In last year’s letter I recommended broadening yourself, supplementing your specialization with a wide variety of knowledge, and pursuing in-depth study of topics other than your own. But what about broadening yourself beyond academia?
In the Graduate Director’s office I see a little bit of everything. Fortunately, it is more good than bad: students winning awards, publishing their work, getting grants and fellowships, and finishing their degrees. Of course, I also see some of the downsides, such as students having a hard time with their coursework or funding, or struggling to attain a foothold in the long climb that is a dissertation.
In the process of receiving all of this news and making the small decisions of the day, I look for opportunities to give advice on more general topics as well. (Stop by and let me bore you with some today!) Here’s one piece of advice I have felt the need to deliver lately: broaden yourself.
I was very excited to serve as Graduate Director this year. My term ended up being shorter than originally expected, so some pending projects will have to be brought to a successful conclusion by my future replacement and next year’s Graduate Committee. Still, our office experienced several important highlights this year.
In the Fall, we prepared new instruments and a preliminary plan for evaluating and assessing our graduate program. These instruments are supposed to provide more qualitative information on our strengths and weaknesses, to complement the usual quantitative indicators used to measure performance (such as years to completion of degree, number of publications and paper presentations by graduate students, teaching evaluations and so forth). Our instruments and preliminary plan got very high marks from the Graduate School –who considered our materials to be exemplary. But work remains to be done, particularly in deciding how often and in what way we will use our evaluations and assessments to come up with policy recommendations to continue improving the quality of our program. Graduate student feedback will be important in making these decisions.
As usual, the beginning of Spring semester required the Graduate Committee to engage very fully in the process of admission of new applicants. We were happy to come up with a very diverse (and unexpectedly large!) pool of incoming students. As usual, their interests encompass most of the existing fields of strength in our department, while providing exciting opportunities to explore issues such as the intersection of race, ethnicity and gender in shaping processes of stratification, mobility and inequality.
In both semesters, the whole department had the opportunity to hear presentations on the second year papers. The consensus among both faculty and students was that these presentations represented a very productive opportunity, allowing students to both enhance their professional skills and receive useful, substantive feedback on their work. Beyond the high quality of the papers, it was gratifying to see that the second year paper exercise is encouraging students to stay on track in meeting our program requirements. To further enhance the usefulness of this exercise, I think it will be important to come up with incentives that further encourage students to develop their work into conference presentations and eventual publications.
Our current graduate students have been very successful in pursuing grants and fellowships within and outside our institution. We hope to keep this up! Also, speaking of resources, we are in the midst of reevaluating the stipend levels of our graduate students. Some further discussion will be needed in the Fall to make final determinations, but we have become aware that there are some disparities between our stipends and those in several of our peer institutions. We intend to address this issue as soon as possible.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the intense and essential work carried out by Karina Havrilla in our office. As Phil Cohen soon will find out as the new Graduate Director, her presence is invaluable to the workings of our office. Thanks, Karina, for all your help and efforts!