What Students Need to Know

Published: Tues., August 21


At New Student Orientation this year, Dr. Carr (Dean of Graduate Education) shared important information for all graduate students about their responsibilities as students. These remarks are transcribed and condensed from his comments.

There are a lot of different graduate programs on this campus and every one of them has their own personality. For example, there are Master’s programs that are non-thesis, they are coursework and experiential only. There are degrees in which a dissertation is not written, for example there are doctoral programs where the product is an exhibit or a performance. So, there are a lot of different ways in which education takes place at the graduate level. That being said, you need to get to know your program; the people in it, the resources, to understand how things are done in your degree program because it’s going to be slightly different from one degree program to the next on campus. But I think that expectations that are common to all programs are worth talking about.

Expectations

1. We expect you to do well and succeed

While we don’t always say that explicitly, that’s the underlying philosophy of all that we do in graduate education. We do not accept people into graduate programs to see them fail. That’s not our purpose. We expect professors to do their best and we expect you to do your best and to make that happen we have to form tight partnerships, so in a way this is different than undergraduate education.

2. We expect you to form a strong partnership with your faculty mentor

To optimize your time in graduate school, we have to have tight partnership between you and your professors, advisors, or mentors. Oftentimes, you will have a single advisor (someone who is going to be your research mentor and your coursework advisor, so having that relationship is really critical to making this an optimal experience. There’s also another key point I wanted to emphasize about that relationship, there is a shift of responsibility that goes from professors at the undergraduate level to you at the graduate level. You need to really take up that responsibility and be the driver. Your success really relies on you. That is why we have to have this great partnership with staff and others on campus because without you as the driver it’s not going to work very well.

When I say “responsibility” I’m thinking about things like knowing the policies, knowing the culture that exists in your departments, knowing the expectations, finding resources, submitting the right forms at the right time, knowing timelines, knowing deadlines. We do a lot of handholding for our undergrads, not so at the graduate level. Your professors, your mentors are really going to be focusing most on your academic work, your research, your internships, whatever you’re engaged in so you need to be managing your daily affairs.

3. We expect that if and when problems arise you will seek help

Things don’t always go smoothly so when you feel that you need some help, we always like to see you try to address any issues that come up in your department. Work with your mentor or work with your graduate chair first. If you need additional help, we do have person in the Office of Graduate Studies, her name is Dr. Eva Bachman . She carries the title Academic Success Coordinator and she acts as a neutral party or an advocate for you to help you work out any rough spots and she has a wealth of information and she is well-connected with the programs on campus and she can help resolve any bumps in the road.

Another important resource on campus that was briefly mentioned by the panel was the GSA, the Graduate Student Assembly--the graduate students’ governmental body, it is the advocacy group for you. The membership is made up of graduate students. The GSA also works closely with our office. We’re constantly in touch and making sure that we’re addressing graduate student concerns on campus. One of the things that the GSA achieved last year was developing a Graduate Student Bill of Rights.

4. We expect you to use your available resources

Also, on the Graduate Studies website we have other guidebooks that I hope you read and get familiar with—the Mentoring Guidebook and the Guidelines for Good Practice in Graduate Education. These are available to you as students but also to the faculty mentors.

5. Abide by the Student Code of Conduct

We expect graduate students to maintain a high level of academic integrity. We expect graduate students to conduct themselves with professionalism and to be respectful of peers and colleagues. It wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the Student Code of Conduct as well and brief yourself on all aspects that are covered in that document.

Progress and Milestones

Progress and milestones go together. This is more of the mechanics of what is expected. The key point for progress is that you need to make progress. You need to make continuous progress and the only way to do that successfully is with that strong partnership with your faculty mentors. Each department, each program may have a slightly different way in which they track progress. In some departments, it is simply a conversation and timelines that are agreed upon between you and your mentor. There are some departments that have more regular and what I would call routine processes for the whole program. I’m thinking of one department that has a checklist and has you sit down with your advisor, and sometimes a faculty committee, and go through the checklist. Have these things been accomplished and they actually talk about the quality of the work as well, so there’s this constant feedback to you which is very helpful. For a full-time student, we expect the full amount of progress to be made that year.

Graduate education has very specific steps that have to be met as you’re making progress. For example, if you’re in a doctoral program you need to form a supervisory committee. That committee is made up of your advisor as well as other members of the faculty. That form has to be completed, it has to be signed, it has to be submitted, and it has to be recorded. So that represents a particular milestone. Whether you’re in a Master’s or doctoral program, you need to meet with your advisors and develop a plan of study, a set of courses, a set of experiences that you are going to do over the next 2, 3, 4, 5 years. At the Master’s level, we call that a Memorandum of Courses—it’s a form. At the doctoral level, it’s called the Program of Study—it’s a form. These are milestones, these are the things that have to be accomplished, and there are very specific timelines and windows of time that these have to be accomplished. Go to the Graduate Studies website and look up what the milestones are. It’s very critical that you stick to them. There’s a lot of headache and problems that can be created if you miss a deadline in getting a form submitted. It could mean you are not able to graduate in the semester you had intended.

Professional Code and Freedom of Expression

I mentioned the Student Code of Conduct earlier and the Student Code of Conduct applies to all students on campus and these are pretty obviously things such as bringing alcohol on campus and cheating on an exam. But there is a Professional Code that applies to graduate students and I’m going to read the first couple paragraphs of it. This covers a professional code that is not in the student code of conduct; this is just for you.

Graduate education must take place in an environment in which free expression, free inquiry, intellectual honesty, and respect for the rights and dignity of others can be expected. Ethical standards of conduct should help ensure, not compromise, these features of the university environment.

All graduate students are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic and professional conduct in all aspects of their training and in all interactions with peers, faculty, staff, and other members of the academic community. Any failure to do so may be grounds for being placed on probation and/or dismissal.

Of course, no one here would ever come close to violating such a code. The first thing that’s talked about here is free expression, which can be open to interpretation, so what I’m going to do is break it down into ways in which I think about it and ways I hope will be helpful. Let’s break it down into two parts: Freedom of Speech, which is protected by the first amendment and that applies to all citizens and, in fact, all non-citizens who are in the United States. We also have a different set of guidelines and that’s called Academic Freedom. And I think it’s very important to think about these in compartmentalized ways because at no time would we ever want to limit free speech as protected by the First Amendment. Never would we do that. And those are laws that are in place. Academic Freedom is a set of guidelines, they’re not laws. They’re a set of guidelines that were established in 1940 by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and we still follow those guidelines.

Academic Freedom says that:

1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.

2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

So clearly open to interpretation, so my advice, and please take it as advice, is that when you are in the classroom and you are being hired by the university to be a teacher, put on that teacher hat and follow the guidelines of academic freedom. And use your judgment. If you feel the urge to express a personal opinion, know that you may be judged for that outside the course. If it were me, I would not venture that far, I would reserve my free speech rights for another time. Those are my friendly words of advice, they’re not mandates.

The Office of Graduate Studies has an open door. We exist because you have enrolled in the Graduate College. You did not enroll in the department that you’re in, you enrolled in the Graduate College. The department you’re in offers the curriculum and training. When you graduate, you will be introduced as members of the Graduate College. We have an open door. We have a marvelous staff. Take full advantage of it.