A (realistic) story about faculty keeping track of grad student progress

I'm a faculty member. I have a couple of Masters students and I'm involved in 6 or 7 PhD students' programs.


I've decided today's a good day to check to see if I can help some of them move along. I can look in my email for the last correspondence I had with each one. But what if I just got an update in the hallway after a department talk? Well, I don't usually rush back to my office to note that, so I guess I've got to work with what I've got.


So ok, who's the closest to finish: Ella Dubois, right. I'm her supervisor. So let's do an email search. Ah, ok, looks like we last arranged a meeting in June; oh, and it's here in my calendar we met on June 19. It's now August. Darn. Time flies. She was writing up that last chapter and wait, were we waiting for feedback from the guy in the Spanish department who's also on the committee? Let me look back a few emails to find out. Or, hold on, maybe he had to leave the committee because he will be on leave next year. I think so. Let me open up that folder in my computer that has documents for each of my students. Ok, Dubois, open, ok, so sort by date... Hmmm. I don't see a form for a change of committee member, but I'm sure that was happening. Let me go back to my email and search for his name... um... Ernesto, no, wait nothing, Eduardo, right. Oh crap, but Eduardo brings up mostly my collaboration with Eduaro Nunez. He was, um, Eduardo... Um... Gonzalez, no, let me go to the Spanish department website to get his name again. Oh, forget it, this is taking too long. I'll just email Ella and we can meet next week and she can update me. I'll ask her to update me in the email before, so I don't look like such an idiot.


I hear that some of my colleagues have a document or a notes thing for each student, just running chronologically. But those must be a pain to look through -- and who's going to do that regularly?


OK, this isn't great for Ella. I feel bad. Sure, she should have been in touch earlier, but grad students hesitate. It would have been nice to have programmed reminders of upcoming expectations and deadlines.


I really wish I could pull up all my students on a dashboard. One click and I'd know that Ella and I had met on June 12 and her latest "Working On" item would indicate that she was drafting that final chapter and would deliver it on July 20. Oh, and a next milestone display would tell me right away that it was promised for that date. It's August 10 for goodness' sake! I should have checked in last week. Maybe she finished it when I was on holiday and didn't want to bug me. Now hold on, let me check my email again because she said she wanted to go on the job market this fall. Was I supposed to be preparing a letter for September applications? I'll check my to do list. Oh yeah, there it is buried with no deadline.


OK, what I'd like is to see all my students, sorted by progress, with indicators about when our last meeting was (with notes). Milestones expected (ones from the department like exams, as well as ones we put in), requests for letters and such with deadlines and email reminders, who's on the committee and whether they've read a draft recently and responded, and students' funding. Then I could drill down into each one to get details on meeting and see draft chapters and such or link to the cloud versions.


Right, funding. Ella. Hmmm - does she need money? Has that RAship with my colleague run out? I guess I need to look back in my emails to see if I responded to our grad administrator about who I was going to be able to hire as an RA. Was Ella included? Oh, I guess I can pull up my financial dashboard system -- what a behemoth -- and see if my grant has her on the payroll and when that expires. No wait, it was on my colleague's grant, so I can't see it. Wow, this is a real mess.


Now I've got to piece this all together for the rest of my students. What a chore. Why don't we just have a system that shows where students are?!?!?


This story does not have a happy ending. Time wasted. Progress delayed. Anxiety.

By Fred Cutler

Fred Cutler is founder of Prograds. He is Associate Professor of Political Science at UBC in Vancouver. He has also co-founded WeVu.video.

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