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Recommendations from National Studies on Doctoral Education 
by Jody Nyquist and Donald H. Wulff

A review of recent national studies on doctoral education reflects consistent recommendations across studies. Three themes that strongly emerge are: Current graduate education does not adequately match the needs and demands of the changing academy and broader society; there is a lack of systematic, developmentally appropriate supervision for many who are seeking careers that require or benefit from the attainment of a Ph.D.; and there exists a growing concern about the high level of attrition among doctoral students.

Given the agreement on those three issues expressed by the authors of the national studies referenced, we have extracted a set of eight recommendations. Under each of the eight recommendations, we have identified some initial ways of implementing/supporting these recommendations.

  1. Provide explicit expectations for doctoral students.
    Departmental advisors and supervisors must:
    • Make transparent to graduate students the selection processes, developmental progress expectations, methods of assessment/evaluation, and comprehensive data on placement, time to degree, and completion rates.
    • Foster and support graduate student access to information as well as make explicit unstated expectations and norms.
    • Conduct focus groups, exit interviews to determine match of expectations, especially with any non-completers.
    • Track graduates to assess satisfaction with their experience and better understand their professional career paths.

    Graduate schools and colleges need to insure that information is available and updated consistently through a specified reporting process.

  2. Provide adequate mentoring which includes:
    • Multiple mentors.
    • Written guidelines for mentors.
    • Adequate preparation for mentoring by graduate faculty based on research about effective mentoring practices.
    • Organized, institutionalized opportunities for reflection and feedback between graduate students and faculty mentors. While students typically find many opportunities to interact and support each other, departments should structure opportunities to facilitate and encourage discussions among graduate students and faculty about important developmental issues, career goals, etc. Creating community is a strong recommendation from many of the national studies.
    • Mentoring for a broad range of career aspirations.

  3. Provide exposure to wide variety of career options.
    • Disciplinary experts should find ways to investigate and present the careers for Ph.D.s that exist on campuses, in business and industry, in government, in non-governmental organizations.
    • Students should have opportunities to learn about the different missions of institutions in higher education and the roles of faculty in those institutions and the kinds of academic communities that characterize them. Students should also be aware of the different types of appointments, including tenure, term, and part-time appointments.
    • Departments need to take responsibility for student access to internships, and provide visits from professionals outside the University who will share their professional career journeys with students.
    • Faculty should go off campus to explore where their students go and the various applications of their Ph.D. training.

  4. Prepare students to teach in a variety of settings using a range of pedagogies based on research in teaching and learning.
    • Students need to acquire competence to teach in a very broad sense in the classroom, in one-on-one settings, as project managers, as motivators and evaluators of others, etc., as they assume positions in public, non-profit, or corporate sectors.

  5. Recruit women and students of color to diversify the American intellect.
    • Work with graduate schools to work on departmental climate and issues of inclusion for students of color and women.
    • Collect accurate data about non-acceptances and non-completing students of color and women to inform departmental responses.
    • Ensure that women and faculty of color are represented on recruitment and graduate student admission committees.

  6. Produce scholar-citizens who see their special training connected more closely to the needs of society and the global economy.
    • Faculty should encourage graduate students to talk about how their professional work is connected to the needs of other disciplines, society, and the global community.
    • Departments need to prepare their students to contribute their academic expertise to the society as scholar-citizens.
    • Institutional leaders and faculty members should provide occasions for graduate students to explore the dramatic changes facing the academy, the implications for their own careers, the changes in the broader society and internationally, and the roles that engaged scholars will need to play.

  7. Balance the deep learning of the disciplinary doctorate with the variety of interdisciplinary challenges.
    • Provide more opportunities for students to work across disciplinary lines, dissertation retreats, interdisciplinary retreat programs, etc.
    • Encourage graduate students to work with more than one mentor in different disciplines.
    • Continue development of inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary programs.

  8. Create partnerships with all involved in doctoral education. In addition to doctoral students, the stakeholders include:
    • Those who prepare doctoral students
         Research-intensive universities
    • Those who fund doctoral students
         Business and industry
    • Those who hire doctoral students
         Research-intensive universities
         Teaching-intensive universities (liberal arts and community colleges, masters granting   
         Business and industry
         Government agencies
         Non-governmental organizations
    • Those who influence doctoral education
         Professional societies
         Educational associations
         Accrediting agencies and organizations
         Governance boards

Drawn From The Following National Projects And Studies

(AAU) Committee on Graduate Education: Report and Recommendations. Association of American Universities, October 1998. [Online]. Available:

(ACE) Fine Knowles, Marjorie, & Bernard Harleston. Achieving Diversity in the Professoriate: Challenges and Opportunities. American Council on Education, 1997.

(COSEPUP) Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, 1995.

(Cross Purposes) Golde, Chris M., & Timothy M. Dore. At Cross Purposes: What the Experiences of Today's Doctoral Students Reveal about Doctoral Education. Wisconsin Center for Education Research, 2000. [Online]. Available:

(Development of Graduate Students) Nyquist, Jody, Ann E. Austin, Jo Sprague, & Donald H. Wulff. The Development of Graduate Students as Prospective Teaching Scholars, A Four-Year Longitudinal Study: Final Report. Center for Instructional Development and Research, University of Washington, 2001.

Johnson, Jean M. Science and Engineering Indicators' Program, Division of Science Resources Studies, National Science Foundation. "International Mobility of Doctoral Recipients from U. S. Universities." Paper presented at Council of Graduate Schools Annual Meeting, December, 2000, New Orleans, LA.

Lovitts, Barbara E. Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of Departure from Doctoral Study. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2001. Funded by the Sloan Foundation.

Millett, Catherine M., & Michael T. Nettles. "Race, Sex and Field Differences in Doctoral Student Experiences: Research Productivity and Faculty Mentoring." Presentation at Council of Graduate Schools Annual Meeting, December, 2000, New Orleans, LA. [Online]. Available:

(NRC) Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists, Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1998. [Online]. Available:

(PFF) Gaff, Jerry G., Anne S. Pruitt-Logan, & Richard A. Weibl. Building the Faculty We Need: Colleges and Universities Working Together. Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools, 2000.

(PhDs.Org 1999) Davis, Geoff, & Peter Fiske. The 1999 PhDs.Org Graduate School Survey Report of Results. [On-line]. Available:

(PhDs-Ten Years Later) Nerad, Maresi. The PhDs-Ten Years Later Study. Presentation at the Re-envisioning the PhD Conference, 2000. [Online]. Available:

Nerad, M. & Cerny J. 1999. “From Rumors to Facts: Career Outcomes of English Ph.D.’s., Results from the Ph.D.’s—Ten Years Later Study,” in the Council of Graduate Schools Communicator, vol. SSSII, No. 7.  Special Edition.  Washington, D.C.: fall 1999.  Reprinted in ADE Bulletin, no. 124, winter 2000.  Association of Departments of English.  Available:

Nerad, Maresi with Debra Sands Miller.  “Increasing Student Retention in Graduate and Professional Programs” in Assessment in Graduate and Professional Programs: Demand, Processes, Outcomes.  Jennifer Grant Haworth, ed.  In the series New Directions for Institutional Research.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, no. 92 (winter 1996), 61-76.

Nerad, Maresi.  “University of California, Berkeley: Beyond Traditional Modes of Mentoring,” A Conversation about Mentoring: Trends and Models.  Nancy A. Gaffney, ed.  Washington, D.C.: Council of Graduate Schools (1995), 18-24.

(Re-envisioning/Concerns) Nyquist, Jody D. & Bettina J. Woodford. Re-envisioning the PhD: What are Our Concerns? Center for Instructional Development and Research, University of Washington, 2000. [On-line]. Available:

(Re-envisioning/Metathemes) Re-envisioning the PhD. Seven Proposals from the National Conference. Center for Instructional Development and Research, University of Washington, 2000. [On-line]. Available:

(SED) Summary Report, 1999. Doctorate Recipients from the United States. Survey of Earned Doctorates.

Smith, Steven J., & Liane Pedersen-Gallegos. Bureau of Sociological Research, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado, Boulder. "The Careers and Work of Ph.D. Physical Scientists: Not Simply Academic." April 2001, Paper submitted for publication. Funded by the National Science Foundation.

Trower, Cathy A., Ann E. Austin, & Mary Deane Sorcinelli. Paradise Lost: How the Academy Converts Enthusiastic Recruits into Early-Career Doubters. AAHE Bulletin, May 2001, 53(9), 3-6.

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