JHU seeks ideas to invigorate doctoral education

In an effort to invigorate—and perhaps reinvent—doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins, the university will commit up to $1 million over the next year to support proposals designed to transform PhD education.

The PhD Innovation Initiative, jointly championed by the Office of the Provost and the Doctor of Philosophy Board with the support of President Ronald J. Daniels, will advance bold new ideas in doctoral education and aims to put Johns Hopkins at the forefront of innovation in this area.

The initiative began taking shape a year ago following a symposium organized by the Doctor of Philosophy Board called The Future of PhD Education, which brought together more than 100 deans, faculty members, program directors, and graduate students from across Johns Hopkins and other institutions to discuss the PhD experience.

"We had a symposium that was well-attended and generated a lot of buzz," says Jonathan Bagger, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "The question is, How can we capture that excitement and turn it into real change?"

The initiative is part of a universitywide push to evaluate and improve doctoral education at Johns Hopkins, which, as the nation's first research university, Bagger notes, has been "part of our DNA from the start."

"It seems like a good time to take a fresh look at the PhD," Bagger adds, "to make sure that we are doing well by our students."

Faculty members, groups of faculty members, or PhD students with faculty mentors were invited to submit proposals to the Doctor of Philosophy Board by Nov. 30.

The board will review the proposals and make funding recommendations based on criteria that include the potential for significant impact, feasibility and sustainability, and portability to other PhD programs. Funding decisions are expected to be announced in February.

"Change in PhD programs really works best when it comes from inside the programs themselves," says Brenda Rapp, chair of the Doctor of Philosophy Board. "Attempts to change things from the top down, while they may be significant, are unlikely to have the same impact as a process that encourages ideas from all levels. This initiative is designed to give programs, faculty, and students incentives to generate and participate in innovative change."

Rapp stresses that the board is not seeking a "one-size-fits-all" model for PhD education and was anticipating receiving a number of diverse submissions from a variety of disciplines.

If the call for proposals proves successful, Rapp says, there is likely to be additional funding in a second year.

"There are tried-and-true methods for educating students at the PhD level, and every discipline has very different methods," she says. "But needs change over time, and we want to be responsive to changing demands, a changing job market, a changing world."

For more information, go to the PhD Innovation Initiative website at web.jhu.edu/administration/provost/initiatives/phd_board/pii.