The Task Force on the Future of PhD Education at Boston University was created in spring 2022 to consider several critical questions around the efficacy of BU’s existing approaches to PhD education, to look at proposals and models across the higher education landscape that may apply to and benefit the University’s own strategies, and to ultimately develop a set of recommendations for how BU can move forward.
Associate Dean, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; Professor of Chemistry, College of Arts & Sciences
Associate Provost for Graduate Affairs; Professor of Sociology, College of Arts & Sciences
Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Programs; Associate Professor of Marketing, Questrom School of Business
Professor of Sociology, College of Arts & Sciences
Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy, College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College
Assistant Vice President and Assistant Provost for Research Development and PhD & Postdoctoral Affairs
Ahmad (Mo) Khalil
Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
Professor of English, College of Arts & Sciences
Professor of Education and Linguistics, Wheelock College of Education & Human Development
Professor of Biology, College of Arts & Sciences
Assistant Dean for Graduate Medical Sciences; Professor of Microbiology, School of Medicine
Dean, College of Fine Arts
National-level debates about the need to examine the established organization and character of PhD education have been going on for at least the past two decades, and ideas about appropriate restructuring have filled reports from organizations as wide-ranging as the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and the Mellon Foundation. Motivations for reflection on the existing norms and practices of PhD education include the relatively low percentage of PhD graduates who secure tenure track faculty positions, the failure to train PhD students for a wide array of careers, the uneven quality of faculty mentoring, the adequacy of funding for students pursuing the PhD, and shortcomings in efforts to diversify the PhD student population.
With important changes taking place on the PhD education landscape and increasing attention to these changes, it is time for Boston University to consider the future of PhD education at our institution. What established practices and policies are serving BU well and which should be rethought? What models and proposals exist across the higher education landscape that Boston University might learn from?
Questions for the Task Force
- Is it time to revisit the disparity in stipend support between different programs and guarantee 12 months of stipend support for PhD students across all programs?
- Should BU consider a ‘one in/one out’ model that allows one entering PhD student for each student who graduates for some or all of its programs?
- How can BU create more equity across its programs and require less real-time funding extensions and/or piecing together funding for students to ensure they complete their degrees?
- For students interested in exploring non-academic career pathways, how can funding models better support this exploration (e.g., internships), particularly in grant-funded STEM settings? Might new models be piloted or institutionalized at BU?
- What criteria should be used to help determine whether PhD programs have their student populations reduced or increased?
- Are there any systematic changes BU can make in graduate programs to ensure PhD students get an appropriately expansive education?
- With the changing job market for PhDs, should BU allow new, non-traditional approaches to dissertations?
- Should BU’s degree programs include or require internship milestones, and how would it look for students pursuing academic career pathways?
- What are ways BU can respond to the absence of sufficient ‘support’ teachers (teaching fellows/assistants) to meet the needs of undergraduate programs? Might it make sense to create teaching postdoc positions?
- Should we adopt any standard expectations for dissertation committee structures or qualifying examinations, and would any operational structures benefit from centralization?
- Should BU consider mentorship models outside the traditional dyadic structures for PhD students?
- What actions might BU take to support PhD student wellness?
- Should BU develop criteria for faculty to remain in good advising/mentoring standing, and should bridge funding mechanisms be established to help ensure that students who encounter inhospitable climate, culture, or faculty mentoring can be assured a pathway to complete their degrees?
- Are there additional policies and practices BU can put in place to further diversify its PhD student body and create an inclusive PhD education culture?
Task force members can access information and documents here.