Creating a Supportive Program
Another aspect of graduate education that our studies show is extremely important but often overlooked is the intellectual atmosphere within the program. Graduate students crave to become part of the community of scholars in your program and only you and your program faculty can develop an intellectual atmosphere that not only challenges our students but boosts their confidence and pride in their program. Achieving an intellectual environment requires more than hours spent in laboratories; it requires the creation of opportunities for students and faculty members to interact with one another by exchanging and debating ideas in seminars, symposia, and journal clubs. Exposing students to different perspectives to those currently found in your program by hosting visiting scholars/faculty and outside speakers and allowing graduate students to meet and interact with them is very worthwhile. Viewing our graduate students as junior colleagues rather than just students or employees helps to establish the supportive atmosphere important to student success.
Creating an intellectual environment does not necessarily cost a large amount of money, but it does require a commitment and expectation on the part of the faculty that they will participate in this endeavor. It is interesting that our retention study found that almost all program directors and their department chairs agreed that this environment was desirable and necessary to nourish our students. Those of our programs that do promote this environment appear to have better retention of their students. Perhaps one of the most important contributions that you can make to create an intellectual and supportive environment in your program is to promote research seminars, symposia, and journal clubs in your program.