Note: This entry was co-written with James Soto Antony. Dr. Antony is Professor of Educational Leadership & Policy and Adjunct Professor in Sociology at the University of Washington. He also serves as Associate Vice Provost & Associate Dean for The Graduate School. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
A new academic year is here. If you’re like us, professors at major research universities, you appreciate the everyday impact that graduate students have on your work, and on your very success. Yet to the casual observer, it might appear that most major research universities take graduate students for granted. Few research universities place, up front and center, graduate education as one of the things they advertise as part of their core work. In fact, most spend the majority of their airtime talking about what they do with undergraduates.
It’s easy to understand why, even at research universities, undergraduates tend to dominate our public narrative. After all, undergraduates are a very important population, one our research universities must work harder to educate and serve well. Most Americans associate the college years with the undergraduate years. And most politicians and policy makers focus – rightly so – on creating opportunities for more students to earn first-time undergraduate degrees.
But here’s the thing. A well functioning research university succeeds when it enjoys a healthy ecosystem of great faculty and staff, adequate resources, state-of-the-art facilities, well-functioning infrastructure, smart undergraduates, and (yes) fantastic graduate students. Each of these elements in the ecosystem shapes one another. Each needs to be in place.
In the case of graduate education, good graduate programs with great graduate students, go a long way toward helping an institution attract and retain the very best faculty members. Discoveries in our labs, most new innovations and technologies, and even new ways of exploring old questions — among the many products of a typical research university’s faculty — almost always benefit from the contributions of graduate students. And it almost goes without saying that much of our undergraduate instruction is shaped by the quality of our graduate students, many who teach on a regular basis. Even our success securing grants and other forms of extramural funding, and our capacity to execute that funded research, is partly a function of the quality of our graduate students. The list goes on and on.
In a nutshell, show us a great research university and we will show you a university with vibrant, world-class graduate students. It’s refreshing to observe the handful of presidents at major research universities who intimately understand this and, with every chance they get, choose to talk about it — even dare to become evangelists for graduate education. Perhaps more presidents will seize the opportunity to do so.
As a new academic year begins, we (like all the faculty around the nation who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with graduate students) look forward to mentoring our graduate students, to learning from them, and to collaborating in meaningful and important ways with them. And, we encourage academic leaders of research universities, all of whom are stewards of their institutions’ futures, to learn more about the amazing work of graduate students at their institutions and finding ways to talk about the important role graduate education plays.