Reinventing the PhD – 5.13.22

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff, You surely remember your experience as a PhD student, and now, as faculty or staff you may have contact with our College of Science PhD trainees and see how they are doing. I remember being honored to have the opportunity of a place in graduate school, and incredulous that it was sponsored. The research was interesting but difficult, and I worked incredibly hard, sometimes alone in the lab at night and generally lonely. I had no idea what came next. My thesis is on a Richards office bookshelf, and although I’m proud of the work, I would say my PhD training was a mixed experience. The first PhDs were awarded in the 12th Century and aspects of PhD training have not changed since. The path to PhD is often a lonely one, focused on the research project and coursework in the discipline. Moreover, trainees are often unclear what to do after degree completion. These limitations make the PhD pathway, including in the College of Science, unattractive to groups already marginalized across the demographic of society. Furthermore, our 2020/21 College of Science climate survey reveals that many of our PhD trainees do not feel part of a community and perceive their environment as unsupportive or unwelcoming. Other universities face the same challenges, that are a manifestation of a largely archaic landscape of PhD training. These considerations are the reason that ‘Reinventing the PhD’ has been a goal I set for the College from the outset. Because, in fact, the PhD is a vastly useful degree that opens huge career opportunities. The data lead us to understand that reinventing PhD training is an obligation and a leadership opportunity for the College of Science and Northeastern University. What do we mean? Reinvent the PhD in what ways? We propose a transformative Program, the Connected Science Community PhD. The Program is being built as a co-owned enterprise between departments and Dean’s Office that adds to existing disciplinary PhD Programs, where graduate committees play a hugely valuable role. COS trainees will form a cross-disciplinary cohort that moves as a Connected Science Community (Figure below) through skills empowerment, co-mentorship and often cross-disciplinary research projects. The goal is that each trainee becomes an independent thinker capable of performing highest quality research, and a confident, entrepreneurial, problem-solver, with flexible skills that can be applied to any career. Students will engage with the banquet of brilliant careers open to them, including through work experience. The LEADERs program, from the PhD Network prepares students, and work placements will be made by our new graduate COS unit, led by Vanecia Harrison-Sanders. 

Changing aspects of PhD training will give us opportunity to recruit a more diverse set of candidates, and the ‘lonely road’ of PhD training will be replaced by an 'exhilarating hike’ with a collaborative, collegial group. Please look at the item from Associate Dean Jared Auclair below, announcing the first cohort of the Connected Science Community PhD Program. This will begin over the summer, is fully funded and you are welcome to encourage your new students to enroll. It’s an experience you might have liked for your own PhD training.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University