Program Overview:

The PhysREFs are a group of trained graduate student advocates who are available to all members of the physics department. We are here to listen and help in any way we can, whether you feel:

  • Stressed out by classes or research
  • Frustrated by your interactions with your advisor, instructor, or colleagues
  • Confused by the culture, in physics or at Columbia
  • Or just need to talk

While much of our programming is student focused, we aim to provide workshop and personal development opportunities that are beneficial to all members of the department. Our group focuses on offering preventative and pedagogical programming to help develop skills and advocate for policy changes at both the individual and departmental level. We hope that these resources and conversations can stop future issues before they start!

Our program is based closely on work done at MIT (mit physREFs) and at Syracuse (Physics Student Advocates).

In order to best serve our community, we will:

  1. Focus on Students: specifically for addressing student issues and for engaging with students (both graduate and undergraduates) to develop appropriate solutions.
  2. Be Discrete: PhysREF student advocates will respect student privacy. As such, no TA will be allowed to serve as a physREF as they are mandated reporters. The only exception to this privilege of confidentiality is when there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm, or there is no reasonable option other than disclosure, or when Title 9 Law and SU policies apply.
  3. Prevent rather than Punish: PhysREFs will seek to provide resources to students and faculty members and develop preventative measures. This can include professional and personal development and skills-building workshops, conflict resolution training and early conflict interventions.
  4. Advise rather than Act: PhysREFs will primarily provide resources, advice and support to students, rather than take action on their behalf. Exceptions may be made at the request of the student in particular cases (eg. email as witness, etc.)
  5. Advocate: PhysREFs will provide yearly reviews and identify systematic needs in the department in order to advocate for change to the department chair and/or CDI, if there is a noted pattern of issues.

Advocates will receive training prior to holding office hours with students. Training will be a week-long, workshop style process, which will be required of all new advocates. Returning advocates will participate in a shorter version of the training each subsequent year. If you are interested in being trained, reach out to us!

Training is supported by TBA. Learn more about their programming and certifications at TBA.

This training will broadly cover:

  • Warning signs of mental distress, including noticing and navigating signs of distress in students, engaging in interventions to mitigate mental health issues and connecting students with appropriate resources.
  • Mediating conflict and assisting in early-conflict intervention and resolution, including interventions between peers and between students and advisors/faculty. These interventions may include advising on email writing, mock conversations, reviewing options for addressing conflict within the department and larger Columbia resource structure.
  • Appropriate handling of private information in keeping with PhysREFs privacy policies, and importantly what constitutes emergency circumstances (ie. risk of personal or other harm).
  • University resources, including extensive training on navigating the official reporting channels at Columbia (ie. EOAA, Title IX, etc.) and when/how to use each, the availability of non-reporting conflict mediating resources (ie. Ombuds) and when/how to use each and the availability of mental health resources (ie. CPS, etc) and when/how to use each.