At a Crossroads
The future of graduate education at Emory

By Amy Benson Brown

Academic Exchange September 2000
Contents Page

We need to develop a broader curriculum . . . to better prepare students for non-academic career paths.
--Bryan Noe, Director of the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

Changing the curriculum to prepare students for non-academic careers could be a gross mistake.
--Pam Hall, Director of Graduate Studies in Women's Studies

A tale of three Ph.D.s

New findings on Emory graduate students

Finding someone with "a clear vision of how to lead the graduate program into a new era, when competition for students will be keener and refinement of programs more important," was uppermost in the minds of the committee that selected the new graduate dean, says Dobbs Professor of Psychology and search committee member Elaine Walker.

In anthropology professor and Graduate Institute for Liberal Arts chair Robert Paul, Walker adds, the committee found a leader with just such a creative vision and deep experience at Emory. "He comes into the position knowing the assets and weaknesses of the graduate school and its various programs."

Paul's charge especially emphasizes faculty scholarship. He is expected to strengthen and sustain Emory's intellectual climate, helping faculty anticipate multidisciplinary themes and questions likely to influence schol-arship. Among his challenges are amplifying faculty voices in graduate school governance, creating more direct and effective links between the budget process and scholarship (such as examining the ways stipend awards relate to the intellectual agenda), and making such areas as computing, statistical services, and grant-writing more effectively support faculty scholarship.

Intensified national debates on the future of graduate education, however, will complicate Paul's task. These discussions place doctoral training squarely at a crossroads. While it has always been at the intersection of the academy's past and future, graduate education today is in many ways a testing ground for the economic and technological forces reshaping higher education. At stake are assumptions about mentoring, traditional approaches to training, and the role of graduate students in the university and larger culture.

NATIONAL DILEMMAS

Growing national consensus, surfacing recently in conferences and reports funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Associ-ation of American Universities, reflects market-driven dissatisfaction with the state of graduate education. For example, the conventional model of apprenticeship, whereby faculty mentors groom doctoral students for research careers like their own, is increasingly being called into question. With a dwindling pool of academic jobs and an expanding economy hungry for workers with advanced analytic and research skills, universities are being urged to prepare Ph.D. candidates to communicate and apply their skills in non-academic settings.

Yet across the country, the lifelong academics who train graduate students face multiple and complex dilemmas. Many feel ill-equipped to direct students toward anything other than university life. The questions recur nationally: how
do faculty mentors help doctoral students move into this transformed job market? Is this even an appropriate role for graduate education?

Students and their mentors also struggle to navigate a crowded intellectual landscape that pulls students toward both interdisciplinary work and increasingly narrow specialization early in their training. At the same time, colleges and other institutions that hire new Ph.D.s primarily to teach complain that fewer candidates have the skills to teach a wide variety of courses to a wide variety of students.

Solutions proposed in the national arena range from simply tinkering with the structures of degrees to re-drawing the very boundaries between the university and the larger culture. Suggestions include:

Re-evaluating the master's degree as a more applied program that might steer some graduate students toward non-academic careers, while preserving lines of graduate funding within departments;

Developing a Ph.D. track in teaching geared to better prepare candidates for the breadth and variety of teaching needed for positions that emphasize teaching;

Designing non-academic internships, "post-docs," and university-community projects that encourage graduate students to make more connections beyond the academy during their doctoral training (the Pew and Woodrow Wilson foundations already fund several such programs).

 

THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE IN PRACTICAL REALMS

According to Provost Rebecca Chopp's 1999 letter to faculty, helping faculty and graduate students "assess careers outside of academia that are likely to allow new scholars to apply theoretical knowledge to practical realms" is part of her vision for "extending the scope of the graduate school." Chopp also calls for continuing the graduate school's traditional mission of training future academics deeply in the established disciplines, while finding ways to approach multidisciplinary questions.

Results of a recent survey of Emory graduate students suggest the local impact of national trends. Three-quarters of the respondents rated their academic experience as very good or excellent, 88 percent believe in the high caliber of their department's faculty, and over two-thirds find faculty accessible and helpful. Roughly two-thirds also said they consider their preparation for teaching to be good to excellent.

Only 36 percent, however, have found faculty helpful in their job search, inside or outside academia. And while half of the respondents are considering careers outside the academy, only 23 percent say faculty have encouraged them to explore such opportunities. Further, some 45 percent of the students seeking advice on careers and life issues related to the profession were disappointed in their advising.

The concern voiced in national conversations about the relationship of graduate education to the thriving information-based economy is also echoed at Emory. The new dean acknowledges that the "noticeable decline in applications in the last year or two" may reflect the lure of today's economy. "College graduates stand a fair chance of going out into the world with a start-up.com and making a million dollars," Paul says. "Are we going to be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest to become researchers and teachers?"

Competition with a lucrative marketplace for stellar college graduates is something "we have to face very aggressively" argues Bryan Noe, Director of the Graduate Division of Biomedical and Biological Sciences. Noe calls for broadening the curriculum both to attract the brightest students who might be drawn into the booming economy and to better enable them to re-enter that larger workforce after graduate training, if they so choose.

Others worry about intensifying competition among graduate programs for the best students. "It used to be that Emory could outbid anyone," notes philosophy professor Pam Hall, Director of Graduate Studies in Women's Studies. "That's no longer the case."

On top of these national dilemmas, some Emory faculty raise questions particular to Emory's culture. How, for instance, will the dean of the graduate school and the dean of the college (also dean of the arts and sciences faculty) collaborate on critical decisions that shape academic departments and define so much of the character and success of graduate programs?

These issues will inevitably influence Paul's work in the coming years. The bottom line, he says, is positioning the graduate school "at the heart of Emory's mission" and seeing it "taken seriously and with increased influence and autonomy as the center and champion of research by faculty and graduate students."