Field review of PhD students: some comments and FAQ

Some comments and FAQ re the field review of students that will happen on thursday. Our Field rules in ME say we should do this every year. The goal is to provide a level of oversight that goes beyond the committee. It is designed to be a quick check to make sure everyone is on track. It is not detailed nor could it be given the number of students we will review. Our goal is to identify those cases where students appear to not be on track, so that we can help the students and/or help the committee. About 80-90% of applications are reviewed for 30 seconds–the materials looks fine, the advisor says things are fine, and we move on. In 10-20% of cases, there is something that makes us ask a question or two–why hasn’t this student published, why has this student not taken an A exam, why is he/she taking so many/so few classes, et cetera. In most of these cases, the advisor has a simple explanation that makes the field happy. In a very small number of cases, we make a suggestion to the advisor or committee. Theoretically, if something were really crazy, I could intervene as DGS. The last possiblity (intervention) has never happened to date.

Some questions I have received:

1. is this new?

No, it was approved by the field ~4 years ago. we have done this 3 times.

2. why are we doing this?

see above.

3. What am I supposed to write in the student comments section? It feels like a “justify your existence” section.

It is not meant to be a justify-your-existence sort of thing. It is more like we want to hear how you describe how things are going. If you say “I am miserable”, we will take note and be concerned. if you say “I think I am on track”, we will be happy. if you say you expect to gtraduate in 7 years, we will tell you it shouldn’t take that long. If you say you expect to graduate next month and your advisor thinks you are two years away, we will tell you advisor that he/she should probably discuss goals and timelines with you.

4. who sees this information? what is the audience?

I recommend you think of it as a short report to me as DGS. Marcia and I see this and you should expect that I could show it to any field faculty if they ask to see it. I read them all, although of course I don’t remember every detail. In practice the field faculty see a projection of the information during the field meeting. Usually, especially when things are going well, the review is cursory but illuminating.

5. couldn’t you get this information from cornell databases? my class grades for example.

for grades and committee, yes. but there is no easy way to do it and so we are asking you to each do a small bit of clerical work to make this all happen in a timely fashion

6. why don’t we do this in Aerospace Engineering or TAM?

TAM does do it, but is smaller and they do it without soliciting info from students. AE doesn’t have a field policy to do this (ME and AE share some policies but not all). if you want AE to do this, I recommend encouraging the AE DGS. If you don’t want AE to do this, I recommend not saying anything.

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