APS Bridge Program

Making Appropriate Matches

Making appropriate matches is key to having a successful bridge program.

The goal for bridge students is to complete the program, whether that be a master’s degree, a Ph.D., or a research program with preparation for matriculation into a Ph.D. To increase the likelihood of this happening, programs may want to consider resources they have (or do not have) available to students with various backgrounds and academic preparation. Prior to offering admissions it would be helpful to assess a student’s preparation. It is imperative that students understand your institution-type, expectations for completion of the program, and research options available at your institution.

Consider what resources are available at your institution.

What resources are available to support bridge students academically, emotionally, financially, and socially? How many faculty are supportive of the idea of a bridge program? Beyond support, how many faculty will be understanding — as an instructor — of students needing extra support due to deficiencies in their academic preparation? How many faculty will be understanding — as a research advisor — if extra time spent on academics results in less time spent in the lab? Can tutoring be offered to students with deficiencies in their academic background? What about instructor-led tutorials or study sessions. Will it be possible for bridge students to take undergraduate courses if needed? What other academic support will be available for bridge students?

Are there multiple people in the department, faculty, staff, or students that can help students with the transition, understanding departmental climate, expectations for graduate students, and expectations for the various research labs? Does your department have a physics graduate student association (See Mentoring to Retention). What other organizations are available to support graduate students outside of your department? What services are available to support students with mental or physical health issues? Are there potential funding sources for ethnical/racial minority students, women, first generation college students, or graduate students with financial hardships? Although the graduate student stipend, may be enough for some individual students to live on, particularly with support from families, this may not be the case for students of low socioeconomic status or students with families to support.

Are you making good use of pre-matriculation interviews?

Several reports from bridge sites have indicated that conducting interviews was extremely helpful for assessing student needs and match for the institution. The number of applicants may preclude this from happening for all students, but it is often feasible to conduct virtual interviews with a subset of applicants. These interviews provide an opportunity to better understand student preparation and motivations, determine if students are a good match for your program, and recruit students to your program.

Testing academic preparation during an interview can be tricky. Thus, we suggest that pre-matriculation interviews not be used in this way. Site leaders have found that asking students to solve problems results in anxiety and students failing to answer questions for which they clearly do know the answer. However, asking students how they go about solving a difficult problem has provided useful information for understanding their ability to solve problems. For students offered admissions, some programs have created assessments for determining placement. If you would like more information regarding these assessments or to speak with someone about these assessments contact the APS Bridge program at bridgeprogram@aps.org. Site leaders have also reported that having non-Bridge faculty participate in the interviews has helped with generating buy-in and support from other faculty members.

Interview suggestions

Pre-matriculation interviews should also help students determine whether or not your program is a good fit for them. However, students may not always know the questions to ask. Thus, you want to be prepared to provide them with that information without prompt. Lack of information on the things listed below has led to some misunderstandings regarding bridge programs. A few topics to discuss are outlined here.