Monday Colloquium: Keivan Stassun (Vanderbilt), "Advancing Diversity at the PhD Level in Physics"


Monday, September 14, 2020, 4:30pm

Dear Physics Department Members –

We’d like to draw your attention to our first colloquium of the season, given by Prof. Keivan Stassun, Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Vanderbilt University.

In response to the shutdownSTEM meeting, the Equity and Inclusion Committee is now pairing with the Colloquium Committee to engage speakers on the topic of equity and inclusion each semester. Our first speaker, Prof. Stassun, will join us to describe his efforts to recruit and retain students of color in physics and related fields.

We sincerely hope you will make the effort to attend our first colloquium of the season on Monday, Sept 14th at 4:30 PM EDT.

Lene Hau and John Huth, Equity and Inclusion Committee
Benita Wolff, Equity and Inclusion Administrative Fellow

Keivan Stassun (Vanderbilt University)
"Advancing Diversity at the PhD Level in Physics"

The under-representation of Black-, Hispanic-, and Native-Americans at the PhD level in physics is an order-of-magnitude problem. In this talk, we describe lessons learned from the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program as a successful model for addressing this problem. Since 2004 the program has admitted more than 140 students, ~90% of them underrepresented minorities, ~50% women, with a retention rate of ~85%. We summarize the main strategies that enable these successes: (1) replacing the GRE in admissions with indicators that are better predictive of long-term success, (2) using the master’s degree as a deliberate stepping stone to the PhD, and (3) wrap-around mentoring to support students and to make the unspoken rules of academia more explicit. We show how misuse of the GRE in graduate admissions may by itself in large part explain the ongoing under-representation of minorities in PhD programs, and we describe our alternate methods to identify talented individuals most likely to succeed. We describe our mentoring model and toolkit which may be utilized to enhance the success of all PhD students.