Graduate and post-doc program excellence

February, 2014

The Graduate and Post-Doc Programs Excellence Subcommittee is part of the Student Experience Enhancement Council -- a council that aims to maintain Iowa State's trademark high-quality student experience as enrollment surges. Academic enrichment experiences for undergraduates include such things as internships and co-ops, study abroad, academic or career-related student organizations, learning communities, Honors Program and conducting research with a faculty member.

Primary goal

Move ISU to the top half of AAU public member institutions in terms of PhD’s awarded and post-doc appointments by 2020

  • Increase graduate enrollment by 40% in five years
  • Increase PhD’s awarded by 20% in five years
  • Increase post-doc appointees by 20% in five years
  • Enhance quality of graduate and post-doc programs as measured by quality of students recruited, success and productivity while at ISU, and post-ISU success
  • Increase number of graduate programs with top quartile national ranking by 10% in five years
  • Identify areas for new PhD programs and PhD programs to potentially be phased out
  • Create better online application process for post-docs and graduate students
  • Create a more nurturing, success, and productivity focused, environment on campus for graduate students and post-docs
  • Provide additional programmatic and institutional funding in support of fellowships for first year graduate students, bridge funding for graduate students and post docs, dissertation fellowship funding, and programs that support and enhance a productive and successful graduate student and post doc experience at ISU

Primary scope elements

  • Enhance quality of graduate and post-doc programs at ISU
  • Enhance the quality of the experience and career success of graduate students and post-docs while they are at ISU and following graduation/completion
  • Increase number of PhD degrees awarded per year
  • Increase number of post doc appointees
  • Increase overall graduate enrollment

Characteristics of high-quality programs

  • Success in recruiting high quality, diverse graduate students and post-docs
  • National recognition of students and post-docs (eg awards at professional meetings)
  • Productive graduate students and post-docs (publications, presentations, etc.)
  • High retention and success relative to norms for discipline
  • Reasonable time to degree for the discipline
  • Successful placement of graduates and post-docs and quality of placements
  • Early career success of graduates and post-docs
  • Systematic approach to professional development plans
  • Systematic annual review processes

FY2014 Action priority item progress

Action Item 1 - Presidential Scholars Program

The Presidential Scholars program will enable recruitment of additional high quality entering PhD students by providing a central funding source for the first academic year stipend and fringe benefits for selected scholars. Providing a central source of funding for highly qualified first year PhD students will enable greater risk taking by faculty members and graduate programs when making offers to incoming students, as well as leverage existing grant funding to enable support of additional graduate students.

Accomplishments pertaining to Action Item 1

  • $400,000 has been allocated beginning in FY 2014 to fund 16 presidential scholars per year.
  • The process for selecting PhD programs for FY 2014 has been developed and implemented.
  • It is anticipated that a few of the FY 2014 presidential scholars will enter ISU in January 2014, with the remaining initial awardees entering in June or August 2014.
  • A Graduate Student Recruitment Program has been funded centrally for FY 2014 and FY 2015. It will provide a central match of $1 for every $2 invested by an academic college in recruiting additional graduate students up to a maximum of $250,000 per year per college.
  • The process for awarding matching funding to college graduate recruiting initiatives has been developed and is being implemented.

Action Item 2 - Bridge funding incentive program for post-docs and PhD Students

The establishment of a bridge funding incentive program to enable greater risk taking by PIs and graduate/research programs in recruiting additional PhD students and post-docs beyond the number for which firm committed funding is already in hand is proposed.  Four specific bridge funding situations are envisioned, but other situations may also arise for which requests will be considered.  All situations involve leverage of central funds via a contribution of at least 25% of the costs from non-central sources. 

Accomplishments pertaining to Action Item 2

  • $300,000 has been funded centrally for the period FY 2014 – FY 2016.
  • The initial process for awarding bridge funding has been developed and implemented.

Action Item 3 – Enhancing and supporting the recruitment of high-quality graduate students and post-docs; enhancing and supporting the quality of the graduate student and post-doc experience at ISU; and enhancing and supporting the success of graduate students and post-docs

Although not identified as primary priorities for FY 2014, there are a number of initiatives that have been identified by the graduate student and post-doc excellence subcommittee that will receive further consideration in FY 2015 and beyond.  Not all of these initiatives require substantial funding from central sources, but some are likely to have significant impact on both the quality of graduate students and post-docs who are recruited, as well as the quality of their experience at ISU.  The subcommittee, in collaboration with the graduate college leadership and staff, the associate deans for graduate programs, and the directors of graduate education in each of the graduate programs, will continue work to refine and identify necessary funding to support these initiatives in FY 2015 and beyond.   Examples of specific potential priorities in this category include the enhancement of existing summer research experiences for undergraduates and systematic approaches to utilize REUs as a recruiting mechanism for high quality domestic graduate students; support for pursuit of major graduate training grants; and support for systematic approaches to the development of professional development plans and annual assessment for all PhD students and post-docs.

Accomplishments pertaining to Action Item 3

  • A bridge funding for arrival of children program for post-docs and graduate assistants and associated process was developed and funded for FY 2014 and beyond.
  • The post-doc benefit package was evaluated earlier in FY 2013 in collaboration with the post-doc association and as a result post-docs were granted eligibility for the supplementary retirement program.
  • The Graduate College reallocated funds to create a ¾ staff position to manage and coordinate post-doc and graduate student professional development and program quality initiatives.
  • The Graduate College and College of Human Sciences successfully collaborated to develop a proposal to develop programming to enhance graduate student financial literacy and were awarded funding for the project by the Council of Graduate Schools.
  • The Graduate College has collaborated with the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and the Post-doc Association to provide enhanced programming for new and continuing graduate students and post-docs.
  • The Graduate College and Institutional Research are collaborating to enable full participation by ISU in the AAU data collection efforts pertaining to time to degree and completion rates for PhD students and to administer the AAU graduate exit survey of graduate students.
  • The Graduate College has publicized and encouraged the implementation of the AAAS MyIDP web-based software for the development of individual development plans by post-docs and PhD students.
  • The Graduate College has piloted graduate student learning communities as a way to enhance transition to graduate programs and initial success of graduate students.
  • Academic colleges and the Graduate College have collaborated to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of processes for the recruiting of high quality graduate students including partnering with Admissions to implement enhanced electronic admissions processes for graduate students.
  • An Academic Communication Program has been launched by the Graduate College to foster the development of communications skills by graduate students and post-docs.


Co-chairs: David Holger, Ruth MacDonald. Other committee members are: Gwyn Beattie, professor, Plant Pathology and Microbiology (CALS); Sridhar Ramaswami, professor, Marketing, PhD program DOGE (Business); Lee Cagley, professor and chair, Art and Interior Design, Interim Associate Dean for Academic Programs (Design); John Pritchard, PhD student, Electrical and Computer Engineering, nominated by GPSS (Engineering); Ikenna Nlebedim, post-doc, Ames Lab, nominated by Post-doc Association (FY 2013); Sina Safayi, post-doc, Vet Med, nominated by Post-doc Association (FY 2014) Anne Foegen, associate professor, School of Education, SOE DOGE (Human Sciences); Theresa Windus, professor of chemistry, Chemistry DOGE (LAS); Stephen Gilbert, assistant professor, Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Human Computer Interaction DOGE (Interdepartmental Graduate Programs); Annette O’Connor, professor VDPAM, VDPAM DOGE, former Graduate Council Chair (CVM); Craig Ogilvie, professor, Physics and Astronomy, asst. dean – student recruitment and success, Graduate College.