This page contains a list of actions taken to improve the experience of students, staff, and faculty in the Physics Department -- including both initiatives managed by the PVC and initiatives carried out by other parties. 

You can also find a list of recommendations issued by the PVC and materials from the 2020 Strike for Black Lives here

Spring 2020

Department news

Fall 2020

Physics Values Committee news

  • PVC Restructuring --  The Physics Values Committee restructured and updated its charter to reflect its shift from focusing on developing a statement of values and training community members how to uphold these values as an individual, to helping the Department uphold its values at a systemic and structural level. 
  • Fall Town Hall -- The PVC held a Town Hall in early December to discuss its restructuring and its progress during the fall, to describe its long-term planning efforts to tackle systemic and structural issues, and to hear feedback from the community. You can find the slides presented here

Division news

  • Strike for Black Lives - The Divisions each planned educational and discussion events for the Strike for Black Lives on June 10, 2020. The Department wrote an article and the PVC is keeping a public log of information about actions resulting from these discussions, which can be found here.

Faculty support

  • Resources for instructors -- the PVC compiled a list of resources to help instructional staff enhance their teaching and mentoring skills

Staff support

  • Staff listserv -- The PVC created comprehensive staff listserv as a first step towards building a stronger community and facilitating more communication between staff from all the different divisions of the department

Student support

  • Course 8 mentoring program -- a team of instructional staff and faculty have expanded upon a pilot mentoring program to the full set of introductory courses 8.01, 8.01L, 8.012, 8.02, 8.021, 8.022, 8.03, 8.033, and 8.04.
  • Subject assessment in the fall -- The Department Chair held a number of group and individual meetings with the Society of Physics Students, as well as the faculty and experts from across campus, to get input on student perspectives on approaches to remote learning. This resulted in formal guidance for the fall. 
  • 8.398 (first-year research seminar) -- The Department created a new seminar class to increase first years’ exposure to research, which also ensures there is an in-person physics class offered during the pandemic. 
  • Fall written qualifying exam cancellation -- Department leadership asked PGSC to convene a task force to survey the student body and offer guidance from the student perspective as to how to administer the general exams equitably during the pandemic. The Department cancelled the written exam, made failure of the oral exam no penalty this fall, and gave automatic extensions on the exam timeline to all first- and second-year students.
  • Clarification about TA assignments -- three graduate students worked with the Academic Programs Office to improve the information sent out about how TA assignments are allocated
  • Launch of 8careers newsletter -- The joint SPS-PGSC-faculty careers task force launched a new weekly careers newsletter for MIT undergraduate and graduate students. Every Wednesday, they send out a list of upcoming job, internship, and career development opportunities. Subscribe here to the 8careers mailing list. 

Graduate admissions

  • Graduate application -- PGSC's standing committee on admissions, GAGA, created new essay prompts for this year's graduate application - including revamping the prompt for the application's statement of objectives and creating a new optional personal statement
  • Website information -- GAGA worked with Chair of Admissions Matt Evans and Graduate Administrative Assistant Sydney Miller to update the website with more comprehensive information about application requirements and fee waivers, an up-to-date FAQs page, and information about application guidance opportunities
  • Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP) -- members of GAGA launched an application assistance program
  • Student-led Q&A service -- members of GAGA also helped launch a student Q&A service for applicants

Recruitment and outreach

  • Recruitment events -- various groups in the physics department spearheaded MIT Physics booths at four conferences or events this fall
  • MSRP -- a team of students and department leaders have revamped how MIT Physics recruits faculty sponsors and conducts admissions for MSRP
  • New informative handouts -- the PVC created new materials for prospective applicants, including Information for Prospective Graduate Students & MIT Physics Jobs

Summer 2020

Physics Values Committee news

  • Website launch -- The PVC launched its website on July 1, 2020
  • Feedback form launch -- The PVC launched its Feedback Form on July 1, 2020
  • APS-IDEA -- The PVC joined the American Physical Society's Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA)

General department news

  • Additional activities undertaken by the Department to support the physics student body during the covid pandemic
  • Former PVC member and associate department head Nergis Mavalvala promoted to Dean of the School of Science

Events and programming

  • Strike for Black Lives - The Divisions each planned educational and discussion events for the Strike for Black Lives on June 10, 2020. The PVC is keeping a public log of information about actions resulting from these discussions, which can be found here
  • Picture a Scientist screening - On August 7, the Physics Department partnered with UWIP and GWIP to host a department-wide screening of the film Picture a Scientist, and hosted a panel discussion with three MITers involved in the making of the film. 
  • PRISM Conference -- SPS organized PRISM, a Slack/Zoom conference for UROPs

Communication and transparency

  • Department leadership office hours - in March, the Department Head, Associate Department Head, and 3 members of the Academic Programs Office staff began holding a weekly open office hour on Zoom for undergraduate and graduate students
  • Semi-weekly newsletter - starting in August, the SPS and PGSC presidents contibute items to the Department Chair's semi-weekly newsletter
  • Communic.8: The MIT Physics Commons - Physics Department launches Piazza forum moderated by a faculty member, graduate student, and undergraduate for the community
  • New Slack channels - The Department and many subsets of it created Slack channels to facilitate better communication during the pandemic

Student representation

  • Admissions Committee adds 3 graduate student representatives to evaluate applications
  • Admissions Advisory Council - admissions committee head asked PGSC to convene a standing committee of volunteer graduate students to advise about equity in the graduate admissions process - nicknamed Grads Advising Grad Admissions, or GAGA
  • Education Committee adds 1 graduate and 1 undergraduate student representative
  • Weekly leadership meeting - Department Chair starts convening weekly hourlong meeting with SPS and PGSC Presidents

Student support 

  • Remote UROPs -- The Physics Department was able to create over 75 remote UROPs for undergraduate students who lost summer positions due to the pandemic.
  • Undergraudate Coordinator - nuclear/particle physics professor Lindley Winslow was appointed undergraduate student coordinator
  • Graduate Student Advocate - Former MIT VP and astrophysics professor Claude Canizares was appointed to serve as the inaugural physics Graduate Student Advocate
  • Selection of undergraduate advisorsThe Department gave new undergraduate physics majors more say in their choice of academic advisors this year by providing more information about potential academic advisor options and asking students for what they were looking for in their advisor.
  • Non-academic careers task force -- New task force consisting of 1 faculty member, 2 graduate students, and 2 undergraduates to interface with the Career Advising and Professional Development office (CAPD) and help connect students with information about careers outside of academia. 

Student group news

  • SPS Advocacy Chair - SPS has added a new officership to focus on advocacy efforts
  • GWIP and UWIP rebranding - GWIP, along with UWIP, is working with LGBTQ+ services to make the organization more inclusive of all gender marginalized physics students. Outward-facing changes include a name change from “Women” to “Womxn”, new logos, and updated web resources, in addition to internal inclusivity efforts. 

Other news