The Department of Physics and Astronomy has always placed strong emphasis on advising its graduate students. The Department's advising system has evolved over time and now includes all mandatory procedures and almost all other aspects that are outlined in the document "Elements of Good Academic Advising" issued by the Office of the Provost. This document describes our practices in detail.
Advising Prior To Enrollment
The Admissions Committee provides all prospective graduate students with our Graduate Brochure, a description of available Financial Aid, and an online copy of the Graduate Handbook which details our degree requirements. The Admissions Committee and the Graduate Administrator also make available other information that any applicant may request.
Newly admitted students are encouraged to contact the Graduate Administrator with any questions about course or research preparation. Students will be put in touch with relevant faculty members and advisors prior to arrival on campus.
Advising of New Students
Upon entering the Department each new graduate student is assigned to one of the faculty members who serve as academic advisors. They are provided with the application files of their assigned students, including copies of all correspondence that occurred before enrollment. During the orientation week the academic advisors meet with each new student individually for about one hour to explain our requirements, advise them on courses, review results of their pretest and answer any other questions that the students may have. The assigned academic advisor remains the new graduate student's principal faculty advisor until the student has completed the core course requirements and begins to work with a research advisor. Once the Research Agreement has been executed, the research advisor takes over as the student's principal faculty advisor through the completion of the doctoral dissertation. As an optional extra advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies remains available for consultation.
Since the majority of the entering graduate students are supported by teaching assistantships during their first year, and all must teach for two terms at some point, all incoming students are required to take a one-credit course (PHYS 2997) on "Teaching of Physics and Astronomy" during the Fall semester of their first year. This course tells them about their responsibilities as Teaching Assistants, introduces them to effective teaching methods, and incorporates extensive teaching practice sessions. The faculty members who teach the lecture and/or laboratory courses in which the graduate students assist also provide guidance to them with regard to teaching issues. In addition to the physics exposure in PHYS 2997, first-year students take PHYS 2999, which requires students to attend departmental colloquia to further expose beginning graduate students to current physics research. No formal class time is needed.
In order to inform the first-year students about the wide range of research opportunities available to them in the Department, PHYS 2997 also includes a series of informal talks by faculty members about their research programs. These talks of ten continue on Fridays throughout the Spring term.
In addition to the faculty advisors, advanced graduate students act as mentors of new students. These graduate students hold the title of Arts and Sciences TA Mentor for the department. Their perspective on teaching and choosing a research advisor can be invaluable to beginning students. For more infomation on graduate student peer mentoring, see the Dietrich School's Graduate Student Peer Mentoring Progam Guide (PDF).
Students with fellowships the first year are strongly encouraged to try out a research group or to take more than the 3 core courses.
Our department has a faculty mentoring committee which provides informal professional mentors for all students who are interested. Having a mentor who is separate from your research advisor can be quite useful, especially in cases where students may be less comfortable discussing issues outside of research with their academic advisor, or in cases where students may have difficulties with their advisor. First-year students and faculty advisors are introduced at an informal meeting near the beginning of the first semester. Students can request particular mentors, or change mentors at their discretion. Once a student identifies a mentor, the department encourages regular informal meetings a few times each semester. Mentors can provide career advice, life advice, general support, and help navigating the university and professional relationships.
Problem Resolution and Grievance Procedures
Problems between students and faculty members, as well as other grievances that may arise, are generally handled by the Graduate Director of the Department who acts as mediator and attempts to resolve the problem. In difficult cases, the Graduate Director will consult with the Department Chair. In cases that may have serious consequences for the student or the University, the Graduate Director will convene the Graduate Committee to discuss the situation and decide on a course of action. Experience has shown that most problems can be resolved at the Departmental level in this manner. The Graduate Administrator is responsible for keeping internal documentation on all such cases on file. If a resolution cannot be worked out within the Department, the student will be informed of his/her right of appeal to the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. Students may also contact the Ombudsperson of the School or Arts and Sciences if they feel that their concerns are not taken seriously or otherwise midhandled by the Department.