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Triage at the student stage

S. Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Mon Aug 18 16:36:39 EST 1997

Hi Peg and others,
	Our big triage rate goes in definite waves.  One year 50% of the
students failed their qualifying exams (5/10) or dropped out after
mediocre exams. This was followed by a backlash year of low student morale
and no one was failed (I fell into this year) - although eventually one
guy did leave after the project crashed and burned (about a year after the
qualifying exams). This kind of morale wave pattern is one I feel has been
ongoing for the eight years I've watched the system.  In general, 1/5-6 of
our students leave each year... although, on average, few are outright
booted by the exam process. Most of the time, people are "not passed" and
then, over the course of a usually painful year, "encouraged to leave."
Problematically, there has been a trend of late, in my opinion, to
"encourage students to leave"  significantly (1-3 years) beyond the
qualifying exams - and this trend seems to correlate with PIs losing
funding, a fairly new phenomenon in our dept.  Students, of course, are
given the "doorprize"  masters degree.

Anyway - students two years ago attempted to boycott recruitment if less
students were not accepted.  The feeling of late seems to be that exam
triage is not appropriate (or working effectively) and that acceptance
rates must be adjusted.  This little movement was seemingly lead by a lot
of newer students who literally came here with a specific PI in mind to
work for - and then found that EVERYONE wanted to work for that PI, or
that the lab was full, of that that PI had no money.  I don't know if
other depts. are feeling this kind of competition among "rotons" (our word
for rotating first years) or not but it seems to me that more older and
savvy students are being accepted into the program.  As such, they come in
with some pedigree or idea of the pedigree they want to hone (because,
unlike me, they KNOW the job market and they KNOW that every step counts
if they want to make the academic track) - and there isn't this sense of
wanting to rotate and experience different settings.  There is much more
goal-orientation and competition - and this is what is driving a fair bit
of strife and unhappiness - not to mention people leaving before qual. 


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