December 16, 2019
Dear Graduate Students –
As the fall term and the year are coming to an end, I wanted to share some updates with you.
As we enter admissions season, we remind ourselves that our graduate admissions processes express and enact our values as an academic community. Their design must support our mission and the vitality and diverse excellence of our programs. Admissions committees are charged with the demanding and critical task of identifying – in a transparent, fair, and equitable manner – candidates likely to succeed in our programs as members of diverse cohorts of graduate students. As we embrace inclusive, equitable, and holistic practices in graduate admissions, earlier this year I asked all our graduate programs to consider the role, value, and limitations of the GRE in admissions processes with reference to the test’s predictive value for student success as well as questions of access, equity, and diverse and inclusive excellence. I recently updated the Dietrich School Graduate Council that – as a result of local discussions in each discipline – the vast majority of our programs have since decided no longer to require GRE scores, and in most cases to eliminate the GRE altogether from decisions on admissions; others continue their important deliberations and will make thoughtful use of the GRE as one set of data within holistic admissions. No fellowship selection committee in the Dietrich School will consider GRE scores. I am also very pleased to share that as a result of the inspiring collaborative work of faculty experts, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Provost’s Office, and my team in the Office of Graduate Studies, the Dietrich School has adopted gender-inclusive graduate application processes.
(See also a related University Times article this week.)
As a first-generation and international graduate student at Oxford in the late 1990s, I learned how important forging a supportive network of mentors is to every graduate student’s success. The University has recently been offering more opportunities for faculty to be trained as mentors. Please also remember to send me your nominations for the inaugural Dietrich School Awards in Excellence in Graduate Mentoring (deadline: January 15, 2020).
Professional Development and High-Impact Careers Within and Beyond the Academy
The professional development and career preparation of all graduate students remains a top priority for me, the Dietrich School, and the University. Whether you aspire to careers in academia, government/public sector, industry, and/or the nonprofit world, we want to ensure that your graduate studies equip you with deep disciplinary training, strategic skills and versatile competencies that will help set you on a path toward future success and lives of impact. Earlier this term, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded us a $1.5M grant for “Humanities Engage.” This supports the next phase of our ongoing project to deepen the intellectual and professional preparation of all Humanities Ph.D. students and support their diverse career aspirations. The grant will support significant discipline-based and cross-disciplinary curricular change, an ambitious program of funded immersive fellowships for students, and a new position of Director of Graduate Advising and Engagement as well as enhanced alumni engagement. We have just advertised the first set of funded opportunities and more will come on-stream in the spring.
For the Scientists amongst you: please help me understand more fully what you believe are the most urgent professional development gaps you’re experiencing and how we can work with your programs and faculty to address those gaps – whether strategic competencies such as communication / leadership / entrepreneurship, articulating the relevance of research within broader societal and cultural contexts, experiential learning through industry placements, or other. (I’m at email@example.com.)
As recent studies have highlighted the mental health challenges of graduate students nationally, we continue to enhance the support for graduate student mental wellness at Pitt. This term, many of the graduate administrators and Directors of Graduate Studies in the Dietrich School as well as members of my team have been participating in workshops with the University Counseling Center (UCC) on identifying and assisting graduate students in distress so we can all better connect graduate students in need with the resources available. We will soon make more of these sessions accessible to the graduate faculty at large and also collaborate with UCC on offering more extensive Mental Health First Aid training for faculty and staff in regular contact with graduate students. Graduate Council, too, has been looking at best practices in supporting graduate student mental health. We will be working further with programs, UCC, and other units to reduce stigma and raise awareness around mental health, promote tools to enhance graduate student self-care, identify and mitigate undue academic stressors, enhance career orientation and destigmatize diverse career aspirations, as well as identify and evaluate additional approaches. I will be in touch in the spring to update you further about resources and initiatives and to seek your input on these critical issues. As always, if you have suggestions, questions, or concerns, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s generally good to identify sources of support in the university and in your communities when things are going well so that you may find it easier to access help should the need arise. For a couple of starting points, see our website and that of the University Counseling Center with its rich array of resources. I encourage you to check out and spread the word about TAO, Therapy Assistance Online, a private online library of behavioral health resources.
As I had the opportunity to explore with student groups over lunch and in other conversations this term, regular practices of self-care and reflection are critical to persisting and thriving throughout challenging graduate programs. I hope this winter break will provide opportunities for each of you to rest, recharge, and connect with practices of self-care that are important to you, such as prioritizing sleep, exercising, or socializing, as you enjoy time away from classes and research. I encourage you to remember why you chose graduate school, reflect on how you best bring perspective to every task, keep the big picture in mind, and thus maximize your long-time productivity, and refine your strategy to complete your program. The holidays may offer chances, too, to keep your community in the loop – including family and friends without graduate school experience who may sometimes struggle a little to understand what precisely it is you’re doing, and why it may take another term or year, but whose support can be invaluable.
With all good wishes for a restful and enjoyable winter break,
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences – University of Pittsburgh