An initiative designed to invigorate PhD studies at Johns Hopkins yielded an array of fresh ideas from across the university, many of them focused on better preparing PhD students for success in a diverse job market.
Twenty-eight proposals were submitted for the PhD Innovation Initiative, which seeks to advance bold new ideas in PhD education and aims to put Johns Hopkins at the forefront of innovation in this area. Of those, eight were selected by the Doctor of Philosophy Board for funding in amounts from $25,000 to $200,000 over two years. The total funding amount for the initiative is $1 million.
"I was impressed by the number of proposals, and to see the thought that people put into crafting proposals from all corners of the university," says Brenda Rapp, chair of the Department of Cognitive Science and of the PhD Board. "There were a number of great proposals that we weren't able to fund."
The initiative is jointly championed by the Office of the Provost and the PhD Board, with the support of President Ronald J. Daniels. It began taking shape in fall 2011 following a symposium organized by the PhD Board that 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.
"For years we've viewed PhD education as an entryway into the professoriate," says interim Provost Jonathan Bagger. "But we're now seeing it as a pathway to all sorts of careers."
That theme is reflected in the funded proposals, many of which include items pertaining to professional development—helping PhD candidates expand their skills and credentials, developing their expertise in teaching, providing them with networking or fellowship opportunities, or teaching them how to take a product from idea to market.
One proposal would offer select doctoral students the opportunity for a mentored experiential public health policy field placement.
Another would support a Web-based learning management platform that encourages collaboration among doctoral students at the School of Medicine. Yet another would develop a multidisciplinary doctoral concentration in sustainability and health.
"These are really experiments," Bagger says, "and those that succeed we can build into our programs organically."
Proposals—some submitted by students with faculty mentors—were reviewed by three multidisciplinary faculty committees, which submitted recommendations to the PhD Board. The board selected the winning proposals based on criteria that include the potential for significant impact, feasibility and sustainability, and portability to other PhD programs. Winners were notified in early March.