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The perfect graduate school

There's more to graduate school than coursework and research, it turns out.

While scholarship is the core of any graduate program, says newly appointed University Graduate School associate dean Maxine Watson, it is important students also receive opportunities to grow through and beyond the scope of their studies.

Maxine Watson

University Graduate School Associate Dean Maxine Watson

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"In my own education at Yale, my interaction with other students made a huge difference to my education," Watson recalls. "You can't underestimate the value of the things that happen outside classrooms and laboratories."

Graduate school can be daunting. You are expected to gain scholarly independence and to work long hours at it. Expectations of success also increase as students begin to see themselves as generators, rather than simply consumers, of knowledge. That kind of pressure causes some students to excel, others to lose their way.

"The students would like a sense of support, to know there's a safety net," Watson says. "Students can feel very isolated, especially if they are part of smaller academic divisions. We want to provide what is needed to allow all students to get the most out of their graduate educations."

One suggestion, Watson says, might be to increase the number of activities available to IU graduate students. Some of these activities might be academic in nature, such as a university-supported colloquium in which grads discuss their research, or how to organize a vita or prepare for a job interview. Some activities might be purely social.

There are also practical issues. For one, some graduate students arrive at Indiana University as the mothers and fathers of young families.

"Access to adequate medical care for them and their spouses and children is crucial," Watson says. "If we want the best students, that is, and we do."

At present, there is no mechanism for dealing with student-advisor conflicts. "The relationship between graduate students and post-doctoral fellows and their faculty advisors is a very personal one," Watson says. "The university needs to create a formal way of arbitrating situations when parties cannot solve problems on their own."

Watson, a professor of biology at Indiana University Bloomington, has some experience in advising graduate students and the administrators of graduate programs. For many years she has worked directly with students on research in plant ecology, physiology, and evolution. She was also the College of Arts and Sciences' Associate Dean of Graduate Studies between 1988 and 1992.

"I like to work with the units to determine what can be done to make their programs work in the best way possible," Watson says. "It's a passion."