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The Academy's Dirty Little Secret

The National Research Council is in the process of revamping how they rate graduate programs. I posted the following comment following an article on this topic in Inside Higher Ed:

Great news for current and future graduate students

All graduate students should rejoice that ratings of doctoral programs will consider such data as “how students are treated and how they perform, including attrition rates and the time it takes students to complete their degrees.” As a dissertation coach, I get an earful from clients and from readers of my newsletter about mistreatment and neglect by advisors and committee. Poor advising inevitably results in poorer and slower performance by students. As a tenure coach, I hear plenty of the same stories — I have clients who can’t bear to face publishing their dissertation because it brings back memories of their advisor’s treatment of them. Some of the most hair-raising stories come from graduates of the most well-respected programs.
The only way for this situation to change is for the institutions to feel that there is a price to pay for poorly treated graduate students. They will then make sure that the individual departments provide 1) adequate oversight of the supervisory process and 2) programs to prepare the graduate students to perform optimally as they complete their dissertations, publish and find work.
If the institutions feel the pressure to oversee the departments in this regard, my hope is that professors will be rewarded, in terms of recognition, promotion, and tenure, for excellence in graduate student advising. The new NRC rating system should thus eventually lead to fewer miserable graduate students, and put me out of a job!

What particularly interested me was the following comment by “R.A.S.”:

Academia’s dirty little secret revealed

” .. mistreatment and neglect by advisors and committee.”
Hear, hear!
Students allow themselves to lured into Big Academia to support auditorium-sized classes — then get abused by poorly-planned graduate programs and senior academics avoiding their professional and personal responsibilities.
If the general public every finds out the facts — look out below! Other colleges could only benefit.

R.A.S.’s response got me thinking – it really is a dirty little secret. Way too many students are accepted into graduate students without being clearly told how small a chance they have of getting they’re longed-for jobs in academia. They are frequently left to languish in their programs with poor training for the research they are doing and inadequate advising. Then they are not given help in considering job alternatives.Who is going to do something about this situation? Let’s see if the new rankings will lead to some necessary changes. Otherwise those grad student tuitions will be too appealing to university administrations who only think of the bottom line.


  1. Anonymous6:37 AM

    I second this, as a matter of fact. back in my bachelor degree days I spoke with a teacher who just came out of a meeting about "what to do with the overwhelming new registrants".

    Back then, i was shocking to hear what their strategy was; 1. accept, 2. poor support and coordination, 3. wait-for-the dropouts. These type of academies can really damage a individualist self-worthiness, self-efficacy forever. It's a shame

    Tom from the Netherlands, Rotterdam

  2. Wow, Tom -- it's incredible to hear that someone would admit out loud such a strategy. It's as if they forget that these are human beings. They are abdicating their responsibilities as educators.


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