APS Bridge Program

Introduction: What Can the Bridge Program Do for You?

What is your department’s objective in implementing a bridge program?

This may seem like a trivial question, but it has a major impact on the resources needed to sustain your program, the characteristics and academic backgrounds of the students you will decide to admit into your program, and the model you will choose in implementing a bridge program. We assume that all departments interested in implementing a bridge program are hoping to broaden participation in graduate physics education and increase diversity within their department, but even more, departments have recognized that the fundamental ideas behind bridge programs benefit all students. Below are some more nuanced objectives for implementing a bridge program and considerations on how to successfully achieve those objectives. The objectives are to identify and recruit ethnic/racial minority students to your graduate program:

The APS Bridge Program (BP) is equipped to support physics departments that fall into the categories above. Of course, the amount and kinds of support offered depend on which of the objectives above best describe your institution’s motivation.

What the APS Bridge Program Can Provide

The APS - BP supports graduate physics programs in their efforts to increase diversity and broaden participation through recruitment support, admissions initiatives, and retention. In addition, APS seeks the broader goal of implementing best practices that benefit all graduate students. It is our contention that these practices do benefit all students, and their implementation is worth considering. Specific areas that APS - BP can support your program’s efforts include:

Recruitment:

Providing Access to APS Bridge Program Applications
One of the most significant ways in which the bridge program supports departments is access to student applications. Students applying to the bridge program are diverse in terms of academic preparation, research experience, and racial and ethnic origin, but all are eager to enter graduate school in physics. In previous years, bridge sites have found that some applicants would have been accepted into their program if they had only applied through the usual channels. In fact, some of the bridge applicants were immediately accepted into the institution’s Ph.D. program, despite entering through a bridge application. The bridge application process is designed to help programs get a more holistic understanding of student potential as a Ph.D. scientist than some traditional graduate applications, but it is still imperative to do due diligence in making appropriate matches for your program (See Making Appropriate Matches and Academic Assessment and Support).

Helping students find programs they would not find otherwise
Research on our applicant pool reveals that students are not aware of a number of great departments. If financial constraints limit the number of schools to which they can apply, they will only apply to 1 or 2 schools known to them. The bridge program application eliminates the financial burden of applying to multiple graduate schools. The bridge program website (www.apsbridgeprogram.org) also makes potential students aware of programs they would not have considered otherwise.

Furthermore, as the bridge program continues to grow its network of students, these men and women have served as ambassadors for their institution, and tell potential graduate students about the support they are receiving. APS staff, National Advisory Board Members, and consultants also stay in touch with undergraduate students through a variety of networks, including the National Mentoring Community (www.aps.org/nmc), collaborations with other professional societies (e.g., the National Society of Black Physicists, the National Society of Hispanic Physicists, and the Society of Physics Students), and private/closed groups focused on intersectionality within physics.

Admissions:

Advocating for use of holistic admissions practices
Application processes by their very nature can not give a complete picture of an individual, nor can they predict who will become a great scientist. We know from the current success of many bridge students and other physicists, that what someone looks like on paper does not tell the entire story, especially if that individual has overcome a number of obstacles and barriers in their academic journey. With that in mind, the APS BP offers support on understanding and utilizing holistic admissions criteria that minimize biases, and can help an institution create a more diverse class. Some example techniques for reducing bias include a) not requiring the physics GRE, b) conducting short video-interviews with finalists where one probes a student’s resiliency and problem solving skills (See Making Appropriate Matches), and c) looking at the trends of undergraduate GPA rather than the cumulative score and reading carefully to see if life situations contributed to academic performance (e.g., loss of a family member, having to work to support one’s self, etc.)

Elucidating examples such as these is a large part of a closely related project supported by APS: the Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN). For more information on IGEN or holistic admissions, please, contact Monica Plisch, plisch@aps.org.

Retention:

Building and maintaining connections to students
Members of the APS bridge program team work to maintain relationships with students in bridge programs. They can also reach out to students that may be at-risk of leaving graduate program. Conferences and meetups organized by the bridge program also provide opportunities for graduate students to connect with peers from other institutions that can serve as part of their support network.

A network committed to increasing diversity in physics graduate education
In the same way that having a support network is beneficial to students, the bridge program provides a support network for faculty. The APS bridge program staff can put you in contact with site leaders who have stated their willingness to help other individuals/institutions navigate challenges in their bridge program. Bridge program site leaders have valuable information regarding mentoring models, assessment tools for placing students in first year courses, and effective recruitment strategies.

In addition to these efforts that are focused on the students, the APS bridge program realizes that departmental climate, faculty buy-in, and institutional support are also related to the success of a bridge program. Thus, the APS can also do the following things to support your bridge program.