Secrets to success for women in physics

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 at 5:23 PM

A study done by two Edinboro University juniors shows that personal support systems are a main factor in women succeeding in the field of physics in higher education. The two individuals presented their research methods and findings in Ross Hall on March 6 to a full audience.

Jordan Gregor and Halie Lewis performed the research independently of their course loads. Gregor is a dual major in mathematics and physics and Lewis studies mathematics with a minor in physics. 

“In physics, women only represent about 20 percent of undergraduates, 14 percent of faculty positions and 18 percent of post-doctoral positions,” Gregor and Lewis explained. 

That made them wonder; what was it that made women pursue and then stick with physics, despite it being such a male dominant field?

The students looked at what motivated the women and how they overcame obstacles they faced. Additionally, they wondered if these experiences could be “replicated for younger women to encourage them to pursue and persist in physics.” 

Gregor and Lewis first had to define what made women successful in the field. After some consideration, they decided that women who had pursued degrees in physics (higher than a bachelor’s degree) and had done work in the field were considered successful.

To find these women, Gregor and Lewis sent out over 500 emails to women at universities and research labs across the country with an initial survey and a request to interview them. In the end, Gregor and Lewis got 51 responses from 30 different universities and labs through funding by the Edinboro Women’s Philanthropy Council, which gives money to female Edinboro students to conduct research in all fields.

Once these women agreed to be interviewed, Gregor and Lewis came up with a survey consisting of 18 to 22 questions. Depending on the individual’s response to the initial survey, different questions were asked in the interview. Thus, each interview was slightly tailored to each woman. They lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes and were conducted either in person or through a video conference system. 

Their findings detailed how women who did research in their undergrad were strengthened in their resolve to get a physics degree. And the most vital resource to these women, by a large margin, was a strong support system.

Gregor and Lewis also discussed how imposter syndrome influenced these women. Gregor and Lewis defined imposter syndrome as, “A collection of feelings of being a fraud and inadequacy that persist evident success.” 

Future analysis must be done of the research, but Gregor and Lewis have experienced time constraints since the two are both full-time students. 

This is not the first time Gregor and Lewis have presented their research, and it won’t be the last either. The two have already presented a poster at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) conference in Toledo, Gregor said. Gregor and Lewis will each be presenting a poster at the American Physical Society (APS) in Columbus, Ohio, in April.

Hannah McDonald can be reached at 

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