February 2, 2010
Starting Feb. 7, graduate students will have the opportunity to tell UT administrators more of what they want from the University.
A survey created by sociology professor Chandra Muller and a team of three graduate students will examine how graduate students view their academic training, quality of life, department environment, work-family balance, mentoring and advising. Although other universities such as the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley have conducted broad surveys of graduate students, Muller said UT’s study, the first of its kind at the University, is broader in scope. It fully encompasses both academic and external aspects of graduate-student life and can be used for all disciplines and schools.
Muller’s team modeled the survey after a 2008 gender-equity forum held for faculty and staff that sought information about discrepancies in pay, hiring, promotion and governance.
As was the case with the faculty forum, the team hopes to use the results of the graduate-student study as a springboard from which to submit policy recommendations to the administration.
“We know pressingly little about graduate education in terms of what works and what doesn’t,” Muller said. “We’re hoping to inform the University administration about how to improve life here for graduate students and make it so they can be more successful in their pursuits.”
Sociology graduate student Anna Mueller, one member of Muller’s team, said she believes the survey accurately evaluates the key aspects of graduate-student life in a comprehensive manner. While creating the survey, the team consulted with students from all of UT’s graduate departments to help form a wide range of questions. As a result, the survey will be vital in informing the administration about what graduate students are looking for in their programs, Mueller said.
“I’m excited that instead of just submitting complaints or talking about problems within departments, the survey will be able to pick up the more macro-level problems at UT,” she said.
Daniel Spikes, Graduate Student Assembly president and educational administration graduate student, said he hopes the survey will serve as a new link between students and the administration. In an effort to increase participation in the survey, Spikes said the assembly has been working to encourage students to respond once the survey comes out by sending them informative e-mails.
“This survey shows the University is really interested in hearing what we have to say about what helps us to be successful and improves our experience,” Spikes said. “I think students will be encouraged and empowered to give their voice. For those who are not, it’s our responsibility as the GSA to show those students that their input is valuable.”
Graduate sociology professor Kelly Raley was a key member in the execution of the gender-equity forum. She said she expects certain features of the graduate-student study, including anonymity and the broadness of the questions, will provide useful data.
“One advantage of an anonymous survey is that students can more honestly report the barriers they experience in their education than they might report to their advisers,” Raley said. “If a female graduate student is really concerned about how her family life may shape her career, she may not tell her adviser that because her adviser is more invested in her career prospects than her personal life. But having an anonymous survey can help us collect whether family life is or is not a concern.”
Muller said that because her team is composed almost entirely of graduate students, its results will be more significant than those of a survey produced by an outside firm, and the survey itself will be more cost-effective.
“This has been fueled almost entirely by graduate-student work, and I think that gives it more credibility,” Muller said. “They have a lot of ownership. I’ve been helping and making sure it’s a sound study, but this is graduate-student-driven. We’re not an outside firm that’s super costly. We’re committed to this for the purpose of improving graduate education, not for making money.”
Surveys will be delivered to the roughly 12,000 graduate and law students via e-mail.
Students will have until at least the start of spring break to respond to the surveys. There are no immediate plans to expand the survey to include undergraduate students, Muller said.