Published August 23, 2019
The university this fall will initiate a program to enhance the excellence of PhD education across the university.
Under the leadership of the provost and deans, the university is launching UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative to enhance the education of the next generation of scholars and researchers. This initiative is designed to ensure students are prepared for opportunities they will encounter as 21st-century academics and leaders, and at the same time further elevate UB’s reputation for offering exceptional PhD programs.
“The excellence of UB’s PhD programs is critical to the university advancing its place among the nation’s very best research universities,” Zukoski said. “UB’s deans have developed a set of priorities that will enhance the scholarly excellence and pedagogy that shape this PhD Excellence Initiative,” Zukoski stated.
To support the initiative and enhance efforts to recruit excellent PhD students, deans across all academic units have decided to raise the floor for academic-year stipends to $20,000 for all full-time fully funded PhD students on 10-month appointments as teaching assistants, research assistants or graduate assistants for the 2019-20 academic year. Eligible students will be notified in October of their stipend increase and will receive payments retroactive to the start of the 2019-20 academic year.
“The broader PhD Excellence Initiative provides a shared vision by which each academic department can strengthen PhD education so that the university’s programs are competing at the highest levels worldwide,” said Michael Cain, dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and vice president for health sciences.
“The excellence of UB’s PhD programs depends on the capacity of each academic department to recruit excellent PhD candidates, to offer students programs that are pushing disciplinary boundaries, and to position our graduates for careers that create knowledge in the 21st century,” says Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This initiative enables the college to strengthen its PhD programs and provide students with funding packages that are competitive and will remain competitive over time.”
The success of PhD programs is a big factor in building international reputation, says Rajan Batta, interim dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Recruiting top students will strengthen the production of PhD programs within the engineering school and other academic units,” he says. “This will have a direct, positive impact on academic rankings.”
UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative is being launched in the midst of a national conversation about the relevance, rigor and delivery of PhD education.
For over 40 years I have preached the importance of attracting good graduate students by making stipends that are at least competitive. Even at $20,000 they are still not competitive in the sciences.
However, I am happy to see that at least something is being done. I hope it's not too late.
What about stipends for master's students? Have they increased?
Good news — this has been a long time coming. But, there are a few questions that this announcement does not address. For example, why has the floor not been raised to meet the cost of living in Buffalo, which, according to MIT, is $24,000? And will fees be reduced? They are currently the highest in the SUNY system, cutting drastically into the stipend. And also, will departments be required to reduce the size of the PhD cohorts to facilitate this change?
Respectfully, I look forward to these questions being answered.
1. What exactly is meant by "fully funded" students? Who is and who is not a "fully funded" student?
2. Does this $20,000 target take into account the fact that grad students appear to have to pay $2,500 a year in miscellaneous fees? From what I've seen so far, the fees are paid out of the $20,000, but perhaps that will change in October. I hope so. Otherwise, the stipend would appear to actually be $17,500.
The TA stipend problem is at least 30+ years old. The administration has refused to deal with this issue all these years. Student stipends vary between departments. The typical stipends in physics, for example, have been above $24,000-$32,000 a year, competitive for quite a while. So the expectation that a stipend of $20,000 will affect quality in areas where higher stipends are offered at AAU peers is hence incorrect. It's high time the university administration takes the student stipend issue at UB seriously.