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How Can We Make Our Department More Welcoming to a Diverse Student Body?

Though departements may be focused on making their departments a more open, more inclusive environment transforming a departmental culture requires times and effort. However, many of the following suggestions benefit majority as well as minority students.

Provide space for multiple communities

Departments are beginning to recognize the importance of a thriving challenging, supportive, and engaged community among the students. But what many departments do not yet recognize is that such a community is made up of many different communities.

If possible providing a space for students, moderately under student control, would be good. But providing several spaces would be better. Perhaps a room for casual discussions and another as a "quiet study room".

Such spaces are a good way to help students, particularly new students who have not started working in the research areas, develop a sense of identity with the department.

Provide opportunties for leadership and engagement

Another way to foster the students focus with the department is to provide opportunities for students within the activities of the department.

Many departments already have active SPS chapters or physics clubs that have outreach, tutoring, and social events. But expanding opportunities to include such things as being "student officers" who represent the needs of the students to the department, helping with visitors to the department, serving as Learning Assistants/Supplemental Instructors, ...

Of course, some students may need to be advised to step back from these activities to focus on their studies. However, learning to balance demands and having the opportunity for this level of communal engagement is an important spect of developing "21st centurey skills" such as leadership, organization, team work, ... (See Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Skills for Life and Work.)

Recognize diverse career goals

Not all students are intending to major in physics in order to pursue a graduate degree in physics.Providing information on alternate careers both at the bachelor level and with more advanced preparation would be a way for the department to meet the needs of its students.

The AIP and SPS have developed a Careers Toolbox, as part of the AIP Career Pathways Project that can serve as a starting point for discussion. And having visiting speakers or alums who have followed a non-academic career path are other possible interventions.

Multiple tracks/flexible curriculum

Another way to recognize the diverse career paths of students is to have multiple tracks for majors, e.g. a BS and a BA, or physics and applied physics. But this would need to be

Prepare faculty as mentors

There is a common misunderstanding that only faculty who have received training are mentors. But this is not true. To a new student all faculty and all other students are mentors. The students are constantly imaging themselves through our eyes.

The question is not if we are mentors but what kind of mentors are we.

Faculty should be asked to improve their ability in the critical area. There are a number of aids available.

As mentioned elsewhere, the following manuals were designed to mentor graduate students but there is excellent advice for mentors of undergraduates as well.

Physics Research Mentor Training Seminar

Entering Mentoring: A seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists

In addition, the page on Variables Contributing Minority Students' Success has other suggestions.

Encourage attendance at meetings

Attending a professional meeting can be a powerful and transformative experience. Both APS and AAPT have sessions that target student researchers and when they are ready students can be encouraged to attend a meeting, possibly a meeting.

Women students now have the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Many undergraduate women speak highly of this experience.

Until recently Joint Meetings of NSBP and NSHP fulfilled a significant need for minority students being a cross between the advocacy meeting (similar to CUWiP) and a professional meeting. But these meetings are in a state of flux.

However, helping students connect to the advocacy societies would be appropriate and straight forward. To illustrate, NSHP and SPS have a joint membership program allowing students to join both societies for a single price.

NSHP continues to meet with SACNAS and has plans to meet jointly with AAPT and/or APS when possible.

And NSBP continues to hold an annual meeting whenever possible.