Tuesday, April 23, 2013

APS CSWP Climate for Women in Physics Site Visit Program

This week's guest bloggers are Susan Blessing, CSWP Chair and chair of the Site Visit Subcommittee, and Deanna Ratnikova, CSWP staff liaison and administrative coordinator for the Site Visit Program. CSWA is proposing to implement Climate Site Visits for Astronomy Departments, and Susan and Deanna were kind enough to write this description of the highly successful and much in demand CSWA program.

Since 1990, the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (CSWP) has conducted site visits to physics departments at research institutions and national laboratories to assess and improve the climate for women. Through the Climate Site Visit Program, a team of physicists visits physics departments or labs to catalogue the problems that women face and to suggest potential improvements. The site visit program has been heralded for leading the physics community to a deeper understanding of the climate for women physicists in academia.

CSWP conducts site visits at the request of a department chair or lab director. The site visit team leader assembles a team of physicists from a variety of subfields. Teams consist of typically three to five members for academic visits and six to nine members for national lab visits, and starting in 2012, men are allowed to serve on teams (but not as the team leader). The team and host coordinator decide on a date and work together on travel and lodging arrangements (which are covered by the host facility).

Prior to the visit, the team asks students and employees to complete a confidential survey for the team's use only. On the day of the visit, team members meet with individuals and groups: the physics department chair or lab director, physics faculty members, research staff members, administrators responsible for faculty appointments or hiring, postdocs and graduate and undergraduate students. The goal of these meetings is to provide the team with the quantitative and qualitative information they need to assess the climate in the host facility. At the end of the visit, the team makes a preliminary report to the department chair or lab director as part of an exit interview.

After the visit, the team writes a report for the department chair or lab director, detailing its findings and offering simple, practical suggestions on improving the climate for women and others at the facility. The team encourages the chair or lab director to share the report with the rest of the department or lab. Approximately 18 months after the visit, the department chair or lab director is requested to submit a written report to CSWP, describing actions taken to improve the climate.

After several years of the program, the CSWP compiled a list of best practices that can lead to more welcoming and female-friendly departments. The list is available for free download at here. To date, nearly 60 site visits have been conducted. A list of these site visits, as well as further details on the program, can be found here.