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University News

Open grad program allows students to pursue two fields

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Graduate School has chosen nine students to participate in the debut of its Open Graduate Programs, an interdisciplinary option that combines doctoral studies in a primary field with master’s-level studies in an additional field. The initiative will expand the University’s undergraduate open curriculum into its graduate studies.

The purpose of the new graduate education program is to help students achieve in-depth knowledge in a second field, open new career options and give graduates an advantage in the job market, said Peter Weber, dean of the Graduate School.

“This is a great initiative that makes Brown stand out from its peer institutions,” said Matteo Riondato GS, president of the Graduate Student Council. “Hopefully, Brown can take the lead in expanding graduate education to make it more modern and suitable to the needs of students.”

Earlier this year, a committee of University faculty members reviewed letters of recommendation and essays from 20 graduate student applicants. Though the initial plan was to select 13 students for the first year, the committee ultimately only recommended nine students, Riondato said.

“The selection committee felt those candidates presented the best applications and were the ones worth funding,” he said.

The group of graduate students participating in the program will have an educational experience distinct from what traditional graduate programs offer, said Susan Herringer GS. Herringer is enrolled in the program and will now pursue an M.A. in archeology with her Ph.D. in engineering. 

“I will be taking a lot more classes and doing more interdisciplinary work,” Herringer said.

To complete the program, students will need to fulfill the requirements for both courses of study. No more than two classes can be used to satisfy the requirements of both degrees, and theses are required in both subjects, according to the program application.

Herringer hopes to design her master’s thesis in conjunction with her doctoral thesis by integrating it as a chapter of her doctoral dissertation, she said.

“The reason I came to Brown was to do engineering and archeology,” she said. “I applied to the program so Brown would recognize this collaboration between the two departments.”

The Grad School has made funding available to assist the students in the completion of program requirements. In addition to providing financial support for summer studies, the Grad School will offer an additional sixth year of funding for Ph.D. students enrolled in the program in some cases, Herringer said. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will also provide support for graduate students pursuing humanities disciplines.

Reactions to the program within the University community have been overwhelmingly positive, Weber said. Some have voiced concerns that the program distracts from primary doctoral studies, but most agree there is value in the pilot project, he said. 

The “open curriculum has always been the hallmark of the undergraduate program … it only makes sense (the University) offers a special option to graduate students with promising cross-disciplinary research programs,” Neal Fox GS wrote in an email to The Herald. 

“It’s safe to say this program is a wonderful example of students and faculty agreeing it is an important thing to try,” Weber said. “My hope is that we can expand this program in the future and that it becomes a part of University culture.”

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