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Program Environment

The academic “environment” of a PhD program is shaped by department-led and university-wide efforts to create the conditions for high expectations, high performance, and strong student support. The majority of students’ interactions with faculty and peers in a doctoral program take place in the formal spaces of the classroom, the laboratory, or the advisor’s office. But much of the social interaction that may be conducive both to degree completion and to the adoption of a professional identity in the discipline occurs outside of these formal research spaces. A comfortable graduate student lounge, for example, with professional publications, bulletin boards listing activities in the discipline, and visible recognition of student achievements can provide a space for students to exchange information and to begin the process of assimilating into the social circle of their chosen discipline [1]. Campus-wide organizations and graduate student centers can provide professional development and networking opportunities, and can foster interdisciplinary discussion and community building. Informal opportunities to participate in department events, regular social gatherings, or team sports may also prove to be important components of a graduate student’s socialization to their academic discipline.

Nelson, C. and B. Lovitts. [2001]. “10 Ways to Keep Graduate Students from Leaving.” Chronicle of Higher Education. June 29.

Promising Practices

The PhD Completion Project supports interventions and innovative practices designed to enhance both the formal as well as the informal spaces that comprise the environment of PhD programs. Promising practices identified by participating universities in the area of enhancing the program and university environment include:

Support Networks and Support Services

  • Initiate campus-wide efforts to bring students together across disciplines for academic and social interaction
  • Encourage graduate student organizations in all programs/ departments to explore community building activities
  • Promote involvement of graduate students as members of campus-wide or department-wide committees to promote their career development, campus networking, and connection to the campus
  • Promote faculty and staff participation in conferences and workshops focused on graduate student services, retention, and development
  • Establish the Center for Graduate Student Development to provide offerings tailored to support success during their graduate school experience
  • Development of Student Groups
  • Evaluate with departments the services each provides to graduate students and determine specific needs and appropriate approaches
  • Developing a Network for Support
    • Doctoral Student Connection – A facilitated blogging system that enables communication and forms a network between doctoral students
    • Monthly Support Group for Minority Students
  • Update institution and program webpages to provide an overview of initiatives to improve PhD completion and highlight efforts to create a more nurturing environment where students can be successful
  • Embark on a new capital campaign effort to raise funds for a Graduate Student Commons which will be a center for graduate student activities, both academic and social, to promote greater interaction among students of all disciplines
  • Outreach to and integration of Fellows

Family Accommodation Policies

  • Implement a Parental Accommodation Policy
  • Develop institution-wide policy on family and medical leave for graduate assistants


  • Retention support and intervention services
  • Conflict resolution workshops
  • Graduate Colleague Circles
  • Directors of Graduate Studies Summit and DGS Network