Community Conversations

Each issue we feature graduate faculty and staff doing innovative or share-worthy work.

A standardized approach to monitoring academic performance in EECS

Graduate programs should have a process for tracking their students' academic performance each term and take intervening actions with those who are struggling. Glencora Borradaile and Calvin Hughes discuss the streamlined process they've implemented for monitoring their students' performance within the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).

Q. Could you describe the process EECS uses to monitor your graduate students' academic performance each term?

In addition to annual reviews of M.S. and Ph.D. students in spring quarter, we run quarterly checks on all our graduate students. In week two, we remind any student of a milestone due in the next quarter, from programs of study to qualifier exams, and the consequences of not completing this, from account holds to removal from the program. The week after exam week, we check to see if the students met these milestones. We also check the term and overall graduate GPA of each of our graduate students. Students with an overall GPA below 3.0 have a hold immediately placed on their account and are notified they are on probation. The hold is only lifted after a meeting with their major advisor (for M.S. & Ph.D. students) or graduate coordinator (MEng students) and submission of an approved plan to lift their GPA in the next few terms. Students who have simply had a bad term (term GPA below 3.0 but overall GPA above 3.0) are notified by email with their major advisor cc'ed.

After the spring review, our Graduate Student Progress Committee of four faculty examines in detail the progress of any student who is flagged by their major advisor, every M.S. student entering their third year, and every Ph.D. student who is three years past their qualifying exam. The committee checks to see if these students are making progress toward thesis completion and, if not, issue probationary letters in consultation with the students major advisor to require timely quantifiable shows of progress: for example, completing a preliminary exam or submitting a paper for publication or, in some cases, completing the degree within a certain number of terms.

Q. How does this process benefit your students? Your faculty? Your graduate program(s)?

For MEng students, GPA tracking has allowed us to make sure students know what the expectations are for their progress and gives us an opportunity to explain why a timely raising of GPA is important. It also ensures that students are not spending more money on tuition toward a degree they are unlikely to earn. Students who do not raise their GPA quickly can look for other degree programs to switch to at OSU or another institution.

For M.S. and Ph.D. students, we have learned major advisors were not always aware of their advisees' struggles in the classroom. In several cases, the students were doing well in their research and benefited from a change of expectations in the lab to make sure they cleared their coursework hurdles. We have also learned many students and advisors were simply unaware of milestone deadlines through our reminder emails.

Since implementing this process, we have had a marked decrease in the number of students removed from the program, and for those students, a decrease in the number of terms before removal.

Q. What do you do for students with extenuating circumstances? For example, a family loss or health/wellness challenge that decreased their otherwise good performance. Is there a different approach in these situations?

Our milestone reminder emails have resulted in proactive modification of deadlines for many extenuating circumstances—these requests are considered by the Graduate Student Progress Committee. When students are placed on probation, extenuating circumstances are discussed, and we go over the options available to students (from leave to reduced course load). Again, this emphasizes proactive notification by the student to the program in the case of future struggles. Finally, before any student is removed from the program, our Graduate Student Progress Committee reviews the entire case. In cases where there have been extenuating circumstances, the committee looks for evidence that more time to show progress might result in degree completion in order to grant extensions.

Q. Sometimes dismissing a student from a graduate program is inevitable. Based on your experience, what are some important things to keep in mind when a student is unable to achieve your program's expectations, despite the guidance and support provided?

Success is not inevitable, and students do not get degrees for time spent in a program. As program directors, we are not responsible for our students doing the work for the degree. However, we are responsible for providing clear guidelines and determining success in a fair and timely manner. While I would be happy to see our degree completion rates go up, I would be equally happy to see the time spent in the program for students who do not complete their degree go down. This way, students can find a new path earlier in life, and our programs can give opportunities to more students.

Q. Do you have any tips for other faculty or graduate program administrators who would like to tighten up the monitoring of their students' academic performance?

Prepare template emails and letters to use and include resource links to help a student stay on track, such as your program's graduate handbook and the academic and personal success resources provided by the Graduate School.

Determine the reports in CORE you will use to decide if students need help. For example, we require full-time MEng students to complete two didactic courses each quarter, and there is a CORE report supporting this metric.

Set aside time each term for consistent, timely, and effective progress checks. For our School, with over 500 graduate students, it takes one staff member five to six hours of uninterrupted time at the end of the term to process our quarterly progress checks.

Include major advisors on all emails to students. Many times, with the faculty and the student on the email together, it starts a conversation immediately and can help identify problems earlier.

Largely the response to our increase in graduate student progress checks has been positive. Faculty appreciate not needing to keep track of the details themselves.

Lastly, is to remember: the only way to improve a standard is to first have a standard.

Glencora Borradaile

Glencora Borradaile
Associate Professor and Associate Head for Graduate Programs
School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
Glencora's Blog

Calvin Hughes

Calvin Hughes
Graduate Coordinator
School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

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What's New

Hugh Kearns and career development workshops available online (new!)

Offered during Grad Appreciation Week this spring, three new professional development workshops were presented and are now available for you and your students to view online. Faculty and program administrators can save yourselves advising time by pointing your students to these workshops. Or, assign them within your lab group or seminar class and follow up with a group discussion. Faculty may find these workshops useful for themselves, too!

Hugh Kearns: The Balanced Researcher - Graduate students have to juggle coursework, research, teaching, family, and other commitments. This workshop describes strategies found useful by thousands of researchers to balance demands on their time.

Hugh Kearns: Imposter Syndrome - The session explains why high performing people often doubt their abilities and find it hard to enjoy their successes. It also shows the links to perfectionism and self-handicapping strategies such as procrastination, avoidance, and overcommitment.

Craft a Modern CV to Impress Today's Employers - Presented by OSU's Career Development Center, this workshop demonstrates how today's CV needs to be strategic, organized, and impactful. It isn't simply a laundry list of accomplishments, and there are different types of CVs best suited to each employment situation. Whether students are pursuing a master's or Ph.D., going into industry, academia, or government, this session has something for everyone.

Student Support Resources

Supporting students through the pandemic

Faculty are uniquely positioned to recognize the impacts of the pandemic on their graduate students. Through recent consultations with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Office of International Services (OIS), we learned that students from many countries may be experiencing the pandemic and other global or national events to a heightened degree. Your students might be experiencing increased fears of their family members' health and safety, uncertainty about travel to visit or care for loved ones, and concerns about visa renewals since most consulates are still operating with limited capacity, plus ever-evolving travel restrictions for countries with high COVID rates.

CAPS is offering drop-in support groups for Asian and Asian American students, as well as a support group specifically for Indian and Indian American students, plus, for the broader graduate community CAPS' Single Session Clinic and a graduate student support group in collaboration with the Academic Success Center (ASC). Please share as appropriate with your students.

Additionally, get tips on how to show care and support for your graduate students, as told from the perspective of a graduate student of color in this article: 6 Ways Faculty Can Support Grad Students.

Scheduling exams reminder

Advisors and faculty, please remind students to submit their exam scheduling forms two weeks before the exam date. The two-week deadline allows the Graduate School staff time to perform degree audits and other required administrative functions. Thanks for your help!

Onboarding new students with help from the Graduate School

Please encourage your new students to take part in Grad Welcome Week on September 13, 14, and 15. Activities include Graduate School Orientation and Resource Fair, International Graduate Student Orientation, Library Day, and GTA Orientation. Like last year, we will hold these events virtually.

Grad Welcome Week provides valuable information to new graduate students in all campuses and locations. When students participate in these university-level activities, graduate programs and faculty can focus on introducing students to their unit’s people, culture, degree, and major.

Also, see our Incoming Student Email Communication Plan and New Student Guide, designed to welcome and assist new graduate students as they prepare to begin their studies. Messaging is adjusted by campus location wherever possible.

The Graduate School can also visit your program's orientation or first-year seminar class with our Introduction to Graduate School or Jumpstart your Graduate Degree workshops. Learn more and request a Graduate School workshop.

Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching (GCCUT) provides preparation for faculty jobs

If you've served on a faculty hiring committee recently, you are aware of the slim odds of new graduates landing tenure track or other full-time faculty jobs. If your students are planning to pursue teaching roles in higher education settings or in other fields requiring similar skills, the Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching could give them an edge.

Offered through the Graduate School, GCCUT provides advanced course work and experiential learning opportunities in an 18-credit, transcript-visible program. It's a tough market out there -- consider referring your students to GCCUT! Offered in-person and via Ecampus. Learn more about GCCUT.