PhD Excellence Initiative

UB is committed to recruiting the very best PhD students and providing them with transformative academic programs that prepare them for future success. At a time when higher education is engaged in a national conversation about how to advance interdisciplinary collaboration and impact in research and how PhD programs can best prepare students to be leaders across a wide range of careers and professions, UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative seeks to ensure that our PhD programs remain among the strongest in the world. This campus-wide, student-centric effort is focused on examining issues related to PhD programs at UB including:

  • Recruiting the very best PhD students to UB.
  • Providing exceptional educational and research training.
  • Enhancing the diversity of PhD programs.
  • Improving retention of students and time-to-degree.
  • Assuring that UB is nationally recognized to offer top-ranked PhD programs that prepare students for specific opportunities and challenges they will encounter as future scholars and researchers.
  • Ensuring strong program outcomes are aligned to PhD recruitment.

National Reports

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the university’s PhD Excellence Initiative?

Under the leadership of the provost and deans, the University at Buffalo this fall launched the PhD Excellence Initiative to enhance the education of the next generation of scholars and researchers.

UB is committed to recruiting the very best PhD students and providing them with transformative academic programs that prepare them for future success. This campus-wide, student-centric effort is focused on examining issues related to PhD programs at UB including:

  • Continuing to recruit the best PhD student to UB.
  • Enhancing diversity and inclusion in PhD programs.
  • Aligning program-level PhD curriculum with intended program outcomes.
  • Enhancing PhD degree completion and time to degree.
  • Balancing teaching and scholarship for PhD students, as relevant to discipline.

Why is the university launching the PhD Excellence Initiative?

Nationally, in many disciplines, there is a concern that PhD programs take too long to complete and that too few students actually finish their programs. There is also concern that PhD programs are not preparing students well for the range of careers and professions they pursue both inside and outside the university. In addition, in order to enhance the diversity of researchers, scholars and university faculty around the nation, we need to ensure that the next generation of researchers and scholars come from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds—an issue that this campus-wide effort is focused on examining.

Given these national trends, UB is committed to continuing to work to ensure the excellence of our PhD recruitment, programs, culture and outcomes. UB’s goal is to significantly increase completion rates in our PhD programs and decrease time to degree, while significantly increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority PhD students.

This summer, UB’s deans unanimously decided to establish a floor of $20,000 for academic-year stipends for all full-time, funded PhD students on 10-month academic TA/RA/GA appointments, starting in fall 2019. With this new floor, UB’s stipend levels are now among the top five of public Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions.

UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative will ensure that our academic programs are among the very best. As a major research institution and a member of the AAU, UB is leading the discussion about the future of the PhD and we are committed to ensuring that our PhD programs remain among the strongest in the world, and that our students graduate prepared to be successful.

What has been implemented already to enhance PhD programs?

At UB, we have long been committed to designing and continuously improving degree programs at all levels to ensure that they are meeting students’ needs and preparing them for future success. Examples of recent and ongoing university-wide activities to enhance PhD programs:

  • Building a culturally and intellectually diverse and academically inclusive community of graduate students through the Institute for Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity (iSEED).
  • Revising processes for the allocation of Presidential and Schomburg Fellowships to improve recruitment and reward academic units that engage in best practices in educating and mentoring underrepresented graduate students.
  • Enhancing teacher training for PhD students through the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning at UB (CIRTL@UB)
  • Expanding mentorship and guidance beyond an individual’s department through the Network for Enriched Academic Relationships (NEAR), which can help students with a range of issues including systematic bias, marginalization and personal life circumstances.
  • Preparing PhD students to effectively communicate their research to a wide audience through the Three Minute Thesis competition.
  • Helping students complete their programs more quickly through dissertation retreats.
  • Helping PhD students prepare for and find non-faculty careers through access to the Versatile PhD portal.

The PhD Excellence Initiative builds on these efforts and focuses on enhancing PhD education at the program-level.

How is the initiative being implemented?

To ensure strong faculty input and to account for the diversity of PhD programs across the campus, academic deans will be working with their faculties to create unit-level plans based on program reviews. These plans will address, as is appropriate for each discipline, enhancing diversity and inclusion in PhD programs, ensuring a student-centered curriculum with professional development opportunities and teaching preparation, enhancing time to degree, degree completion rates and career outcomes, balancing teaching and scholarship, as appropriate, and ensuring the sustainability of competitive stipend levels over time.

At the same time, the Graduate School Executive Committee (GSEC) will review and recommend university-level policy and practices to improve time to degree and completion rates and to reinforce the role of teaching in PhD programs, as appropriate, and ensure that TAs receive appropriate teacher training. The GSEC serves as the principal body of the Graduate School charged with providing general oversight of all graduate degree programs to ensure their standards, academic integrity, and continuing relevance.  

The Graduate School will work with deans on a process to ensure that UB’s stipend floor remains competitive over time so that we will continue to recruit the best PhD students to the university.

How are UB’s PhD students benefitting from the PhD Excellence Initiative?

Through the initiative, UB seeks to ensure that PhD programs prepare students for the specific opportunities and challenges they will encounter as 21st-century scholars, researchers, teachers and professionals. It will result in exceptional, student-centered programs that are designed to align with the intended outcomes of the program, that enable students to complete their degrees in a timely manner, and that provide support to ensure student retention.

Students will benefit from being part of a more diverse and inclusive community of scholars, from enhanced programs that provide better educational and career outcomes, and potentially from a better balance of students’ teaching and scholarship duties within their respective PhD programs.

In the short-term, this initiative enables academic units to provide students with funding packages that are nationally competitive and will remain competitive over time.  Beginning in October 2019, about 1,016 UB PhD students will see their stipends rise to the $20,000 floor, which places UB in the top five of public Association of American Universities institutions.

How is the PhD Excellence Initiative being funded?

The PhD Excellence Initiative is funded through enrollment growth revenue, Academic Excellence Fee revenue and through unit funds resulting from the deans’ reprioritization of their respective budgets.

The provost is providing bridge funds to allow stipends to be raised in the 2019-20 academic year.

The deans are invited to request further funding from the university through the Annual Resource Planning Process (ARPP), the annual budget process by which the university invests in strategic priorities. Investment decisions will be based on unit-level plans to achieve the central goals of this initiative.

Want to know more?

Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School, talks with UBNow about the PhD Excellence Initiative and how it will enhance graduate education at UB.