Day 1 of ICWIP – April 6, 2011

The first full day of the International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP) just finished.  The opening plenary Yan Lai Yan was “How Physics is Involved in Ancient Chinese Chime-Bells.” Dr. Yan mentioned going to the 1992 AAPT Winter Meeting in Florida and how she met Tom Rossing, then president of AAPT.  Tom ended up buying one of the ancient Chinese chime bells and doing holography on the modes of the bell.   The ancient Chinese bells are almond shaped as apposed to the round shape of Western bells (like in Big Ben).  This gives the bells two tones depending on where the bell is struck – one is a minor or major third of the other.  The almond shape also makes the sound decay faster.  Finally, the ancient Chinese bells have nubs “mei” on them which gives a purer tone (no high frequency partials).  Big bells have nubs, small bells don’t.  Thus, the ancient Chinese bells can be used to play faster and more complex music than Western bells.  It was a fascinating talk!  We also heard from all the countries on their progress of increasing the number of women in physics.  Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell also gave one of the plenaries.

The afternoon ended with workshops – and I was honored to be one of the speakers on “Transitioning into Leadership” along with Dame Bell-Burnell, Dr. Susan Seestrom (USA), and Dr. Ching-Ray Chang (China-Taipei).

Tips from the leadership workshop:


  1. Understand your strengths (and weaknesses)
  2. Always do quality work (but not always “the best”)
  3. Get a powerful person as a mentor (and you may want to consider more than one mentor)
  4. Get onto powerful committees (where money and future directions are considered such as proposal review panels)
  5. Broaden your experiences, get known


  1. Be careful about the timing of your transition to leadership – make sure you have established your research (so that people know and respect you) before you make the leap into leadership.  That way, if you decide you want to go back, you have the credentials and background to do so.
  2. Go with the part of your career that feels natural – serve on committees in professional societies that fit your direction.
  3. Retain a certain amount of time for your research
  4. Observe the culture of your organization especially when starting in a leadership position
  5. At higher levels, you can set the expectations and change the culture (and can serve as a role model)


  1. Physics prepares you to solve problems
  2. Keep professional successes going
  3. Be a good mentor and get a good mentor
  4. Collaboration is important
  5. Make good friends when you are young and keep those friends – you may need them in the future
  6. Have a vision and be able to persuade people about your vision.
  7. Your partner is important – they need to support you.
  8. You need some luck, too.


  1. Understand the difference between leadership and management (you’ll need to do both)
  2. Lead from the side, not from front
  3. Leadership is hard work – be prepared to work long hours
  4. Lead for something you are passionate about and lead with passion
  5. Seek several mentors
  6. Use your energy and your time wisely – take care of yourself and spend time with those you love
  7. Know when to pass the torch onto the next generation
  8. Don’t be afraid to let people know what is important to you
  9. Read articles about leadership – they help you think about your own situation

Also, Be true to yourself!

The future is bright with all the future leaders we interacted with during our session.

We also had group meeting of the countries from the Americas to discuss how we can network and share our ideas about increasing the number of women in physics.

Ideas for professional physics societies:

  1. create a wiki to share ideas (Ted Hodapp at APS can set this up)
  2. Use the network of chairs of women in physics committees in the Americas as a network
  3. Have web meetings to provide face-to-face meetings.
  4. Obtain the email list of Americas delegations so that we can remain connected.

The day ended with a meeting of the presidents (and other top leaders) of physics societies across the globe with the IUPAP working group to discuss what we as physics societies can do.  (Several of the society presidents mentioned that they published in the American Journal of Physics!)  The best thing about today was the sharing of ideas – what has been successful in other countries.

  1. Contact country liaisons to ask them to pass resolutions
  2. Offer regional conferences for women in physics (more frequently than the international conference which occurs once every three years)
  3. The working group should provide a list of participants from the ICWIP to continue the network
  4. Create partnerships to share newsletters, etc, and exchange ideas (e.g. South Africa is using the newsletter written by the National Society of Black Physicists)
  5. Make role models more visible and make more of them!

The next few days should be equally as informative.


About bethacunningham

Professor of Physics
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