goal of the sessions is to be a relaxed and informal forum for interactions with an inspiring physicist - we have no specific topics set in stone and so if you have a question, please ask.

I’ve also heard of the Juno and Athena SWAN awards. What are they?

The Project Juno initiative is run by the Institute of Physics. It is aimed at ensuring physics departments provide equal opportunities for career progression and provide an inclusive environment. The award levels are Supporter, Practitioner and Champion (the highest level). The Department of Physics here in Oxford is currently a Juno Champion. More information can be found here.

The Athena SWAN Awards are part of the Equality Challenge Unit Athena SWAN Charter, and are awarded to any department (not just physics) that has shown a commitment to and has acted upon improving equality and diversity. The Department of Physics in Oxford currently holds an Athena SWAN Silver award.

I haven’t ever felt that being a women makes any difference to my career progression, why do we still need to talk about this?

If you feel like you don’t need the society, that’s great! A lot of people are surrounded by supportive teams and have the confidence to stand up for themselves in a male-dominated environment. However that isn’t true for everyone in physics. Unfortunately there is still not a level playing field for men and women in the physical sciences. The goal will always be to eliminate gender from the discussion of scientists, however we are not there yet!

To learn more please take a look at the wealth of articles online and on our resources page (we are scientists after all!), or why not test your own implicit biases (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html).

History

The Oxford Women in Physics Society was founded in June 2013 by Jena Meinecke. The goal was to bring women from across the department together to support one another in the pursuit of their goals within physics. Jena was supported by a number of members of the department and the society grew to have regular events with a large number of attendees. The Women in Physics Society was also instrumental in helping Daniela Bortoletto to organise the first UK Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, which has now been held twice in Oxford.