A Community of Female Theorists at KITP

Friday, November 22, 2019

During her time as an organizer of the Intertwined Order and Fluctuations in Quantum Materials program in 2017, Cornell Professor of Physics Eun-Ah Kim initiated a series of regular lunches for women at KITP. Kim saw the lunches as an opportunity to cultivate a community of female theorists that was not available at their home institutions, and jumped at the chance to provide such a resource.

“KITP is a selective place,” She explains her reasoning behind the lunches, “Hence people who make it to KITP have a real shot at climbing the ladder and improving the stubbornly-stuck gender ratio at the senior level. Young female researchers coming to KITP often do not have senior women theorists who can be their mentor at their home institutions. Only at KITP will they have a chance to meet these senior women theorists.”

The lunches in the second-floor Tower Room at Kohn Hall provide encouragement to younger theorists who learn that their struggles, ranging from imposter syndrome and the two-body problem to insensitive comments from colleagues, are shared by others. For more senior theorists, it is an opportunity to encourage each other as they navigate the next steps in their careers.

The lunches continue to be popular among arriving program participants, 20% of whom are women. Although they formed out of a desire for female theorists to build a community, the meetings do not exclude anyone from participating. With the help of Program Manager David Kaczorowski and Deputy Director Mark Bowick, KITP formally facilitates the gatherings, which are now known simply as “Tower Room Lunches.”

“We provide the resources,” Kaczorowski explains, “But the participants decide what it becomes.”