The Department of Physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is hosting the fifth annual West Coast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics from January 15 to 17.

The conference, which attracts top women undergraduate physics students on the West Coast, provides opportunities for them to obtain career information and network with other women in the field of physics. The three-day event will include panel discussions on graduate school and careers in physics, research talks, laboratory tours, and discussions on women in physics.

"It's a great way to build networks of support, providing us with the opportunity to share advice and information," said Melinda Soares, a UCSC physics major who helped organize the conference. "The conference is geared toward exposing the various career opportunities available in the field of physics, which is a very broad discipline."

Soares, a junior, attended the conference last year at the University of Southern California. She and two other physics students, Jessica Missaghian and Cory Dominguez, took the lead in organizing the conference at UCSC this year, with help from physics professors David Belanger, Michael Dine, and others. The UCSC conference will be held simultaneously with other Women in Physics conferences at Ohio State University, Duke University, and Yale University.

Belanger, chair of the physics department, said the organizers expect 75 to 100 students to attend. "They will establish important contacts that will help them become successful in their future graduate and professional careers in a field in which women are still underrepresented," he said.

In the United States, although about 50 percent of high school physics students are girls, women earn less than 25 percent of the bachelor's degrees in physics and less than 20 percent of Ph.D. degrees in physics. Increasing the retention of women in the academic "pipeline" leading to advanced degrees in physics has been a concern for national science organizations.

"In my graduating class at UCSC, there are four other women. So it's refreshing to see 100 women together, all participating in interesting physics research," Soares said.

Sponsors of the conference include the UCSC Department of Physics, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Division of Physical and Biological Sciences, Jack Baskin School of Engineering, Office of Research, Division of Graduate Studies, EEO/Affirmative Action Office, and the Society of Physics Students.

Additional information is available on the conference web site.