Survey Reveals Grad Students' Satisfaction with Departments

Alexi Baker
Daily Texan
November 15, 1999

The results of an online survey of graduate students' satisfaction with their departments were revealed Friday at the University.

At Flawn Academic Center, survey co-authors Geoff Davis and Peter Fiske said they received 6,500 online responses from 1,852 colleges and universities, including about 70 from UT graduate students. The audience included more than 30 UT professors, administrators and graduate students, and representatives from schools like Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.

The survey was sponsored by the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students and was publicized in online and print journals.

Fiske and Davis said they only released the results for individual universities to administrators because of school officials' concerns about how the survey had been conducted and interpreted.

Davis, a researcher at Microsoft Research, and Fiske, a planetary scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, used the responses as an indicator of how departments have adopted reforms advocated by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council and the Association of American Universities.

Reforms include making guidelines for student advising more specific and providing a broader education so students have more job options once they get their degree.

Fiske said that while the overall results are satisfactory, there are specific areas that need work.

"It's not a horrible report card, but you really would hope your students would do a little better," said Fiske, also the author of To Boldly Go ... a Practical Career Guide for Young Scientists.

According to the results, more than half of respondents rated specific aspects of their universities positively.

For example, 64 percent of students agreed that their program provided them with accurate information about how long it would take for them to get their degree, and 65 percent agreed that their program did a good job of preparing them for careers outside academics.

Fiske and Davis said the announcement and panel discussion took place at the University because its Graduate School Professional Development Program, which teaches graduate students how to succeed after graduating, should be an example for other universities.

"We're here at the University of Texas because you have the most innovative and forward-thinking program for graduate development, not only in the nation, but I think maybe in the world," Fiske said.

Fiske and Davis joined UT President Larry Faulkner, College of Liberal Arts Dean Richard Lariviere, kinesiology doctoral candidate Denise Gobert and College of Communication Dean Ellen Wartella in a panel discussion entitled "Academics and Professionalism."

Problems discussed included departments changing too slowly, and the demand for teaching assistants and researchers determining the number of graduate students admitted.

Although the researchers said the University should be a leader in graduate school reform, UT administrators said certain aspects, such as the inexperience of teaching assistants, still need improvement.

Faulkner said many of the UT graduate schools' problems are related to students not realizing what they're getting into.

"A large fraction of the problems we have right now is that many students go to grad school without a clear idea of why they're there," he said.

Jane Jo, a graduate student in radio, television and film, said the discussion was dominated by faculty and administrators, but was interesting and should have been more publicized to students.

"It's great that they get together and talk about it amongst themselves, but there should be grad students talking about it, too," Jo said.