September 14, 2011: ADCOM Minutes

Graduate Council Advisory Committee
HUC 325
Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Members present: Puri Bangalore, Gregg Janowski, Melissa Galvin, Jim Collawn, Kyle Grimes, Bryan Noe, Susan Rich, Jeff Engler, Cecelia Graham, Erica Pryor, Rosalyn Weller, Jesse Milby, Philip Way

Staff: Susan Banks, Cynthia Ballinger, Thomas Harris

Guests: Dr. Linda Moneyham, Dr. Steve Watts, and Ramona Hart

Action Items:

    1. The first action item on the agenda was the review of a proposal from the School of Optometry to establish a Sensory Impairment Management Track in the Vision Science Program. Proposed Guests: Dr. Kent Keyser; Ramona Hart (Dr. Keyser could not attend).  Prospective students will have a Masters degree, and will be working professionals. There is a demonstrated need for more scientists conducting research in the sensory impairment field.  There are only four universities in the US which offer a similar concentration in a PhD program. The closest of these schools geographically is Texas Tech.  Salus University (PA) in through a grant funded by the DOE provides five years of funding for students to earn a PhD in this field which provides stipend support of $20K per year.  There will be no new student support funding from UAB to add students who would choose to train in the proposed track. Students will either apply for the national funded grant through Salus, or pay the full cost of their education themselves. A  selection committee comprised of Salus faculty will select the students who will be funded via the grant administered through Salus. The structure of the curriculum is quite similar to that required in the current Vision Science PhD program. Students who are admitted can choose their primary advisor from among a wide variety of interdisciplinary faculty members. During the first year, students will complete three ten week lab rotations. At the end of the first year, students will select a mentor from one of the three lab rotations to supervise their PhD research. The differences between the two PhD program tracks is the qualifying exam will not be a comprehensive exam, but rather preparation of a NIH grant proposal.  Students admitted into this track will be required to have a Masters degree and three years of relevant working experience.  After discussion, several  recommendations for modifications of the proposal were made by ADCOM members.  These involved clarification of admissions criteria and modifications of the proposed curriculum.  A motion to approve with the recommended changes was made.  The proposal was approved (pending inclusion of the recommended changes) unanimously.

    2. The second action item was consideration of the possibility of establishing an ADCOM recommendation for a standard timeline for satisfactorily completing doctoral comprehensive/qualifying exams. The Graduate Student Advisory Committee which represents the GSA and the graduate programs, meets with Drs. Noe and Engler on a monthly basis  The students have expressed concern regarding the variety of procedures followed by program’s require, and a perceived lack of adherence within programs to their own guidelines.  A poll of the student group revealed timelines for completing qualifying exams ranging from the Fall of the second year to Fall, or even spring, of fifth year.  With regard to exam format, there is also a wide program specific difference between disciplines. As a recommendation only to graduate programs, ADCOM would like to have a consensus on the timeline for which students should take qualifying exams. After discussion, a motion was made to recommend that all predoctoral trainees should take their qualifying exam no later than the end of their third year in their program.  Individual programs are at liberty to require shorter timelines.  The motion was approved unanimously, and the announcement was made to all program directors during the Graduate Council meeting held on October 5, 2011.

    3. The third agenda item was a discussion regarding quality vs. quantity of students in research based doctoral program admissions. The discussion was led by Dr. Steve Watts.  As university and departmental budgets are becoming more restrictive, it is increasingly difficult to identify resources to support predoctoral trainees.  In numerous graduate programs, faculty members are reluctant to commit to taking new students as trainees, or even for rotations due to the current difficulty of retaining grant funding.  Moreover, reductions in state resources have also negatively affected availability of bridge funding.  Also, career placement after the students have received their degrees is a concern.  Data generated by the National Academies indicate that only 36% of PhD graduates in the life and health sciences actually get a positions in their respective fields.   In the Engineering and Computer Science programs, enrollments will not increase because work experience has become more valuable for employers than the PhD degree credential. Graduates from Professional Science Masters programs are in high demand which has driven enrollment increases.  Discussion of this issue revealed a clear consensus that more emphasis should be placed on admitting only the most well qualified students into UAB PhD programs.   UAB is a very specialized university granting 85% of doctoral degrees in the STEM disciplines.   Perhaps some consideration should be given to placing more emphasis on that fact in terms of student recruitment as we go forward. 

Information Items:

    1. Implementation of the new GRE; timeline issues – Noe. The new GRE test has begun being administered as of August 1. The new test is a projected to represent a better measurement of how graduate students think and work.  Portions of the test that are currently considered to be less relevant have been eliminated.  Also, students are now allowed to skip  forward through sections of the test, and come back later to the skipped sections. The new test is given totally online at secure testing locations, with a few rural areas still with no access to computer technology still administering the paper test. The new scoring scale for the V and Q components is a range between 130 and 170 in one point increments.  Using the percentile rankings will be more helpful to program directors that the raw scores in trying to compare performance of students on the old and new exam. The analytical writing portion of the test is the same, being scored on a scale of 1 to 6. The first set of scores from students who have taken the new test will not be released until November. The graduate school staff will input the information into AppyYourself as quickly as possible. 

    2. Solicitation of resource allocation applications for FY 2013 – Noe. Deadline will be November 15

    3. Individual Fellowship Incentive Plan funding paradigm – Noe. As a recap: the program was started in Spring 2007, the Graduate School awards $250 for first time submission to students who apply to a viable individual fellowship provider.  If the student is awarded a fellowship (depending on the stipend amount) the student would be supplemented back up to the stipend level in the student’s cohort plus an additional $2000. Since that time, 205 students have applied for the fellowships and 54 have been funded. The capture rate is nearly 30%. Calculated on last year’s NIH NRSA stipend level, the total dollar amount generated is in excess of $1.5 million per year in stipends supporting the 54 successful students. The Graduate School and Provost’s Office have developed a way to re-budget resources so that the Graduate School will cover the supplementation of successful students’ stipends up to their cohort level plus $1000.  This will then completely relieve the burden from the mentors and departments to find supplemental funding for the incentive.  A general announcement regarding this change was distributed to chairs, program directors, program administrators, and students early in October.

    4. Allowing students to participate in formal commencement activities before completion of all degree requirements – Noe. If all graduation requirements are complete, the Graduate School will allow doctoral recipients to participate in the Hooding Ceremony. Masters degree recipients are given permission to participate in commencement activities by the Student Life office.  However, the degrees are not conferred until all requirements have been met and all paper work and approvals have been submitted.

    5. UAB involvement in the CIRTL initiative – Engler. UAB has been selected to become part of an expanded network of 25 universities in a network of schools which will provide enhanced Professional Development opportunities for graduate students and postdocs. CIRTL is the Center for the Integration of Research Teaching and Learning. The network will provide many online professional development activities sponsored by all members of the network.  UAB will contribute to that with our own Professional Development activities as well as research ethics educational tools.  Students can take courses from any of the schools in the network for credit. The initiative is funded by NSF.

    6. Refreshing the recruitment videos and program specific web sites – Engler.  Efforts are being made to update ApplyYourself email templates that are sent to prospective applicants. Recruitment videos (current student testimonials) are also being updated on the graduate school web site.

(ADCOM web site is http://www.uab.edu/graduate/graduate-council-information

The meeting adjourned at 5:30 p.m.