Agricultural and Consumer Economics: Significantly, the Graduate Student Organization also assists the department in monitoring and evaluation of our programs. We have 2 graduate students on our Graduate Programs Committee (GPC) and on our Courses and Curriculum Committee. One is from the MS program and one is from the PhD program. They are picked by the grad student organization and approved by the department head. In some respects, our program policies are under continuous review. The students communicate concerns to their reps on the committees, and those reps have no hesitation to raise them in GPC. In the last 4 years, the student reps initiated discussions that led to the change in the name of the program, introducing a new course in our PhD core requirements (replacing a course we used to have them take in another department), adding a tutorial to complement a class that they are required to take in another department, and requiring a class that had been optional.
Cell & Developmental Biology: Our introduction of annual meetings between the department head and the CDB graduate students and our recent formal survey of our graduate curriculum with our current students, in particular the more senior graduate students, have been particularly useful. We have found that the best program feedback and suggestions for improvements come from the students.
Nutritional Sciences: One of our best practices is assessment of our program on an annual basis by our External Advisory Committee. Our EAC (n = ~12) is composed of experts from across the country in academia, industry, and government. The committee convenes once a year on the UIUC campus for a 2 day meeting with our faculty, students, and the deans/representatives of our other member colleges. Our EAC takes a very active interest in our program and provides very insightful and helpful recommendations for our program. And frequently our EAC members help us secure or identify the resources necessary to implement their recommended improvements to our program.
Educational Psychology: We do an exceptional job at cultivating students to be first-class social-behavioral researchers. We accomplish this by apprenticing each student (either in lab groups or individually) with a faculty member’s research project; requiring students to attend and present their work at weekly department brown-bag seminars; co-publishing with students; co-presenting papers at conferences; supporting students to present papers/posters at conferences, and so on.
Communication: Flexible program structure gives students freedom to work with an advisor to devise a sequence of courses suitable for the expertise they want to develop. Before students complete coursework, write preliminary exams, or complete a prospectus, they are required to assemble a program of study document and to convene a meeting of a program of study committee, which consists of the adviser and 2-3 other faculty. The student, adviser, and committee collaborate to ensure the development of a coherent and acceptable program of study given the student’s academic and career goals and interests. The program of study comes at an important moment in the life of our doctoral students. It serves as a formal jumping-off point for a sustained conversation with faculty about their work and allows students the opportunity to talk collaboratively with faculty in ways not directly tied to performance or evaluation (e.g., exams, dissertation).
Materials Science and Engineering: The flexibility we have built in the qualifying examinations (e.g., the number of topics, the option for the students to define their own topic, and multiple inputs for the evaluation process) is an important aspect that allows us to evaluate the whole student with regard to his or her ability to succeed in the doctoral program.
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering: Our curriculum includes course requirements that provide a firm foundation in chemical engineering fundamentals and also allow students to take courses from a broad set of disciplines ranging from biology to business to engineering.
Communications & Media: We support interdisciplinarity through curricular flexibility.
Computer Science: Our Graduate Study Committee's main focus is to review the department’s graduate curriculums, policies, and procedures to ensure that rigor is maintained and policies and procedures are effective.
Germanic Languages and Literatures: Our language program director, Prof. Cori Crane, has brought many of the best practices and reforms from a now-famous curricular remodel at her graduate institution of Georgetown to the program at Illinois, adapting them to our particular institutional context and needs. Our graduate students have been partners in this project, and now continue to reap its benefits and the benefits of participating in a rigorous process of pedagogical training. We have recently revised our undergraduate and graduate curricula to reflect the latest developments in the field and also the demands of the academic and general job market. Our program is very practice-oriented, as graduate students receive excellent training in the latest research methodologies and directions, and receive the best pedagogy training in the country. We model a balance of teaching and research work for our students, and prepare them for the market’s demand for relatively broad training that at the same time evinces serious depth in key areas.
Nutritional Sciences: Our qualifying exam committee/exam structure is one of our best practices. We require all students (even those who come in with an MS) to take a 2 hour oral qualifying exam before officially progressing to the PhD track. We have a set committee (n = 3) who administers our qualifying exam twice a year which ensures consistent exam structure and exam content. The committee provides written feedback on the student’s performance which is sent to the student as a results letter. If a student failed the exam, their letter includes instructions on what to study and other things they can do/practice (and sometimes additional coursework) to improve their performance the next time they take the exam.
Agricultural and Consumer Economics: Significantly, the Graduate Student Organization also assists the department in monitoring and evaluation of our programs. Summaries of student performances that mask identities are discussed annually in the GPC. Students have been involved in identifying factors contributing to slow progress to degree and in suggesting interventions to address problems. These interventions have related to reporting procedures and advising procedures among other things. We are currently updating our annual reporting mechanisms, and grad student input through the GPC is influencing the timing and content of the new review process, which we are moving from May to January because students felt feedback in January would be timelier.
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering: Our qualifying exams have been structured such that we evaluate students on their core competency very early in the program—between the first and second semesters—and then stimulate a quick start to design of their dissertation projects in the second semester.
Computer Science: Our Graduate Study Committee also reviews students’ overall progress to help ensure students achieve their educational goals in a timely fashion.
Nutritional Sciences: Our requirement for students to form an advisory committee within their first semester (minimum 3 faculty members) frequently becomes the basis for the student’s prelim and/or defense committee and gets them started early.
Urban and Regional Planning: We are most excited about our newest practice. The Plan of Study, completed in the first year by the student, along with his/her advisor and two other faculty members (the Plan of Study Committee), is a way of laying out an academic strategy from the very beginning of a student’s program. In a highly flexible, multidisciplinary field, this is an important way of helping students to focus within a few months of starting the program. The participation of additional faculty members as advisors (via the committee) helps to provide additional quality control in the process and facilitates sharing of information among faculty.
Integration of Early Research also helps students complete sooner.