By Iran Roman
Dear Dean Satz,
I am glad you used this means of communication to mention actions taken by the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S) and departments trying to help doctoral students. Thank you for pointing these out for the general public.
These actions are a good start, but they do not fulfill basic needs like summer funding and mental health.
H&S lets departments admit a doctoral student if they can guarantee funding for fall, winter and spring quarters. While some departments offer some or full summer funding, several doctoral students lack summer funding every year. Why is this acceptable? During normal times, students find internships, summer programs (teaching or research), or a job, but this year is dramatically different. This model of doctoral funding has persisted, and its problems have been highlighted (not caused) by the pandemic. With summer plans canceled all over the country, you can imagine the extreme financial stress that doctoral students in your school will face in a few weeks.
Stress takes a huge toll on our productivity and our well-being. We anxiously wait for news about how our University, school or department will help us. I personally haven’t been helped yet and I am sure that many other students are facing a similar situation. I am thankful to know that my department may offer some summer support, but we still haven’t heard how much we will receive. The general sense I get is that our department might help us soon, the school will create a few competitive opportunities for graduating doctoral students, and no new budgets will be allocated at the University level to help doctoral students. That’s why I said that the University’s response showed a “total lack of leadership,” because only the departments (the smaller units) will stretch their existing budgets to help students’ most basic needs. As a result, support is limited. In my specific case, partial summer funding is the only support mentioned in your response that I (a sixth-year doctoral student in H&S, successfully defended dissertation, graduating this year) can request. I look forward to the competitive postdoctoral positions that you have alluded to, but I wonder if could tell us how many students will compete for these few positions. Also, how will H&S help students who usually need seven or eight years to complete their Ph.D.s? Many questions remain, and doctoral students are scared to imagine what a summer without sufficient funding will mean.
Although times are stressful, I feel optimistic because there are tangible solutions, and most issues are financial in nature. Students know that departments and schools are trying to help. However, I wonder if there is somebody at the University we can convince to lift the financial stress from doctoral students’ shoulders. If such a person exists, you would know them. Can you be our champion and our advocate? Our fears have not been fully heard, and I hope you can help us amplify our voice.
Iran R. Roman
H&S Ph.D. candidate