Grad student aid expands

By Ruth Stevens



Graduate student Cynthia Tobery conducts research in molecular biology. The University Jan. 27 announced that all first-year doctoral students in the sciences and engineering will receive fellowships of full tuition and a stipend.

Princeton NJ -- The University is significantly strengthening its support for graduate students through a variety of initiatives slated for implementation during the next year.

They include:

• An expanded fellowship program that will provide all first-year doctoral students in the sciences and engineering with full tuition and a stipend to assist with living expenses. Previously, two-thirds of the first-year students in these fields relied on support from research grants obtained by faculty members or from teaching assignments.

• An expanded summer stipend program for all doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences. In recent years, about 325 students have received summer support through University and external sources. Now, an additional 325 students will be eligible for such funds.

• A substantial budget increase for graduate student stipends, particularly for those receiving University-supported fellowships and for assistants in instruction (teaching assistants).

"These initiatives will put Princeton very much in the lead in its support of graduate students," said President Shapiro. "They will enable our students to concentrate even more fully on learning and conducting research. We especially are pleased to be able to make this important decision during the year-long celebration of our Graduate School's centennial."

The changes, which will take effect this summer, represent a major commitment from the University during the first year alone, including $4.2 million for the first-year fellowship program and $1.8 million for the expanded summer stipend program. In addition, the University plans to improve medical coverage for graduate students. These changes are made possible by an increase in endowment income spending approved Jan. 27 by the Board of Trustees.

University officials also announced that they plan to build additional housing for graduate students. The students further will benefit from several initiatives the trustees approved Jan. 27 as part of the regular operating budget process for 2001-02.

First-year fellowships

The expansion of the first-year fellowship program for doctoral students in the sciences and engineering builds on the success Princeton has had with a limited program started four years ago. Funding from that program and from external sources supported first-year fellowships for about 70 doctoral students this year.

Under the new initiative, the remaining approximately 145 first-year students in the sciences and engineering will be supported by fellowships as well. None will be admitted to the University as assistants in research or assistants in instruction. Instead of being immediately committed to working on a research project or teaching a class, these students will have an opportunity to take a year to become familiar with the University and their departments. A stipend of about $16,000 is expected to be awarded to each student for 2001-02.

"The advantage for graduate students is that they will be able to learn about the department before they get paired with a research adviser or tied to a specific lab. They will have a chance to get their feet on the ground," said Provost Jeremiah Ostriker, who also is a professor of astrophysics. "We're confident that this type of an admission pattern will be very attractive to applicants and will enhance their educational experience."

John Wilson, dean of the Graduate School, said the program will help broaden the education graduate students receive at Princeton.

"Students will have more of an opportunity to explore the subfields of a discipline and to discover their own interests," he said. "We're in a period of very rapid change in the disciplines and increasing interdisciplinary contacts. This program will enable students to reach out in ways that may be extremely fruitful in the development of their own disciplines through exploring adjacent fields."

That broader education will be important to today's Ph.D. recipients, who are pursuing careers in many different fields, he said.

"People have the notion that doctoral degrees are only effective for people who want to follow their own teachers or mentors," he said. "Ph.D. recipients actually go on to a wide range of careers in education, industry and government. The more broadly we train our Ph.D.s, the better equipped they will be for different career paths."

The fellowships also will allow faculty members to shift funds previously set aside for students to other critical line items or to post-doctoral appointments. In addition, they will enable international students to gain better English skills before leading a class.

Summer support

Doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences already are supported through fellowships during the academic year. The expanded summer stipend program will allow more of them to continue their work year-round, conducting dissertation research, preparing for general examinations and taking language courses at Princeton or elsewhere.

"The pattern in the past has been repeated interruption of work on the doctoral degree," Wilson said. "Some students move away after the academic year and take up work that has no relationship to their program of study. Princeton is trying to support students so that they can study without interruption and speed up the completion of their degrees."

The Graduate School started a competitive summer stipend program four years ago. Through that program, other University sources and external support, about 50 percent of the 650 students eligible received summer stipends last year. Now, all of those students will have an opportunity to apply for and receive funds expected to range from $3,000 to $4,500 for summer 2001, depending on their status in the degree program.

The additional boost in the budget for graduate student stipends is in keeping with an effort started six years ago to provide students with the resources they need to study full time, Wilson said.

Other initiatives

The improvements in medical coverage are in response to a report on graduate student health submitted in November by graduate student members of the Council of the Princeton University Community.

Princeton requires graduate students to carry its medical insurance, the cost for which is incorporated into tuition. The report was based on a survey of graduate students' use of and satisfaction with their health care.

"The survey and presentation were extremely helpful to us in identifying and understanding graduate students' concerns," Ostriker said. "We will use the report as a basis for working with students to develop improvements to the plan."

The University also has committed to going ahead with the construction of additional graduate student housing. Currently, administrators are looking at constructing as many as 150 units. Graduate students have been invited to join a steering committee to develop plans for the project.

"Princeton has a track record of providing housing for a high proportion of its graduate students," Wilson said. "The University considers this very important because it locates the students close to the libraries and laboratories and helps ensure that the students feel they are a part of the academic community."

This year, about 70 percent of Princeton's graduate students live in University housing. The tight local market has made it difficult for students to find affordable non-University housing, Wilson said, spurring the plans to build additional units.

Other measures affecting graduate students that were approved Jan. 27 include more support for a variety of ongoing and new activities in the Graduate School; funding for more comprehensive graduate student recruitment efforts; assistance to expand services available to graduate students through the Office of Career Services; and extension of high-speed Internet access to additional graduate student housing in the summer of 2001.

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