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Featured Profile—Yale University

I. Yale University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is one of twelve schools composing Yale University and the only one that awards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The work of the Graduate School is carried on in the divisions of the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Biological and Physical Sciences. Fifty-four departments and programs offer courses of study leading to the Ph.D. degree.

Jon Butler (in red), Dean of the Yale Graduate School at Yale’s 2008 Commencement.

Yale began to offer graduate education in 1847, and in 1861 it conferred the first Ph.D. degrees in North America. In 1876 Yale became the first American university to award the Ph.D. to an African American. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was formally established in 1892, when the first dean was appointed. It was in that same year that women were first admitted as candidates for the doctorate. The Graduate School community has grown vigorously since the early twentieth century; today it comprises 2,700 graduate students and a faculty of 900. Currently each entering class is made up of about 500 students.

Since the inception of Phase I of the Ph.D. Completion Project in November 2004, the Yale Graduate School has made a steady and concerted effort to attend to the project’s stated objectives of increasing retention and completion rates in doctoral programs while reducing attrition and time to degree, particularly among women and other underrepresented students. We have implemented a series of Programs and Interventions, among them the 2-4 Project, hiring a Writing Tutor, establishing a Diversity Recruitment Coordinators Program, and hosting Dissertation Boot Camps. We also describe, under the rubric Tracking and Transparency, our Dissertation Progress Report Module and the on-line program profiles that we have maintained for several years for each Ph.D. program in the Yale Graduate School.

II. Programs and Interventions

2-4 Project: The 2-4 Project is the most far-reaching mandate for curricular reform to come to the Yale Graduate School in a generation or more. It addresses head-on the vital matters of time to degree, retention, completion, and attrition by emboldening department chairs, directors of graduate studies, and other faculty to undertake assessments that are both detailed and program-specific while also providing avenues for student input. Programs were asked to focus on the sequencing of years two through four en route to the Ph.D., as these are the critical years when students move from course work to the independent and substantive work on the dissertation. These are also the years when many students often face the greatest risk of falling behind in their work.

The 2-4 Project was initially announced in spring 2006 by Jon Butler, Dean of the Graduate School, in a memo to students and faculty titled Renewing the Ph.D …at Yale: The 2-4 Project. The memo invited “all departments to evaluate their Ph.D. programs” with the hope that “departments and programs will tackle difficult questions because they are real and, in fact, offer opportunities for improvement.” The 2-4 Project required all Ph.D. programs to submit a full report to Graduate School Dean’s Office by the end of the 2006-2007 academic year. As a result of these self-assessments, many departments have revised the structures of their programs to offer more support to students as they make the transition from course work to exams to the prospectus. As part of this effort, programs have established new course offerings and have enhanced peer mentoring and faculty advising. They have increased the channels for communication and feedback between faculty and students, have revised oral and comprehensive exams, and have added support systems to aid with the work of the prospectus, dissertation, and other writing.

Writing Tutor: The Graduate Writing Program is realizing the full potential envisioned in the Phase I proposal in 2004. With a half-time Writing Tutor through summer 2007, the program offered a wide range of writing support tailored to the needs primarily of the nine departments originally included in the grant, as well as a cross-disciplinary dissertation writing seminar. Part of the Tutor’s mandate was to create a "culture of writing,” which occurred with measurable success but on the limited scale of the grant departments. As these departments themselves became more attuned to the importance of writing as a factor affecting completion rates, they made more frequent and better use of the Tutor’s time, a shift that lead us to believe that students in all graduate programs at Yale would benefit from increased writing support. As a result we began examining the writing programs already in place in different offices of both the Graduate School and the University and attempted to consolidate and coordinate our efforts to provide more coherent and better-advertised programming to a wider segment of the graduate student population. As part of this initiative, we have hired and trained five graduate students, one from each academic division (Humanities, Sciences, and Social Sciences) and two who specialize in ESL work, to work as writing tutors. The original Writing Tutor position was converted to full time in April 2008 with the appointment of Elena Kallestinova, a University of Iowa Linguistics Ph.D., who will coordinate the work of the graduate student tutors and assess the different writing needs across the departments and programs to offer programs tailored to each.

Diversity Recruitment Coordinators (DRC) Program: The Yale Graduate School continues its efforts to encourage graduate programs to be more pro-active in recruiting outstanding and qualified students of diverse backgrounds. In 2004-2005, a pilot DRC program was implemented in six programs; in 2005-2006, it was expanded to all graduate programs. The establishment of targeted diversity recruiting within each program has allowed for more precise and holistic recruitment efforts. The DRC is a faculty member, an active member of the program’s admissions committee, who works closely with the director of graduate studies and the Graduate School’s Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity. The DRC serves as the primary contact for prospective minority students and may additionally be involved with recruitment travel, establishing partnerships with potential feeder institutions, contacting prospective and admitted students, writing recruitment letters, reading applications and other related diversity recruitment activities necessary to attracting diverse students to the program.

Dissertation Boot Camp: Coordinated by the Academic Writing Fellows of the Graduate Career Office in the McDougal Graduate Student Center, this student-run program is extremely popular and attendance slots are highly sought after. Dissertation Boot Camp creates a specific “retreat like” environment which, for attendees, intends to remove distractions and to provide needed academic and personal support. The two-day sessions, held over one weekend, can accommodate twenty students and are regularly filled to capacity. At the start of the first day each participant chooses a work station, outfitted with a power extension cord, a pad of paper, highlighters with book marking flags, a pen and bottled water. During the second day, graduate writing tutors, who have basic ESL training, are on-site to provide one-on-one writing support as requested. Warm-up exercises, meals, beverages and nutritious snacks are all provided as part of the program. Perhaps most importantly the workshop provides writers with a community of fellow writers. This program has now been absorbed into the Graduate Writing Program.



The Featured Profile* section highlights partner universities that have developed creative and/or effective approaches to optimizing Ph.D. completion, particularly for underrepresented minorities and women. Featured Profiles may include details about the structure and design of the project, the shape and effectiveness of implementation, results of recent or ongoing data analyses, and/or information about notable project leaders. For more general profiles of each participating university (including contact information and a list of participating programs), please see Project Participants.

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*If you would like your university to be featured in this section, please contact Nathan Bell.

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