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Sunday, March 26, 2017




Physics Dept. narrows down search for prof.




The University’s Physics Department has nearly concluded its search for a new tenure-track assistant professor of astrophysics.

The search committee, consisting of seven faculty members, five from the physics department, one from the math department, and a diversity representative, started the search in late fall.

“There were lots of things that we were looking for — not just their science but also their teaching, mentoring of undergraduate research, graduate student research and classroom teaching,” said Prof. John F.C. Wardle (PHYS), the chairperson of the search committee and the head of the division of science at the University in an interview with The Justice.

Prior to opening the application, the search committee constructed a grading rubric to fairly assess applicants. The rubric's grading criteria included past and current research, potential as a leader and educator, potential for funding and supervision of research and also their contribution to diversity.

Of an initial pool of 149 applicants, 31 dossiers were selected for deep reading by every member of the committee. In the end, “We picked out six people we thought were really outstanding,” said Wardle.

Over the past month, the six candidates have visited the University and conducted public colloquiums on their research tailored for undergraduates with a background in physics, afterward engaging in a more technical “chalk talk” with the search committee about their research proposals and interests. Candidates also intermittently met with other departmental faculty and graduate students.

It was as much an interview for the candidate as it was an interview for the faculty and students to see if the candidate would like to work at the University, said Wardle.

The search committee has put a large amount of effort into an outreach for minorities, women and people of color to apply for the position, said Wardle.

The position was not only publicly posted, but potential candidates of interest, both of high academic accomplishment and diversity, were personally reached out to and invited to apply.

“These are extremely prestigious, first-rate people,” said Wardle, who first asked colleagues at other universities for recommendations and then went through the lists of the National Science Foundation, Hubble and Einstein postdoctoral fellowship programs looking for women and minorities were in the particular areas they were advertising.

“The importance is simply that the more diverse the faculty is, the more included the students feel … in terms of encouraging [women and people of color] to go ahead and major in the hard sciences and for recruitment of students coming here. … When they see faculty here that looks like they do — you can’t underestimate that.”

The six finalists include four women and two men, of whom two are Hispanic and one is Black.

“I’m kind of proud of that — in a field like astrophysics, that’s good,” said Wardle.

While astronomy has a tradition of having more women than other hard sciences, there are very few people of color, said Wardle.

“There are various efforts in the division of science to try and improve that, but when you’re actually looking for a faculty member … the pool of minority candidates is very small, and you really have to go and seek them out,” he said.

The situation for recruiting women faculty is a bit better. However, “We’re not bad in physics, actually; we have a higher number of women than most physics departments do in the country,” said Wardle, noting the department of physics’ three women faculty.

The Brandeis Physics department has 40 to 45 graduate students, with approximately 20 undergraduates graduating with a degree in physics every year.

Wardle hopes that a minority candidate will not only help encourage more individuals to go into the hard sciences but also increase diversity among students enrolled in physics.

Wardle said it is also important that they find someone who can work in the University’s small research environment, with the potential to collaborate with established research groups on campus.

Additionally the committee looked at a candidate’s investment in undergraduate research and education, “That’s one of our signatures,” said Wardle, “encouraging undergraduate research — everybody does that here.”

The search committee has ranked the list of six candidates in order of preference, and the department expects an offer accepted soon with an appointment of the position to begin in Fall 2017.


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