A New Graduate Fellowship

We have established an endowed graduate fellowship for the recognition and recruitment of students who are outstanding, possibly by non-traditional metrics, and who are thriving despite significant challenges not faced by all students. The endowment is partially funded thanks to the successful completion in July 2021 of our first phase of fundraising. We raised almost $250,000 in gifts and pledges, primarily from physics faculty and students. More than 25% of our graduate students contributed, along with more than 80% of active faculty and several undergraduates, emeritus faculty, and researchers. We are now reaching out to alumni and friends of the department to bring the endowment to its target level of $1M. Once fully funded the fellowship will provide full-time support for one graduate student each year, or partial support for multiple students. 

The fellowship is a key element of our broader plan to increase participation in our graduate program by members of groups historically underrepresented in physics and astronomy. This broader plan includes the following elements:

  • Financially supporting students
  • Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment
  • Finding promising students to encourage to apply to our program
  • Recruiting students
  • Building strong mentoring relationships

Financial support: The fellowship, as a concrete recognition of the student’s accomplishments in their study of physics, is an honor. It will also allow students, who perhaps previously had to work to pay for their education, to focus on classwork and research while less encumbered by such responsibilities.  After a year or two of support from the fellowship, each Fellow will transition to other departmental sources of support, such as research assistantships or teaching assistantships, or national fellowships they have managed to secure. 

A welcoming and inclusive environment: It is critical for the success of this fellowship that the recipient be part of a welcoming and inclusive community that supports their academic and professional development. The UC Davis Department of Physics and Astronomy has been building such an environment over many years, through numerous departmental and grass-roots initiatives. For example, the student-led Diversity and Inclusion in Physics (DIP) group offers workshops for students and collaborates with faculty in ongoing attempts to improve the climate in the department. Many faculty members are engaged with initiatives such as APS TEAM-UP, APS IDEA, and Cal Bridge, which aim to increase participation in physics by under-represented groups. All faculty members  signed a statement in June of 2020 that included a pledge to “actively engage in activities designed to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities in physics, particularly at UC Davis.”

We believe we have a good starting point, but we are still striving for improvement. Our department was the first at UC Davis to initiate an outside climate survey to identify areas in need of improvement. The results of this survey guide our ongoing efforts to make our department a place where graduate students can learn and conduct research in a positive environment.

Strong mentoring relationships: We are dedicated to giving all of our physics graduate students the resources and support needed to become successful independent scientific researchers. In addition to the support offered by the fellowship, the recipient will benefit from the many other resources available to all graduate students in the department. A key aspect of this support is the mentoring provided by our faculty. 

Upon admission graduate students are assigned a faculty advisor to help them develop the academic plan that works best for them. The goal is to complete required coursework and get the student involved in physics research with a faculty member who will then mentor the student to the completion of their degree. To strengthen these important mentoring relationships we created a mentoring guide whose use we strongly encourage for both faculty and students. Mentors identify student interests and strengths, develop exciting research directions for them to pursue, and connect them with resources to help them meet their goals. To assist their development as independent scientists and to broaden their horizons, students frequently participate in conferences and deliver seminars on their research.

Finding and recruiting: In the past, like most physics PhD programs, our recruiting efforts were almost exclusively aimed at attracting those that we admitted. Now we are making a big effort to get more students to apply in the first place. In November 2022 we held our first ever (online) open house for those considering applying. Faculty and staff worked hard to get the word out to potentially interested undergraduates. This is for recruitment of all students, not just those who might be fellowship recipients. Chances of identifying potential fellowship recipients will be further increased by use of faculty relationships with faculty at HBCUs, and promotion of our department in programs for undergraduate physics majors such as Southern University’s Timbuktu Academy. 

To eliminate the financial hurdle of the university’s application fee, we have also instituted an application fee waiver program.

The fellowship, once fully endowed, will be an effective recruitment tool, both as an honor and for the focus on coursework and research that it will enable. Another attractive feature for ambitious students is our recently reformed graduate course requirements and schedule that allow students to get into research more quickly. 

We are heavily committed to broadening participation in our graduate program. That said, success is not guaranteed. Recognizing this, we will continually seek to identify opportunities for improvement and look for guidance from the rare models of success elsewhere. 

We are excited by this opportunity to support the development of young scientists we might not otherwise reach, and also gratified that by striving to do so, we will improve our ability to nurture the growth of all of our students. 

Your Support: We invite you to join us in our efforts to raise $1million to enable the fellowship to provide full-time support for one graduate student each year, or partial support for multiple students. You may consider making a pledge and then taking up to five years to pay it in full.

We are appreciative of your interest and potential support.  For questions, please reach out to either Lloyd Knox at lknox@ucdavis.edu or Christine Tebes at cmtebes@ucdavis.edu.