Rackham holds graduate education symposium

Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 7:39pm

The Rackham Graduate School hosted a panel, "Adapting to Change and Maintaining Excellence" on advancing graduate education Friday morning.

The Rackham Graduate School hosted a panel, "Adapting to Change and Maintaining Excellence" on advancing graduate education Friday morning. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Approximately 100 community members attended a panel hosted by Rackham Graduate School titled “Adapting to Change and Maintaining Excellence” as part of an all-day faculty symposium on advancing graduate education Friday morning. 

The discussion was moderated by Earl Lewis, professor of history, Afroamerican and African studies and public policy as well as the founding director of the University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions, and featured academic leaders from different institutions in the nation. 

The panel discussed topics such as diversity during business recruiting, incentives to keep graduate students in academia and how to predict student success.

Robin Garrell, chemistry professor at the University of California Los Angeles, discussed how her institution’s faculty members seek to minimize risk while recruiting graduate students. She pointed out that the process of drawing a line on a chart based on GPA puts underrepresented groups at a disadvantage since the average GPA of private schools is three-tenths higher than public schools.

“It’s not a thumb on the scale, it’s a mighty hand,” Garrell said.

Rackham student Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz questioned whether different universities are implementing functional changes outside of admissions to ensure groups from minority backgrounds feel welcome.

“It is impossible as a Black woman to get your hair done,” Tucker-Shabazz said. “Some people cut their hair to express themselves, but for Black women, it is not even a choice.” 

The panel then transitioned into a discussion on how to help students in graduate school stay interested in academia. 

Charles Isbell, professor at Georgia Technological University, said there are 1,275 academic departments that have the potential for growth, but are held back by competition with the private sector. He said the number of doctorate students who continue in academia after graduation has dropped by 30 percent.

“There needs to be a cultural push from students to be interested in research,” Isbell said.

Lewis also brought up the issue of convincing faculty members that it is part of their job to mentor students and put effort into recruiting them. Elizabeth Watkins, professor at the University of California San Francisco and dean of the Graduate Division, echoed this sentiment. 

Towards the end of the event, Isbell stressed the importance of incentivizing faculty to ensure they are recruiting students to the best of their ability.

“In the end, the reward for good work, is more work and for bad work is less work,” Isbell said. “There are people who care and they will do (their) job.”

Daily staff reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu.