Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Graduate Student Recruitment

Obviously, I'm not an expert on the subject (Graduate Student Recruitment), but the method my new department uses is, in my highly naive opinion, stupid. Yes, that is a technical term.

Just so everyone is level: first, all interested students apply. Then all of the applications are sent to a single (yes, one) professor who determines if the student is "worthy" to be a part of the program. At this point, the student is deemed "admissible" or "non-admissible". However, the student is not told of their status. Then, admissible applicant's files are put in a pile (technically, a file drawer) in the department office where professors can peruse through them with all of the other "admissible" applicant's files. At some point, the department secretary compiles a list of all of the admissible applicants, and mails it out to the faculty. Faculty can "claim" students at any point during this process. Once one faculty member has claimed a student, no other faculty member can claim that student, unless the student rejects faculty member A. Once a faculty member has "claimed" a student, the faculty member makes a formal offer to the student which is worded something like: "You are accepted to University X, pending that you work for me." So, essentially, the student can either a) work for the professor and get in or b) not work for the professor and not get in. There is the potential for c) not for the professor, and maybe another professor is waiting in the wings, but that scenario is not likely.

There are several major flaws with this system. The most obvious: the pressure that students face to accept offers to work with professors on research that they may not be interested in. This leads to students changing groups (a lot). Second problem (and I faced this already), professors claiming students and not following through. This means that students essentially lose out on potential grad school offers, and professors lose out on graduate students.

The school/department I went to for graduate school had a different system - students were admitted on-mass. We had one year to find an adviser (before summer break). Some of us were funded through TA's; some were funded through department funding. Other departments with a similar system gave until winter break. Apparently, my current department used this system until a couple years ago; however, they had problems with all of the students wanting to work for the same professor (or a small group of professors), and some professors not getting any students. I can actually understand why.

Um, I already see that problem continuing even with the current system. I have been on the department web-page for 4 months - my labs aren't even done yet - and I have already had 4 students defect into my research group. I have had 3 others try. These students are not all from the same research group, and they are very good, self-motivated students. As a side note, my group is now over 50% female. I know I hated being the only female in a research group. That could be one problem...

So, now, professors recruit specific students and pay for their first semester/year, then have them leave. Is that really better? Isn't that just going to generate hostile feelings in the department towards the "popular" professors? Or if the students aren't allowed to change research groups, isn't that just going to make for unhappy grad students?

Anyway, I'm just going through this dilemma right now because my first graduate student (one I specifically recruited) just arrived. And while I could really care less about the money involved (especially as she is on a fellowship), it is more the time that I will invest in her. If she is thinking about leaving, I would really prefer to know now - I would never cut her off or hold a grudge or do anything that immature. I would just prefer to know now, so that I can plan to recruit a replacement for her next year.

What I would really love to do is to try to convert the department back to the previous recruitment process - however, I think that is going to have to be postponed for a couple (maybe a nice round number like 6) years...

1 comment:

sauerkraut said...

And universities wonder why their grad students are so unhappy - some to the point that they try to organize into unions to prevent and/or forestall abusive situations.

My brother-in-law always complained about the slave labor system; they wouldn't approve his final papers until he threatened to go elsewhere to complete his degree.