In its first survey of enrolled PhD students since 2015, Johns Hopkins University found that current PhD students rate their academic experience at the university highly, but they provide a lower score for their student life experience.
The results of the survey, which was completed by 2,414 PhD students (for a universitywide response rate of 74%) between January and March of this year, will be used alongside annual exit surveys conducted among graduating PhD students to improve the student experience as well as the PhD programs and policies at Johns Hopkins.
Aggregate results have been shared with deans' offices, program directors, faculty and, for the first time, results were shared directly with students and graduate student groups.
"We value our students and their willingness to provide honest feedback on what is working well and what needs improvement in our PhD programs, and in return we feel it is vital to be transparent with our findings and how we and the relevant schools move from findings into action," says Nancy Kass, vice provost for graduate and professional education, whose team developed the survey with input from the schools' deans offices and the PhD Student Advisory Committee. "We're grateful for the tremendous response rate the survey received—this is thanks in great part to the efforts of many graduate student organizations, and this will be a key tool in improving and enhancing program offerings for future students."
Questions in the survey aimed to measure students' satisfaction with academics, advising, student life, professional development, campus climate, COVID-19 policies, wellness resources, and overall experience. Out of a 5-point scale, with 5 meaning "very satisfied" and 1 meaning "very dissatisfied," the university average for how PhD students ranked their experience was:
- Academic experience: 4.1
- Student life experience: 3.5
- Overall experience: 3.9
When prompted to choose the two best aspects of their PhD program, the highest-scoring responses were research and/or scholarly opportunities (26%), faculty (19%), and other students/peers (18%). When asked to choose the two worst aspects of their PhD program, the most common responses were the PhD financial package (25%), support of personal wellness (16%), and coursework/formal instruction (15%).
More than 50% of students responded that they think their time to complete their PhD will be increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university has already taken steps to support these students, including distributing more than $3.8 million through COVID dissertation completion fellowships and travel and research awards.
Results from the survey will feature in each PhD program review conducted by the Doctor of Philosophy Board beginning next year; each program's own review happens on a six-to-seven year cycle. Qualitative comments collected during the survey will not be shared back to students for privacy reasons but have been shared anonymously with program directors and administrators for further consideration of how programs can be enhanced. Deans are currently developing their own plans for next steps in response to the data, and results from relevant sections of the survey will be discussed with Kevin Shollenberger, vice provost for student health and well-being; Farouk Dey, vice provost for integrative learning and life design; Katrina Caldwell, chief diversity officer; and Shannon Shumpert, vice provost for institutional equity, to determine how programs can be enhanced as a result of the survey.
Twenty students who completed the survey were randomly selected to win a $50 gift card. They were Agustin Castellano, Cameron Scott, Emily Friedman, Luojie Huang, Marlis Hinckley, Mengjiao Wang, Mike Powell, Neal Marshall, Neha Shah, Noah Wade, Prashant Chauhan, Ruolan Sun, Simon Zhang, Tiffany Chu, Tyler Perez, Velat Kilic, Yuehan Liu, and three students who preferred to remain anonymous.