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Winter Quarter Letter from the Dean of The Graduate School

Modified: January 19, 2017

Dear Members of the Graduate Community at Northwestern,
 
First off, a very Happy New Year to everyone. It has already proven to be a momentous year due to both local and national events. And many of us are engaged in serious and soul-searching discussions not only about our future directions, but also about the individual and collective roles we will play in that future. While I know we've had a very challenging fall term and that the recent election has created a great deal of uncertainty (and even some fear) for many members of our community, my spirits are elevated by the profound humanity and support emerging from all corners of Northwestern. 
 
As we enter 2017, let us recommit ourselves to the value of community, the respect for our incredible diversity, and the calling and commitment we all share for the great work in which we are involved on behalf of our students and faculty. Few things are more important to the progress of a mature democracy than an informed and educated citizenry. By producing the next generation of thought leaders for our world, we do our part to secure our collective futures. 
 
NLRB
As conversations continue about the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that graduate students at private universities are considered statutory employees within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act. I encourage each of you to educate yourselves on what this means specifically for you as TGS students. Northwestern has assembled extensive information on this subject,including an FAQ document for students that will continue to evolve in response to questions and concerns raised by members of our community. Being informed is essential to having a productive discussion on the impacts of unionization on the graduate student population and on graduate education at Northwestern.
 
Student Engagement
As many of you know, we have made significant investments in the area of student engagement in The Graduate School to do our part to cultivate and sustain an environment at Northwestern that is truly welcoming and supportive of our graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. When I first became Dean, most of the robust outreach programs we now have did not yet exist. The Office of Communications & Outreach, now with a staff of three people and a graduate student intern, help to foster a greater sense of community and connectivity for our students through Drinks with the Dean, Dinners with the Dean, TGS Nights Out, TGS Days Out, the annual TGS holiday party, the annual hooding ceremony, new student orientation, oursocial media presence, our revamped website, our electronic newsletters, and so much more. The TGS Office of Diversity & Inclusion—created three years ago—works to create a diverse, welcoming, and supportive environment for our graduate students at Northwestern. With a staff of three people and a graduate student intern, they have accomplished a great deal in the recruitment and retention of a diverse student body in TGS (some of which I detail below) in a very short amount of time, and I am excited to continue to support and enhance our efforts in this strategically important area. Lastly, the TGS Office of Academic Affairs and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs—inaugurated five years ago—has allowed us to provide greater focus on the academic experiences our students are having in our PhD and Masters programs through regular and routine Progress Review of all our graduate programs. Using survey data from our students and extensive data that we collect on student progress in each program, we’ve been able to engage in discussions with the faculty leadership of each program to collaborate on ways to make our programs stronger and to support our students better. 
 
As Northwestern continues to make investments that sustain the thriving landscape of our academic community, including the appointment of Provost-Designate Dr. Jonathan Holloway (whom we look forward to welcoming to Northwestern this summer), TGS is also dedicated to continuing its growth to further our student engagement strategy. TGS recently added to our staff an Associate Director of Graduate & Postdoctoral Professional Development, Mearah Quinn-Brauner, PhD. We are also currently recruiting for a new Associate Director for Alumni Engagement, and we will in the coming weeks be recruiting an Associate Director for Student Engagement in TGS as well. Working collaboratively, we feel certain that these roles and resources position TGS well for a future of better supporting and engaging our students throughout the complete student lifecycle.
 
Diversity & Inclusion
As we enter into the recruitment season for graduate admissions, we are once again reflective about our work to foster an inclusive and diverse educational climate for all members of our community. In this our first year of utilizing our new admissions and recruitment platform from CollegeNet, TGS is poised for an extremely successful admissions and recruitment season. We have received over 9,400 applicants to PhD programs this year. Due to the multiple application pilot we are running this year in McCormick, we received over 9,900 PhD applications (more than 500 applicants applied to two McCormick PhD programs). The total number of PhD applicants has increased by over 3% from last year at this time (close to 9,100 applicants for Fall 2016). Of the over 9,400 applicants for Fall 2017, 821 are applicants from underrepresented minority (URM) groups, which is 9% of the total group of PhD applicants (this represents our largest proportion of URM applicants in our applicant pool to date). This is a total URM applicant increase of 8% over last year at this time and is a larger increase than what we saw from 2015 to 2016. Our citizenship proportion of applicants is different than what we had last year at this time. This year, we are at 53% U.S. citizen to 47% international applicants. We were closer to 50%-50% last year. We have similar proportions of women applying this year as last year at this time, with 57% of applicants identifying as male and 42% as female (last year we were at 56% men and 43% women).
 
As we continue to diversify our intellectual community, I would like to expand onsome of my previous thoughts about recruitment and retention. As we invite people to the challenge of graduate education, every interaction counts as we identify talent and nurture it. We do this by encouraging undergraduate students to become involved in research, and by fostering an environment that values the contributions of the individuals within it. We all thrive best in environments where we see ourselves and our contributions reflected, and where we feel cared for: where our mentors are invested in our success, where they believe mentees are capable, and where high expectations are set and mentors are committed to helping their mentees to achieve them.
 
In closing, I share a brief anecdote about a seminar on “Commerce and Culture in the 18th-Century” that I signed up for during my first year of graduate school that was being team-taught by two eminent scholars from English and History. At the first meeting of the class, the syllabus was distributed. As I reviewed the document, it became obvious that slavery (easily among the most significant trades of the 18th-century) was not to be among the topics covered in the seminar. Indeed, the first assignment on the syllabus was to cover the theme of “Constructions of Leisure in the 18th-Century.” (And the fact was not lost on me that it might be difficult to have so much leisure in the 18th-century if someone weren’t providing a great deal of free labor via the institution of slavery.) I recall this memory not to cast aspersions on those who were offering the course, but rather to express that even in the very epistemologies that we proffer in our classrooms, our scholarship, or in our daily interactions, we are creatures of habit who don’t always push ourselves to see the world from perspectives different from our own. This is one of the ways in which the diversity of our intellectual communities—when we open ourselves to it and its benefits—not only makes us better people, but also better scholars and thought leaders with broader perspectives on the work we do and the questions we pursue. We are each far more powerful than we know when it comes to establishing an inclusive community, and we give off messages both consciously and unconsciously that impact one another more than we may sometimes be aware of. Let us all seek to be ever more mindful as we interact with prospective graduate students, colleagues, mentors, and mentees in our academic work.
 
On March 28, 2017 we will gather to recognize outstanding members of our community at our annual TGS Awards and Recognition ceremony, which will be held at 5:30 PM at the Hilton Orrington in Evanston. This annual event is one of the ways in which we recognize individuals at Northwestern who have gone above and beyond in their work to diversify, serve, and engage our community of students and postdocs. I hope to greet many of you there!
 
With Warm Regards,


Dwight A. McBride, PhD
Dean of The Graduate School & Associate Provost for Graduate Education

From the Dean