Graduate Education

Advanced education in SAS takes place in several forms: in an array of over 30 eminent Ph.D. programs; in post-doctoral training; and in a growing suite of professional master’s degrees. These programs seek to offer a rigorous education that promotes cutting-edge research and professional abilities that prepare students for careers in academia or a variety of other domains.  The School must regularly assess these programs and innovate where appropriate to ensure the alignment of its graduate programs and curricula with trends in knowledge and societal needs.

Doctoral Education

The students in the School’s Ph.D. programs represent the next generation of scholars who will further knowledge and apply their advanced training in any number of important careers. Their presence adds fresh intellectual stimulation to our academic community and is a significant attraction for top faculty to be at Penn. As many of them train to become teachers themselves, graduate students play a crucial role, as teaching assistants and instructors, in undergraduate education in SAS.

The School’s strong commitment to doctoral education extends to our recognition of the changing landscape of academia, particularly shifts in the job market for academic positions and the reduction in federal funding. Our commitment means that we will continue to educate the best doctoral candidates in the world, but always with an eye to the realities that confront recent Ph.Ds. Departments train doctoral candidates primarily for academic jobs, but career opportunities are growing in other fields and industries. As part of an elite research university, SAS must preserve its extremely valuable and intellectually rich graduate programs by maintaining our high standards of admission, mentorship, and research, but we must also renovate them by pooling our resources carefully and with sensitivity to the altering opportunities available for our graduates. 


Funding: It is imperative for SAS to maintain the competitive funding packages needed to attract the best graduate students to Penn, while also recognizing that it must reconcile the impact of the current external funding climate with program size.  We will strengthen the process of assessing outcomes such as time to degree, job placement, and diversity and continue to use them to calibrate cohort numbers as well. The School must be aggressive and creative in seeking support from new sources and will develop new strategies for fundraising for graduate fellowships, including the pursuit of funding from third-party partners.  

Diversity:  Graduate education in the School is further strengthened by our commitment to multi-racial and multi-cultural cohorts of students across programs. We strive to be leaders in this effort, not only for the benefit of today’s SAS community but also to foster the diversity of future faculty and professional populations.  The School must develop more proactive strategies for the recruitment of underrepresented minority graduate students, and for mentoring them during their time at Penn. SAS will work with the University to broaden and strengthen mechanisms such as the Fontaine Fellowships to support recruitment and will seek additional funding sources. We will be active participants in the Provost’s program of Predoctoral Fellowships for Excellence Through Diversity. We will also build on the success of bridge programs like the Leadership Alliance to attract talented underrepresented minority undergraduate students to doctoral education.  And we will continue to build community for these students through consistent mentoring and networking across programs.

Curriculum and Research

Curricular Assessment and Innovation: Individual graduate groups must take into account current directions in their field, as well as in the national landscape of funding and jobs, to review and as needed tailor the scope of graduate training to best fulfill student needs.  Options like certificates present flexible opportunities to gain additional credentials, such as those in digital humanities and public humanities, proposed in the second half of this plan, or the new certificate in Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience. Some programs have lent themselves easily to cross-departmental training, such as Africana Studies and History, Anthropology and Religious Studies, or Political Science and Criminology, but additional such opportunities will be pursued.  The School will also facilitate students’ ability to combine an SAS Ph.D. with a degree from another Penn school, such as with a J.D. from the Law School, in keeping with a long tradition of successful joint programs such as the Ph.D.-M.D.

Research and Mentoring:  Graduate students are admitted largely on the basis of their potential to conduct independent research. Graduate groups must support this work with an eye toward accelerating students’ immersion into the research enterprise, including with such tools as regular dissertation and grant-writing workshops and other forums about professionalization. Faculty mentoring and training must be strengthened, particularly in the early years of programs, to ensure the timely advice to students about progress in their program and field-specific planning for entering the job market. Graduate group and Graduate Division policies and guidelines need to be more consistently documented and publicized, to help assure that all students and mentors are fully informed about expectations and outcomes.

Student Assessment: It is incumbent upon each graduate group to provide assessments of their students’ progress and their group’s needs.  The Graduate Division is committed to broadening its assessment of graduate groups to the level of each individual student in terms of time to degree, mentoring, language acquisition (when necessary), and diversity.  Improved communication and access are needed to provide graduate students better means to assess their programs.

Post-Doctoral Fellows

Traditionally part of the path of academic training only in the natural sciences, post-doctoral fellowships have become more commonplace in the social sciences and humanities.  They provide time for continued training in research, under the guidance of a mentor or mentors, and sometimes opportunities for teaching. The School will continue to welcome the appointment of post-doctoral fellows where funds are available, are consistent with faculty interests, and promote professional development.  SAS will also continue to supplement the University’s allotment of Post-Doctoral Fellows for Academic Diversity as another means of promoting diversity in the broader professoriate.

Professional Master's Programs

A growing audience of post-baccalaureate professionals is seeking the advanced expertise available in the School’s professional master’s programs.  These programs represent an opportunity to extend the reach and impact of SAS faculty research by translating it to application or practice in fields with great potential to benefit society, such as public administration and environmental studies. Such degrees drive innovation within SAS by exposing faculty to new and complex issues from the world of professional practice and by engaging faculty in classroom interaction with adults from a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds and with colleagues from the professional realm. The multifaceted issues that these programs strive to address are inherently interdisciplinary, providing a natural context for collaboration across departments and at times across schools.  These programs provide flexibility for faculty to develop and pilot new curricula, courses, and materials that might not fit into the undergraduate curriculum or doctoral education.

The School will continue to hold a high standard of academic excellence in its professional master’s programs, beginning with the recruitment of the best students.   It will seek further engagement of SAS standing faculty in teaching and program oversight while at the same time marrying their expertise with that of expert practitioner instructors.  The School will increase opportunities for professional master’s students to engage in research under the guidance of faculty. SAS will assess and strengthen the learning outcomes and career impact of these programs. We will evaluate opportunities with SAS faculty to create new master’s degrees and evolve current ones to meet the needs of professional audiences and leverage the existing strengths of SAS departments and centers; we will also work with faculty to explore the possibility of delivering these programs online.