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Featured Profile—University of Missouri-Columbia

The University of Missouri has used its participation in CGS’s Completion Project to examine and enhance an integrated approach to the lifecycle of doctoral study. To this end, we are working closely with graduate student leaders across campus and with departmental program directors and chairs to recruit, educate, and provide professional placement for our doctoral students. Our specific initiatives are directed at the specific programs taking part in the study, but when possible we are expanding our reach to other doctoral students on campus as well.

The lifecycle of graduate education begins with recruitment and admissions. This is a two-way street, of course, and we are trying to encourage participating departments through their participation in data collection for the project to think more about “fit” than about certain raw and uncontextualized indicators (such as isolated test scores). Further, visits to campus are crucial, and we have provided funds for departments to help pay for travel to campus for prospective students. Based on the experience of successful departments, we are awarding greater funding to departments hosting group visits, as a way of encouraging what we are finding to be a “best practice” in graduate recruitment.

Once students get to doctoral study, they are often lost, and we are pushing a set of programs aimed at enculturating new students into the difficult and even bizarre world of academia. We’ve instituted a program for first-year students based on a very successful junior faculty mentoring program at the university: Colleague Circles. Graduate Colleague Circles consist of three interdisciplinary groups of fifteen students led by advanced doctoral students in fields broadly related to those of the first-year students. We’ve also mandated handbooks for participating programs based on successful templates, and we offer conflict resolutions workshops for when things go wrong.

In order to build better relations between advisers and students, we have begun “Mutual Expectations for Mentoring,” based on a well-regarded program for undergraduate education that brings together students and teachers for truly open conversation. With the help of Dr. Mel George, former University of Missouri System President and a life-long advocate of the university’s educational mission, we are experimenting with different ways of bringing together doctoral students and faculty members to talk about relevant issues. The Mutual Expectations program demonstrates–and hopes to remedy–the wide gap between students’ understanding of faculty roles and the faculty members’ understanding of student roles. These sessions are less to provide soapboxes for complaints on both sides than to provide an open, shared space, in which doctoral students and faculty members can let their guards down and try to speak to each other honestly.

We have also begun to tie existing programs, including our successful Supplemental Graduate Fellowship competition, to Completion Grant objectives. In this particular case, we have altered our annual call for proposals to reflect the importance of the lifecycle approach to graduate education, asking departments to discuss specifically how they recruit, educate, and place students, and we require that they submit their annual report from our Graduate Student Progress System, which provides a mechanism for tracking achievements and enabling direct contact between adviser and student in an annual review.

Finally, we provide funding for departments to pursue their own initiatives, including seminars and social/professional events. Physics, for example, used some Completion funding to bring in an accomplished researcher who has had successful careers in academia and in industry. The event was extremely well attended, and the question and answer session afterward demonstrated to the students the light at the end of the tunnel that so often characterizes doctoral education: successful careers that represent continued growth as intellectuals and contributors to the social good.


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.