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PhD Program Best Practices at the University of Florida. A Provost Fellowship Project Spring 2006 Prepared by Sylvia Chan-Olmsted Professor and Associate Dean for Research College of Journalism and Communications. Background of the Project.

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phd program best practices at the university of florida

PhD Program Best Practices at the University of Florida

A Provost Fellowship Project

Spring 2006

Prepared by Sylvia Chan-Olmsted

Professor and Associate Dean for Research

College of Journalism and Communications

background of the project
Background of the Project
  • Synopsis: Examine the recruitment, admission, and mentoring practices of PhD programs to identify best practices
  • Rationale: Low completion and high attrition rates mean loss of talent resources/public investment
project objectives
Project Objectives
  • Identify the characteristics of the high/low performing PhD programs
  • Explore the factors associated with above- average program completion patterns
  • Recommend specific practices in PhD recruitment, admission, and mentoring
project process
Project Process

1. Analysis of secondary program data from the graduate school and CGS

2. In-depth personal interviews with the graduate coordinators of selected programs

(Botany, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Computer Engineering, Economics, English, History, Microbiology, Psychology, Physics, and Sociology)

major findings program performance
Major Findings: Program Performance

PhD Completion Rates

  • Three tiers of performers (some underperformed their CGS peers – NCSU & UGA)
major findings program performance1
Major Findings: Program Performance

PhD Attrition Rates

  • Three tiers of performers (four underperformed their CGS peers)
major findings program performance2
Major Findings: Program Performance

PhD Time-to-Degree

  • Sociology, computer engineering, and civil engineering led the group (one underperformed)
major findings recruitment
Major Findings: Recruitment
  • Communication and Information Dissemination
    • Web rules, cold mass mailing considered ineffective
  • Recruitment Activities
    • No systemic off-campus recruitment
    • Limited marketing efforts; peer schools and personal recruitment
notable recruitment practices
Notable Recruitment Practices
  • An extensive Web site that features in-depth program information, online tools for self-assessment of program readiness, and helpful guides on effective applications and success in graduate school.
  • A formal “partner schools” program which institutionalizes the recruitment practices that would benefit all partnered schools
  • A proactive recruitment practice that follows up inquiries with phone calls and waives application fees for eligible domestic students.
  • A proactive investigation (e.g., survey) of the reasons behind an admitted student’s decision not to attend UF.
major findings admissions
Major Findings: Admissions
  • Admission procedures vary greatly among programs (e.g., geographic division of applications)
  • Notable admission practices
    • Separation of the recruitment and admission functions
    • Provision of financial support for on-campus visits after admissions
    • Preference for a program’s own undergraduate students
    • Lack of a sponsored on-campus visit/interview program
    • Limited emphasis on the factor of “fit”
major findings mentoring
Major Findings: Mentoring

It is a highly individualized endeavor, but leaders may cultivate an environment that encourages certain productive mentoring practices

Notable positive practices:

  • The institutionalization of a formal, well-thought-out advisor–student matching system that emphasizes the process of mutual selection and gives junior faculty the needed research assistance.
  • Assignments of faculty advisors after the PhD students have a chance to become acquainted with the faculty.

Notable negative practices:

  • Very uneven distribution of PhD advising loads
major findings program characteristics
Major Findings: Program Characteristics
  • Programs vary greatly in size of applications
major findings program characteristics1
Major Findings: Program Characteristics
  • Programs vary greatly in acceptance rates
major findings program acceptance rates by gender test scores
Major Findings: Program Acceptance Rates by Gender & Test Scores
  • Computer Engineering and Physics – higher acceptance rates for male applicants; Civil Engineering & Chemistry – higher rates for female applicants
  • Chemical Engineering – Highest increase in female acceptance rates
  • Economics, English, Botany, and Psychology – high GPA
  • Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, Economics, Physics, and Chemical Engineering – high GRE scores
major findings program student to faculty ratio
Major Findings: Program Student-to-Faculty Ratio
  • Computer Engineering had the highest ratio
major findings relative size of phd programs
Major Findings: Relative Size of PhD Programs
  • History, Computer Engineering, and to a lesser degree, Civil Engineering had the smallest proportions of PhD degrees awarded
notable program characteristics
Notable Program Characteristics
  • Positive Characteristics: competitive stipend, comparably balanced graduate/undergraduate programs, mid-size program, and mid-range student-to-faculty ratio
  • Negative Characteristics:

low stipend, lack of office space, high student-to-faculty ratio, unstructured curriculum, and very large program size

recommendations recruitment
Recommendations - Recruitment
  • Develop an informative and interactive program website
  • Establish a program to identify and take advantage of “partner schools”
  • Proactively recruit by initiating follow-ups with more personal approaches
  • Waive the application fee for attractive domestic students
  • Proactively investigate the reasons behind an admittee’s decision not to attend UF
recommendations admissions
Recommendations-Admissions
  • Divide the functions of recruitment and admission
  • Provide financial support for on-campus visits of admittees
  • Avoid preferential admission for a program’s own undergraduate students
  • Emphasize the factor of “fit” between students and faculty/program
  • Monitor acceptance rates to avoid comparatively very high acceptance rates
recommendations mentoring
Recommendations: Mentoring
  • Institutionalize a formal advisor–student matching system that emphasizes the process of mutual selection and the factor of “fit”
  • Create opportunities for new PhD students to become acquainted with the faculty before assigning advisors
  • Develop a reward system to ensure a more even distribution of the PhD student advising loads
recommendations program
Recommendations-Program
  • Raise stipend levels to be comparable with peer institutions.
  • Provide adequate office space.
  • Control program size and student-to-faculty ratio.
  • Offer a curriculum that is in line with that of the peer institutions and provides both structure and freedom.
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