Tomorrow’s scholars will be attracted to study at Virginia Tech only if there is an excellent faculty in place, along with equally strong and relevant graduate programs. The philosophy of graduate education reflected in Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen DePauw’s “Transformative Graduate Education” initiative calls for attention to the quality of the graduate experience beyond curricular offerings, a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration and professional development opportunities. Addressing related matters of graduate student campus life, including work-life balance, stipend adequacy, suitable housing, routinely successful faculty-student relations and effective professorial mentoring, leadership opportunities and scholarly integrity, will contribute to achieving the desired intellectual and social environment for Tomorrow’s Scholars.
The subcommittee recommends the University take such steps as necessary to ensure that internationally competitive faculties staff its graduate program offerings and post-doctoral opportunities, as these will attract very strong graduate and post-doctoral recruitment pools. That dynamic in turn will ensure vigorously competitive graduate and research programs whose success will continue to attract robust enrollments of highly competitive students, while increasing opportunities for curricular innovation, enrollment growth and external support where appropriate. In other words, success will breed success.
One challenge the university must address in order to recruit and retain the best and brightest graduate students is ensuring the competitiveness of its stipends and fellowships. For example, an average doctoral student stipend in the STEM-H disciplines is $25,000 per year, plus tuition and benefits, for four years. Given this cost structure, it appears unlikely increased sponsored research funding alone will provide sufficient funds to achieve significant growth in the graduate student population. The committee recommends this issue be examined carefully and that alternative sources of funding be explored aggressively should graduate enrollment growth ultimately be thought desirable. If a rise in graduate student population is determined to be an appropriate aspiration, the subcommittee recommends that signature programs be selected and supported in both the Blacksburg and National Capital Region campus locations that represent a cross section of existing and newly created offerings that include all colleges. “Graduate education in the United States has been an enormously successful enterprise, serving the vital scientific, cultural and economic needs of the national and global community. Our graduate schools are epicenters of discovery, innovation, and application, leading to advancements that affect every one of us.” CGS President Debra W. Stewart. A newly focused Virginia Tech should nonetheless remain a comprehensive research institution with vibrant programs and curricula in the humanities and arts, social sciences, engineering, business, and natural sciences. Likewise, the subcommittee believes it important that more post-doctoral scholars pursue research at the university in pertinent fields, especially perhaps, those linked closely to the health sciences where such opportunities are both expected and commonplace. We recognize, however, that the lion’s share of any increase in the number of such posts will likely arise, if at all, from increased faculty success in securing funds to support such roles. This said, well-chosen post-doctoral scholars could contribute vitally to a robust climate of research excellence in the domains in which they work.