Effective Practices for Retention of Undergraduate Students


  1. 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. Use current research to educate members of physics departments on issues affecting women and underrepresented minority groups in physics. These include stereotype threat, imposter syndrome, implicit bias, and harassment. These behaviors can prevent people from persisting or thriving in physics. The entire faculty and student body will play a part in determining the atmosphere in the department. Individuals need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions.
  2. Educate members of the department who work with undergraduates on university/college/organization policies related to inclusion. These include but are not limited to: sexual harassment, discrimination policies, and reporting procedures. In the United States, any organization receiving federal funds must follow Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Undergraduates should be made aware of who to go to for help if issues arise. This could be a department, college, or university ombudsperson or a student assistance staff member. They should understand the role and responsibilities of these individuals and if interactions will be confidential. Physics faculty should work with colleagues in the social sciences, human resources, and/or the counseling center to create or maintain inclusive environments where all students, staff, and faculty feel welcome. These can include information sessions/workshops on diversity and inclusion topics.
  3. Encourage undergraduates to participate in research opportunities within the department, in other departments, or in national programs such as the NSF-funded REU program. Encourage faculty to hire undergraduates in their research groups.
  4. Make department social activities inclusive of all students and provide students with opportunities to network with peers, role models, mentors, and potential allies. Organizers of these activities should consider the timing of activities and foods selected so that they are inclusive and respectful of all types of students. Advertise these activities in multiple forms, such as email, social media, and physical posts. Provide opportunities specifically designed for women students to build their sense of community and encourage them to speak up and to ensure that all voices are heard.
    • Offer professional development sessions for undergraduates to provide them with information for all possible future careers (e.g. industry, research, academia, and interdisciplinary research). Make graduate school planning/GRE preparation information sessions available for free or at a lower cost.
    • Include a diverse range of speakers in colloquium sessions. Diversity can include various career options such as industry, graduate school, and interdisciplinary career options as well as speaker experiences and demographics.
  5. Encourage female undergraduates to attend the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics or other professional development programs for women in physics. Advertise the conference to non-physics majors in physics classes and hold a lunch or dinner for these students upon return as a recruitment tool. Encourage women in first-year, introductory physics class who are considering majoring in physics to attend, and use this conference experience as a cohort-building activity.
  6. Encourage faculty to devote time to undergraduate teaching, which should be perceived as a valued contribution to the educational mission of the department. Increase the use of evidence-based teaching methods especially in the first two years of college and replace standard lab courses with discovery-based research courses (these methods have been shown to increase persistence rates for women).
  7. Provide a safe space/area for undergraduate students to meet without faculty or graduate students so that they can discuss issues affecting them in an environment that promotes an open forum.

The Committee on the Status of Women welcomes comments or suggestions on how to improve these effective practice guides. Please email women@aps.org to contact us.

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