The Struggles and Successes of Graduate Students Chronicled in New Book
Two prominent ETS officials have released a new book exploring graduate students’ struggles with mentoring, research productivity and funding.
Three Magic Letters: Getting to Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University Press) is written by Dr. Michael Nettles, vice president for policy evaluation and research at the Educational Testing Service, and Dr. Catherine M. Millett, a research scientist at ETS. The two started collaborating while at the University of Michigan when Millet was a doctoral student and ran into problems with funding.
The book details the experiences of more than 9,000 graduate students enrolled at 21 top research universities. Among the schools surveyed were Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Austin, Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina.
According to the study, 30 percent of all graduate students, regardless of race, never feel that they have a faculty mentor. But some obstacles seem to be especially persistent for African-Americans. Figuring out the type of funding available is chief among them, Nettles says.
In spite of getting fellowship offers, African-American students are significantly less likely to obtain research and teaching assistantships, especially in math and science. For example, 36 percent of Black engineering graduate students were offered research assistantships, compared to 69 percent for Asian students. Hispanics had slightly better results than Blacks, but still trailed the opportunities offered to Asians. There were no American Indians in the study due to an insufficient sample population.
While the book has received a favorable response from faculty, school officials and graduate students, Millet says undergraduate students have also found it informative.
“They know how the medical school and law school system works, but this is just as important,” she says.
— By Shilpa Banerji
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