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2021 Rackham State of the Graduate School

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
3:30 to 5:00 p.m.
Zoom Webinar


Opening Remarks

Mike Solomon
Dean, Rackham Graduate School
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs–Graduate Studies

Panel Discussion

Advancing New Directions in Graduate Education: An Initiative to Transform Graduate Training in Doctoral Programs

Rita Chin, Moderator
Associate Dean for Social Sciences, Rackham Graduate School
Professor of History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts


Panel Details

Advancing New Directions in Graduate Education: An Initiative to Transform Graduate Training in Doctoral Programs

The Advancing New Directions in Graduate Education initiative is part of Rackham’s effort to reimagine graduate education as student centered and faculty led. It represents a significant step by the graduate school to encourage and facilitate faculty leadership in rethinking what graduate education looks like at the program level. Its guiding principle is that solutions to the current challenges in graduate education must be worked out by faculty in their own programs and in relation to practices within their own fields. The goal is to partner with faculty and provide support—financial, intellectual, and strategic—for their program-level reform work.

To date, participating programs include Biostatistics, Chemistry, Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, Educational Studies, English, History, Humanities Cluster (Asian Languages and Culture, Comparative Literature, Film, Television and Media, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Middle East Studies), Mechanical Engineering, and Political Science.


Jeremy Bassis

Associate Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, College of Engineering; Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Project: The CLASP team developed a societally engaged component to our Ph.D. program that allowed students to work directly with communities affected with climate change to translate physical science to community decision making.

Jay Cook

Professor of American Culture, and Professor of History, Department of History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Project: The Challenges of Weaving Professional Development Across the History Ph.D.

Lauren B. Hahn (Potts)

Doctoral Candidate, Communication and Media, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

About Fall 2020 Academic Term Internship at Forum on Youth Investment: Building on years of coursework and the subject mastery required to achieve candidacy, an internship like mine enables graduate students to harness industry-relevant capabilities developed during doctoral training to achieve complex organizational objectives. These internships can help students learn to communicate the utility of their unique backgrounds to colleagues outside of academia and translate those skills to fill competency gaps, bringing fresh perspectives to professional teams.

Aida Levy-Hussen

Associate Professor of English Language and Literature, and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English Language and Literature, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Project: The English department project has combined department-wide discussions of our Ph.D. program’s mission and design with practical efforts to expand student access to professional development opportunities—most notably, by way of funded academic-year internships.

Robert Mickey

Associate Professor of Political Science, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Project: Through its participation in the project, the political science department has improved training for incoming students and worked to revamp its program with an eye toward a shorter pre-candidate phase and a curriculum that supports students considering non-academic careers.

Information on 2021 Rackham Initiatives

The Rackham Doctoral Internship Program

The Rackham Doctoral Internship Program allows doctoral candidates to pursue a fully supported internship as part of their graduate training. Internships offer students a mentored experience in non-academic settings that is tailored to meet the needs of partner organizations. This initiative provides a crucial experiential learning opportunity for students, while demonstrating the value of their advanced abilities and knowledge to employers in a wide array of fields.

What Is Different About This Program?

  • It is geared exclusively to doctoral students. Internships have long been accepted as a part of the educational experience for undergraduates and master’s students. But doctoral professional experience has traditionally focused on research and teaching in the academy, rather than non-academic settings. This program offers doctoral candidates the opportunity to broaden their career horizons through internships, where they apply their academic skills and expertise to real-world problems in nonprofit, government, start-up, and corporate sectors.
  • It expands the traditional model of summer internships to the academic year, providing full fellowship funding for doctoral students to undertake an internship in either fall or winter term (as well as the summer). Such timing provides students with maximal flexibility in incorporating an internship experience when it makes sense during the course of their doctoral training.
  • By providing full semester funding for doctoral internships, the program seeks to integrate this professional development experience with the student’s academic work, allowing candidates time for deep career exploration and the application of their skills outside of academia. The internship experience is intended to complement the professional learning students gain through teaching or research positions.
  • It provides a cohort experience for all doctoral student interns in a given term. Rackham has designed a wrap-around program of support (including orientation, check-in meetings, workshops, and final debrief) that enables students to get the most out of their internship and connects them across disciplines. This programming encourages students to treat their internship as a form of experiential learning, helps them grasp the transferable skills they are acquiring, and prepares them to network and conduct informational interviews.
  • It is a campus-wide program that is open to all doctoral candidates.
  • It will broaden students’ perspectives and prepare them equally well for jobs both in the academy and beyond.

Benefits for Doctoral Candidates

  • Provides increased flexibility and alignment of internships with graduate program curricula.
  • Integrates internships into doctoral training so students are not forced to choose between this unique professional development experience and making progress on their degree.
  • Exposes students to and prepares them for a broader set of career possibilities and professional aspirations.
  • Provides access to employer engagement, coaching, mentorship, and a supportive cohort of peers.
  • Legitimizes career exploration beyond academia by tying internships to a major source of graduate education funding.
  • Offers opportunities for social impact through public and community engagement.

Benefits for Graduate Programs and Faculty

  • Offers an important and rare professional development experience that will make doctoral training at U-M distinctive and help attract outstanding prospective students.
  • Provides an additional fellowship-level funding opportunity for their students.
  • Includes a cohort experience, designed and led by Rackham, that accompanies the internship to provide students with professional development expertise and broaden their perspective on possible career pathways.
  • Supports individual programs with the burden of maintaining partnerships with site partners by making internship opportunities visible to more students, and managing internship logistics.

Supporting the Rackham Merit Fellowship Program

The largest single investment of Rackham Graduate School is the Rackham Merit Fellowship Program, or RMF. The goal of RMF is to recruit, support, and graduate outstanding students who contribute to U-M’s goals of climate, inclusion, and diversity. The prestigious fellowship is itself a recruitment tool, and RMF-specific activities throughout a student’s graduate career provide growth opportunities and support. The fellowship is also an incentive for departments and programs to create inclusive and student-centered climates in which all students thrive.

A multi-stage review of the RMF program is underway in order to best position the program for the future. This includes a Rackham self-study team and an external faculty review committee. More information on their recommendations and Rackham’s next steps will be available later this term.

Reconsidering the Use of the Graduate Record Examination

Rackham Graduate School has long promoted the use of holistic admissions practices in graduate education. An opportunity to further advance our admissions practices has arisen upon review of the use of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test here at Michigan. Extensive research demonstrates that the GRE general test is a poor indicator of doctoral student success in graduate school, and that it extends the harmful legacies of unequal access to doctoral education on the basis of race, gender, and socioeconomic status. As a result, Rackham is now pursuing a community discussion with the goal of ending the use of the GRE in doctoral program admissions, beginning with the 2022–23 admissions cycle.

Graduate Student Mental Health, Well-Being, and Disability Accommodations

As mental health challenges continue to pose difficulties for graduate student health, well-being, and academic progress, Rackham formed the Graduate Student Mental Health Task Force in June 2019 to identify and implement specific changes in the U-M graduate student experience. Recommendations from the task force’s Year 1 and Year 2 reports have been accepted, and Rackham has now established the Committee on Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-Being.

As Rackham continues to work to improve its ability to meet the needs of graduate students with disabilities, the Graduate Students with Disability Needs Assessment Committee was formed in fall 2019 in response to informal reports from students that indicated the current system for disability accomodations does not adequately meet the needs of our graduate students. It is clear from the committee’s findings that rectifying those deficiencies needs to be a central part of our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals as a graduate school.