APS Bridge Program

Transition to the Ph.D.

In this section, we will mention just a few strategies for preparing students to transition to the Ph.D. This will be especially relevant to master’s institutions, but also applies to doctoral institutions that do not admit students directly into the Ph.D. program.

Preparation for the Physics GRE

Preparation for the Physics GRE is an obvious part of preparation to the Ph.D. for many programs. Offering a class designed to provide such preparation has been beneficial for a number of reasons. In addition to providing the expected preparation, it also provided an opportunity for bridge students who might not otherwise be in the same courses to study together and build a relationship. At institutions where this was offered to non-bridge masters students, it helped with the integration of the bridge students into the larger graduate student community at the institution. Feedback from institutions that offer such supplemental classes have been that it is best if these classes are made mandatory for bridge students and that they are offered on the weekdays rather than on Saturdays. Other courses that have been offered to bridge students to help in their transition to the Ph.D. have included time management courses and courses focused on strategies for learning new or difficult material.

Advice on applying to graduate programs

Some bridge students applied to the APS Bridge Program because they only applied to a small number of schools — in some cases only 1 or 2 — and were not accepted at these institutions. The decision to apply to a small number of schools may be a result of financial constraints. What is of more importance is that with applications going to only 1 or 2 programs, they may not have known how to choose appropriate schools to apply. Support in choosing schools wisely will be necessary in helping students transition to a Ph.D. program. For students who will not complete their Ph.D. at your institution, it is also helpful to have discussions with them on the availability of opportunities in particular research areas. Students will likely need some advice/direction in this arena as this is a major part of choosing schools wisely. Even after completing a research project during their bridge experience, some students were allowed to do lab rotations toward the end of their program so that they were introduced to other research fields. The idea is that this will broaden their fields of interest and increase the likelihood they will be able to matriculate into a Ph.D. program that matches their interests.

Some programs have also offered more formalized help on completing graduate applications, which included support in the timing of application material preparation with fall coursework. Having faculty with experience on admissions committees supporting these efforts was found to be especially effective.

Advice for students who have selected a Ph.D. program

After students have selected a program, they may need advice on how to choose a research advisor at the new institution. If you have contacts that can serve as research advisors or mentors for these students this may help the student to make a good transition and make appropriate connections. It may also be necessary to discuss with students whether or not the courses they have taken at your institution will count toward degree completion at the next institution or encourage students to connect with the appropriate people at the new institution to address this concern. Students will also benefit from discussions regarding qualifying examinations and how they might prepare for taking this examination at the new institution.