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Strengthening Graduate Education

  • We must strengthen our graduate and postdoctoral programs to attract and recruit high-caliber students and young researchers. Greater attention must be paid to providing competitive financial support, appropriate teaching opportunities, and attractive campus amenities that will contribute to a stronger sense of community among our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Our doctoral programs are central to our ambition as a research university, and we must achieve greater recognition of the quality of our doctoral students and the success they attain.

     

    Our distinction as a research university is shaped by the quality of graduate students we attract and enroll. Although the schools and departments must naturally assume leadership in this area, university-wide values for our aspirations to excel in graduate education are important, and we must explicitly recognize the essential role that graduate students play in our research mission and the contribution they can make to our undergraduate endeavors.

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    • The questions posed regarding graduate education reach the heart of this issue. While faculty drive our research programs, it is graduate students that provide the engines that move them.  Our research aspirations cannot be met without the highest quality students. —Faculty

      Excellent faculty members and excellent graduate students go hand in hand. You will not find one without the other. —Graduate Student

 

    Graduate EducationWe must effectively recruit the highest caliber graduate students to Rice. While this depends primarily on the quality of our faculty and the opportunities that they can create for graduate students, we must assure competitive financial support, generate appropriate teaching opportunities, and create attractive campus amenities. We have already taken measures to ensure that our level of graduate student stipends and other support are more in line with the competition, and we hope to take additional steps in this direction over the coming years.

    Postdoctoral students (those having recently earned their PhD) also play an important role in building our research infrastructure and in enhancing education at all levels. This population already makes a significant contribution by working with and teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and we should increase the number of postdoctoral associates and instructors in our programs commensurate with our growth in funding. To enhance our ability to recruit the best postdoctoral fellows, we should pursue an endowed named postdoctoral program of distinction as a critical part of our research fundraising efforts.

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    • It would be good to have some university- or school-level programs for recruiting postdocs and integrating them into teaching and interaction with undergrad students. Currently the postdoctorals add a valuable level of contact for graduate students and undergrads in doing research projects in the labs and contributing to teaching a course for nonmajors in the department. Postdoctoral fellowships would fit into the training mission of the university and could help serve as additional instructional staff. —Faculty

      Graduate students (and postdocs) are the heart of the laboratory and often make the largest contribution of time and talent to the research. —Faculty

      I also would like to see more postdoctoral fellows at the university. It provides an opportunity for these newly created PhD scholars to work, research, write, and teach. When they leave Rice for furtherance of their careers, I believe it adds to Rice’s reputation as a place where scholarship is encouraged and good teaching is supported. —Staff

 

    Although departments are the focus of graduate recruiting, a university-wide effort to advance Rice’s reputation as a graduate institution will be critical to our attracting the best and brightest students in the coming decade. Our strategy should be to make “Rice” a recognized name, known widely for its quality of education at all levels. We must actively support departmental and school-based recruiting of graduate students to assure the most effective communication of Rice’s programs and offerings. This requires assessing our recruiting strategy and infrastructure and making the required changes to market Rice as an outstanding choice for graduate studies in those areas in which we excel.

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    • “Marketing” Rice as a research university is important. This should include highlighting the positive aspects of being a graduate student at Rice, first and foremost a collaborative environment; this is probably better achieved with a university-wide effort rather than with efforts from single departments. Besides marketing, a real improvement in the attractiveness of the graduate programs can only be achieved with better research opportunities, which translates simply in more money and space for the department with a strong focus on research. Recruiting more postgraduate fellows should be part of this strategy because of the potential impact they can have on research efforts. —Alum

 

    Each of the departments will need to examine their programs, ensuring that we offer the best curricula and research opportunities for our students. Advancing in rankings will be critical to achieve the level of recognition that will attract the most talented students. Some departments may choose to focus on a postdoctoral program in lieu of a graduate program, deciding that the resources are more effectively deployed at this higher level. We must assure space and support for departments with strong graduate and research programs and support interdisciplinary graduate programs in emerging areas that have dedicated faculty engagement.

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    • It is the strong research program, not more stipends, that attracts top-ranked students. The priority should be placed in building strong research programs in the selective areas. —Alum

 

    Our ability to attract high-caliber graduate students requires providing these future professors with appropriate teaching opportunities to develop their pedagogical skills. This experience is valuable not only for those who wish to enter the academy—indeed, it is critical for those seeking academic jobs—but industry expectations also are such that our graduate students must be able to communicate their knowledge effectively to a broad spectrum of audiences. We believe that teaching experience will make our graduates, future teachers, and others more successful in the different kinds of careers they pursue upon graduation.

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    • One challenge of Rice’s policy of having all courses taught by faculty is that graduate students who hope to become professors have little opportunity to 'practice' and learn the techniques of good teaching. This may be discouraging some top graduate students from attending Rice. Some parts of many courses can be effectively taught by grad students with proper mentoring, and I don’t feel this would have to be detrimental to the students in the courses. —Alum

      Our opportunities for professional development (for a career in the academy) are, as you’ve acknowledged, lacking. We must have the opportunity to teach or at least assist faculty. Some of the best faculty in the world are at Rice—give us the opportunity to learn from them. —Graduate Student

 

    Although providing graduate students with more teaching opportunities is imperative, the teaching of undergraduates by faculty is a fundamental Rice value that cannot be compromised. Undergraduates indicate that graduate students can be an important aspect of Rice, adding significantly to their experience and enhancing the curricular offerings. In general, graduate students who teach upper-level courses in their area of expertise receive excellent evaluations, suggesting undergraduates often value talented teaching by graduate students as much as teaching by tenure-track faculty. Preparing graduate students to teach more effectively enhances both the undergraduate experience and the value of our graduate training. Graduate students can (and do) lead small study sections in larger introductory courses, and experiences such as these could be enhanced by the departments.

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    • Of course, as an undergraduate, I am very concerned about the quality of teaching. On the other hand, I know that: graduate students are some of the best teachers that I’ve had so far, and they are vital to the intellectual fabric of this school. Expand their ranks, and support them in all ways that you can. —Undergraduate Student

 

    Determinations about graduate student teaching are (and should be) made at the departmental level. There are, however, a variety of ways we can enhance our undergraduate curricular offerings and provide graduate students critical experience in teaching without reducing our commitment to undergraduate teaching by full-time faculty. We might also explore opportunities for graduate students to teach courses through the residential colleges, in specialized programs focused on skills training or discipline-specific pedagogy, or in new summer programs.

    As is already the case in many departments, an integral and highly efficient mode for expanding the undergraduate research experience is for graduate students to supervise, teach, and mentor undergraduates in research experiences. This process may include graduate students teaching a seminar or course in their own research area, supervising undergraduates in a faculty member’s research program, or advising and providing assistance to undergraduates as they navigate methodological and technology issues pertaining to their research.

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    • Graduate programs add a lot to the Rice undergraduate experience. Graduate students are serious and they make Rice more academic. One way to encourage interaction is to do what [one] department did last year—allow carefully selected graduate students to teach a course in one of their areas of expertise. I heard good feedback from students in these courses. One thing we should not do is have graduate students teach introductory classes. —Undergraduate Student

      My comment concerns the teaching opportunities for graduate students, which are somewhat meager. On the one hand, that gives us time to pursue our own research; on the other, it makes us less attractive job candidates. I think graduate students could offer noncredit lecture series (that wouldn’t affect Rice’s student–professor ratio) in their area of expertise that would focus on topics that they themselves find fascinating. —Graduate Student

      Instead of just providing grad students with a forum in which to teach, I believe that we should provide an environment in which they can learn to teach well. Rice could improve upon the status quo by providing 'learn to teach' conferences for grad students or by recording graduate student lectures/sessions for later analysis with a teaching professional. It seems to me that adding graduate student teaching should be designed to be as instructive to graduate students as it is to those being taught. —Alum

 

    In moving forward, we must assure that graduate students engage as full participants in our community. Our goals are to provide graduate students in the coming years with a significant improvement in campus amenities, including eating facilities, as the plans for the Central Quadrangle and recreation center take shape. Additional housing should be constructed, perhaps by including graduate students along with undergraduates, in an off-campus facility near the campus. We are also working to provide graduate students with more adequate space where there are pressing needs.

    The Call to Conversation has made clear our need to foster a sense of community and greater interaction of graduate students with each other and with undergraduates. Building the appropriate bridges between the graduate and undergraduate population is an important step in this direction, whether this occurs through formal classroom instruction and research supervision or through more informal involvement in the residential colleges.

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    • For Rice to rise to the next level as a national research university, we will need to commit additional resources to our graduate students and start treating them like the valuable members of this community that they are. —Faculty

      As a graduate student, I think I felt more part of a department and a part of a circle of fellow students and faculty than I felt a part of the university. In fact, there were certain details, not obvious at first but apparent after a while, that made me, as a graduate student, feel a bit of a second-class citizen. Some things have improved since then, such as graduate housing. However, I’m not sure whether the mindset has really changed since I graduated. —Alum

      Graduate students here at Rice suffer to some extent. I, for one, do not feel that I am part of the university community in the least. Coming to Rice, I was excited for the social dynamic of a small university.  However, once I got here, I found a complete lack of intimacy, connection with any other population at the university (including undergrads or faculty), and a general lack of respect. We are not looked up to as mentors by undergrads, nor are we given a place for a cup of coffee and conversation on campus. —Graduate Student

 

Graduate student quality is an important metric in assessing our status, and we must place a priority on serving the needs of our graduate population to be a first-class research university. Ensuring that our students feel a part of the university, are provided the services and support needed to excel, and h