This Daily Nous thread on faculty of graduate students caught my eye for a number of reasons: first, because of just how dissatisfied many students in the thread seem to be with their grad program's practices, and second, because of how much better and more responsible some programs seem on these matters than others. Most people in the thread seem to report their programs providing at best perfunctory evaluations of grad student progress. A couple students were so dissatisfied that they sent letters to the APA about it. As one commenter wrote:
I too sent a letter to the APA arguing that Faculty Neglect has a shot at being the single most prevalent kind of systematic injustice in our discipline. I’ve spoken to grads at good schools all over the U.S. and Canada and the stories are just shocking. The failure to meet one’s basic professional obligations seems to be far more common than many of us realize. (This failure, by the way, has a disproportionate effect on those who are already marginalized or otherwise vulnerable, ie women and minorities).
If I were one of these very numerous faculty members, I’d be worried about the following scenario: a bunch of grads document their department’s faulures, get tenure in 4-5 years, and blow up the school’s reputation with a detailed expose.
On the flip side, Nick Byrd gave a detailed account of his program's (excellent) practices, which seem to me a model of what programs should be doing:
I have been very pleased with my department’s/university’s feedback mechanisms:
General evaluation/guidance: Each incoming student is assigned a mentor: the same person for all incoming students. Students can either continue with this mentor or seek mentoring from someone else with whom they connect later on. Each student meets with their mentor before the first semester even starts. First meeting: get-to-know-you + here’s what the department encourages you to do + what do you want to accomplish this year? The student is welcome to meet with their mentor (or others, obviously) throughout the year. At the end of the academic year, the student fills out a 5-6 page “Annual Review” that serves to update their mentor about the year’s coursework, assistantship experiences, conference experiences, works in progress, progress on goals, and suggestions for the department. The mentor then reviews this document and then has a second meeting with the student to discuss the Annual Review, listen to additional thoughts from the student, offer suggestions (if applicable), etc. Then both the mentor and the student write a summary of this second meeting and append these summaries to the Annual Review.
Assistantship evaluation/feedback: At the end of each semester, faculty fill out 2 page evaluations for all of their assistants. This form includes ratings of performance across about 15 dimensions, some short answer questions about the strengths and weakness of the student, and feedback about the students’ teaching/lecturing (where applicable).
[We can have copies of these first two forms of evaluation for our own records]
How the evaluations are used: At the end of the year, the faculty meet to discuss these Annual Reviews, TA evaluations, and perhaps other information (I don’t know much about this meeting). After this meeting, students receive an (obviously templated) letter from the program director that says [a] something generic about the student’s performance, [b] something about the students professional activity (e.g., conferences, publications, etc.), [c] something about the student’s incompletes or failures to meet a GPA requirement (where applicable, obviously), and [d] whether and how the department plans to continue the students future funding (e.g., in case the student hasn’t met the minimum requirements for continued funding).
Intermittent feedback: I find that my department is good about giving feedback throughout the semester, whether it’s about one of your papers, a lecture they observed, etc. This feedback is usually two-fold: (1) a conversation and (2) some form of written feedback (e.g., comments on a paper, notes from a teaching observation, etc.).
Informal feedback: I find that the faculty with whom I have had the pleasure to work are good about (i) giving casual feedback throughout the year — e.g., if I am taking one of their courses — and (ii) being available to talk about all kinds of things (e.g., my work, their work, my progress, helpful stories from their experience in philosophy, advice, etc.). One or two faculty have even initiated an interaction by emailing me or setting up a meeting (e.g, to tell me about a CFP, or a new paper in my wheelhouse, or to discuss an idea they had about what I’m working on, etc.). These interactions are fantastic for all sorts of reasons. And judging from the comments, having faculty who are so thoughtful, available, and interested in offering feedback is a luxury, so I’ll try not to take it for granted.
Optional opportunities for feedback: Our department has a writing group, some reading groups, independent studies, graduate courses on teaching philosophy, and various conferences, colloquiums, etc. — all of which are optional. These are also helpful places to get feedback. Of these, the writing group, the independent studies, and the conferences have provided the best venues for feedback (for me). Writing group: once a month, a student’s paper is read by the group as well as at least one faculty member. Then the author, the readers, and the faculty reader meet to discuss the paper. In my experience receiving feedback from the writing group, this experience is more valuable than the feedback I get at conferences (because everyone has read the paper and people almost always give both verbal and written comments) — this is great, because conferences can be costly in multiple ways and they aren’t always worth it. Independent studies: what students accomplish in an independent study varies widely, but I have used them to have a faculty member guide me through the literature on a topic they know well (i.e., I read things from a reading list that we come up with), get feedback on projects that I am working on (e.g., a paper, a conference presentation, etc.), and read/discuss their work. These independent studies have also been very valuable for, among other reasons, the feedback I receive from them.Conferences: I have made a handful of helpful connections with people via these conferences that have resulted in continued correspondence that has been helpful to my own work.
Miscellaneous: Some faculty in our department will use seminars as an opportunity to video conference with the author of whoever we’re reading on any given week — in fact, our seminar room is now specially equipped with professional-quality video conferencing. In addition to being an awesome grad school experience, these video conferencing experiences have provided some of our graduate students with opportunities to begin corresponding with certain philosophers. And this correspondence has, among other things, resulted in helpful feedback for myself and my peers.
My university also offers other, more general resources to their graduate students (e.g., teaching certificates, teaching workshops, people who give one-on-one advice on your grants/fellowship applications, etc.) that can often serve as, among other things, opportunities to obtain important feedback, but I have written enough already, so I’ll leave it at that.
Anyway, having read the Daily Nous thread, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to probe these issues further--without calling out particular programs. In particular, I was thinking it might be good to have readers weigh in on the following two questions:
- What do you think your program does/did well?
- What do you think your program could/should do better?
Indeed, it could be a real service to bring these issues out into the open more--both to reveal what effective programs are doing, and what not-so-effective programs could do better. So, then, any takers?
[Quick note: please do not call out particular programs, either explicitly or implicitly. Generally speaking, my hope is that insofar as answers to the above questions can be given as generalities, they can be provided in a manner that is suitably anonymized, giving a general idea of things that effective programs and not-so-effective programs do. Oh, and faculty are welcome to share their thoughts too!].