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Doctoral Mason

21 Feb Posted by in Academics | Comments
Doctoral Mason

One of the quiet transformation stories of George Mason over the past two decades, and particularly the past decade, is its emergence as a broad-gauged doctoral institution.

In 2000, Mason had 13 PhD programs; now it has 31. Also in 2000, there were 1,166 PhD students, and in that year 117 PhD degrees were awarded; the current data are 2,036 and roughly 210, respectively.

Doctoral development at Mason is not simply a matter of expansion. Partly because Mason was a newcomer, faculty working to establish PhD degrees have often been encouraged to think of interdisciplinary and innovative combinations. Thus the University was the first to award PhDs or have programs in Bioinformatics, Conflict Analysis, and Computational Social Sciences; its commitment to Cultural Studies was also early and strong.

Growth has had its challenges, and at points many wondered if we were moving too fast. Keeping support apace, particularly in an underfunded environment, remains a challenge. But we are making strides, aided by faculty research efforts and a strong Graduate Council and Associate Provost. In recent years we’ve established health insurance programs, extended financial support to competitive levels for a number of units with a pledge to expand the effort annually, and adjust to in-state status for teaching and research assistants. Next year another new program will amplify training in teaching and academic life for interested candidates.

We’re still a work in progress, but many programs can already boast strong placements in academic and other endeavor — Economics, Psychology, Information Technology, Public Policy, as well as most of the interdisciplinary combinations, among them. The list will grow.

Mason is probably now transitioning from growth to consolidation and enhancement, though we have at least a few additional candidates in the wings, including Rhetoric/Composition, Social Work and Management. We won’t try for a full conventional list, given oversupply in some fields. But at this point most of our research faculty have access to at least one relevant program. It continues to be an exciting ride. Our more-to-do list includes graduate housing, with one building slated for 2012 and more urgently needed.

A few years ago we did a poll of local opinion leaders, as to what criteria they used to rate university strength. Excellent graduate programs headed the list; athletics came last. Our respondents lied, of course, but to the extent that the doctoral list is at least relevant, we probably need to get the word out more widely about this aspect of Mason’s transformation.