We got the chance to ask Dean Targan several questions. His responses are summarized here.
Q: Have you seen changes in physics over time?
A: Positive changes in the environment have occurred when people retired and were replaced by younger people who were more educated about these topics. Faculty members who have been hired recently are more interested in talking about their students and how to be an effective teacher. In the beginning, WiSE offered undergraduates some financial support to work in research labs at Brown. This gave certain faculty members a chance to see the strength of their students, perhaps students who would otherwise go unnoticed. While this program was running it created a positive change in the culture of Brown science departments.
Q: What is your understanding of what the problems are?
A: The list of problems has stayed more or less constant over the years. There is a lack of role models and a lack of a critical mass of women and minority scientists. Other problems include lack of sufficient financial aid (although Brown’s move to need blind admissions under president Ruth Simmons helped to alleviate this somewhat), stereotype threat, and impostor syndrome. With the move to need blind admission came an increase in the number of students interested in science, particularly 1st generation college students and underrepresented minority students. There is not enough academic support for all of these students. For example, the Catalyst program, a pre-orientation program run by NSP that “prepares incoming first-years for the rigors of a science concentration at Brown”, in the past has had to limit its enrollment in order to do justice to its students. Therefore Catalyst has, unfortunately, not been able to address the needs of a larger cohort of students entering Brown with an interest in science. However, we are looking at ways to address those needs, by expanding Catalyst or by replacing it with a similar program, while increasing support for NSP.