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Annual Review and Feedback: The Graduate Students’ Viewpoint

If you ask a graduate student what they want from their faculty adviser, you might hear this response: “More feedback!” Generally speaking, from the point of view of our graduate students, the more feedback, the better. What I learned (and what should not be surprising) is that our students want to receive feedback from us. Of the students I spoke with, not a single one of them indicated that they felt like they were getting too much feedback – instead, students want more. Students want to be both encouraged and validated in what they are doing, but they also appreciate receiving suggestions and being provided with a strong sense of what they should be doing next to move forward in their chosen program and profession. Students want the mentoring relationship to feel like a partnership that leads to them becoming a professional in their field, and the ones I talked to felt that this is what they have with their advisers.

Feedback, in the form of an annual review is extremely important, especially for students reaching the dissertation phase. Up to this point in their studies, students have been surrounded by the structure and support of coursework, which includes regular feedback. The task of dissertation research and writing is so big that it is easy to feel lost, and if regular feedback tapers off too much, it only exacerbates the sense of being adrift. Some departments, including my own, have set up a dissertation contract system, where students and their advisers create a set of mutual expectations at the beginning of each term (fall, spring, and summer) and then assess the contract results at the end of each term. Students I spoke with agreed that receiving feedback only once a year is woefully inadequate.

With thousands of graduate students at KU, my sample is admittedly limited, but it has been a very positive experience talking to students who have great working relationships with their mentors and who are receiving help and feedback from their departments. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a student who had a negative experience, although we know that those cases do exist. When we talk about the annual review of graduate students, I think too often our mindset is negative—identifying those who are not performing sufficiently well. Talking to graduate students has reminded me of the equally (if not more) important positive side of the annual review process— of providing confirmation to students that they are on the right path and acknowledging that they have accomplished a lot over the previous year. It also helps to provide them with a roadmap for what needs to be done in the coming year.

This is the last blog as this year’s graduate studies faculty fellow. I have enjoyed this experience, particularly the conversations I have had with faculty, administrators, and graduate students. While it is apparent that we still face large challenges, like inadequate resources for funding graduate students, what students I have spoken with tend to like the most about being at KU are the relationships they have established with faculty and their fellow graduate students and the mentorship they receive here. I am heartened by the strength of ties between students and faculty that I find on our campus. As a recent Gallup survey has shown strong mentoring relationships are a key factor in the future success and fulfillment of students once they leave the university.

I would like to leave you with a smile, courtesy of my favorite YouTube clip about graduate school, “The Grad Student Rap”

Good luck to everyone with the mad dash to the end of the academic year. I hope that “The Grad Student Rap” offers you a moment of levity.

Bruce Hayes

Associate Professor, Department of French & Italian
Faculty Fellow, Office of Graduate Studies

If you have questions or comments, but prefer not to leave a public comment on my blog, please feel free to e-mail me at: bhayes@ku.edu

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