APS News | Careers and Education

Navigating the EP3 Guide to Enact Change

By and
Published April 1, 2022
EP3 logo
EP3 Effective Practices for Physics Programs

The Effective Practices for Physics Programs (EP3) initiative aims to “[support] physics programs with collections of knowledge, experience, and proven good practice for responding to challenges and engaging in systematic improvement” via the EP3 Guide, available online at ep3guide.org. EP3 is led by the APS, in collaboration with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).

The Guide is a direct product of the work of the physics community itself. The content of each Guide section is contributed by disciplinary experts, synthesized by a team from the EP3 Task Force, and reviewed by more experts from the community. To date over 250 individuals have provided contributions and reviews for the EP3 Guide, including more than 2,400 individual strategies for departments to consider and implement.

One recently published section is particularly important to the mission of APS and the long-term well-being of departments: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Many physicists are calling upon their organizations and leadership to address long standing problems in the recruitment, retention, and success of their members including students, postdocs, employees, and visitors. The EDI recommendations of the EP3 Guide provide a valuable resource for organizations and individuals seeking to improve program outcomes.

But don’t approach this thinking that organizational change follows an algorithm. Unlike most physics research, it requires learning about oneself as well as others, both past and present. Like physics research, this is an iterative process of discovery. The EDI Guide has the depth of a graduate-level thesis informed by research in the social sciences.

This realization presents a challenge: how to avoid becoming overwhelmed? My advice is to approach this guide the same way one learns a new physics topic: in stages. First, read through the online document (using the excellent sectional formatting as an outline) to see what is familiar. Pick up a few ideas that you can use now. Second, create or join a study group to read and discuss the guide in more depth over a period of months or even a year. We don’t expect students to learn quantum mechanics in a month; enough time and problem-solving practice are needed. The same is true here, and you’ll find plenty of practice problems to work on with colleagues over two semesters.

Finally, use this as a guide for a multi-year cultural change initiative in your organization. Just as you should not try to learn everything alone, you should not try to change the culture of a department in isolation. Join a community of practice such as the SEA Change community, the EP3 DALI program, or APS-IDEA. This is especially important for responding effectively to the resistance facing all such change efforts.

The advice in this guide aligns with what I’ve learned as a physics department head, university equity officer, and activist. The guide wisely avoids the terminology of “underrepresented minorities” and “pipelines” and explains why putting equity first is important for success. It emphasizes creating a supportive environment for all as opposed to fixing people so they can better survive in a hostile environment. While valuing allies, it encourages them to go further to become accomplices and co-conspirators. And it gave me some great new ideas like renaming office hours and tutoring sessions as well as guidance on trauma-informed teaching.

The EP3 Guide is a living document that will evolve as the field progresses. Important new sections, such as “How to Create and Sustain Effective Change,” remain to be added.

Edmund Bertschinger

Edmund Bertschinger is a contributor to the "Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion" section of the EP3 Guide and Professor of Physics and affiliated faculty, Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, at MIT.

Michael Wittmann

Michael Wittmann is the Head of Education at APS.

Join your Society

If you embrace scientific discovery, truth and integrity, partnership, inclusion, and lifelong curiosity, this is your professional home.