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Grad students receive $100,000

Emma Driscoll | Friday, January 20, 2006

Beginning this year, Notre Dame graduate students have been taking a little time from research of their own to assist in a study of doctoral students’ habits.

In 2004, Notre Dame Graduate School received a $100,000 grant from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) to conduct a research project to examine the socialization of graduate doctoral students.

The CGS gave 15 grants to various graduate schools that designed a project to research and develop ways to improve the doctoral experience for students in areas such as mentoring, financial support and program environment.

Notre Dame’s study, led by Dr. Peter Diffley, associate dean of the Graduate School and principal investigator for the project, involves offering surveys to first-year Ph.D. students at Notre Dame and Purdue in hopes of tracking their entire doctoral experiences.

The study commenced when an initial survey was given to students at the start of the fall 2005 semester and continued with another survey during that semester. A third survey will be given at the beginning of the spring 2006 semester, a fourth during that semester and a fifth at the academic year’s end. Funding for the project will continue during the next two years, with three surveys issued each year.

Approximately 300 students from 14 departments at Notre Dame and 14 departments at Purdue participated last semester. The first survey met a 41 percent response rate, and the response grew to 56 percent for the second survey.

Surveys asked about demographic information, the challenges and the successes that students anticipate and topics such as the role of students’ families in their doctoral experiences. Later surveys follow up these questions. The study as a whole seeks to observe changes in students’ expectations as they encounter real experiences.

A lottery is held as an incentive for students to take part in the survey. Participants’ names are entered into the lottery, and one winner is chosen to win $1,000. The first winner of the lottery was Joseph Herzog, an electrical engineering student.

Herzog said the research project will enrich his own doctoral experience. He encouraged students to participate because “they can help other people with their research so that they can have more data.”

Data gathered from the surveys will be used “to get a sense of what experience students have here, as well as at Purdue, so that the Graduate School can enhance its programming for Ph.D. students,” said Cecilia Lucero, Ph.D., assistant to the dean.

A peer mentoring program has already been launched as a result of the data, as well as a “Careers for Masters Program.” This program will help graduate students who are considering careers outside of academia. The Graduate School also seeks feedback on services, such as campus visitations, to see how they impact prospective graduate students and how they can be improved.

“Information will help us develop programming better to meet the needs of doctoral students,” Lucero said.