Faculty Evaluations of Graduate Students

Faculty Evaluations of Graduate Students


How does your department evaluate graduate students as they progress through the PhD program? One common method is an annual letter from the department to the student, based on a discussion about the student at a faculty meeting. How informative are these letters? What kinds of information do they provide? My sense is that comparative information (rankings or sortings) were more common in the past. Do any departments still engage in this practice? Do they share the results with the students? Graduate students, do you feel like you are getting sufficient feedback? What kinds of information would you like to see in these letters?

(image: pencil carving by Dalton Ghetti)

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anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

As far as I know, my department provides no formal feedback at all (except for individual coursework, or if one misses a deadline).Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

(I think that’s frustrating for those of us who sort of know the faculty doesn’t think we’re doing especially well in the program, but don’t know exactly why/what we could be doing differently to gain their approval.)Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

Our department has meetings with the first and second years. Faculty are assigned to each student and then an informal interview is conducted each year with feedback for the student and feedback from the student. Meetings after these two years involve less feedback for the student.Report

DISGRUNTLEDcanadianANON
DISGRUNTLEDcanadianANON
6 years ago

our advisers check a box re: how our progress in program is going: satisfactory; unsatisfactory; excellent; good. This ONLY refers to completion of degree and is followed by a 1 sentence bullshit generality. “student is progressing well should be finished on time”. I get no feedback from my adviser who is never in and who has no clue what I’m working on and doesn’t seem to care much. We get no feedback from our grad coordinator as he refers us to our advisers. My adviser doesn’t look at my CV, some feedback on how I’m progressing in the discipline would be helpful!

It would be nice to hear what other faculty think, but, oh wait most of them are never in either and when they are its a mission to get them to give any feedback other than bullshit generalities about a discipline they are out of touch with! The dinosaurs in our discipline should not be allowed to give ZERO effort to the grad students. It always feels like they are doing you a favor to talk with you for 5 minutes about, well, anything. That is, until they need a few grads to cover a class or help with a conference.

So yeah, any feedback would be nice. I’d out my department but that’s not in my best interest at the moment. However, as soon as I score a job or leave academia because I don’t get one (likely given how shitty my time has been here coupled with putrid market) I’ll be sure to scream on the rooftops about my poor experience so others don’t get dooped by the fake smiles, unfair treatment if you don’t work on specific topic, and lack of guidance.

Departments have a duty to at least give feedback. Given that we work for peanuts and keep the department going we deserve to know what we’re doing right and wrong, not only regarding the diss but as budding professional philosophers. Oh wait, most dinosaurs don’t even know how to evaluate a CV anymore because they think it’s still 1995 when they finished.

I think the APA should be in the business of hiring a few grad consultants that poor departments could hire to help guide these exploited grad students to navigate the discipline and life after PHD in a world that is becoming more and more difficult for those who decided to get an education in the Arts.Report

anonymous US student
anonymous US student
6 years ago

My department’s end-of-year letters are mostly fluff – general information that we already know about our progress through the program, courses/projects we need to complete, things to focus on next year, and so on. Not terribly informative, but good to have, just to know we’re on the same page about our progress as the department, I guess?

There’s also a paragraph somewhere in the middle of the letter that states how “the faculty” or “some of the faculty” think we’re doing. This is somewhat problematic because: a) it never says what specific faculty members think what things (…surely “the faculty” at my department are not some collectively-minded entity like the Borg or the United States, according to Schwitzgebel, or something!), b) it never says what specific criteria led “the faculty” or “some of the faculty” to think those things (For example: my comments this year said my work had showed “significant improvement” over the previous year, even though I didn’t turn in any papers to anyone who’d read my work last year. So how would one know I’ve really improved when there’s no one to look at work from Year A and work from Year B and make the call?), and c) it gives the appearance of “the faculty” or “some of the faculty” being some God-like authority who dispenses its judgment on our philosophical character from up on high, which… well, if you don’t see a problem with this, what are you doing in philosophy out of all places (i.e. the discipline where you’re allegedly supposed to question everything, including and especially established authorities)?

I wouldn’t mind the sort of general feedback on my performance if it were couched in less vague and cryptic terms. For instance: Professor X thinks you do Y in class and doesn’t want you to do Y in class for Reason R. Or: Professor Z read your paper for Seminar A, which she liked a lot better than your paper for Seminar B; keep up the good work! But phrasing that stuff in terms of what “the faculty” or “some of the faculty” think strikes me as a shamelessly C.Y.A.-type move, which only strengthens and exacerbates the power imbalances built into the academic system.Report

urp
urp
6 years ago

We have to fill out a yearly self-report. But If you have a bad advisor, you’re essentially shit out of luck about how to approach it. You wont know what to emphasize, omit, etc. We don’t get feedback unless our advisor cares enough to tell us how the faculty meeting went. And since theyre confidential, it’s only really nebulous stuff. The department is very poorly organized and has few effective support structures. They give less a shit about you than they do the undergraduate population. You’re given mixed messages about what’s expected, but penalized in some way if you mess up. The first two years are kind of like an entry-level sales position where you’re paid minimum wage with no commission, little to no training/guidance, and yet are expected under the threat of getting fired to sell your ass off, even perform extra duties (unpaid labor), just to show you’re a committed team player. If you dont show you’re committed to the department, it comes back to bite you in some fashion. (Which if you think about it is really a form of psychological abuse). Well this is getting a little off topic, maybe. Apologies. But I’m curious if this is common everywhere.Report

YetAnotherWhinyGradStudent
YetAnotherWhinyGradStudent
6 years ago

We all get form letters that pretty much say that we’re going to make great contributions to philosophy until we don’t, and then get our funding suspended without warning.

It’s not an optimal situation.

I’d like to have official end of the year meetings with our advisor, the department chair, and at least one other faculty member just to talk more specifically about our progress. I don’t think it would take up too much of anyone’s time, and I think it would be really helpful.Report

BrokePhilosopher
BrokePhilosopher
6 years ago

The only students to receive formal feedback at my grad program at the time (roughly two years ago) where those who had teaching assistantships. At the end of each semester the professors whose courses we worked on/with would fill out a one page sheet with only a few questions tracking our progress in things related to the course (e.g., attendance, work quality, ability at assisting undergrads, etc.). Students who weren’t on teaching assistantships received no formal feedback aside from graded coursework.Report

LuckyToHaveGoodAdvisors
LuckyToHaveGoodAdvisors
6 years ago

Our department year-end letter evaluates students as Satisfactory, Marginal, or Unsatisfactory, and also provides a paragraph explaining the designation. Grad students are sent an email about a month before the faculty meeting where these issues are discussed asking us to let our advisor(s) know our accomplishments, failings, etc. during the last year, which is nice b/c it allows us to control the narrative to some extent. We are also given an opportunity to respond to the evaluation, which we get via email, to our advisors or the grad director.

As is usually the case in grad school, how this turns out for students has mostly to do with your relationship with your advisor(s) since they are your advocates in the meeting. I give my advisors an extremely detailed and organized bulleted list broken down by area — e.g., research, service, teaching, etc. — b/c it makes it easy for them to make a case for me. It would be unreasonable of me to assume that they can recall during a meeting what I’ve been up to during the last 12 months.

My view is that there shouldn’t be any surprises in the letter/evaluation in the same way that there shouldn’t be any surprises in any annual job review, especially of the negative variety; if there are, then that’s a sign of a communication breakdown. The year-by-year expectations in my department are quite clear and explicit, which is helpful.

If grads want feedback, they should seek it out. If, upon seeking it out, they aren’t getting it, then that’s obviously a problem, often, again, having to do with the advisor/student relationship. If a student has a crummy advisor and there isn’t anyone else in the department to switch to, that’s a tough spot.Report

DISGRUNTLEDcanadianANON
DISGRUNTLEDcanadianANON
6 years ago

To lucky @9:

Even if there are others they could switch to it’s often too late once they realize it. An adviser might seem nice at first but you dont know how they will be until you actually pass candidacy. Once you’re pretty far down the line and you realize you have no support it’s not like you have enough time to get a new project started in an area suitable to fit the expertise of the new adviser. This is why I suggested the APA get involved to protect it’s most vulnerable members!Report

LuckyToHaveGoodAdvisors
LuckyToHaveGoodAdvisors
6 years ago

I agree that grad students are pretty vulnerable in this regard, but I don’t see why advancing to candidacy is necessary before getting to know a (potential) advisor. (In fact, my contact with my advisors has lessened since I became ABD.) I think programs should encourage students to seek out mentors/advisors immediately to avoid the situation you describe. I certainly wouldn’t want the APA to get involved. They should spend their energy, for example, producing an online (i.e., non-pdf) version of the Guide to Grad Programs and adding a table of contents and an index to the current difficult-to-navigate 30 MB, 419 page pdf.Report

YetAnotherWhinyGradStudent
YetAnotherWhinyGradStudent
6 years ago

I like the way your program does it, Lucky. That system sounds like it’s low cost to faculty, with high benefits for grad students. And for a number of reasons, some fair and some not so fair, those are the sorts of solutions we need to be looking for. Thanks for the example.Report

BrokePhilosopher
BrokePhilosopher
6 years ago

Just to add some more possibly important details: my program was a terminal MA program that had both thesis and non-thesis options. Students who took the thesis option were supposed to have regular meetings with their advisers, but these meetings were often at the discretion of the adviser and never were formally required nor consisted of any written documentation to the best of my knowledge (I certainly never had any written documentation aside from a few e-mails confirming meeting time & dates).Report

MA Graduate
MA Graduate
6 years ago

My experience with evaluations largely mirrors that of #5. Between the two years of my MA program, we received an email with a status update. It contained a decent amount of information on what ‘the faculty’ saw as my strengths and weaknesses, an evaluation of the thesis plan we’d had to submit, suggestions of how to improve our committee selection, courses we might consider, and so on. As #5 notes, more specifics would have been helpful – my strengths and weaknesses were couched in terms like “you do not always provide the most charitable argument for the view you oppose” but did not give any examples from my work where this took place (nor had it been noted in comments from the professors I wrote for). So it would have been good to have a more comprehensive evaluation of specific things in specific places in my work that I could have then been more conscious of changing.

Overall, though, the communique was pretty helpful. I think it’s extremely important that terminal masters programs in particular do a good job of this. Most MA students (in my program, at least) don’t gravitate to a specific advisor in their first year, so we don’t get a lot of specific feedback about how we’re progressing and what we might change. By the time we have an advisor partway through the fall of the second year, it may be too late to adjust our approach to our work. So that moment of knowing where you stand going into the summer between your years, when there’s still time to talk to faculty, change elements of one’s style, read more in an area, etc. is invaluable. Certainly I would have done worse in my second year without it.Report

thecowgoesEEEEEEEEE!
thecowgoesEEEEEEEEE!
6 years ago

Our advisers meet with each of their advisees professors at the end of each semester and write up a letter regarding progress in the program and what their relative strengths and weaknesses were (there aren’t rankings or anything though). I find this very helpful but apparently there are some advisers who feel they’re far too important to write these.Report

YetAnotherWhinyGradStudent
YetAnotherWhinyGradStudent
6 years ago

@thecowgoesEEEEEEEEE!, that’s another REALLY helpful option, but it seems more time-costly to the faculty, and it seems hard to get professors to just give away their time for free. 🙁

Can some faculty in departments with grad programs say whether they think the thecowgoesEEEEEEEEE!’s department’s practice would or wouldn’t work for them [personally and for their departments in general]!? PLEASE!? Because I REALLY want my department to do something like that, and it seems like other grad students in other departments would be into that sort of thing too.Report

Grad Student Person
Grad Student Person
6 years ago

I never received any feedback about my “performance as a graduate student” during my MA program, which I obtained at a university with just a terminal master’s option.

At the university I inititally attended for my PhD program, I would receive a very vague letter from my advisor at the end of the semester (if she remembered to send it to me– half of the time I was enrolled at this university, I never received one), which supposedly reflected feedback from other professors at their faculty meeting. However, the letter I received pretty much just summarized my CV (which I submitted to my advisor so she could use it to inform other faculty about my progress). Essentially, things I already knew were containted in this “evaluation letter,” such as: “good job, you got a 4.0 this semester and presented at X number of conferences.”

I don’t really see a point in these end-of-the-semester letters if the letter-writer is not going to push the student to excel. For instance, these letters would be quite important and productive if the letter-writer reminded the student that he or she should be working on publications, attending professional conferences like the APA, etc. If faculty really spent time looking at their students’ CVs, and identifying what areas they need to improve upon and communicating this to their graduate students, students might receive the additional encouragement they need to become more active in their careers.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

I think many of the commentators here (and perhaps the original post) are mistaken about the importance of these department letters. I never found them especially informative or helpful as a graduate student (even with the course-grained comparative information my department provided). But I never imagined that was the point. The practice of having the faculty generate these reports meant that, insofar as they took the job seriously, they were forced to take some time to be accountable to themselves and to one another in assessing their graduate students. As the unfortunate experience of many commentators her show, this process can’t force faculty to take their assessment of graduate students seriously. But for busy but otherwise conscientious advisers, it can provide both an occasion and an incentive to do so.Report

Angela Potochnik
Angela Potochnik
6 years ago

This is an issue I’ve thought a bit about. My department has always been rather hands-on with grad feedback. In the past, this involved two grad progress meetings a year and individual faculty’s written evaluation of all grads’ seminar-work and TA-work. We’ve recently revamped the model, and it seems to be popular(-ish) with both faculty and grads. Now all faculty email the grad director twice a year with brief reports on all grads they’ve worked with in the preceding semester (in seminars, as TAs, as advisees, etc.), aiming for specific positive assessments and concrete suggestions for improvement. The grad director assembles these reports and shares them with the faculty. Then the faculty meets and discusses only those cases where the faculty as a whole needs to make some decision. Then the grad director meets with all grads who haven’t yet advanced to candidacy and sends a letter to those who are ABD. This avoids the nebulous “the faculty think…” style of feedback, and it avoids cementing students’ reputations based on their earlier work, as each round of feedback is based narrowly on the most recent semester and (in theory) viewed by all the faculty. And it’s not too much work for anyone except the grad director.Report

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

I too sent a letter to the APA arguing that Faculty Neglect has a shot at being the single most prevalent kind of systematic injustice in our discipline. I’ve spoken to grads at good schools all over the U.S. and Canada and the stories are just shocking. The failure to meet one’s basic professional obligations seems to be far more common than many of us realize. (This failure, by the way, has a disproportionate effect on those who are already marginalized or otherwise vulnerable, ie women and minorities).

If I were one of these very numerous faculty members, I’d be worried about the following scenario: a bunch of grads document their department’s faulures, get tenure in 4-5 years, and blow up the school’s reputation with a detailed expose.Report

Nick Byrd
6 years ago

I have been very pleased with my department’s/university’s feedback mechanisms:

General evaluation/guidance: Each incoming student is assigned a mentor: the same person for all incoming students. Students can either continue with this mentor or seek mentoring from someone else with whom they connect later on. Each student meets with their mentor before the first semester even starts. First meeting: get-to-know-you + here’s what the department encourages you to do + what do you want to accomplish this year? The student is welcome to meet with their mentor (or others, obviously) throughout the year. At the end of the academic year, the student fills out a 5-6 page “Annual Review” that serves to update their mentor about the year’s coursework, assistantship experiences, conference experiences, works in progress, progress on goals, and suggestions for the department. The mentor then reviews this document and then has a second meeting with the student to discuss the Annual Review, listen to additional thoughts from the student, offer suggestions (if applicable), etc. Then both the mentor and the student write a summary of this second meeting and append these summaries to the Annual Review.

Assistantship evaluation/feedback: At the end of each semester, faculty fill out 2 page evaluations for all of their assistants. This form includes ratings of performance across about 15 dimensions, some short answer questions about the strengths and weakness of the student, and feedback about the students’ teaching/lecturing (where applicable).

[We can have copies of these first two forms of evaluation for our own records]

How the evaluations are used: At the end of the year, the faculty meet to discuss these Annual Reviews, TA evaluations, and perhaps other information (I don’t know much about this meeting). After this meeting, students receive an (obviously templated) letter from the program director that says [a] something generic about the student’s performance, [b] something about the students professional activity (e.g., conferences, publications, etc.), [c] something about the student’s incompletes or failures to meet a GPA requirement (where applicable, obviously), and [d] whether and how the department plans to continue the students future funding (e.g., in case the student hasn’t met the minimum requirements for continued funding).

Intermittent feedback: I find that my department is good about giving feedback throughout the semester, whether it’s about one of your papers, a lecture they observed, etc. This feedback is usually two-fold: (1) a conversation and (2) some form of written feedback (e.g., comments on a paper, notes from a teaching observation, etc.).

Informal feedback: I find that the faculty with whom I have had the pleasure to work are good about (i) giving casual feedback throughout the year — e.g., if I am taking one of their courses — and (ii) being available to talk about all kinds of things (e.g., my work, their work, my progress, helpful stories from their experience in philosophy, advice, etc.). One or two faculty have even initiated an interaction by emailing me or setting up a meeting (e.g, to tell me about a CFP, or a new paper in my wheelhouse, or to discuss an idea they had about what I’m working on, etc.). These interactions are fantastic for all sorts of reasons. And judging from the comments, having faculty who are so thoughtful, available, and interested in offering feedback is a luxury, so I’ll try not to take it for granted. 🙂

Optional opportunities for feedback: Our department has a writing group, some reading groups, independent studies, graduate courses on teaching philosophy, and various conferences, colloquiums, etc. — all of which are optional. These are also helpful places to get feedback. Of these, the writing group, the independent studies, and the conferences have provided the best venues for feedback (for me). Writing group: once a month, a student’s paper is read by the group as well as at least one faculty member. Then the author, the readers, and the faculty reader meet to discuss the paper. In my experience receiving feedback from the writing group, this experience is more valuable than the feedback I get at conferences (because everyone has read the paper and people almost always give both verbal and written comments) — this is great, because conferences can be costly in multiple ways and they aren’t always worth it. Independent studies: what students accomplish in an independent study varies widely, but I have used them to have a faculty member guide me through the literature on a topic they know well (i.e., I read things from a reading list that we come up with), get feedback on projects that I am working on (e.g., a paper, a conference presentation, etc.), and read/discuss their work. These independent studies have also been very valuable for, among other reasons, the feedback I receive from them. Conferences: I have made a handful of helpful connections with people via these conferences that have resulted in continued correspondence that has been helpful to my own work.

Miscellaneous: Some faculty in our department will use seminars as an opportunity to video conference with the author of whoever we’re reading on any given week — in fact, our seminar room is now specially equipped with professional-quality video conferencing. In addition to being an awesome grad school experience, these video conferencing experiences have provided some of our graduate students with opportunities to begin corresponding with certain philosophers. And this correspondence has, among other things, resulted in helpful feedback for myself and my peers.

My university also offers other, more general resources to their graduate students (e.g., teaching certificates, teaching workshops, people who give one-on-one advice on your grants/fellowship applications, etc.) that can often serve as, among other things, opportunities to obtain important feedback, but I have written enough already, so I’ll leave it at that.

[Apologies for typographical errors; I’ve got to run so I did not get a chance to proofread everything].Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
6 years ago

We get a form letter at the end of the year (July or August) with up to one customized sentence. To get this form letter, we must complete another form listing our accomplishments, goals, and progress toward last set of goals.

I would be glad if someone (e.g. the APA) were to survey graduate students about their experiences. I suspect faculty would find the results surprising, and it would be useful to shatter some of their illusions (or is it delusions?).Report

Unemployedphil
Unemployedphil
6 years ago

None (putting aside the implicit evaluation of being chosen to not receive funding the following year), except on an ad hoc basis with certain faculty.Report

Seana Shiffrin
Seana Shiffrin
6 years ago

At UCLA, we do the following things:
1. The Graduate Advisor meets as a group with incoming students and then schedules individual meetings with first year students to give advice about what courses to take. The Graduate Advisor reviews the progress of the first year students after each quarter and sets up further meetings as needed or as requested.

2. Group meetings are held for students facing hurdle requirements (e.g. the proposal year) to advise the students as a group and then individual meetings occur as needed or requested.

3. At the end of the year, the Graduate Advisor assigns each student a faculty interviewer who reviews the student’s transcript, confers with the faculty the student has worked with, and confers with the faculty the student has taught for. The interviewer meets with the student to find out how the student feels s/he is doing and what issues, concerns, and questions the student has about the program and his/her progress. The faculty then meets many times in the spring quarter to discuss the graduate students and to formulate feedback and advice for each student about that student’s research and teaching. The interviewer then meets with the student again to pass on that feedback, to plan the oncoming year, and to advise the student whether s/he should meet with individual faculty for more specific feedback. Effort is made to assign a faculty interviewer who is outside the student’s field of research so the student may be candid (and so the student may meet more of the faculty).

4. Over the year, the Graduate Advisor keeps track of students facing special challenges, difficulties, or with special needs. The Graduate Advisor checks in with the faculty supervising those students and also tries to meet with such students every quarter to give advice and feedback.

5. We have an on-line graduate manual that details the requirements of the program and the hurdle steps that we use to supplement meetings. Also, where there is a risk that a requirement will not be fulfilled, in addition to a meeting, we will also send a letter or an email to alert the student of the risk.Report