Why do half of U.S. doctoral students leave before earning their degrees? A new article in The Atlantic examines graduate student experiences to understand the factors that contribute to this troubling statistic, and what universities like UMBC are doing to support doctoral students in completing their graduate programs.
Janet Rutledge, vice provost and dean of the graduate school, suggests in the article that lack of clear communication between faculty and graduate students can lead to negative outcomes. Faculty members, busy juggling research, teaching, and service commitments, don’t always communicate the full reasoning behind what they say and do, Rutledge says. She suggests, “it is only natural that a student makes certain assumptions based on what they have been able to observe,” which can lead to miscommunication and leave students feeling unsupported.
The Atlantic article highlights how communication can impact a student’s sense of academic performance and likelihood of success through the experience of Marcella Wilson ‘08 Ph.D., computer science, now a lecturer in information systems at UMBC. Wilson earned her undergraduate degree from a small, close-knit institution. When she arrived at UMBC to pursue her Ph.D. she remembers missing those close ties, and losing confidence in her ability to complete her degree.
Rutledge introduced Wilson to PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate. The statewide collaboration, with a particularly strong presence at UMBC, supports the academic and professional development of graduate students, particularly those pursuing degrees in STEM fields and those from underrepresented populations.
“Once I began to believe I could graduate, I realized that it was not about [the professors],” said Wilson, of the PROMISE program’s impact on her education. She shared, “I have good relationships with them all now.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education, in a new article on faculty diversity, credits PROMISE with increasing enrollment and degree completion in STEM Ph.D. and master’s degree programs at UMBC over the last ten years. Describing what makes the program tick, PROMISE Director Renetta G. Tull told the paper about the close mentorship, sense of community, seminars and other personal and professional development resources that support underrepresented minority students in completing graduate degrees.
“We put a lot of family structure in these programs,” said Tull. “We took down a lot of cold boundaries of academic walls.”
Image: Janet Rutledge speaking during the Graduate School Commencement in 2015. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.