How grad school could be changed
“The cost of graduate education has repercussions for the humanities and social sciences, which is one reason you are seeing smaller admissions numbers and some program closings. It also has repercussions for the laboratory sciences, where I am seeing too many faculty members shift from taking on graduate students to hiring postdocs. Unfortunately, they regard postdocs as a less expensive and more stable alternative to graduate students, and postdocs come without the same burdens of education or job placement that otherwise fall on the faculty member who hires doctoral students. I want to underline that I don’t think that graduate programs should be cheaper, but we can’t have an honest conversation about their future unless we acknowledge their cost.
‘What might those changes look like at your medium-size private university? I am not sure. If I were, I’d be writing a white paper for the dean of our graduate school rather than talking with you. They would probably include coursework designed to prepare doctoral students for nonacademic careers, internship options, and even multiple dissertation options.I have a sense of what this could look like in my own discipline, but this needs to be a collective conversation. Anyone can chart out a “vision” and write it up for The Chronicle. It’s another thing altogether to make it work, starting from the ground up, at one’s own university with the enthusiastic support of everyone involved. For that to happen, there needs to be sustained, open dialogue about the real challenges. And most administrators and faculty are unwilling to engage in that work in a serious way until they see examples of similar changes in the very top programs in their fields. Why does this kind of change have to start from the top?
“Both faculty and administrators are extremely sensitive to the hierarchies of prestige that drive the academy. In most fields, the majority of faculty members who populate research universities have graduated from a handful of top programs—and they spend the rest of their careers trying to replicate those programs, get back to them, or both. They are worried about doing anything that diverges from what those top programs do, and will argue strongly that divergences place them at a competitive disadvantage in both recruiting and placing graduate students.Administrators are just as much to blame as faculty for that state of collective anxiety. No matter what deans, provosts, and presidents say, we all rely too heavily on rankings and other comparative metrics that play directly into these conservative dynamics.”
“Is this a version of the “mini-me syndrome,” in which advisers try to mold their graduate students in their own image, writ large? That is certainly part of it. The desire to see your own scholarly passions continue through students you have trained is truly powerful,and administrators underestimate that desire at their peril. Of course we all want our faculty members to be passionate about their research, and graduate training is one way that faculty research makes an impact on the profession. But there are moments when the desire for scholarly replication can be troubling. The training of graduate students should fill a greater need than our personal desire for a legacy.”