LGBT students

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
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Izaac
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LGBT students

Postby Izaac » Tue Feb 09, 2016 12:23 pm

In the profile thread I saw a couple of students labeling themselves as LGBT, so I am curious: do people mention that in their application, and if so, why?

sjewalkers
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Re: LGBT students

Postby sjewalkers » Tue Feb 09, 2016 12:56 pm

Some Universities take the diversity aspect of incoming students very seriously - even requiring 'Diversity' essays (I know this was true of Purdue and UC-Santa Cruz - including the NPSC Fellowship). For this reason, students from any type of minority are encouraged to play this card because it heightens their appeal to create a department or university that is truly diverse with all types of people.

Even though I myself am a domestic white male, I've been heavily involved with international students/multicultural appreciation and my wife is from Myanmar. I incorporated our future dreams and goals of teaching STEM fields to minorities to enable economic success in the U.S. and back in Myanmar into my diversity essay. I sent it to all of the universities I applied to regardless if they asked for it directly. These essays show who you are and what your future goals are in light of your past experiences to prove you will succeed in grad school. They won't always sway bad GPA's or test scores - but I think they can be quite powerful if well written.

TakeruK
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Re: LGBT students

Postby TakeruK » Tue Feb 09, 2016 2:28 pm

The profile thread template is very old now and I think people over the years have interpreted them differently and in some cases, even misinterpreted them.

I think that STEM in general (and especially some physics and astronomy departments) has a big diversity problem. The problem is that we are not really operating in a meritocracy. Unconscious bias and other forces that create unequal opportunities exist and these work to deny qualified would-be and current physicists the ability to pursue their career. If we are not careful, we will continue to create an unfair environment where some groups of people have unfair advantages over one another and we will all lose because the pursuit of knowledge suffers when we do not have diversity of perspectives and thoughts. This is why I think Universities should take diversity seriously!

However, I think that the way the diversity information is presented in our current profile template is very misleading. Especially since it's listed as "special bonus points". No, I think it is both incorrect and insulting that an application will simply get a boost because of a diverse status. This is also a harmful perspective: it leads to people saying extremely stupid things like "X only got the NSF because she's a woman" or "it's easier to get into grad school if you're a minority". These comments are not just incorrect, they make marginalized physicists feel even more unwelcome.

The path to a strong diverse community is not via quotas or ticking off boxes. It requires purposeful and thoughtful actions and decisions that change exclusionary policies and create a positive environment for everyone. Sometimes, when things are really dire, setting quotas as goals could be a good step, but that alone is not the end result of those of us who promote diversity in our field. I believe the current profile template is misleading because it 1) seems to imply that meeting quotas is how we will "solve" the diversity problem and 2) it creates hurtful thoughts like the one I wrote about in my previous paragraph.

I was going to originally advocate for complete removal of these diversity aspects in the profile, but I think that would be wrong as well. Instead, I think the best thing to do is to create a new section that separates the diversity information from the "Special Bonus Points" and "Type of Student". It should just be "Diversity Info". And, the point of this section is not that these factors will change your admission probabilities. Instead, I think it's important to keep this diversity information here because 1) we are all humans, not just science machines and 2) it can help reinforce the idea that physicists are not just one type of person and that someone who is a minority group (e.g. whether it's sexual orientation, gender identity, first generation student, race, etc.) can see that there are indeed others like them that have succeeded.

It's too late to make changes for this year, but maybe over the summer, it would be a good idea to rethink the profile template!

broo
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Re: LGBT students

Postby broo » Tue Feb 09, 2016 3:15 pm

Some applications, such as (all?) UC schools, require a diversity-ish kind of letter, and others have it as an optional portion. As a gay student, I didn't include it in my applications. I didn't think it was relevant to my experiences in life, and instead used experiences that may have actually affected my life (hispanic/lower income status). Some people probably include it because they consider it a major portion of their life, while others might just mention it to get a diversity boost. It's true that undergraduate admission committees make an extra effort to accept racial/ethnic minorities, but I'm not sure if this extends to graduate school and to LGBTQ students. As a guess, I think that LGBTQ status doesn't have as much of an impact since it's not as strong an indicator of economic troubles as race/ethnic.

I'd only mention it in diversity statements if you could actually write about how it is relevant to your life experiences as opposed to just "yo, I'm gay/lesbian/trans/etc."

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Izaac
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Re: LGBT students

Postby Izaac » Sat Feb 13, 2016 7:39 pm

Thanks for your answers. Similarly to Broo, even though I'm part of the LGBT+ community it didn't cross my mind to include this in my application, even when asked by some UC in their diversity form. Probably because of that, I see people mentioning anything unrelated to their scientific background in their application as opportunists, and I do believe that the US universities encourage this system by their process of selection.

TakeruK, you make a very interesting point. This whole question of diversity in academia has puzzled me for a long time. For instance here in Cambridge, I see a huge movement for diversity on the side of students (with many conferences and events supporting LGBT, disabled students, minorities, etc.), but it appears the academics themselves are still homogeneously white males.

You say that stating that it's easier to get into grad school for minorities is a fallacy; I have doubts about this. Definitely not an expert, but I remember reading something in Bloom's "Closing of the American mind" about how universities twenty years ago were not only using quotas for black minorities, but also asking professors to show leniency so that those minorities could graduate more easily. US universities have a long history of setting quotas for, or against, candidates with characteristics unrelated to education. So I would tend to believe that yes, some ethnic or social categories do have more chances of getting into grad school. Of course I'm ready to consider any counter-argument you could have on this.

That's not to say that I don't think it works. To be honest I don't know. I remember talking to a female grad student in CMT at Northwestern, who said that although she didn't think she had a chance at this university, she got in, but now felt like her supervisor expected twice as much work from her as from her male colleagues, which echoes the "diversity movement" versus "state of affair in academia" I mentioned in Cambridge. It's not because you set quotas or favor some kind of applicants, that you're going to change the mindset of mostly white male academics.

Maybe the solution would be to try to attack the biases in people's mind (not only in white males, mind you; research has shown that female academics do, just as their male colleagues, rate female STEM students as less competent than males) through compulsory workshops of some kind. But considering how laborious it would get to implement such a system, I don't expect any alternative solution to come up soon.

TakeruK
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Re: LGBT students

Postby TakeruK » Sat Feb 13, 2016 11:49 pm

I would encourage everyone to keep two things in mind:

1. Our own individual experience is different than the experience of others. We should be careful not to invalidate other experiences because we didn't experience the same. For example, at my Masters school, there is a scholarship for visible minorities in Canada, which I qualified for as an Asian-Canadian. I grew up in an area of Canada with a lot of Asian-Canadians and for almost all of my childhood, I was actually surrounded by people that looked like me. Definitely did not feel like a minority. But this doesn't mean that I should say that Asian-Canadians aren't minorities and that the challenges that Asian-Canadians face aren't real and significant. Therefore, while I might choose to not discuss my visible minority status in my applications, I should not look down on others who do, because I do not know what their experiences are. (Note: it was many years after starting my MSc that I realised, like Izaac said, while Asian-Canadians/Asian-Americans aren't under-represented in academia, you will find very very few Asian-X faculty members in senior positions like Deans and Department Heads. Just saying.)

2. Quotas are not the way to go, in my opinion. And I don't think it makes any sense for a department to be expected to be "lenient" on minority students in order for them to graduate more easily. This is actually doing more harm than good and I think these examples are often thrown around by people who don't believe in the importance of diversity to discredit actual programs doing actual good. Students in minority groups do face extra challenges in academia that are not easily visible to those in majority groups. You asked for some counter-examples, and I would encourage you to read about unconscious bias and microaggression. Here is a link to get you started: http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/20 ... sions.html. Honestly, I think it's a little funny when people say because of "diversity policy X", it is easier for "people in group Y" to succeed when the whole reason that "diversity policy X" even exists is because studies showed that "people in group Y" are in fact not succeeding.

In addition, I think it is incorrect and wrong for graduate programs to only select based on "educational criteria". We are humans and it's important to select based on humanistic criteria. I say this because each person's path through life is shaped by the identities they have and when we only look at educational-related ones, such as GPA, research experience, GRE scores, then we are ignoring the rest of the story. We are purposely removing important information!

For some concrete examples of what I mean, consider this hypothetical situation where you are trying to select an undergraduate student for a summer research program.

1. How do you compare a student with a 3.7 GPA and have received a full ride scholarship for their university vs. another student with a 3.7 GPA but is working 20 hours/week to pay for tuition?

2. How do you compare a student who lives on campus and has lots of extracurricular activities vs. a student who is a commuting student and has very little extracurriculars?

3. How do you compare a student who have had a couple of summers of unpaid volunteer research experience vs. a student who have had no research experience but worked every summer in non-academic work (e.g. painted houses).

There are no right answers, at least not that I know of. I meant these questions to raise the point that different applicants would have had different opportunities to achieve certain things and if we limit our search to only academic related criteria, then we are putting those with fewer prior opportunities at a disadvantage. And, generally, those with less privilege have fewer opportunities and thus they are going to be the ones disadvantaged.

I've said it before, but I think the answer is to evaluate graduate school applicants as entire human beings. And I know many schools do this. For example, I've talked to faculty that list important things they look for in a graduate student and they include things like "perseverance" and other so-called "non-cognitive" skills. An example where this could apply above is example #1. The candidate that maintains a 3.7GPA while juggling a lot of other responsibilities demonstrates some qualities that might be desirable in a graduate student.

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Izaac
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Re: LGBT students

Postby Izaac » Tue Feb 16, 2016 9:47 am

Starting by the end, your last three examples opened my eyes on what extra-academic profile can tell about an applicant, so I take back what I said about considering profiles on a purely academic level. Extra-academic situations do matter, as you showed.

About your first paragraph, I don't mean to invalidate other people's experience. The point that I wanted to make (and stated very clumsily, sorry for that) was that precisely because people have different experiences, you cannot just state "LGBT" or "BME" in one's profile as some people do on the application thread. What matters is not the label that people put on themselves, but the experience itself, and I believe that's a widespread misinterpretation to talk about minorities oppression, because it is putting the focus on the "minorities" label, not on the nature and mechanisms of oppression.

Which leads us to your second point, on which we agree: quotas are not the way to go. But like I said, I seriously doubt that universities will spread information on how to correct our behavior of microaggressions (thanks for the link). Administrative procedures, such as quota, are way easier to implement.

TakeruK
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Re: LGBT students

Postby TakeruK » Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:25 pm

Izaac wrote: About your first paragraph, I don't mean to invalidate other people's experience. The point that I wanted to make (and stated very clumsily, sorry for that) was that precisely because people have different experiences, you cannot just state "LGBT" or "BME" in one's profile as some people do on the application thread. What matters is not the label that people put on themselves, but the experience itself, and I believe that's a widespread misinterpretation to talk about minorities oppression, because it is putting the focus on the "minorities" label, not on the nature and mechanisms of oppression.


Completely agreed. I think I was trying to make the same point about how these labels aren't very informative on the profile threads. But I think this is why the actual application themselves sometimes ask applicants to write a "diversity" or "personal history" essay, so that if it applies, an applicant can discuss it.

Which leads us to your second point, on which we agree: quotas are not the way to go. But like I said, I seriously doubt that universities will spread information on how to correct our behavior of microaggressions (thanks for the link). Administrative procedures, such as quota, are way easier to implement.


I'll be honest: at first, I was also skeptical that institutions are actually willing to change. But you might be surprised! I've been working with my school (along with many other students) to start educating current faculty and students about these topics. We have support from the top level administration (our University President has made this a top priority for this decade-long term) and I already see differences and a change in culture. We are starting with faculty who are on admissions committees and also faculty hiring committees and eventually working to the rest of the campus. I think change is actually possible, but it will be slow. I don't think a major shift will happen before I graduate but I'm happy to do my share of the work while I'm here. I can't speak for all of the programs on my campus, but the ones that I've been involved with definitely do not use quotas.

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Izaac
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Re: LGBT students

Postby Izaac » Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:31 pm

I am surprised indeed :) If you have articles describing the ways you use to "educate" faculty and students, I'd be very eager to read them!

TakeruK
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Re: LGBT students

Postby TakeruK » Tue Feb 16, 2016 1:47 pm

Maybe my post above made it sound like I'm doing more than I actually am! I'm not doing the "educating" myself, it's something far beyond my expertise. The training and education is mostly done by our campus Diversity Center, and I take part in the training too, and I learn a lot! My main contribution** to the "education" of faculty and staff is to 1) work with the Diversity Center to build training and resources for faculty & students and 2) to encourage faculty and peers to attend these events. The events are things like discussion sessions on current events (e.g. the recent events at Yale, Missouri, Berkeley, Caltech, Arizona, etc.), Ally training, training on building a supportive and diverse classroom, admissions best practices, etc.

(**Note: Again, I feel like I'm overstating my involvement---other students are taking the lead on this, and I help out where I can)

I think that faculty have been very responsive to students asking them to do things. Faculty members have told our group that they do care about issues important to students, but they don't know what these are unless students tell them. So, many faculty who might otherwise skip these optional enrichment events would actually attend if they were personally invited by a student. All of these things are happening in the last 2 years and for now, it's true that the faculty that are getting involved are the ones that truly care about these issues. No matter what, there will be a number of faculty that just don't care about diversity, or maybe they will even want to work against diversity. But I think it's really important to work towards a culture where like 95% of the faculty are on board and aware. And, I think we start to build this culture first by identifying faculty allies, getting them on board, and they will help get their peers on board and so on, until we achieve a better campus for all.

As for resources to point faculty who are interested to, I would work with your campus' diversity center to find the best ones. Some good places for my field are http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ and for general fields, https://tenureshewrote.wordpress.com is a good place too. These are mostly about gender diversity and I have been working on this aspect more than others, but they are just examples.

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Izaac
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Re: LGBT students

Postby Izaac » Tue Feb 16, 2016 4:44 pm

TakeruK wrote:The events are things like discussion sessions on current events (e.g. the recent events at Yale, Missouri, Berkeley, Caltech, Arizona, etc.), Ally training, training on building a supportive and diverse classroom, admissions best practices, etc.


Thanks, that's what I was after. Right now I'm in an academical mess, but I'll give these discussions a thought once I'm in a more stable position.




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