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Tuesday August 9th

UNC women to share a love of physics through Women in Physics club

Kirsten Hall and Thankful Cromartie, Co-Presidents of Women in Physics, smile for the camera in Phillips Hall on Monday afternoon.
Buy Photos Kirsten Hall and Thankful Cromartie, Co-Presidents of Women in Physics, smile for the camera in Phillips Hall on Monday afternoon.

Senior Thankful Cromartie first dreamt of a career in journalism when she went off to college, but to her surprise she will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in physics.

Cromartie is the co-president of the Women in Physics club at UNC and has been an active member for the past two years.

“There is usually only one or two girls in my physics classes, and that could be really intimidating,” Cromartie said.

Female undergraduates founded Women in Physics three years ago, and the organization aims to provide resources and an encouraging social atmosphere for women in the field.

Cromartie said the club is important because there should be a stronger female presence in the field of study.

As of July 2013, women made up about 13 percent of faculty members in all physics departments, according to the American Institute of Physics.

The group holds weekly meetings on Thursdayswhere female physics students discuss their homework questions, listen to guest speaker lectures and eat dinner together.

Sheila Kannappan, a female professor in the department of physics and astronomy, said the group provides a supportive environment for women to successfully finish their degree requirements and go further in the field.

“They do support each other and say, ‘Hey, you do have a community, and you are not alone,’” she said.

Kirsten Hall, co-president of Women in Physics, graduated from UNC last semester and plans on attending graduate school this year.

In her spare time, Hall said she talks to younger students in high school physics classes about her research and internship experiences at UNC, encouraging young female students to explore the opportunities in the field of physics.

“One of the coolest things is, you know, you could be inspiring to young girls and women,” she said.

Hall said UNC has been generally supportive of female students in the field, but she added it is important for professors to be aware of the discrepancy between the number of men and women.

According to a study published by Yale University in 2012, the bias that accompanies women in the field of science is often subconscious. When presented two sets of the same achievements, science faculty — even the women — favor the male students.

“When you realize it’s an unconscious bias, and nobody means to be biased,” Kannappan said. “It’s not about blaming anyone anymore. It’s just about cutting stereotypes.”

The physics faculty is going a through a process of learning about this bias, which includes readings, discussions and PowerPoint presentations.

“You know, when people become aware of these biases, they want to combat them,” Kannappan said. “The best step to overcome it is to admit it exists.”

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