APS Bridge Program

Integration Into the Community

Integrating bridge students into the graduate student community and the community of the physics department as a whole is an effective retention strategy. This also supports early intervention because it increases the likelihood that someone will be aware of any challenges to a student’s progress. Below, we will discuss a few strategies for integrating students into the community.

Deciding on whether or not to identify graduate students

We recommend that all students, whether they were admitted through the typical application process, or recruited from the APS pool of bridge students, all be considered as “graduate students.” Bridge sites rarely make this distinction, and it helps the student feel they are a part of the larger community, rather than a “special” subgroup. Advertising and raising awareness of a bridge program in your department, however, is encouraged. Having a bridge program is a testament to an institution’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and student success, as well as, improving the graduate student experience for all.

Providing space on campus

Graduate students need a space on campus. There is no way around this. Having a dedicated space where graduate students can gather formally and informally is imperative to building community among all students. This also provides a natural space for study groups and, thus, lowers the barriers for students who might otherwise feel isolated to participate in study groups. To be clear, if you admit students from the APS pool, they should have offices in the same location as all other graduate students. If a common office space is not possible, thought should be given as to how students from various offices can interact, study together, or plan social events. Some institutions also make available a common space (similar to, or identical to that used to provide a space for undergraduate physics students). We have seen this to be helpful in reducing isolation as well. If photographs of graduate students are posted online or elsewhere on campus, then photos of the bridge students should be included with the other graduate students.

Implementing a physics graduate student association

We strongly encourage all graduate physics programs to develop some kind of physics graduate student association, if they do not already have one. These kinds of organizations can go a long way in helping to create or strengthen the sense of community among graduate students in your program and often require very few resources to develop and sustain. Students engaged in these associations often feel empowered to better support their peers and advocate for themselves. It also provides some level of autonomy to graduate students in regard to policies and procedures that will impact their path toward the Ph.D. Members of these associations have been used in various ways on graduate admissions committees and other impactful roles within the department.

As you will note in other areas of this guide, we have encouraged utilizing the support of graduate students in a number of areas including development of induction materials and seminars, creation of information packets to be given to students upon arrival, serving as peer mentors, organizing “insider information” graduate student-only meetings, helping incoming graduate students to identify resources on and off campus, sponsoring professional development gatherings from alumni, and other things. Having a physics graduate student association allows for a more organized way of graduate students to support themselves in these ways.

Having a physics graduate student association can also provide an organized and streamlined system of communication between graduate students and faculty. This kind of communication is appreciated by graduate students and faculty alike. It helps faculty to have a better pulse on the graduate student experience and increases the likelihood that graduate students’ voices are heard within the department.

We strongly advise that physics graduate student associations have multiple officers that rotate roles. For example, the model of having a past chair, chair, vice chair and secretary are encouraged. Without this system or something similar in place, some students serving as champions in the department may take both the energy and the organizational knowledge with them when they leave. To ensure the association is sustainable, it is helpful to have multiple offices and rotating roles.

Hosting seminars and social events that allow graduate students to get to know one another

Some bridge programs have found it useful to host a seminar aimed at helping graduate students to get to know one another. One such seminar that turned out to be quite effective focused on sharing of culture. Graduate students were asked to attend and to share some part of their culture in a short presentation and to also bring food representative of their culture. This kind of seminar may help with also encouraging international students to feel a part of the larger graduate student community. This can also help break down barriers that might exist in an ethnically diverse graduate program. In this case, it was graduate students that suggested this idea and likely graduate students at your institution may be able to come up with other ideas for seminars that can help with the integration of all students into the physics community; it may only be a matter of encouraging them to do so.

If you are interested in more ideas for hosting seminars designed to integrate graduate students into the community or you would like more information regarding establishing a physics graduate association, please, reach out to the APS Bridge program at bridgeprogram@aps.org.

Have first year students (bridge and traditional) take a course together

Many students (bridge students included) have varied backgrounds; some will be ready for the graduate core and others will not. However, having them take a class together helps with building a sense of community among the group. Examples of such courses include (i.e. Ethics in research seminar, STEM Professional Development course — designed to prepare students with skills they will need in the future, such as efficient use of the scientific literature, grant writing, communication, ethical responsibilities, etc.).

When you only have 1-2 bridge students at your institution

Several factors may influence the number of bridge students that matriculate to your institution (i.e. resources, departmental buy-in, number of bridge applicants, student acceptances, etc.). Having a group of bridge students may allow for increased opportunities for peer mentorship and peer support on academic coursework. Accepting an individual student may result in that student feeling isolated within the community. Thus, accepting individual students may require additional effort to integrate them into the graduate student community. Be aware that some bridge applicants expect that bridge programs accept a group of bridge students. If this is not the case at your institution, be sure to communicate that to students at the time of offering admissions (See Making Appropriate Matches). Make an effort to connect bridge students across years; so, that incoming students are integrated into the larger graduate student community.