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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  2. Due to the growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities either canceled or remotely hosted their 2020 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. This analysis is part of a larger study examining the impact of these fully remote experiences on professional and psychosocial factors such as mentees' sense of belonging, identity, and self-efficacy and their retention in STEM degree programs. We present a single-student case study and describe the dramaturgical analysis which centers on identifying five fundamental constructs within the data: objectives, conflicts, tactics, attitudes, and emotions. These items investigate what the participant in themore »remote REU program experienced and how this experience changed the ways in which he thinks about his future career decision-making. Our analysis explored four different sub-narratives: lack of community in virtual REU, mentor support, perception of the "real" nature of the experience in a virtual format, and future career decision-making. The mentee reported that this experience was highly beneficial and that he developed a sense of belonging and identity, despite working remotely -- often from his own bedroom.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022
  3. Physics is a degree that supports many career paths, and students often develop preferences for particular methods, such as theoretical, computational or experimental. However, it is not well understood how those preferences develop and affect students' later career decisions. We used Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) as the basis for interpreting students' decision-making processes. SCCT provides a framework for connecting learning experiences, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations with students' interests, goals, and decisions. Semi-structured interviews with 8 physics students were conducted. This analysis focuses primarily on a single student to provide space to explore all three method specializations (theory, computation, andmore »experiment) in more depth. We find that the availability of resources and learning opportunities had a significant impact on students' career choices. Theoretical and computational experiences were readily available through classwork, undergraduate research, and could be worked on at home and in peer study groups. Students lacked the ability to work on experimental physics outside of infrequent classroom opportunities and could not build peer networks that supported their experimental skill growth, which was linked to lower interest and self-efficacy in regards to experimental physics.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022
  4. Using analysis of variance on a sample consisting of 1,499 US students across 21 US PhD programs, we show that there is no significant difference in the time it takes US male and female physics PhD students to complete their degree programs. This result comes in spite of a statistically significant 18 percentile point gap in median GRE-P scores between genders. Additional analyses reveal that there is no statistical difference between US students reported as White, Black/Hispanic/Multiracial/Native American, and Asian. Expanding our sample to also include 1,143 Non-US students, we find a small but significant effect of citizenship status onmore »time to PhD completion where the average time for Non-US students to complete a physics PhD is about two months less than their US student counterparts. These results show that in spite of known gaps in standardized admissions exams between genders, these differences are not reflected in subsequent graduate school performance. Our findings reinforce the need for graduate admissions committees to go beyond quantitative metrics and conduct a holistic assessment of an applicant's potential to perform research effectively and to earn a PhD.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022
  5. In this project, we sought to uncover the cognitive processes and skills that are involved in completing a theoretical physics project. Theoretical physics is often portrayed as a field requiring individual genius and can seem inaccessible to undergraduate students, as well as the public. We drew upon the foundations of Cognitive Task Analysis and completed semi-structured interviews with eleven theoretical physics faculty members from several different research institutions who specialized in subfields including quantum optics, biophysics, computational astrophysics, and string theory. We analyzed the processes and skills of these physicists, focusing on an analysis of idea origin, which is typicallymore »the first cognitive process within a project, and how it was connected to collaboration and motivation. We used concept maps to organize these codes and portray the factors that influence the creation of project ideas. We found that motivation and collaboration are fundamental determinants of project ideas and their origins, which contradicts the "lone genius" stereotype. These findings on cognitive processes and skills can help us understand how to better prepare students to do theoretical physics research. Finally, the information gathered during this project may be useful for improving the public understanding of theoretical physics, dispelling the belief that the field requires "genius," and making it accessible to more students.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022
  6. The use of the Physics GRE in graduate admissions has gained considerable attention in recent years. While studies have shown the problematic nature of the exam quantitatively, it is time that student experiences were also included in the discussion. In this qualitative study, we interviewed 69 current graduate physics and astronomy students about their process of deciding where to apply to graduate school. Physics GRE requirements played a substantial role in this decision, with 48 students mentioning the test as part of their process to narrow programs down to a personalized short-list. Participants discussed potential barriers (e.g., financial and travel)more »that affected some students, but not others, which created an unequal playing field for grad school applicants. Secondly, while the participants noticed a shift towards more departments having "optional'' GRE language, female student participants still felt the need to take and submit their Physics GRE scores, while male student participants truly saw "optional'' as optional. These results suggest that graduate programs requiring the Physics GRE are doing more than asking prospective graduate students to simply take a physics test, and that the use of 'optional' requirement language may be inadvertently disadvantaging the very students that they are trying to recruit.« less
  7. We provide statistical measures and additional analyses showing that our original analyses were sound. We use a generalized linear mixed model to account for program-to-program differences with program as a random effect without stratifying with tier and found the GRE-P (Graduate Record Examination physics test) effect is not different from our previous findings, thereby alleviating concern of collider bias. Variance inflation factors for each variable were low, showing that multicollinearity was not a concern. We show that range restriction is not an issue for GRE-P or GRE-V (GRE verbal), and only a minor issue for GRE-Q (GRE quantitative). Last, wemore »use statistical measures of model quality to show that our published models are better than or equivalent to several alternates.« less
  8. Faculty members involved in graduate admissions decisions have to determine who will be offered admissions to their respective graduate programs. In this study, we interviewed faculty at four institutions who currently serve or have served on their program's graduate admissions committee. The focus of this study was twofold: first, to explore what qualities faculty value in graduate students and second, to identify what sources of evidence faculty utilize in determining if a student possesses a desired quality. Results from these interviews showed that while qualities such as content knowledge and programming skills were valued, non-cognitive qualities such as self-motivation, resilience,more »and self-learning were also highly desired. The faculty noted that while current admissions practices can easily identify if a student has taken certain coursework, they typically lack the means to quickly assess non-cognitive qualities, which must often be inferred from the contents of personal statements and letters of recommendation. These results suggest that transparency on the part of graduate programs to better advertise the qualities they desire will assist letter writers and students writing personal statements to increase the impact of their application materials.« less