GSA pushes Ph.D. funding

The Graduate Student Assembly is lobbying the administration to provide more funding for Ph.D. students who need a sixth year to complete their dissertations.

The formal Graduate School funding package finances five years of study for doctoral candidates, but many students spend an additional year to finish their research. Ksenia Sidorenko GRD ’15, who is leading the project for the GSA, said there has been a steady increase in sixth-year students seeking funding by teaching on campus rather than relying solely on external grants or fellowships, adding that the GSA has already approached the Yale Corporation about support for students beyond their allotted five years. But Pamela Schirmeister ’80 GRD ’88, associate dean of the Graduate School, said budgetary constraints and the wide range of circumstances that compel students to require extra time would make it difficult to effect change across departments.

“There are a lot of complex factors that go into time to a degree. It’s not a cut-and-dried simple issue of students who need more time or don’t need more time,” Schirmeister said.

The Graduate School’s funding package provides students with three years of stipend support and two years of funded teaching time — which students usually complete as teaching fellows during their third and fourth years — during which period they are guaranteed a teaching position on Yale’s campus. Students seeking teaching positions after these “priority teaching years” must wait until all third- and fourth-year students have been assigned their teaching positions before they find out whether they will be able to work as TFs.

Still, Schirmeister said the majority of sixth-years are able to receive non-Yale funding. For the few students who require additional funding to complete their degree and cannot secure money from Yale or elsewhere, Schirmeister said administrators might be more likely to consider establishing small-scale competitive sixth-year funding as a “safety net.” But she added that any major policy decisions will need to wait until the University’s upper administration transitions next year.

Due to fluctuations in student course enrollment during shopping period, Sidorenko said the number of TF positions each year remains uncertain until several weeks into the semester, which aversely affects students no longer on the funding package.

“It seems that as it is, most people who do require sixth-year teaching manage to get it in some form,” Sidorenko said. “It’s just not very efficiently allocated and causes a lot of stress in terms of [planning for the] year ahead.”

Many students who cannot find teaching positions at Yale look to neighboring institutions such as Southern Connecticut State University or Quinnipiac for teaching jobs, which Schirmeister said could make them more attractive candidates on the job market. But Jennifer Nelson GRD ’13 said many students have difficulty getting these off-campus jobs.

Though Schirmeister said many students’ research requires at least six years to complete, she added that many Yale professors completed their dissertations within four years.

The seven sixth-year graduate students interviewed each said they found grants or teaching positions to finance their sixth year of graduate work, but three said they know other students who have struggled to fund the completion of their research.

“I definitely know people who are experiencing struggles to get a teaching assignment, and if you don’t get that, you’re pretty much hung up to dry,” said William Weber GRD ’13.

Weber said the English Department, in which he is doing graduate work, has stable funding and teaching positions for students in their sixth year. Still, he added that these opportunities vary widely across departments.

Nelson said she is frustrated by the “hole” in Yale’s funding program, as most students, especially in the humanities, cannot complete their dissertations without at least one more year of research, adding that she thinks sixth-year students should also be given priority for teaching assignments.

“My favorite option is to have six years of funding, though I don’t think that’s possible,” Nelson said. “I think everyone knows that no one really finishes in five years.”

The Graduate School funding package also includes stipendiary support for three summers.

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