Equity Statement 2023

An Action Plan for Equity and Inclusion

Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University

July 2023

We commit as a department to building and maintaining an environment in which all feel welcome and all have the resources and tools they need to succeed. Many factors in academia and society as a whole have created barriers to Black, Latinx and other under-represented minorities (URM)* to become astrophysicists. This document describes the actions we are taking to remove these barriers within our department.

This document was drafted in the Summer and Fall of 2020 based on a series of discussions within the department, and has been updated yearly. It is meant to be a living document that evolves as we learn more about the best ways for us as a department and an academic community to reflect our values.

  1.  Coordination of Equity and Inclusion efforts across the Department

    a.  A faculty member is designated as the Equity and Inclusion (EI) Coordinator for the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. The EI Coordinator works closely with the department Chair on the various initiatives described
    in this document. The service work the EI Coordinator does will be the principal service contribution done by the individual for the department, analogous to (e.g.) the Director of Graduate Studies and the Director of Postdoctoral Studies. The EI Coordinator, in partnership with the Chair, will set up several ad-hoc committees of undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and other researchers, faculty and staff to address specific issues highlighted in this document. 

    b.  The EI Coordinator is responsible for maintaining this document and updating it when needed, with input from the members of the department.

    c. The current EI Coordinator is Jenny Greene. 
  2. Recruitment of Students, Postdocs, and Faculty

    a. The department has a partnership with the Physics and Engineering Departments of Delaware State University (DSU), an historically Black University. Students from DSU are taking part in our Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP) in coordination with the National Astronomy Consortium (see item (g) below), and we are exploring further ways to build scientific collaboration.

    b. The department commits to sponsoring a booth and sending at least one faculty member to each of the annual meetings of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), to represent the department and encourage attendees to apply to our program at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, postdoc, and faculty). Students and postdocs who wish to attend these meetings are encouraged to do so, and will receive travel support as needed from a combination of department and University funds. The department commits to attending meetings of other organizations with significant numbers of URM students and researchers, as opportunities arise. The faculty members who attend these meetings will continue to coordinate with the appropriate Equity and Inclusion offices at the university, as well as other relevant departments,  to discuss best practices in recruitment at such meetings. 

    c. The department has and will continue to seek out training and education opportunities to improve our admissions practice. For instance, we hosted an Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN) training that was attended by multiple Astro faculty.

    d. Graduate school application fee waivers may be requested by US citizens and by participants in a number of programs, such as the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, the National Society of Black Physicists, the National Society of Hispanic Physicists, QuestBridge Scholars, and many others. Nearly all requests for fee waivers in recent years have been granted, and we continue to work with the graduate school to streamline the fee waiver process and clarify the language on the application. Like the rest of the community, we are very interested in removing fees as a barrier.  Princeton University has developed several recruitment programs for URM graduate student candidates. We commit to continue the departmental connection with and involvement in these programs, including the Prospective PhD Preview Program and the Access Diversity and Inclusion campaign.

    e. We will use the department colloquia as a recruitment tools to bring URM graduate students and postdocs to the department. The department is actively maintaining lists of excellent speakers with broad representation to support seminar and colloquium organizers.

    f. To support the goals described in (e), we have made up to $30K/year of departmental funds available to support the travel of seminar speakers, with preference given to those with limited financial resources. Seminar organizers should request these funds of the department Chair.

    g. The department runs an annual Undergraduate Summer Research Program involving both Princeton students and students recruited from the National Astronomy Consortium (NAC). Students in the program receive intensive training in programming and research skills, and carry out a research project over 8-10 weeks with a member of the faculty or research staff. They also receive mentoring by NAC throughout the academic year. NAC identifies promising students from groups that are under-represented in  the traditional academic pipeline from all over the country. We have grown our NAC cohort to 4-6 students per year.

    h. The Graduate School’s pre-doctoral program, designed to broaden participation of historically under-represented or underserved students, offers admission to the department’s graduate program, giving the students the option of an extra year of courses and research before taking their Generals exam. We commit to continue to work with the Graduate School and within the faculty to ensure that the pre-doctoral program is supportive of its students and addresses their needs and concerns, and that the faculty have the training they need for proper mentorship of the students. As of now, our third pre-doc student begins Fall 2023, one has advanced to candidacy, and one is on track to do so Jan 2024.
  3. Admissions and Hiring

    a. Postdoctoral: The Department of Astrophysical Sciences partners with the Physics Department, the Geosciences Department, and the Lewis-Sigler Institute (biophysics) to create a prize postdoctoral fellowship. The Future Faculty Fellows will comprise ten scholars as of Fall 2023, spanning the full range of partner departments. This program brings to Princeton scholars with unique backgrounds and insights, whose work will contribute to the promotion of groups that have been historically, and are presently, under-represented in Physics and related fields.

    b. Postdoctoral: The department advertises for a variety of postdoctoral positions each year. Applicants to any one position are considered for all positions in the department, increasing the probability that promising URM candidates may find appropriate positions in the department. All of our ads for postdoctoral positions include the following language: Our department is committed to diversity and making the field more equitable and inclusive. With this in mind, we will take into consideration personal experiences, as well as efforts in education, outreach or other service activities related to astrophysics or other sciences. Applicants are invited to describe such experiences and their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the cover letter.

    c. Postdoctoral and faculty: The faculty took part in a training entitled Fostering Inclusion, run by the University’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. We plan to do so again in the coming year to prepare for our next hire. These trainings are being run for department members by cohort. The faculty training covered best practices in reviewing applications and avoiding unconscious bias. We will also solicit input from our current postdocs to explore how the hiring process for postdocs and faculty can be made more equitable.

    d. Faculty: The President of Princeton University has announced that it aspires to “increase by 50 percent the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty members from under-represented groups over the next five years.” The current demographic make-up of the University is outlined in this report. The department will continue to work with the University to make sure that future faculty searches are carried out in an unbiased way, and that our searches are sufficiently broad in scope to encourage applications from a wide variety of scientists. We will solicit and encourage applications from a broad range of candidates, increasing the pool of excellent candidates who can enhance the representation of groups historically under-represented in astrophysics. We continue to actively seek opportunities to boost the excellence of our faculty using the University Target of Opportunity program.

    e. Graduate: We commit to reviewing our graduate admissions process and program, with a goal to broaden the diversity of the students we admit. We will study the practices of our peer institutions, and consider whether there are aspects of their admission process that we would like to adopt. We are using the report of the AAS Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in Astronomy Graduate Education as a resource for best practices for our admissions process. The faculty commits to using a holistic rubric-based admission process and will continue to attend training through Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN) workshops. We will also re-examine the structure of the graduate program itself.

    f. Graduate: We will continue to discuss use of the physics GRE, and will keep the exam optional in 2023. We will continue to evaluate our admissions process without it. We are also building our pool actively through the NAC summer program, and continue to pursue other possible regional recruitment activities.

    g. Undergraduate: The department will work with programs at the university level to encourage high-school students from less privileged backgrounds to consider STEM fields, and to apply to Princeton. We are also considering curricular additions that might help recruit and retain students in STEM fields; we are developing new non-major courses in collaboration with the Council for Science and Technology. We participated in the AIP TEAM-UP process, geared to increase African-Americans in Physics, particularly at the undergraduate level.
  4. Climate

    The department has a Climate Committee for Equity and Inclusion, including members from the faculty, postdoctoral researchers and research staff, graduate students, undergraduates, and administrative staff. This committee is charged with assessing the climate in the department and identifying and recommending ways in which departmental activities can be more welcoming and supportive of all its members. Various initiatives have been spearheaded by the Climate Committee, including a revamping of the arXiv coffee model, the near-peer mentoring program, revisions of the department iconography, and a mental-health working group. 
  5. Giving Feedback, Making Suggestions

    All department members are encouraged to speak to the Chair or any faculty member about matters of concern. The University encourages all members of our community to report all incidents of discrimination and/or harassment to the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. For all other matters, one may express concerns or give suggestions anonymously via an anonymous electronic mechanism for suggestions and complaints, which the poster can choose to have sent to either the department Chair or the Climate committee.


*For the purpose of this document, we follow the definition of under-represented minority (URM) given by Princeton University. Under-represented minorities include U.S. persons who identify as Black, Latinx, Native American, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or who have a multi-racial identity that includes at least one of those categories. While the present document focuses on URMs, we recognize that diversity has multiple axes (gender, sexual orientation, national origin, physical disability etc.), which intersect in multiple ways. We strive to build an inclusive environment for all.