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By Bushraa Khatib
The APS Bridge Program (APS-BP) held its annual Conference from June 25-27, 2014 at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD. APS-BP aims to increase the number of underrepresented minority (URM) students who receive PhDs in physics. So far, the program has selected four bridge sites, and recruited two cohorts of students, since securing National Science Foundation funding in 2012.
Sixty-eight people attended the Conference, including representatives from APS, the American Institute of Physics, bridge programs, and colleges and universities across the US. Representatives from the newly selected Bridge Sites – California State University Long Beach and Florida State University – as well as currently funded sites – University of South Florida and The Ohio State University – came to the Conference to explore issues and network with recently selected Bridge Fellows.
This year’s Conference focused on the role of the master’s degree in advancing URMs in physics. Anthony Johnson, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Edward Helm, Louisiana State University, began the Conference with plenary talks addressing the history of APS involvement in improving diversity in physics and the use of nontraditional variables in graduate admissions processes, respectively.
Theodore Hodapp, Director of APS Education & Diversity and of the Bridge Program, presented an overview of where the Bridge Program currently stands, including student successes, recruiting strategies, lessons learned, and future directions. In the Program’s second year, 11 students were placed as Bridge Fellows at APS sites, and four were placed into non-APS bridge programs; an additional 10 underrepresented minority students, from those who initially didn’t gain spots in graduate school, are now entering physics graduate programs. Hodapp commented, “The Bridge Program is on the verge of helping erase, in only its second year, the gap in URM participation in graduate education in physics.”
In her plenary talk, Sheila Lange, University of Washington, discussed results from an analysis of the Survey of Earned Doctorates that indicates URM students take very different pathways to doctoral degrees compared to white and Asian American students. The survey looked at a random sample of doctorates earned in science and engineering fields from 1998-2001. The analysis showed that URM students are significantly more likely to earn a master’s degree en route to the doctorate, and earn BS, MS, and PhD degrees at three different institutions. The APS Bridge Program is now planning to help connect underrepresented minority students who have received a master’s degree to find a good match with a doctoral program.
To bring a broad perspective of scholarship to improving degree attainment, this year’s Conference featured David Meketon, University of Pennsylvania, as a plenary speaker to address “The Psychology of Achievement.” Meketon discussed self-control, “true grit,” motivation and other psychological factors relevant to student success in physics and elsewhere.
Geoff Potvin, Florida International University, presented a comparison of graduate admission practices at doctoral- and master’s-degree-granting institutions. The APS Bridge Program conducted two surveys on the recent admissions practices at these two types of institutions. Departments responded to questions on criteria used, relative importance of these criteria, and other questions. Notable trends indicated by the data include the following: (1) Graduate Record Exam (GRE) cutoffs are used explicitly or implicitly by a sizable number of doctoral- and master’s-degree-granting institutions, despite the Educational Testing Service’s advice against using the GRE as a cutoff measure; (2) Many doctoral programs consider the GRE physics subject test highly important, but many institutions (both doctoral and master’s) are not using it at all; (3) Master’s–and doctoral–granting–programs have expressed the concern that not enough URM students apply to their programs. The data raise further questions on admissions practices, including whether or not programs need to think more explicitly about the compositions of their annual cohorts, and how much effort is really being made to identify and attract a larger, more diverse pool of graduate students.
Several panel sessions featured representatives from both master’s- and PhD-granting institutions who provided varying perspectives on the role the master’s degree plays in improving diversity in physics. A student panel featured physicists who followed various career and educational paths after earning their master’s degrees, providing insights, advice, and reflections on what the degree enabled them to accomplish.
Parallel workshops on mentoring for students and faculty in attendance were well received by participants. Faculty participated in a brief introduction to the ten-week Physics Research Mentor Training Seminar, led by Renee Michelle Goertzen, APS Education Programs Manager. The full seminar is designed to provide training to physics faculty who are in mentorship roles. Brian Beckford, APS Bridge Program Manager, and Arlene Modeste Knowles, APS Career and Diversity Administrator, facilitated the student version of this workshop to help students identify goals and expectations for the mentor-mentee relationship.
The Conference also featured speakers who discussed GRE boot-camps and cultivating relationships with other institutions.
The presentations are available at the Summer Meeting Agenda 2014 web page.
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