Equity Statement Spring 2022

An Action Plan for Equity and Inclusion

Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University

May 2022

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 was updated in Spring 2021 and Spring 2022. It is meant to be a living document, to be updated 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.
  2. Recruitment of Students, Postdocs, and Faculty

    a. The department has started 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 coordinate with the appropriate Equity and Inclusion offices at the university, to discuss best practices in recruitment at such meetings. We will coordinate these visits with other departments from Princeton University.

    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 are currently working with the graduate school to streamline the fee waiver process and clarify the language on the application. Princeton University has developed several recruitment programs for URM graduate student candidates. We commit to increase departmental connection and involvement in these programs, including the Prospective PhD Preview Program and the Access Diversity and Inclusion campaign.

    e. We will use the department’s seminars and colloquia as 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 throughout the academic year. NAC identifies promising students from groups that have been overlooked by 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 are one of a few departments at Princeton to regularly host pre-doctoral students at this time. 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.
  3. Admissions and Hiring

    a. Postdoctoral: The Department of Astrophysical Sciences has entered into a partnership with the Physics Department, the Geosciences Department, and the Lewis-Sigler Institute (biophysics) to create a new prize postdoctoral fellowship. The Future Faculty Fellows will comprise 6 scholars as of Fall 2022, 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. 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 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 are coordinating with other departments in the university (including but not limited to Physics, Geosciences, and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) to explore the possibility of coordinated hires across these fields.

    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 use the past two years (when the GREs were optional because of the challenges of the pandemic) as a chance to evaluate our admissions process without it. We are also building our pool actively through the NAC summer program, and in conversation with nearby programs like the CUNY astronomy group, to think about more 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 participating in the AIP TEAM-UP process, to work towards systemic changes to increase African-Americans in Physics, particularly at the undergraduate level.

    h. The department will work with the Provost’s office to compile anonymized demographic data to quantify the demographic mix of the department, identify areas for improvement, and track changes with time.
  4. Climate

    a. Climate Committee:

    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. Coming out of AstroJustice discussions, we are examining the images and photographs throughout the department with an eye to representation.

    The Climate Committee runs anonymized surveys of departmental members every other year. These surveys allow us to determine where attention is needed to improve the climate in the department, and are prepared in coordination with the appropriate university offices. The Climate Committee communicates with the department regularly via Town Halls.

    b. An External Review of the Department

    In coordination with the Dean of the Faculty, the department is planning to invite a Committee of Visitors to review all aspects of the department, including climate, academics, and research. This review will likely take place in 2023, and the external reviewers will be selected in part based on their insights into climate and equity issues.

    c. Education about Equity

    1. The faculty are strongly encouraged to take part in workshops (such as the Faculty Advancement Network) focused on unconscious bias, inclusive mentoring, confronting systemic inequities, the IGEN trainings on holistic admissions, etc., especially in the context of hiring (postdoc and faculty) and graduate student selection. These workshops are run by the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity in the Provost’s Office of Princeton University, and we have offered various trainings to all cohorts.

    2. Led by graduate students, the department holds regular meetings of an “astro-justice” group (to which all department members are welcome). Readings include social-science research on racism in the academy, studies of equity in hiring, etc.

    3. The department partners with the Physics department to run a talk series on Equity issues in academia; these started in Summer 2020.

    4. The department plans to dedicate a day this summer (2022) to reflect on and discuss our progress in equity, building on the #ShutDownSTEM action of June 2020.

    d. Service

    1. Making our department and our community more equitable and inclusive is hard work, requiring sustained effort by many people at every level of the department. This work often goes unrecognized. The department has instituted a formal yearly recognition of students, postdoctoral researchers, and staff whose work has contributed directly to the improvement of the department.

    2. The department supports a number of outreach activities, including public observing nights in both English and Spanish. The department outreach efforts will actively seek opportunities to partner with public schools and libraries in Trenton and other nearby largely URM communities. Department members play a major role in the Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI), which (quoting from its mission statement), “[provides] the highest quality post-secondary education to incarcerated students in New Jersey…”. The department supports the PTI with logistical support, including xeroxing costs.

    e. Mentoring and Support

    1. We have instituted a formal mentoring program for postdocs with faculty outside their research group. We have considered and implemented near-peer mentoring models for undergraduate and graduate students, and consulted with the relevant University offices to ensure that students have mentors that represent them along axes including both racial and ethnic backgrounds and scientific interests.

    2. There is a departmental representative among the faculty for the undergraduates (Neta Bahcall), graduate students (Josh Winn), and postdoctoral researchers (Jeremy Goodman and Eliot Quataert); they are the first point of contact for their constituencies. These representatives hold regular sessions with their groups. Graduate students are also offered an additional mentor beyond their science mentor if they desire. In addition, the faculty have been offering regular listening sessions for our URM students, to make a space for their specific needs and concerns to be heard.

    3. Starting in Fall 2021, we assign each incoming graduate student a senior grad student and postdoc mentor. The mentors will be trained in early Fall and we will provide a “curriculum” of discussion items, along with a budget for purchase of snacks, and once/semester events for all mentor-mentee pairs. Undergraduates are mentored by graduate students through group activities, including discussion of graduate admissions and jobs in and outside academia.
  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.