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Grad school affirmative action?

  1. Mar 27, 2008 #1
    Is there such a thing? And if there is, is it as pronounced as in the undergraduate admissions process.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2008 #2
    I can't say anything authoritatively, but from my graduate class composition, I'd say most likely not. Of the fourteen students in my first year class, there are four Chinese, one Korean, one Thai, one Nepali, and seven of us Americans. My class is actually an anomaly, since there are usually a lot more Chinese. Off hand I can't think of any African Americans or Latinos (professors or grad students) in the entire department. While I can only cite the stats for my own department, most physics departments in America are populated largely by Chinese, so I'm guessing that it's fairly similar wherever you go. Doesn't look to me like there's much affirmative action in physics graduate programs.

    Of course, it's worth noting that virtually all graduate programs are equal opportunity, but this goes without saying.
  4. Mar 27, 2008 #3


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    if by affirmative action, you mean a desire to bring in under represented groups, when at all feasible, the answer is yes, there is a such a desire and an attempt in many graduate programs in the US.

    underrepresented groups include first of all US citizens. there are large funded programs by the US congress aimed at recruiting american citizens into science and math, such as the VIGRE grant program.

    other under represented groups within the US citizen category exist too, perhaps all US groups except males of caucasian and asian descent are considered under represented in these areas, and it is hoped this can be corrected.

    but of course the candidates have to be qualified, so genuine efforts in this direction should include helping provide good preparation, and motivation, as it is very hard to begin the recruitment at the age of 18 or 21, after the early education is over.

    I believe this program should be aimed more at elementary schools and high schools and junior high schools, to provide money for good teachers and interesting programs.

    I.e. affirmative action should never mean preferring applicants on any grounds other than merit, but should mean making available the means to realize ones inherent ability.
  5. Mar 27, 2008 #4
    I don't think it exists like in undergrad. Women and minorities - especially in the sciences - get snapped up by schools at the undergrad level because the emphasis is more on class diversity and the college experience, but grad school is still very much merit based from what I can gather. This is evident from the lack of diversity in university-published data.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2008
  6. Mar 27, 2008 #5


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    schools definitely have budgets that are restricted to specific categories of applicants defined by qualities other than merit. most money comes from the US government, and there are millions of dollars that are spendable only on US citizens for example.

    within the targeted category, of course merit is the criterion.

    there is targeting of funding in every situation. do you think research that is military oriented is funded solely because it is always as meritorious intellectually as pure math research?

    it is always a struggle to keep the process of funding as pure as possible, in the sense of using it for the most exciting ideas, instead of the ones most likely to lead to a short term profit. faculty are also often measured by administrators on their ability to bring in funding, more than on the intellectual merit of their research.

    whoever is providing the funding usually wants to say how it is spent, whether on grad students or otherwise. still if faculty decide who to admit, they will try to admit the brightest and most promising candidates.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2008
  7. Mar 28, 2008 #6
    Why do you automatically come to the assumption that blacks and latinos who are admitted to grad school is because of affirmative action? You think there are not blacks or latinos who are admitted to grad school because of merit?
  8. Mar 28, 2008 #7
    I wasn't aware that affirmative action was still practiced at the undergrad level, or anywhere else for that matter... or I guess it's just "quotas" that have been outlawed?

    Anyway, in grad school for technical subjects, there's definitely a big emphasis on getting students who are American citizens and, to a lesser extent, also getting American citizens who are underrepresented in technical fields (specifically females, but also whatever ethnic minorities as well). This goes not only for admissions, but also for obtaining funding support. In addition to various government programs aimed at enticing Americans into technical fields and keeping them there, there is often significant pressure from corporate/private donors to use their money to support American students. The motivation being that they're contributing this money to support a talented local workforce, not to train talent for their overseas competitors. Although it must be said that a very large percentage of foreign students stick around and work in the area for years, if not the rest of their careers.
  9. Mar 28, 2008 #8
    So, if 25% of the American population is missing, perhaps one needs to say something about equal opportunity
  10. Mar 28, 2008 #9
    25%? More like 75%, once you notice that there are no women :]
  11. Mar 28, 2008 #10
    Undergrad admission is definitely highly influenced by euphemistic concepts such as creating "well-rounded" classes. There was a published study ( http://opr.princeton.edu/faculty/Tje/EspenshadeSSQPtII.pdf [Broken] ) that indicates various different criterion for discimination, including race, athletics and legacy status. Being a middle class white male, I was rubbed pretty raw by the system when I was applying to places like MIT for undergrad as I watched only my minority friends get in, but I also accept that there is very little upward social mobility in the U.S.

    However, it's inherently obvious that household income plays a very large part in educational attainment. I think universities care much more about race than they do economic status, despite the relative roles these play in achievement.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  12. Mar 28, 2008 #11


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    affirmative action of one sort or another has been practiced for at least 50 years.

    I was admitted to harvard in 1960, based at least partly on a desire by them to admit more students from the south, since they could easily have filled the class with better qualified students all from new york.

    one of my friends was part of a recruitment team sent to north carolina to try to find black students from carolina who they thought could survive the atmosphere at harvard.

    recently, we have been required by our administration to be "proactive" in our recruitment of female candidates for faculty positions.

    nobody knows exactly what profile predicts a successful academic career. higher scores are easiest to prefer, but high commitment, and good work ethic, often proves more important.

    as they say in basketball, it is crucial to have "the love" for the game.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2008
  13. Mar 29, 2008 #12
    I don't think you've drawn the correct conclusion from my earlier comments. As I said, I have failed to find any Latino or black graduate students or professors at my university. Mind you, we have ~100 grad students and ~40 professors. Clearly this indicates that either there are no minority applicants, that all the minority applicants have bad academic records (which seems highly unlikely), or that at best the department practices no affirmative action. I mention blacks and Latinos because these are the groups generally associated with affirmative action. For example, Chinese, Koreans, and Indians are technically minorities in America, but they (especially Chinese) are vastly overrepresented in physics, and thus would never be the beneficiaries of any affirmative action program.
  14. Mar 29, 2008 #13
    It seems like you are assuming that blacks could not be able to get in without affirmative action if they did apply for grad school. You know affirmative action really doesn't apply to black africans and black immigrants but affirmative action does not apply to them. As a black person , I hate we school, and physics magazines try to show how diverse there faculty by simply admitting certain groups based on there background. You know they used to restrict the number of jewish applicants applying to ivy league universities because many on the grad school committee thought there were too many jews already overrepresented in ivy league universities? Luckily this practice has ceased.(or has it?) Everytime I see a physicist who is a minority(black or latino) in physics magazines, they are always talking about the recruitment of minorities into the sciences instead of actually talking about a physics topic or their own personal research.

    We shouldn't admit students just to make a university look 'colorful' because in reality, different ethnic groups are not going to pursue the same interests. Maybe affirmative action should apply to the NBA as well because there are not many white people in the NBA.

    At the same time, call me a radical for thinking this, but we should not dismiss a student (regardless of race, gender , and creed) just because he/she does not meet the required GPA for admittance. We really should(at university level anyway) admit students who are truly interested in studying physics . At university, students are supposed to grow as physicists so we should not expect admitted students to come in knowing everything. We are training students to be physicists. Maybe after students have graduated and are looking for a job, then GPA (physics GPA) should matter.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2008
  15. Mar 29, 2008 #14
    Why would they be expected not to? By that logic you could just say that physics is a white man's game and we should not bother trying to get minorities or women interested in the field. Diversity can quite often yield interesting perspectives that may otherwise not have been considered, not to mention it usually makes for a more interesting and enjoyable environment.

    Also, I thought the point of affirmative action was to give people opportunities that they may not have otherwise had. Say, for example, a black student attending an extremely poor "inner city" high school that maybe was very interested in pursuing science but was not in an environment conducive to doing so.
  16. Mar 29, 2008 #15
    I don't know what I seem to be saying, but what I am saying is that there is quite a deficit of African or Latino applicants to graduate school. As an undergrad I hardly saw any physics majors from these two groups. Perhaps, as with women, there's something that keeps physics from being an attractive field to these people?

    It's true that different ethnic groups pursue different interests. Rather peculiar, don't you think? Anyway, I'm sure there's a lot of sociology which goes into the theory of why different careers are dominated by different ethnicities and genders, but my guess is that the lack of certain ethnic groups in physics is a problem at the recruiting stage.

    It tends to work quite the opposite way, actually. When people apply to graduate school, GPA is a primary factor for admission. But when PhDs start looking for jobs, GPA is almost a non-issue, since employers in both academia and industry are far more interested in a PhD's research capabilities. This is probably a good system. It ultimately would not work all that well if we simply admitted students who were truly interested in physics. First, if you are applying to grad school at all, you're probably truly interested in physics (who else would volunteer for 5-6 years of hell?). So interest won't help admissions committees to sift through applicants. Secondly, based on my undergrad experience I know there are many people who are interested in physics, but who suck at it. For the most part physics doesn't require you to be a genius, but it requires a lot of hard work. A lot of my peers in undergrad had a true passion for the subject, but weren't willing to put in the work that it took to be successful. If a department is going to pay a grad student thousands of dollars to do research there, it needs to know that this student is going to actually graduate some day.

    Finally, GPA doesn't have anything to do with knowing everything about physics. Undergrad physics courses are taught at an undergrad level. A physics major who graduates with straight A's doesn't come close to knowing everything about physics. But he's demonstrated that he can handle the courseload that accompanies graduate work. The purpose of graduate school is to teach you physics; they don't expect you to know that much when you come in. But they do expect you to demonstrate that you know how to learn, and undergrad grades are typically somewhat reflective of this.
  17. Mar 29, 2008 #16
    At the same time, just because one ethnic group is the dominant group represented in physics, does not mean we should drive non-whites away who are interested in physics. That is not what I am saying . I am saying we should not try to concentrate on trying to recruit minorities to physics simply because they are a minority. We should try to recruit people who are interested in physics and try to encourage those interested students to continue to hold there interest in physics. If we are going to try to just recruit minorities we then should try to recruit everybody. Most groups, whether they are minorities or not, are intimidate by physics and that is a massive problem.

    Only 20 percent of black people inhabit then inner city. Believe it or not , most black people in this country in the upper or middle economic class. What about that poor white boy who also wants an opportunity at a higher education. Shouldn't affirmative action help him as well. BTW there are more poor whites in this country than poor blacks, for obvious reasons.
  18. Mar 29, 2008 #17
    Excellent point. It's extremely insulting to know that as an applicant that happens to be a minority you will be accounted for as meticulously as poker chips by the powers that be in universities because they need to appear to be promoting social equity. It's racist in its own right, and it perpetuates discord between the people "helped" and disenfranchised by the practice.
  19. Mar 29, 2008 #18
    As I understand it, it is illegal for a university or a company to have quotas set by local, state, or federal government. But, you can get a +1 on your application so to speak by being a person who fulfills some kind of desirable criterion. For instance, there are not a lot of people from California who go to school in North Carolina. A university might decide that they want more students from the west side of the country, so if they see you are from LA they may give you favor over someone with essentially the same credentials but from Chapel Hill. That's typically how it works for undergrad admissions, but it may not be the same for grad admissions. I have frequently have read on graduate application pages that the University retains the right to deny admissions to anyone that they want. I think that is how it should be. The only problem is there might be programs who are not as friendly to women or minorities which is disturbing to me.
  20. Mar 29, 2008 #19
    I think the people who truly suck at physics suck because they do not spend a considerable amount of time studying physics. I think anybody can do physics if they a considerable amount of time thinking about the physics problems and relentlessly honing they're problem solving skills everyday.
  21. Mar 30, 2008 #20
    More than not being beneficiaries, they are the ones who are discriminated against under affirmative action. The UC system did a study looking at acceptance rates by race under affirmative action, compared to after it was stopped (in like 1998, IIRC). What they found was that the seats for black, latino, native, etc. students were being created at the expense of seats for Asian students. White acceptance rates were not affected. So all you white guys who didn't get into the UC school of your choice during the 1990's can't blame it on affirmative action... It may be that your minority friends DID get in because of affirmative action, but you would have been rejected either way.
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