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Winter Quarter Letter from the Acting Dean of The Graduate School

Modified: March 15, 2016

Dear Members of the Graduate Community at Northwestern University,

As this is my first letter to our community as acting dean, I thought I might begin by sharing some of what I have learned about TGS while settling in.  As anyone who has looked at our website or other publications in recent years can appreciate, certain core values are so essential to TGS that they inform all elements of individual and institutional practice here:

  • Diversify – Cultivating an environment with multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches;
  • Serve – Acting as advocates for our graduate students;
  • Engage – Fostering connections in our community.

Sometimes these core values are themselves sufficient to guide the work of TGS, but at other times (especially when trying to explain reasons for various TGS policies) it is helpful to have some more specific statements about our work that emerge from those core values.  A brief list of such statements may help to illuminate some fundamental TGS philosophy.

  • TGS operates to support and enhance the execution of high-quality graduate education, training and research at Northwestern.
  • TGS supports the academic goals of a group of stakeholders – faculty, students, postdocs, and administration.
  • TGS promotes the ideals of diversity, both in increasing diversity at Northwestern and in supporting the ideal of respect between all members of our community.
  • TGS sets, modifies, and enforces policies, in collaboration with academic units, to enhance the pursuit of academic excellence. These policies are to aid in the recruitment of a highly qualified and diverse cadre of graduate students and postdocs as well as to provide resources to graduate students, postdocs, and faculty to enhance training while at Northwestern.
  • TGS policies are also enacted to ensure that faculty and program expectations are clearly communicated to graduate students and postdocs and that graduate students, postdocs, and faculty follow each program’s expectations during their studies and research.
  • TGS promotes professional development programs to help prepare graduate students and postdocs for life in the Academy and on other professional paths.
  • TGS helps to provide or find resources to aid with academic and personal problems of graduate students and postdocs.
  • Thoughts such as these not only help to guide TGS staff in their own various roles but may also be useful to students and faculty in better understanding our role in their personal training endeavors.

At present, we are well into both the Admissions and Recruiting season and the Progress Review season—a process through which we discuss the successes and challenges within our various TGS programs with their faculty and staff leaders—and it is a pleasure to see the rising levels of success in both arenas. In addition to ensuring the academic rigor of our programs and identifying obstacles to excellence, Progress Reviews are invaluable opportunities to learn about the best practices that programs have developed in response to students' needs. Of particular note have been the varying initiatives that programs have developed to engage their alumni and to provide professional development opportunities that speak to a range of career pathways.

Furthermore, as you know, the university recently began offering Title IX training to faculty and students, and I’m pleased to report that, as of March 3, fully 86% of TGS students had completed the training, helping to make Northwestern a safer place for everyone.

Meanwhile, we continue to make real progress toward a variety of longer-term goals, which include better accommodating the needs of graduate students with children, expanding professional development opportunities for graduate students and postdocs, and rolling out improved software in support of the tracking of both graduate admissions and student milestones.

I’m also pleased to share the news that we’ve secured a distinguished TGS alumnus as our speaker for this spring’s TGS PhD and MFA Hooding ceremony.  Makola Abdullah received his PhD in Civil Engineering in 1994 and was recently named president of Virginia State University.  We look forward to hearing his comments to our graduates on June 16.

So far, one of the best parts of my job has been meeting and talking with numerous graduate students from many different programs at a wide variety of events, including Fellowship receptions, Awards and Recognition, and Drinks with the Dean. I plan to host another round of Drinks with the Dean this spring for students on the Evanston campus and postdoctoral fellows in Chicago. Please watch your inboxes for more information if you are interested in participating.  Allow me to extend my thanks to all of you who have taken the time to share with me your own thoughts and experiences.

With best wishes for the coming spring,

Craig R. Bina, PhD
Acting Dean of The Graduate School
Acting Associate Provost for Graduate Education
Wayne V. Jones II Professor of Geological Sciences

From the Dean