APS Bridge Program


Theodore Hodapp
APS Director of Project Development and Senior Advisor to the Department of Education and Diversity, APS (Co-PI)

Erika Brown

Bridge Program Manager; IGEN Program Manager, APS


An APS study of publicly available data has shown that the overall PhD completion rate in physics is 58% (IPEDS; APS Education). Completion rates for Asian, White, Black, and Hispanic physicists are 69%, 56%, 44%, and 41%, respectively; completion rates are 57% for women and 59% for men. These statistics indicate that there is significant attrition from physics PhD programs overall, and the physics graduate education system does not support the success of Underrepresented Ethnic/Racial Minorities (UERM) students as well as other demographic groups. In contrast to these national averages, bridge programs have significantly higher completion rates: the APS bridge program has retained close to 85% of its students to date across multiple institutions.

Some of the practices that are currently implemented at all APS Bridge Program sites include discussion of issues of housing, finances, time-management, and graduate program expectations with students either before they arrive on campus or shortly thereafter; establishing “constellation” mentoring, where students have multiple mentors available, including an academic advisor, research advisor, peer mentors, an individual who will monitor the overall performance of the student, as well as staff to answer routine questions or just “listen”; and allowing students to take advanced undergraduate coursework to strengthen their academic preparation as needed, and more.

In this pilot project, the six partner graduate programs will consider implementation of one or more bridge program practices that foster high student retention. This allows the project to identify and explore opportunities and barriers to more widespread adoption of these practices, with the assistance of project researchers and the external evaluator. The Director of Graduate Studies (or chair) from each partner graduate program attend project meetings, and participate in workshops to learn about bridge program practices, and to discuss progress on implementation, successes and challenges, and to share strategies and results.

Induction Manual

APS research has revealed that about 75% of physics doctoral students who do not complete the PhD leave by the end of the second year (Miller et al., in prep); this emphasizes the importance of targeting the earliest years of PhD study for interventions to improve retention.

In an effort to share effective practices for retaining new students, The APS Bridge Program has released a Student Induction Manual. This document gives effective strategies for inducting new students into graduate programs. The practices are drawn from the experiences at APS Bridge Sites.

Our ultimate goal for an INCLUDES Alliance-level project is to identify and document effective retention strategies that can be readily implemented and foster their widespread adoption among U.S. graduate programs across a variety of physical science disciplines. The pilot is taking the first steps toward this goal and setting the stage for the broader effort.

Relevant References:

C.W. Miller, T. Hodapp, and B. Zwickl, Correlations between Admissions Metrics and PhD Completion in US Physics Programs. In preparation for submission to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.