Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The thorny subject of assessing graduate advisors

One of the most satisfying aspects of graduate school is working together with graduate students to solve fun, important, novel problems. This "working together" can cover the gradient from supervisor, to advisor, mentor, and collaborator. However, from the perspective of a graduate student, the leadership style implied by these different terms can have important effects on graduate student well-being (last week's news item). In one of the mentioned articles, the authors explicitly quantified three different leadership styles:
"Turning to the leadership style of the PhD supervisor, we see evidence for a better mental health in those PhD students who are advised by a professor with an inspirational leadership style (OR is 0.868 for GHQ2+ and 0.908 for GHQ4+). No significant associations were found between an autocratic leadership style and the experience of mental health problems. However, when PhD students were exposed to a laissez-faire leadership style, the risk of experiencing psychological distress significantly increased."

The university spends a lot of time to discussing how to assess undergraduate teaching, but assessing graduate advisors has received a lot less attention. And now there is strong evidence that this assessment has important, positive consequences. A recent article reports on results from a study at eight research universities that concluded that:
"... was a much more effective system for classifying and tracking the performance of supervisors. This has led to problems being addressed earlier, the removal of “totally unsatisfactory supervisors” and an 8 per cent increase in timely completions."

The assessment criteria were: the current and past number of students advised, graduations within the completion period, and "student rescues". While these are relatively easy to quantify, they do not necessarily address some of the aspects covered in the first quote. This would involve graduate student (past and present?) input, and this is where the thorns come into the picture. Because of the close nature of the advisor-graduate student relationship, what would you ask, when would you ask this, and who would you ask it to?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Graduate student well-being

Graduate student well-being has received a lot of attention lately. As far as I know, it has not reached the level of the urgency as for undergraduate students, but graduate students are exposed to a unique set of challenges too. Two recent studies quantified these challenges: Student Experience Survey 2017: investigating well-being at university and Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. The second study also argues convincingly that these challenges are unique to the graduate school experience, and are not shared with similar persons in other contexts, such as for instance employees. The next important step is thus to determine what aspects of the graduate school culture can be changed at the student, advisor, department, and university level. It is relatively easy to find advice for grad students (e.g., this recent blog on how to juggle a PhD with family), but what can we, as a department do differently, better, more to address these challenges?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Best thank you ever

And this is another (random) example of why R is so awesome: