University Announces New Framework for Doctoral Education

October 8, 2019 (last updated on December 11, 2019)

On Tuesday, October 8, the University of Chicago announced a new framework for doctoral education. Following that, Dean Amanda Woodward sent the message below to all Division faculty and PhD students:

Dear colleagues:

As Provost Diermeier announced earlier today, the University of Chicago will be implementing a transformative approach to supporting doctoral students in Social Sciences, Humanities, Divinity and Social Service Administration throughout their academic programs and into their subsequent careers. Phased in over two academic years beginning in 2020-2021, these innovative changes will require each of us to think broadly, deeply, and differently about the resources and programs offered to PhD students in our Division. 

The new framework responds to the recommendations emerging from the work of the University’s Committee on Graduate Education as well as those of the Division’s Doctoral Education Review Committee. The University is committing to significantly increasing financial support for doctoral students, including a guaranteed minimum stipend, tuition coverage, and health insurance; re-envisioning the role of pedagogical training in doctoral education; and expanding the suite of programs that support the academic and career success of doctoral students.

The principles of the new model offer us an opportunity to enhance our outstanding and unique environment for doctoral education in the social sciences. Bringing these principles into practice will require efforts at many levels over the coming years, with the most important conversations occurring among students and faculty within each department. Indeed, a strength of the new model is its framework for each department to design specialized programs that support students’ education, research, and career paths. 

As part of the initial efforts resulting from the division’s doctoral education review process, work at the departmental level on these key issues is already underway. Among early initiatives, last spring SSD departments established mentoring committees. These groups of students and faculty are charged with reviewing doctoral milestones and requirements and developing departmental plans for mentoring students through each stage of doctoral education. The progress of these committees will be essential as departments consider how best to support timely progress toward the degree. In the year to come each department will also evaluate the role of pedagogical training in doctoral education, establishing a program of mentored teaching experiences appropriate for students in the discipline. 

The Division is committed to ensuring that students at all stages of their doctoral programs thrive as we move forward. As the Provost’s message outlines, students who entered doctoral programs in the Summer 2016 or later and are in good academic standing will be supported via the new funding model. Students who entered their programs and are in good academic standing before the Summer 2016 will continue to be eligible for Divisional Dissertation Completion Fellowships, as detailed in the announcement that was distributed in early September. In addition, the Teaching Fellows in Social Sciences Program, a competitive and mentored post-doctoral program designed to enhance pedagogical skills and job market readiness, will continue to be available to recent graduates of PhD programs in the Division, and we expect the program to grow in the years ahead. 

My colleagues in the Dean’s office and I look forward to closely supporting departments in the additional facets of the work now needed to meet the goals of the new doctoral support model. As part of the mentoring discussions, we are providing departments with materials and data to help inform the development of those plans. In the coming weeks, I, along with leadership from the Office of the Provost, will meet with each department chair and graduate student director. In November, I will meet with each department. Patrick Hall and his team in the Dean of Students Office are ready to provide advice to students and faculty as questions arise. The Dean’s Advisory Council, a student committee with representation from each department, has provided important advice to departments on the construction of mentoring plans, and we will continue to consult with this group for guidance as the new funding model takes shape within the Division. Further, because it proved so useful during last year’s review process, we will also open a confidential, anonymous form via which PhD students in the Division can submit comments and questions at any time. 

The University of Chicago is renowned for our enduring commitment to the development of new generations of leading scholars across disciplines. The changes ahead for doctoral funding create the opportunity for the University to become a model for the future of doctoral education. At the same time, I recognize that these changes will create new challenges. I thank you, in advance, for your engagement in and patience with the project that lies ahead.

With best wishes,

Amanda Woodward
Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences
William S. Gray Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology 
The University of Chicago