Emory Report
January 29, 2007
Volume 59, Number 17

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January 29 , 2007
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

by Helen anne richards

When Emory graduate student Josh Plotnik enters the job market with a Ph.D. in psychology, he wants to find a position teaching at a research university, and continue to study complex social behavior in chimpanzees and elephants.

His prospects look great. He’ll hold a doctorate from a respected university, and he’s entering one of the best job markets since the 1960s. Plotnik and others like him will replace the thousands of 60-something baby boomers just beginning to reach retirement age.

But graduate students are not looking exclusively at jobs in the academy. They are also taking positions in museums, libraries, non-governmental organizations, government and industry.

The Graduate School and its new dean, Lisa Tedesco, are working to ensure that its graduates will be ready to take on the challenges of both worlds — that they will be teachers, researchers and scholars who are prepared to contribute to the public good, working inside or outside the academy.

“We have a deep responsibility not to squander our resources,” Tedesco said. “The care and mindfulness with which we proceed is exquisitely important.”

The Graduate School is undertaking an assessment of its programs and policies to help map thea way forward.

The Graduate School occupies a unique place at Emory. Its programs span every school in the university, giving it great flexibility to create interdisciplinary study. Along with a number of faculty colleagues, the dean and Graduate School staff are currently examining ways to assemble the best minds on campus to address issues.

One initiative on the drafting table is an institute for advanced graduate study that would provide a place for visiting professors, post-doctoral and graduate students, and resident professors to work in an interdisciplinary context to engage the most complex issues of this day and on public scholarship. Later this spring, Tedesco hopes to engage a faculty group to explore ideas for structure and funding.

Another important priority is protecting funding for graduate fellowships in all fields. As the University confronts the downturn of a very robust cycle of external funding in the health sciences, Tedesco is seeking ways to ensure that funding for graduate students in the sciences stays strong at Emory.

Making a difference in the world and conducting interdisciplinary research for the greater good are not new concepts to the Emory Graduate School. Dennis Liotta, professor of chemistry and co-developer of Emtriva, an AIDS drug, regularly connects the humanities and social sciences to the health sciences. He said that 80 percent of projects in his area are done in collaboration.

“The real problems that face society are so complex that no one person is capable of asking or answering all of the questions,” he said. “A collaboration comes closer because, by its nature, it involves more people, and students turn out to be the glue that holds it together. Students go back and forth among researchers and come up with their own insights.”

Another important concern of the Graduate School is supporting graduate students. Tedesco would like to offer services to help students manage the challenges of graduate school, whether that involves satisfying degree requirements, making good arrangements for children and other dependents, or handling finances.

Tedesco says that the Graduate School has a brilliant future and the difficult, quiet work of assessment and planning currently underway will allow the school to excel. “We must look at how we have worked in the past and determine what will serve us best in the future,” she said.