Metrics first, diversity later? Making the short list and getting admitted to physics PhD programs

Julie R. Posselt, Theresa E. Hernandez, Geraldine L. Cochran, Casey W. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Recent research suggests that faculty reliance on graduate record examination (GRE) scores early in the graduate admissions review disproportionately limits access to doctoral education for women, Black, Latinx, and Native American students. However, some faculty do engage in more holistic review—and in so doing, weigh diversity—when evaluating applicants on a short list. This paper has three objectives: to test the prevalence of this two-stage review process; to examine whether the factors associated with an applicant’s selection to a short list differ from those associated with receiving an admission offer; and third, to assess implications of admissions preferences for equitable access. We conducted fixed-effects logistic regression using application-level data from six large, selective physics programs who participated in a project piloting means to increase diversity in physics. We found that faculty in these programs indeed placed a premium on standard evaluation metrics in the first round of review. Women are more likely than men to both make the short list and be admitted, whereas Black and Latinx applicants do not have significantly higher odds than white students of moving forward in the admissions process, all else equal. Our findings add weight to a rising tide of evidence that faculty must revisit the narrow framing they have traditionally used in the admissions process to increase diversity in their graduate programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-306
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


  • Admissions
  • Faculty
  • Graduate education
  • Graduate record examination
  • Physics
  • Test-optional admissions


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