U. Chicago Reforms PhD Programs: Lifts Limits on Funded Time, Sets Limits on Number of Students


The University of Chicago has announced several reforms to its Ph.D. programs in the humanities, social sciences, and some other fields.

The changes cover graduate student funding and teaching responsibilities:

  1.  “Every enrolled PhD student in good academic standing has full tuition coverage, paid health insurance premiums, and funding for the duration of their program at least at the guaranteed stipend level,” apparently with no preset limit on the number of years one can receive funding (though presumably programs may remove students for lack of progress).
  2. Funding is independent of teaching duties—“Regardless of whether a student is teaching in a particular quarter or year, gross stipends will not vary”—and teaching duties will be aimed at helping graduate students “learn how to teach.”
  3. “The total number of PhD students across a particular school or division [e.g., Humanities, or Social Sciences, or Divinity] will be a fixed number, and new students will not be admitted until currently enrolled students graduate or leave their program. The model allows for variation across fields in time to degree and provides autonomy for departments to weigh the trade-off between entering cohort size and years in the program.”

Ellsworth Kelly, “Green Blue Black Red” (detail)

As Colleen Flaherty puts it at Inside Higher Ed:

If full funding is the carrot to finish one’s degree in a timely manner, minimizing financial distractions, there is a stick—at least for departments. Currently, program cohort sizes aren’t strictly linked to completion. But they will be going forward. Now, the total number of Ph.D. students in the four divisions affected will be a fixed, yet-to-be-determined number—and new students will not be admitted until current students graduate or leave. 

According to a FAQ about the new plan, it is intended as a “‘holistic approach’ to addressing challenges facing doctoral education, especially long time to degree and late attrition.”

Discussion welcome.

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Mark
Mark
1 year ago

It’s worth reading this thread by UChicago GSU (Graduate Students United) in which they describe the changes as “a blatant attempt at union-busting”:

https://twitter.com/uchicagogsu/status/1181747389692092417

(The basic idea is that the language of “mentored teaching experiences” is designed to avoid recognizing graduate student teachers as workers.)Report

Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

On the one hand it seems good that the university will defer to departments on how they choose to use their university funding for graduate students. (At Texas A&M for instance, the university only allows its funding to be used for PhD students in years 1-5, leaving departments to use other budgets to provide any support for students in year 6 or beyond, and for Masters students of any sort.)

On the other hand, I can imagine that many departments appreciated having their hands tied – now if a student will be cut off after year 8 (or 6, or 4, or whatever) it will have to be the *department* making that decision, and being the bad cop towards that student and/or their advisor.

What the departments would probably have most liked is the ability to tell the university what the time to degree should be and then have the university play the bad cop of actually implementing that policy for any individual student. (It’s possible that some departments will appreciate the ability to allow some individuals to stick around past their specified time on a case-by-case basis, but to me that sounds like more potential for favoritism or other trouble than it’s worth.)Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
1 year ago

I’ve never understood how — outside of having a health emergency — someone could take more than 5 years to complete a PhD in philosophy. I just don’t get it. (Having a family isn’t a good excuse. I know this from experience.) I suspect people are just really bad at managing time or not self-motivated.Report

a regular
a regular
Reply to  Grad Student
1 year ago

Did your advisor ever take 6 minths to 1 year just to read a chapter draft? No? Well. There you have it, then. You’re lucky.Report

a gs
a gs
Reply to  a regular
1 year ago

I totally agree with this. I think if you haven’t had an absentee advisor, it can be hard to realize how much of one’s time and energy can be spent (at least in the early years) trying to get them to read your work, or even just worrying over what certain actions, or inactions, on their part might mean. And personally, I also wasted a fair amount of time at the start because, not having had much exposure to grad students as an undergrad, it wasn’t actually clear to me how I ought to spend my time as a grad student — I spent a lot of time reading in a disorganized, haphazard fashion, and so forth. Report

theo
theo
Reply to  Grad Student
1 year ago

I’ve never understood how someone could take 5 years or less to complete a PhD in philosophy. I just don’t get it. I suspect they just don’t end up knowing very much philosophy at all or don’t realize how bad and thin what they’ve done is.Report

post-grad
post-grad
Reply to  Grad Student
1 year ago

Let me see if I can help. Can you imagine having to work part-time while completing the PhD, because your graduate-student stipend is peanuts compared with the cost of living in your area? Can you imagine having to teach a minimum of 50 students a semester, every semester, after your first year? Can you imagine having advisors who don’t read your work and who don’t do anything to help you plan a dissertation? Can you imagine not being able to switch advisors because no other faculty members work in your area?

Hope that helps. Report

GB
GB
Reply to  post-grad
1 year ago

Don’t feed the trolls.Report

UK ERC
UK ERC
Reply to  post-grad
1 year ago

Yes, all of those things. This set of circumstances in terms of shortfalls of funding and excessive teaching demands is much closer to the norm in the UK, and we are expected to finish PhDs within three years.Report

Cari
Cari
Reply to  UK ERC
1 year ago

No UK PhD I know has finished in 3 years. But even so, the UK system is very different than the US system— in the US system, the first two years are usually spent doing coursework, followed by a year or so of some combination of qualifying exams/papers and a dissertation proposal. The actual dissertation writing doesn’t usually commence until the end of the third year. Report

Alexandre Leskanich
Alexandre Leskanich
1 year ago

I suspect Grad Student is seeing this from a European perspective, where you get at most four years in which to complete, and that’s if you have full funding – most scholarships in the UK, for instance, will only provide funding for three years. Seen from this perspective, I suppose having an even longer period of time seems to be a luxury, but this doesn’t take into account the US system as I understand it, where you take a couple or more years doing various courses before work on the thesis begins.
Theo – in the UK it isn’t optional as to whether you finish in less than five years: it’s a necessity built into the system. That doesn’t mean a thesis produced in three, or more commonly four, years is of lesser quality, unless you have evidence to back this up.Report