Best Practices for Female Graduate Students

We believe that graduate students should leave graduate school with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. To increase the probability that will happen for female students, we recommend the following -

  1. Develop a modern, updated, graduate curriculum and exam sequence that prepares students for the 21st century. This might include flexibility to pursue research in applied areas or interdisciplinary areas of physics such as optics or biophysics, or to take courses that will be of use to them for careers in industry (e.g. business, computing). Departments should compare their examination schedule and core course offering with their peer institutions, to make sure that they are providing a choice in graduate education appropriate for the 21st century. A large number of required core courses may need to be evaluated, as well as a large number of preliminary examinations. The presence of either of these in the curriculum tend to delay the best students form participating in research, extend the time to the Ph.D. degree, and demoralize students needlessly.

  2. Provide opportunities for informal student-faculty interaction – for example at a coffee-hour, annual picnic, holiday party etc.

  3. Look for ways to provide mentoring and career advice for graduate students who want to pursue career paths other than teaching and research. Possible venues might include bringing alumni back to campus for talks and meetings, holding annual career days, and/or arranging mentoring sessions with visiting seminar or colloquium speakers. Careers in industry/national labs/other should not be viewed as second rate.

  4. Expect the same high achievement level from female and male students. Female students should also have high aspirations for themselves. To increase the aspiration level of the female graduate students if needed, every effort should be made to provide role models and encouragement to these students. While hiring more women faculty and postdocs is the best solution, bringing in female alumni and speakers from other institutions is also helpful.

  5. Target recruitment of women graduate students in order to increase the applicant pool of female candidates. It is likely that the currently enrolled students can help with recruiting efforts.

  6. Provide structured opportunities for students to socialize in various groups. While this is beneficial for all students, it is particularly good for women graduate students who, because of their small numbers, sometimes have trouble finding each other.

  7. We recommend an annual meeting or informal lunch between the Department Chair or Assoc. Chair and the graduate students to provide an opportunity to discuss issues of concern, should they arise.

  8. We recommend a suggestion box for student to provide anonymous feedback.

  9. Provide an area for graduate students to meet.

  10. An accessible ombudsperson should be available for graduate students.

  11. Training for teaching assistants that covers sexual harassment and the importance of treating all students with respect should be available. A short seminar for faculty on these topics would be beneficial and is sometimes needed.

  12. Leadership and training opportunities can be provided by allowing graduate students to serve on appropriate committees such as the graduate admissions committee etc.

  13. Other leadership opportunities could be made available by supporting a physics graduate student association and developing roles for this body.

  14. Communicate to everyone in the department why climate issues are important and how a welcoming and mutually supportive environment will help the department recruit and support the best students and faculty.