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PERC 2018 Abstract Detail Page

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Abstract Title: Researching Graduate Education in Physics: From Aspiration to Dissertation
Abstract: Challenges related to diversification, representation, and retention of students persist in graduate-level physics education, as in other levels of physics education. Increased attention has been given to a narrow window of graduate physics education, particularly to admission criteria and bridging underrepresented students from bachelor's to PhD. Since these efforts focus on the application process and on successful applicants, there remain questions about why students choose to apply to graduate school and what current graduate students experience during their studies. Therefore, it is important to understand the decision-making of all undergraduate students regarding graduate physics education to identify the motivations/barriers of graduate education. Additionally, there exist a number of distinct issues that affect nearly all graduate students which are largely unstudied, including the role of core course instruction and physics core understanding, logistical pathways through physics programs, and motivational factors that impact students' continuance in graduate school. To understand the complicated trajectory of a graduate student, we must examine the individual experiences of graduate students and their mentors (from the decision to apply for graduate school to defending their dissertation), but also contextualize their experiences with an understanding of the institutional structures that have shaped the traditional training of graduate students.

This mixed-mode talk/panel session will include speakers whose research programs have begun to address these topics, and a panel of speakers and graduate students who will discuss under-studied issues that they are facing in physics.
Abstract Type: Talk Symposium
Session Time: Parallel Sessions Cluster II
Room: Meeting Room 3

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Sara Mueller
The Ohio State University
and Co-Presenter(s)
D. Chari, A. Heckler, A. Koenka, A. Maries, E. Marshman, S. Mueller, C. Porter, G. Potvin, A. B. Simmons, C. Singh

Symposium Specific Information

Moderator: Sara Mueller (The Ohio State University)
Presentation 1 Title: Understanding graduate school selection process in prospective students' perspectives
Presentation 1 Authors: Deepa Chari (STEM Transformation Institute, Florida International University, Miami FL) and Geoff Potvin
Presentation 1 Abstract: The admission process guiding entry to graduate education is complicated for some students. Also, going to a graduate school can require adjusting to the new social environment. Additionally, graduate school is a commitment in terms of time and integrity towards graduate course-work and research. So, undergraduate students often compare multiple factors before making graduate school decisions. Understanding graduate school decision making in prospective students' perspectives is important for departments to attract potential graduate students and support their graduate cohort.
In this study, we identify undergraduate physics majors interested in graduate physics education from our recent admissions survey, and study their motivations to graduate education, and what criteria are considered important by them in their graduate school selection. Further, we examine how these students perceive the importance of different admission criteria for a successful application, and compare those with faculty perceptions. We further study these questions for subsamples of under-represented racial groups in physics.
Presentation 2 Title: TBA
Presentation 2 Authors: Sara Mueller (The Ohio State University, Columbus OH), Amber B. Simmons, Christopher Porter, Alison Koenka, and Andrew Heckler
Presentation 2 Abstract: TBA
Presentation 3 Title: TBA
Presentation 3 Authors: Christopher Porter (The Ohio State University, Columbus OH)
Presentation 3 Abstract: TBA
Presentation 4 Title: Improving the Content and Pedagogical Content Knowledge of Physics Graduate Students Using Physics Education Research
Presentation 4 Authors: Emily Marshman and Chandralekha Singh (Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA)
Presentation 4 Abstract: Many physics graduate students face the unique challenge of being both students and teachers concurrently. To succeed in these roles, they must develop both physics content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Our research has involved improving both the content knowledge and PCK of first year graduate students. To improve their content knowledge, we have focused on improving their conceptual understanding of materials covered in upper-level undergraduate courses since our earlier investigations suggest that many graduate students struggle in developing a conceptual understanding of quantum mechanics. Learning tools, such as the Quantum Interactive Learning Tutorials (QuILTs), have been successful, e.g., in helping graduate students improve their understanding of Dirac notation and single photon behavior in the context of a Mach-Zehnder Interferometer. In addition, we have been enhancing our semester long course focusing on the professional development of the teaching assistants (TAs) by including research-based activities. Implications of these interventions for the preparation of graduate students will be discussed.
Presentation 5 Title: Helping graduate students become physicists: Core courses and beyond
Presentation 5 Authors: Alexandru Maries (University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati OH) and Chandralekha Singh
Presentation 5 Abstract: Much of physics education research (PER) has focused on undergraduate students' learning; in contrast, much fewer studies have investigated graduate students' learning as well as productive approaches to helping them learn to think like a physicist and be successful in their graduate courses and research. In this talk I will discuss multiple research studies that have looked at graduate students' conceptual understanding of physics and their understanding and ability to troubleshoot commonly used lab equipment (lock-in amplifier). We have learned a great deal from the multitude of research studies in introductory and advanced physics about how people learn in general and learn physics in particular, and many of the same approaches (e.g., using research-based self-paced learning tools) can be productive for graduate students as well. I will discuss several concrete examples of effective instructional tools and provide food for thought for potential subsequent research avenues in graduate education.