Here is the memo that we presented to the external reviewers today. We left them each with a copy, letting them know that we’d be happy to extrapolate further on any point if they want to email us.
We did our best to synthesize the feedback we got from you. Please know that we value the feedback you provided, and even if it didn’t show up in the memo, we would like to follow up with you and speak to relevant people in the department about your concerns.
The reviewers were very receptive, and assured us that they would be taking this feedback into consideration when they prepare their formal review, which will be made publicly available once they’re finished (probably in the new year).
We feel that we’ve opened some great dialogues with those of you who sent us feedback, and we’d like to keep those open. If you didn’t send us feedback in time for this meeting, please feel free to send it whenever. These are exactly the type of issues we want to attempt to address as your co-chairs.
Thanks again for your contributions.
Caroline Diezyn and Adam Bowes
November 23, 2015
Meeting with Dr. Alan Bewell and Dr. Nicolas Witschi re: departmental external review
Graduate English Society Co-Chairs:
-we feel well-prepared and supported with honest explanations of some of the baffling idiosyncrasies of the processes regarding applying to external funding, conferences, etc.
-the grad students are in resounding agreement that we would be lost without our tireless and long-suffering admin staff
-the diverse interests of our talented faculty come up again and again as a positive aspect of the English department
-there’s a lot of anxiety around the changes recently made to the PhD1 year structure and when they take their comps. Students going through this year currently express concerns over time management when they are studying for their exam while teaching and attending courses.
-students feel that the first two years seem secluded from the dissertation. If students had to organize their dissertation committee before choosing their comps fields they could consult with their committee about the best choices in order to ensure that studying for the comps is part of the bigger picture of the dissertation.
-there is an inconsistency with how each field organizes its reading list (some are much longer than others). What’s more, there seems to be an inconsistency in the way each committee describes the worthiness and use of completing comps to their candidates. It’s difficult to motivate oneself to complete comps when one’s committee is disparaging the premise of this type of exam at all. Which leads to…
-there’s a lot of skepticism around the efficacy of comps and whether or not they accurately measure a candidate’s competency or qualification in a field
-many universities in North America use different models for their qualifying requirements. Would changing to a system that uses the “designing a course” framework be more beneficial, for example?
-there’s a lot of anxiety around the fact that though a student’s transcript shows only P(ass) or F(ail) or Pass with Distinction, students are assigned specific number grades. The anxiety arises from the inevitable comparisons made between students when there ultimately needs not be any basis for comparison beyond “passed.” More concerning, though, is when a student fails an exam, and receives a grade only a few points shy of a pass. While it might seem generous to award a student a grade very close to a pass, the effect on the student’s psychological well-being is that they will continue to wonder where they lost those few points that have effectively changed their lives. As a result, it might be beneficial to change the system so that students receive only P or F or P w/distinction rather than number grades, since that is all that will show up on their transcript.
international student concerns:
-working to support oneself over the summer when funding isn’t provided is exponentially more difficult for international students who may not be able to seek outside employment because of their visas
-international students feel that the department doesn’t consider their unique concerns and needs when it comes to the added expense of moving here and living as an international student
X-year student concerns:
-students who are beyond the 4th year in their dissertation and no longer receive funding also don’t receive essentials such as office space or mailboxes which makes it difficult for them to be integrated into departmental life and affects their ability to work at finishing their dissertation.
-they also have voiced concerns that they feel isolated from the rest of the department because the department seems to place priority on those in their first four years but doesn’t provide support for those paying tuition out of pocket in subsequent years.
-similarly to international students, X-year students would like support in finding employment off-campus to support themselves without departmental funding. For example, dissertation committees/professors cultivating relationships with local businesses (schools, tutoring companies, etc.) beyond forwarding emails would go far to help place students into meaningful positions of employment.
-travel funding has recently decreased to $300 and students are finding it difficult to justify conference travel (let alone research travel) with this amount. Other options are available on campus but they are more competitive.
Transparency for TA assignments
-the department asks grad students to provide a list of their preferred assignments and often supervisors/professors request students, but it seems that time and again these requests aren’t fulfilled
-students understand that the department can’t make everyone happy all the time but it happens with enough frequency and with so little transparency regarding the system used to assign that it has raised some eyebrows
-students are left feeling that the department is “disorganized or indifferent” toward their preferences
-communication and more transparency regarding the decisions for these TA assignments would be much appreciated