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PhD Bridge Programs Foster Diversity, Inclusion

A joint study by researchers from various universities has found that PhD bridge programs contribute to success in fostering diversity and inclusion.

The “PhD bridge programs as engines for access, diversity and inclusion” study, published in Nature Astronomy, looked at the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program to understand how it fostered diversity and spurred a more holistic approach to graduate education

The researchers from Vanderbilt, California State Polytechnic University and the University of Southern California after comparing Fisk and other programs found that it the former was “proving successful at identifying and fostering talented scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups.”

The program’s ongoing and holistic mentorship, supervised research, and full financial support through the master’s phase and the first year of a Ph.D are important elements that help attract a diverse study body.

It also highlighted the program’s innovative admissions process that maintains a clear focus on scientific potential, leadership, and perseverance.

Most of the students enrolled in the program so far are from diverse backgrounds. Out of the 146 students, 58 percent are black, 24 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Native Americans while 56 percent of them are women; and over 90% percent are from the traditionally underserved population.

“With this study, we aimed to identify the commonalities across current Ph.D. bridge programs in the U.S., in order to synthesize the real impact these education initiatives are having on graduate students,” said Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt.

“We argue that approaches focusing on ‘fixing the student’ need to change  — the program itself and the mentors need to commit to growing and learning along with the student.”

To continue with the success, the report called for emphasizing on mentoring and providing a sufficient stipend, tuition and health benefits. It also stressed the importance of not losing students in the educational system “on the cusp of its final stage.”

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