Getting Smart About Higher Education Involves Doing Your Homework
So you’ve gotten the good news: “Overproduction” of Ph.D.s is, by and large, a myth. Many fields are experiencing painful shortages of Ph.D.s. Bioinformatics is one, notes Peter Syverson, vice president of research for the Council of Graduate Schools. “We’re not producing any Ph.D.s in bioinformatics because, every time someone takes two classes, they get hired” by industry, Syverson says.
Nerad also suggests the following checklist:
- l What is the department’s average time to degree? Not the official time to degree published in the graduate handbook, but the amount of time it actually takes students to navigate the program.
- l What kind of financial support can you get — and get in writing? Beware of funding gaps — graduate fellowships that last three years of a program that’s nominally five years, for example.
- l What is the program’s attrition rate? If the department says it doesn’t keep this information, ask for the completion rate. If it doesn’t collect this information, worry.
- l In the SED data, you’ll find information on the proportion of people of color to Whites, of men to women. This may give you some clues as to the climate of the program. You also may be interested in learning the average age of the students, particularly if you’re a nontraditional student.
- l Also, investigate the number of women and faculty of color. Is the faculty all White and male? Are you OK with that?
- l Does the department have a program that brings prospective graduate students to campus? Take advantage of it. It’s “really worthwhile,” Nerad says, to visit the campus, talk to advanced doctoral students, ask them the questions you’ve been asking the department and see if you get the same answers.
- l Investigate the climate of the program. Is it harsh and competitive, warm and supportive, do students feel lost in the shuffle, do they receive good advising and mentoring? In short, do the students want to be there?
- l There also are a series of questions that are very important for students who are married and/or parents. What’s available in the way of child care? How are the local schools? Is there campus housing available for married students? In the absence of such housing, are the local rents reasonable? What about housing prices for students who are able to buy? What about commuting, parking and/or public transportation for students who can’t live on or near campus?
- l And last but certainly not least, what’s the cost and quality of the health insurance plan?
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