After a year of research, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Thomas Pollard unveiled a set of recommendations intended to strengthen Yale’s doctoral programs Thursday.
In an email to Graduate School faculty and students, Pollard released a 20-page list of nine measures aimed at improving mentoring, along with a 29-page list of “best practices” that departments are already using to meet these nine standards. The study found that stronger programs often already use many of these best practices, Pollard said, though five professors interviewed said some of the recommendations are best suited to science and engineering programs.
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“I know what works in biology,” said Pollard, who served as chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department from 2004 to 2010, “but exactly how to pull this off in different disciplines is going to be decided by the experts in the various fields.”
Pollard said he has already met individually with the chairs and directors of graduate studies for 20 graduate programs to discuss the recommendations, and plans to eventually meet with representatives from all of the roughly 60 programs.
This report comes on the heels of former Graduate School Dean Jon Butler’s “2-4 Project,” an initiative started in 2006 and revived in 2009 to provide additional support to students in their second, third and fourth years of graduate study.
Pollard said that project prompted positive changes for many departments, but that these reforms were not implemented across all programs.
“A lot of stuff this [new] report addressed was already brought up in that [2-4 Project] report,” said Director of Graduate Studies for Religious Studies Dale Martin GRD ’88, adding that Pollard’s measures put “more force behind it.”
Pollard said his recommendations are meant to prepare students to efficiently complete their dissertations.
Each doctoral program is expected to assign research projects early in students’ careers to give them additional experience and administer qualifying exams before the middle of the third year to gauge progress. The programs should also require students to present their work to colleagues at least once per year, according to Pollard.
Other recommendations focus on how departments can improve mentoring by tracking students’ progress and offering feedback at regular intervals.
The “best practices” document devotes six pages to a single recommendation — that advisers conduct formal meetings with groups of students to discuss their work or research in their field. Faculty members in programs ranging from English to immunobiology explain their current methods in the report.
But some professors said that Pollard’s recommendations fit science and technology programs better than humanities programs.
“Many in the humanities think that Dean Pollard is a scientist, and the attitude given by the report is heavily weighted to the way it is done in the sciences,” Martin said.
He said frequent informal meetings between advisers and students — one of Pollard’s recommendations — are not reasonable in the Religious Studies Department, where work is more solitary than in scientific fields. Graduate school should be a time for humanities students to decide whether the isolation suits them, he said, adding that he is confident that humanities programs will not be forced to make unnecessary changes.
Susan Nolen-Hoeksema ’82, chair of the Psychology Department, also acknowledged that some recommendations suit certain programs better than others, but she said the majority could work for all fields.
“Most of the recommendations seem to me to be easily adapted to any discipline, whether in the humanities, social sciences or natural sciences,” she said.
The report also called for improved career services, better data collection and more study space for humanities students.