During a panel on Thursday morning at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, two deans asked the same questions that were raised by Robin Wilson in The Chronicle this week: Do graduate schools keep adequate track of what happens to their alumni? If not, why not?
“At most graduate schools, there appears to be very little central data collection about career outcomes,” said Patricia G. Calarco, dean of the graduate division at the University of California at San Francisco. Individual departments and programs often maintain their own databases, she noted, but the quality of those databases is hit or miss.
Lynne M. Pepall, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, asked the audience members (who were wielding classroom-style “clickers”) how many of their institutions kept systematic records of alumni outcomes. Of the 34 respondents, 20 said that no office at their university kept careful track. Not the dean’s office, not the alumni office, not the institutional-research office, not even individual departments.
That is a shame, the two deans said, because graduate schools would serve their students better if they had a fuller sense of the careers the students want and the careers they ultimately find.
Faculty members often don’t want to hear it, Ms. Calarco said, but a substantial proportion of graduate students don’t plan to work in traditional academic or research jobs. A survey of UCSF students in 2008 found that if they could choose only one career path, fully a third of the students wanted nonresearch jobs. Last year, the campus started an internship program that places graduate students in industry and government settings.
One difficult and sometimes painful challenge, the deans said, is to gather information about what happens over the long term to people who drop out of doctoral programs.
Of the students who withdraw from doctoral programs at Tufts within the first six years, Ms. Pepall said, roughly half walk away with master’s degrees, and many of those people seem to do well. But the university does not know much about the long-term fates of the other half, she said, and it has a responsibility to learn about them.