“The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program: A Model for Dramatically Increasing Diversity at the PhD Level in Science and Engineering”
Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Vanderbilt University
Abstract: We briefly review the current status of underrepresented minorities in science and engineering: The underrepresentation of Black-, Hispanic-, and Native-Americans is an order of magnitude problem, especially in the physical sciences and engineering disciplines. We then describe the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program as a successful model for addressing this problem. Since 2004 the program has admitted nearly 120 students, 90% of them underrepresented minorities (50% female), with a PhD completion rate of 85%. Already, the program is the top producer of African American master's degrees in physics, and is the top producer of minority PhDs in astronomy, materials science, and physics. We summarize the main features of the program including its core strategies: (1) replacing the GRE in admissions with indicators that are better predictive of long-term success, (2) partnering with a minority-serving institution for student training through collaborative research, and (3) using the master’s degree as a deliberate stepping stone to the PhD with a wrap-around mentoring model. We show how misuse of the GRE in graduate admissions may by itself in large part explain the ongoing underrepresentation 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.
Note: Professor Stassun is also speaking on Thursday, February 16, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Colloquium. If you are interested in his research, find more information on that event at https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/colloquia