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A key change in George Mason over the past decade has been a real maturation as a doctoral institution. A decade ago we had 12 PhD programs, some of them quite well established. Now we have 36 with a few more in the hopper, and some of the new ones have vaulted into real prominence as well.  We have stayed away from a few over-trodden fields, despite faculty strength, and we continue to emphasize interdisciplinary connections, but we have an increasingly familiar disciplinary roster as well.

The expansion reflects a lot of faculty energy. It obviously builds on the steady growth in research and feeds this growth in turn. However logical, the expansion does signal a real change in the nature of the institution – less easy to measure than new buildings or basketball tournaments but arguably at least as important over the long haul. It reflects both commitment and capacity toward the development of new knowledge and high-level training.

Growth begets problems, of course. We have not developed funding packages that are uniformly competitive. We’re making progress – a new competitive funding pool brings several programs a year up to fighting levels with measurable results in terms of enhanced recruitment and timely completion of degrees. We are working as well on appropriate ancillary training for PhD students — for example, where relevant, in teaching preparation.  Here too we can report progress, though there’s a distance still to travel.

Admitting that serious growing pains remain, the fact is that most of our faculty can now participate in doctoral training if they wish, an asset for them and for the programs. A number of our doctoral graduates have already achieved real success in their fields, as measured by job placement and research output. We have just graduated almost 210 new PhDs in a wide variety of fields, a record for us thus far, and the growth should continue. It’s a quietly important aspect of the contemporary George Mason.