PhD Committee

Strategic Plan Progress Report April 2021

Committee Name: PhD Committee

Committee Members:  Kristi Slack, Pajarita Charles, Tova Walsh, Emmy Roper, Seungmi Cho, Luke Muentner.

Strategic Plan Goal: Improve a sense of inclusion for our students, faculty & staff.


1) Review/begin to address equity in opportunities for training /research experiences.

2) Connect students with more faculty around their skill-building, mentoring, and networking needs.

Progress on goal since February 2021

Objective 1:

Have been able to place 3 students in hourly research positions to create more equity in research opportunities

Update: inequities in compensation remain in place. Given that L&S HR forces a choice between a student hourly pay cap of $15/hr. or requires partial tuition remission if we set up a PA-ship to complement an existing PA/RA/TA-ship, as a result, and given that tuition remission for these additional research experiences is beyond our budget capacity, these additional opportunities either cannot be offered at all or create situations where some PhD students getting paid less than their counterparts. 

Were able to facilitate students who hit their financial aid caps getting to keep their merit award money, but it was on a case-by-case basis.

Update: It is federal (Dept. of Education) policy that drives the problem of students whose financial aid caps have been maximized being unable to receive merit awards outright. Instead, federal policy requires such awards to be applied toward paying down student loans, resulting in students without as much financial need being able to keep their merit awards, and students with more financial need not being allowed to do so.  Advocacy is needed at the federal level to change this policy.

Update: some students described the process of increasing their financial aid caps as “intrusive” and “humiliating”, given the nature of the questions and the requirements for proof of need. PhD Program Chair met with the Director of the Office of Financial Aid to make her aware of this problem, and to request that anything that can be done to make this process less problematic for students would be greatly appreciated.

We are holding two discussion sessions with students on creating an anti-racist and anti-oppressive PhD program and curriculum.

Update: We held two of these sessions, and notes will be compiled and distributed to students and faculty before the start of AY21-22.

Objective 2:

Collective mentoring initiative (to connect more of our faculty with more of our PhD students) is being further implemented this year, and we are in the process of collecting information to complete a collective mentoring booklet for faculty (about students and their mentoring, skill-building, and networking needs) and one for the students (about the faculty and their mentoring, skill-building, and networking resources). 

Update: We are still waiting on a few faculty to complete the survey they were sent and we decided to hold off on administering the student survey until after the semester is over, due to students feeling survey fatigued.

Our peer-mentoring initiative continued this year, but we initiated the peer mentoring over the summer prior to the arrival of the incoming cohort, and this helped to build community between the new and current students before the semester began.

Update: We are off to an even earlier start with the incoming cohort of students this Fall.  Peer mentors have all been assigned.

We have invited two national speakers to talk about leadership development from a DE&I lens.

Update: We ended up hosting only one national speaker in the Fall to discuss leadership, given the excessive time demands on students and reports of Zoom fatigue. These invited talks will resume next year and may be held virtually in some cases, given that classes will be back in-person and students will not be spending so much time on Zoom.

Both Objectives 1 & 2

We have created a more efficient system for circulating information on events, trainings, and other resources and opportunities to students in the PhD program using Teams channels to centralize such information. We have ramped up including items related to DE&I and leadership skills.

Update: Our move to Microsoft Teams as a central platform for sharing information has worked really well and greatly reduced the burden on students of receiving too many emails. A review of the opportunities we have shared throughout the year shows that topics addressing diversity, equity and inclusion were prevalent.

When students in our program have expertise to share through workshops or lunch and learns, we are able to compensate them with up to $150 in academic books.

Update: We did this initially, but then were informed that we cannot purchase books for students. We are now giving students $150 scholarships instead.

What is your committee’s message to all stakeholders (including students) on the progress of meeting those goals?

We are making steady progress on our goals but have hit some roadblocks that are situated in other campus units (HR, Financial Aid, Business Services).  Students are highly engaged in efforts to improve the program, as are our faculty. Challenges going forward are to keep advocating for campus changes that allow us to fully implement our goals, to achieve meaningful buy-in from all of our PhD faculty on the collective mentoring model, and to articulate and operationalize a vision for an anti-racist PhD Program.