Science & Research

Master’s programs see broad growth

Paxson looks to improve doctoral programs with greater funding, resources for STEM fields

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Enrollment in the University’s master’s programs has increased by 112 percent since fall 2007, while enrollment in doctoral programs has increased by only 5 percent. These numbers likely reflect the efforts made by President Christina Paxson P’19 and former President Ruth Simmons to expand master’s education while improving the quality of doctoral education, as outlined in Paxson’s strategic plan, “Building on Distinction.”

Growth of master’s programs is one way that the University can increase funding for doctoral programs, said Bernard Reginster, professor of philosophy and chair of the department. “Each department is awarded a portion of the money that students pay to attain their master’s degrees, and departments can use those funds to support their own doctoral programs,” he said.

Master’s students pay $48,272 in tuition per academic year, while the University guarantees doctoral students five years of scholarship and a stipend.

Though doctoral programs have experienced little growth, the University has increased the budget for these programs in order to support research, new programs and fellowships.

“There is a ‘filling in’ of support dedicated to students in a broad range of disciplines as part of a broader effort to increase the prominence of doctoral education at Brown,” said Peter Weber, dean of the Graduate School.

Other efforts to bolster the strength of graduate programs include incentivizing potential students and “changing the way graduate programs are accounted for,” Weber added.

The presidential fellowship, created as part of Paxson’s strategic plan, offers a select number of doctoral students across all departments “enhanced stipend support” for three years.

The University has also invested more in internal research funding, said David Savitz, vice president for research. “Funding allows faculty to compete to receive grants, but it’s also funding that supports small-scale research activity, usually in the humanities and social sciences, where you can actually complete a project with a small amount of money,” he said.

Increased funding also creates more opportunities for graduate students to learn and develop their careers, Savitz said. “Graduate students are an investment to be made, and the University is certainly pursuing that with new programs and residential fellowships that allows us to compete for the best graduate students in the country,” he added.

“We are really trying to push on research, especially in the sciences,” Paxson told The Herald in March. At the time, several graduate students expressed a fear that expanding graduate programs in the sciences would place a strain on resources for the humanities and social sciences.

But resources dedicated to the humanities and social sciences have in fact increased, Weber said. “These resources are not intended to increase the cohort sizes, but instead to provide better support for students,” he added.

The University is making a concerted effort to improve graduate programs across all departments, not just in science, technology, engineering and math, Savitz said.

“There’s a desire to advance the whole agenda — anything from the arts to the humanities to the sciences,” he said. “Within our leadership and within our office, we are very aware that we have to support the whole University.”

The University has also pushed to increase participation in Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards across the humanities and social sciences. Last summer, around 20 percent of students awarded UTRAs pursued projects in the humanities and social sciences, while the remaining 80 percent developed projects in the life or physical sciences, said Oludurotimi Adetunji, associate dean for undergraduate research and inclusive science and director of the UTRA program.

This discrepancy resulted from a significantly larger pool of applicants in the STEM fields, Adetunji said. “Even if all the applications in social sciences and humanities were spectacular and we accepted 100 percent of them, the number of projects would still be small compared to the sciences,” he said.

The UTRA program actually accepts projects in the humanities and social sciences at a “slightly higher rate” in order to partially account for this discrepancy, Adetunji said. The I-Team UTRA — a type of UTRA that supports interdisciplinary group projects involving two to six students — was developed in part to help increase the number of applications in the humanities and social sciences, he said.

“There’s no intent to create an imbalance in the University” between STEM departments and those in the humanities and social sciences, Savitz said. “It’s all about advancing knowledge and addressing important questions, whether it’s in physics, philosophy or English.”

Reginster said he has a positive impression of the University’s efforts to expand its graduate programs. “The allocation the philosophy department has received from the Graduate School has not diminished,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, but the University is at least going in the right direction.”

But improvement is not necessarily measured by growth. “It’s not a growth thing — it’s an excellence thing. The question is this: Can we, with existing resources, become a better university?” Weber said.

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