Graduate School, sponsored-research task forces cite federal-grant uncertainty

In this issue, PAW continues its coverage of the reports of strategic-planning task forces created by President Eisgruber ’83 to study more than a dozen aspects of teaching, research, campus life, and alumni affairs.

The Graduate School

This task force called for a “clear recognition of the importance of the Graduate School to the overall mission of the University.” The group’s report said that Princeton’s 2,700 graduate students “play a critical role in the research enterprise, contribute to the undergraduate teaching program, and help us attract a world-class faculty.”

Among the recommendations:

  • Increase the number of grad students as faculty are added in fields such as computer science and engineering. But the task force said that, in some fields, fewer grad students may be desirable.
  • In response to declining sponsored-research budgets, the University should develop policies and funding sources in the sciences and engineering. Today, more than a third of financial support in those areas comes from outside sources. (See more discussion in the sponsored-research section below.)
  • Provide competitive funding for sixth-year graduate students in the humanities, offering teaching experience and professional development.
  • Increase Career Services staffing to advise and support grad students.
  • In response to graduate students’ feelings of isolation and marginalization from University life, Princeton should consider how to support the grad-student experience, including “options pertaining to housing, social spaces, and work spaces.” Among the proposals is dedicated departmental space for grad students in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Enable students in the humanities and social sciences to pursue summer internships by changing the stipend system.

Sponsored Research

“Princeton’s research enterprise faces significant challenges stemming from changing patterns of government support for research,” this task force said. In the face of those challenges, the University has competed “extraordinarily well” for federal grants, the group said, and its recommendations are designed to leverage federal funds and to focus on “bold” research ideas. Sponsored research accounts for about one-sixth of the University’s overall budget.

Among the suggestions:

  • Support faculty research focused on “innovative thinking and new ideas,” relying on internal anonymous peer review for funding recommendations.
  • Provide financial incentives for faculty to write proposals for sources of sponsored funding.
  • Supplement sponsored-research grants with University funds for third- and fourth-year grad students so that grants can support more students. Create competitive, three-year University graduate-student fellowships in science and engineering.
  • Allow grad students who have won external fellowships to defer them for one year, since Princeton supports first-year graduate students.