As part of a major academic initiative, Syracuse University officials say tweaks to existing programs and new funding opportunities will better support graduate students, whose work is key to the university’s standing as a major research college, professors say.
By increasing research opportunities and support for graduate students and faculty, SU aims to continue to develop its standing as one of the top research universities in the country, said John Liu, vice president of research.
“They’re kind of an overlooked group, but they’re actually kind of the lifeblood of the university in terms for research,” said David Althoff, an associate professor of biology, about graduate students. “If we don’t have good graduate students and resources available for them, research just doesn’t get done.”
Several professors said finding solutions to improving research at the graduate student level could allow them to teach less and provide monetary support for research and travel.
As part of Chancellor Kent Syverud’s broad Academic Strategic Plan, the university has said that it plans to better support doctoral and postdoctoral student research.
“We will work to attract and retain outstanding doctoral students, including those from underrepresented groups,” the document states. “We also will enhance recognition of and support for doctoral programs by providing competitive stipends, benefits and workloads; increasing University and dissertation fellowships and awards for summer research and travel; and facilitating professional growth and networking opportunities.”
SU is a major Research 1 designated university, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. That organization determines a Research 1 classification based on, in part, the amount of doctoral student research at a university.
In previous years, if a faculty member wanted to hire a graduate student to assist with lab research, they would be required to pay the student’s salary as well as the student’s tuition, Althoff said. When students were working in a lab instead of teaching, those funds needed to be supplemented, he said.
Althoff said the school recently waived the required student tuition fee for researching faculty, who can now hire students solely at the student’s salary rate.
“I think the university is committed to … more investment into research and providing more opportunities for research, which will directly back graduate students, postdocs,” said Ramesh Raina, the chair of the university’s biology department. “I think it’s an exciting time.”
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Raina said the university recently launched a new internal grant program to provide funding for faculty research, called the Collaboration for Unprecedented Success and Excellence, or CUSE grants program. The program is part of Invest Syracuse, a $100 million academic fundraising plan.
Those faculty research projects, paid for by CUSE grant funding, will generate more research opportunities for graduate students, he said.
There’s $1 million in total grant funding available, with specific awards possible — $30,000, $10,000 and $5,000, Raina said.
Althoff said he believes SU’s administration intends to improve graduate research and support. But he also said that he has not seen many details of plans to improve graduate programs.
“I think the focus and part of the plan of making (graduate programs) better is good,” Althoff said. “The question becomes whether or not the methods that are implemented will actually make the program better.”
If there were more opportunities for students to apply for internal grants or funding, Althoff said those students would be able to do their own research. That option could be “pricey,” though, in the field of biology, he added.
Dan Coman, a professor of mathematics, said the university’s graduate research programs would be stronger if there were more research fellowships or opportunities for graduate students without a required teaching assistantship.
Both Coman and Althoff said supporting graduate students is vital to research. The quality of research affects the reputation of the university and its potential to receive external grants.
Steven Diaz, a mathematics professor, said decreasing the teaching requirements of graduate students to allow them more time for research would be beneficial, but he understands “the university is not flush with cash.”
Multiple professors said graduate students are integral to having a strong research institution, to assist with teaching, research and publishing.
“I think to have a strong university and a strong department, for any particular department, it’s important to have a good Ph.D. program,” Coman said. “This is where the future generation of researchers and professors are formed.”
SU also plans to bolster faculty research opportunities, corresponding with the additional support for doctoral and postdoctoral research, as part of the Academic Strategic Plan.
The university plans to hire 100 new faculty members through Invest Syracuse. The $100 million fundraising initiative aims to support the university’s strategic plan. As part of that initiative, Raina said the administration plans to identify the disciplines that require more professors and fill those holes.
“In the past several years, they’ve been increasing the student body without correspondingly increasing the faculty,” Diaz said.
Published on February 18, 2018 at 10:31 pm
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