Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Many in positions of privilege and power are coming to terms with how systemic racism and injustice shapes every aspect of life. We acknowledge that academia, too, is rife with systemic racism, power imbalances, and inequity. The Biophysics program is committed to improving conditions within our own program and our communities at UCSF and beyond. The fact is we don’t have a very diverse group of students or faculty - and that should change. It starts by improving the environment of our program.

We would like to create a program where students from historically marginalized groups can truly thrive. Our guiding principles in drafting this plan to improve our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts are for the plan to be rapid, transparent, and evaluable. We will stay aligned with broader initiatives at UCSF and within the Graduate Division - and in many cases we must go further. Because equity and inclusion influence all aspects of our program, this plan cuts across all aspects of our program, not just those traditionally associated with DEI activities, such as outreach.

This is a living document and all members of our community are encouraged to reach out to program leadership directly or through newly established anonymous channels to comment or suggest new actions. We will be evaluating this plan with a committee that includes program leadership, faculty, and students. We expect to learn from our sibling graduate programs and continuously update based on larger policy initiatives at UCSF.

Overall actions

  • Draft a transparent roadmap (this document) for DEI efforts that is updated and evaluated (quarterly by the Biophysics DEI committee in the 2020-2021 academic year and then in its meetings twice per year thereafter) and ensure that it has both short term actions and long term guidelines.
  • Re-establish the Biophysics DEI committee. Membership will consist of program leadership (director, associate director, and manager), 2 faculty representatives serving offset 2 year terms, and two student representatives serving offset 2 year terms. Students will be added annually, with one junior student (3rd year or below) cycling on and the senior student cycling off. Applications from students will be solicited and the members will be chosen by program leadership. This committee will meet at least twice per year and be chaired by the Associate Director of the program.
    • The faculty members of the DEI committee will also sit (one each) on the Curriculum and the Admissions committees, where they will ensure that equity is considered in decisions.
    • The program leadership will coordinate DEI efforts with other groups on campus including other graduate programs, the Graduate Division, outreach efforts and SRTP.
    • The next (third) meeting of this group will focus on adding to this document: our expected results, how we expect our plan will impact the program and fulfill our goals, and what milestones we hope to hit (via a 3 and 10 year scale). We will consider possible pitfalls, and possible alternatives in case specific measures of success aren’t met.
  • Establish annual anonymous “climate” survey for students to provide their perspective on their experience at UCSF and highlight areas of concern. Also provide venues for anonymous feedback directly after program retreats and admissions cycles. The draft climate survey will be circulated to the DEI committee by ~April 15th and Nicole to circulate to the program students ~May 1st each year.
  • Increase frequency of meetings with Program Leadership. Currently we have “cohort meetings” in December. We will also have one in June for all students that gives “the state of the program”, addressing the anonymous climate survey and including information on how the program works (such as financial model, faculty recruitment, etc).
  • As all BP executive, admissions, diversity, curriculum, and other committee meetings assemble, start by showing a slide of a statement of values, such as:
    • While participating please:
      • Listen respectfully, without interrupting.
      • Criticize ideas, not individuals.
      • Avoid generalizations and speak from your perspective using personal pronouns.
      • Commit to learning, not debating.
      • Respect one another's views & allow everyone the chance to speak.
      • If you find another’s statement to be problematic, do speak up.
      • Know your boundaries, but also know the difference between uncomfortable and unsafe.
      • Reflect on feelings of defensiveness when discussing proposals.
  • Empower the moderators at Seminars and Retreat Talks to have a “pause and talk to a friend while the speaker catches their breath” and then have students and postdocs ask questions first
  • Biophysics explicitly states that students cannot bring food or drink for the committee members to qualifying exam or thesis committees because it has potential to create inequities.
  • Program leadership will draft a “Rights and Responsibilities of Membership in the Program” document.
  • Program events, including retreats, will include reminders of the UCSF code of conduct (Policies and Procedures)
  • Biophysics leadership will work with other graduate programs, the Graduate Division and department chairs to make transparently available information on UCSF code of conduct breaches relevant to students (e.g. Title IX violations)
  • We will regularly review and update the Biophysics website statement of values, including Black Lives Matter based on community feedback, and include links to this plan and to UCSF resources on how to be anti-racist, combat anti-Blackness, and ways to get involved at UCSF and in the larger community

Faculty engagement

Biophysics faculty should provide an inclusive environment where all Biophysics students are welcome, can reach their potential and thrive. Although graduate programs do not control faculty recruitment (departments do), we must diversify our faculty and we expect members of our programs to advocate for this goal within their departments. The items below aim at increasing the support of students from all backgrounds by providing faculty training opportunities, encouraging faculty engagement in DEI activities, and increased transparency and accountability.

  • Biophysics faculty will be required to take DEI Champions Training within one year of joining the program. Until this training is offered again we will identify interim self-directed training (e.g. UCSF On Demand Training, UCSF videos, NIH videos).
  • Biophysics faculty will, at minimum, comply with the mentorship training requirements of the Graduate Division (1 course per year for faculty with students in their labs). Options at UCSF will include: Inclusive Mentoring Practices Workshop*, Equity and Inclusion in the Lab*, Acknowledging and Negotiating the Mentee-Mentor Tensions Inherent in the Research Lab, Sharpening your Mentoring Skills, Effective Strategies for Individual Development Plans, Communicating Expectations, Promoting Student Mental Health.
  • Biophysics faculty will be encouraged to actively engage in DEI and community efforts, including: leading DEI activities and events, faculty-led trainings and workshops (such as on choosing rotation and thesis labs, proposal writing), teaching hands-on courses, participating on the admissions committee, DEI outreach visits and mentorship such as through SRTP. Participation based on Graduate Division and self-reporting will be encouraged by considering it in funding of 2nd year Biophysics students.
  • The Biophysics faculty webpage listing will:
    • include an opt-in listing of pronouns for each faculty (and for students on the student webpage)
    • include which above trainings (DEI, mentorship, etc.) and activity each faculty has taken or led
    • include a statement at the top of the page saying “Below is a listing of research interests and mentoring activities of our program faculty. Please visit their individual webpages for further information, including Lab Philosophy, Conduct, and Expectations documents.”
  • We will establish a Faculty and Student Award for DEI efforts and another for activities that go beyond training attendance to highlight genuine faculty or student-initiated activities within their labs and communities. To be awarded at the retreat.
  • We are committed to help improve student mentorship within our program and strengthen the Student-Advisor 1:1 relationship, which has complicated power dynamics. On the premise that clarity increases inclusivity, we will implement the following:
    • We will encourage biophysics faculty to create and share on their websites Lab Values and Lab Expectations documents that make what is often unspoken and unwritten information equally accessible to all. Biophysics will organize a faculty-led workshop on the goals of such documents and will provide examples of these documents and surveys for anonymous feedback.
    • Biophysics will explicitly encourage students to choose faculty on their thesis committee who will be their advocates. Students will be encouraged to meet with one or more of their committee members before the meeting to help ensure that the focus of the meeting is on the issues that are most needed for the student. Biophysics will continue to automatically schedule thesis committees every six months.
    • Biophysics will provide reminders and guidance to all faculty on thesis committees, prior to meetings, on their role, and faculty committee members will ensure that: individual development plans are discussed and at least 15 minutes are available for discussion without the advisor in the room.
    • Add a guideline that covers the entire path of escalation (thesis committee, grad div/ombuds, etc) for a problematic mentor/mentee relationship to Path to PhD Guidelines.
    • The program will monitor the Training Progress Assessment (TPA) rubrics being developed by some other UCSF graduate programs with the expectation that we will start using a TPA rubric in 2021-2022. In other programs, the TPA rubric is distributed to first years, and used as qualifying exam feedback and at each thesis committee meeting. The TPA will be a means to (i) track and evaluate an individual student’s training progress and (ii) empower trainees to identify their career development goals, guided by individual development plans, and acquire the needed training to achieve their goals via concrete milestones. By providing a transparent framework for training this rubric can help create more equity in mentor-mentee relationships.


Our curriculum needs to represent our values of diversity, equity and inclusion. We aim to achieve this goal through the following actions, effective for the Fall 2020 quarter:

  • We will require all course directors to develop a plan for addressing equity and historical biases in BP courses, considering specific elements such as:
    • Cover contributions of women and other under-represented scientists, as well as historical biases in the area of science covered by the course
    • Start core class lectures with a broad introduction to make the lecture accessible to a diverse group of students and academic backgrounds.
    • Use a mix of learning and teaching styles, including project-based classes, small-group discussions and lectures.
    • Address explicitly in writing at the beginning of the course, including accommodations for illness, family emergencies, and other unsettling events.
  • The course website or syllabus should include a diversity, equity and inclusion statement. This one, adapted from CCB, is a good example:
    • Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The course instructors and teaching assistants value the contributions, ideas and perspective of all students. It is our intent that students from diverse backgrounds be well-served by this course, that students' learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that the students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is our intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender identity, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, and culture. However, we also acknowledge that many of the literature examples used in this course were authored by white males. Integrating a diverse set of experiences is important for a more comprehensive understanding of science and we strive towards that goal. Although the instructors are committed to continuous improvement of our practices and our learning environment, we value input from students and your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let the course director or program leadership know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally, or for other students or student groups. (modeled after CCB and Brown University's Diversity & Inclusion Syllabus Statements)
  • Course evaluations will include a section for feedback as to how well DEI goals were achieved.
  • All incoming first year Biophysics students will take a new Fall quarter course offered by the graduate division: Grad 202: Racism in Science
  • Our first year class and program leadership will jointly participate in a Graduate Division workshop “Building community for new students in the time of COVID” as part of our New Student Orientation
  • As part of Graduate Division efforts, Biophysics students will receive additional DEI training in their 3rd year.
  • We will formalize and financially support a workshop on lab/rotation choice led by senior students (with a faculty moderator if students desire one). Senior students invited from diverse backgrounds and years will discuss factors to consider in choosing labs. The focus will be on the decision process, without naming labs. This event will be held twice, before Fall and Winter rotation choices are due. This event will also serve as a platform for advice on how to navigate the first year. This workshop will also provide incoming students with suggested questions to ask potential rotation mentors.
    • We will prepare material that includes a rotation history of all potential mentors. Faculty who are accepting rotation students will fill out a brief rotation survey (how many rotation students they will take, what kinds of projects, how many slots at the end of the year).
  • We will establish a “blackout period” before rotation choices are due where faculty will be instructed to not commit to rotation students. This will give all students a more fair opportunity to talk to faculty and hopefully reduce “race to the finish” issues of securing rotation slots.
  • Each September, we will have a workshop for 2nd year students (with 1st year students invited if they are interested), about the goal of the qualifying exam, the role of the qualifying exam committee, and what factors to consider in choosing committee members.
  • Biophysics will organize an annual faculty-led workshop each August on the goal of thesis committee meetings, the role of the thesis committee, and what factors to consider in choosing committee members.
  • We have initiated and funded a faculty-led book themed around diversity, equity, and inclusion, open to all students. If students are interested in organizing additional book or journal clubs around this area, we will provide funding and support local and BIPOC bookstores when possible.
  • At the annual retreat, we will make discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion a central part of the program, and we will follow up with anonymous surveys to tailor the format and content to the needs of the students.
  • We will coordinate efforts with the Graduate Division and highlight available resources for anti-racist activities, mental health, financial planning, and other issues in the weekly emails distributed to Biophysics Students.


The Biophysics Graduate Program at UCSF aims to improve its efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion during the admissions and recruitment process. We do not use the GRE and have a holistic admission process without cutoffs for GPA or other criteria. The following specific action items are to further improve our efforts to increase diversity.


  • We will publish a more comprehensive explanation on how the different UCSF graduate programs are related on the Biophysics Graduate Program’s website. In addition, we will provide a guideline that will help to decide if the Biophysics Graduate Program is a good fit for the applicant.
    • add a section on “how to gain more research experiences” and links to ads for positions at UCSF
  • We will include links to the demographics on Program Statistics directly on the admissions page
  • To help recruits with the preparation for the in-person interviews with faculty of the Biophysics Graduate Program, we will provide sample questions to the interviewees.
  • We will provide a list of current biophysics graduate students that can be contacted by any applicant to ask questions about UCSF, the Biophysics Graduate Program, the application process and how to prepare for it. Applicants interested in having a current UCSF Biophysics student review their application before submission, can contact [email protected].

Interview process

  • The program will include a prompt to remind evaluators to consider their potential biases, to consider the background and “miles traveled” of applicants, and to highlight the strengths of applicants in the interview evaluation sections.
  • To better prepare faculty and student interviewers for the interviews, we will provide guidelines and an annual workshop on how to evaluate and reduce implicit bias as well as on how to conduct an interview.
  • We encourage all applicants to register for The Diversity and Allyship Breakfast during the interview visit. This provides all applicants, especially BIPOC applicants, an opportunity to meet more extensively with current BIPOC students. At this event a diversity breakfast panel discussion is organized by current students, with guidance from D’Anne Duncan.
  • The Biophysics Program will establish a Diversity Network Initiative to connect prospective students, who have been offered either an interview or admission, with current students that share a common identity, e.g., veteran status, first-gen, gender identity, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identity, disability status, etc.


  • In order to increase transparency among the Biophysics Graduate Program we will provide the demographic statistics of our recruitment process to the biophysics community at UCSF during the “state of the program” meeting with students. We will make publicly available aggregate data on demographic statistics through the Graduate Division (aggregated across years or programs). The demographic statistics will include numbers on underrepresented minorities, gender, first generation applicants, and applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • We will establish an online mechanism that will enable applicants to anonymously report if they experienced any microaggressions or feelings of discomfort by students or faculty during the recruitment events. UCSF code of conduct violations reported will be referred to the Graduate Division. We will encourage the Graduate Division to develop a standardized process across graduate programs for such reporting.
  • To evaluate and monitor our efforts in improving diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as recruitment and retention we will distribute an anonymous survey every year directly after the Biophysics Graduate Program recruitment events to all recruits, current students, and faculty.


As a community, we need to pursue many avenues to expose our program to marginalized groups. These activities, coupled with improvements in our environment that prioritize learners, will help Biophysics attract a more diverse applicant pool - and ensure that those students can thrive if we are able to recruit them here.

  • Send at least one faculty and student representative to:
    • SACNAS annual meeting
    • ABRCMS annual meeting
    • NIH virtual career fair
  • Send program directors and current students to give seminars at HBCU and MSI in California, record these visits on Faculty listing webpage
  • Encourage current faculty and students to attend UCSF SRTP poster session each year
  • Identify 5 institutions with diverse undergraduate populations and email faculty teaching senior undergraduate courses in Physics, Biochemistry, and Computational Biology to circulate literature on our program each October.
    • Offer faculty and/or current student representatives to “virtually visit” these institutions to discuss Biophysics & the general environment at UCSF to upper-level undergraduate courses.
    • After virtual visits, circulate a survey that can be filled out named or anonymously that can help us to understand how to improve those visits and provide better guidance of a career in research.
    • Encourage instructors to directly connect program leadership with URM/BIPOC undergrads who show promise. Have program leadership email these students as the first point of contact.
  • Host a virtual outreach event before applications are due as a preview of the recruitment visit. Elements would include:
    • Faculty and student research symposium
    • Breakout groups with faculty and students:
  • Include a breakout for junior students not applying this year on how to gain: 1) meaningful scientific experience, 2) exposure to top-notch research environment, 3) the connections & advisors that help to strengthen an application to UCSF
    • Workshop on “why you should consider grad school” and “how to make a successful application”, both of which will emphasize ways to gain research experience through, for example, technician positions.
  • Add materials on our website and during the outreach event on:
    • What to expect during interviews (format, questions, etc.) (done - but welcome revisions)
    • List of current Biophysics students who are willing to answer questions about applications
  • put up some profiles of career tracks people have taken after UCSF? Optionally with personal background before UCSF as well?
    • REUs and other programs that we recommend for people to gain meaningful research experience prior to starting a Ph.D. will be edited into the section on preparing research statements.
  • The program will sponsor ~2 summer SRTP slots and ensure that they are connected over lunch/coffee once per summer with program leadership and current students to talk about the program
  • Annually connect with other graduate programs at UCSF to transfer applications that they think would be well-suited to Biophysics
  • Work with QBI media to create a video explaining the biophysics field and program

Connecting with others for change

We will seek to influence our broader communities to create the best environment at UCSF and beyond.

  • Our program values the independence of our students. We will lobby at multiple levels (UCSF, NIH) to de-couple student and postdoc funding from PI funding.
  • Our program values the mental health of our students. We will lobby for better mental health services for our students at the UCSF level.