In their new report on Princeton’s global initiatives, President Tilghman and Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 describe the Graduate School’s student body as “remarkably internationally diverse,” and the numbers bear them out.
Of the 2,290 degree candidates enrolled at the Graduate School in 2006–07, 881 — or 39 percent — were from other countries. Of the degree candidates who entered this fall, 40 percent were international students — a significant increase from the early 1990s, when the percentage was in the low to mid 30s, according to Graduate School dean William Russel.
For the past five years, China, by a wide margin, has sent more graduate students to Princeton than any other country outside the United States, with Canada and India in either second or third place. A dozen countries have sent at least 20 new graduate students each year.
The economics and engineering programs have the highest percentages of international students: 73 percent of the students seeking a Ph.D. in economics and 61 percent of the two-year master’s program in finance come from abroad, while 54 percent of all engineering Ph.D. candidates are international students.
Of the 137 international students who received their doctorates in 2007, more than three-fourths planned to stay in the United States, Russel said, reflecting a national trend. About half of those alumni were planning to work as postdocs and the other half had permanent positions, he said.
International students face challenges beyond those confronted by their American-born peers, yet many say Princeton’s Graduate School has made the experience relatively smooth.
Ning Lin, a third-year Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering, is a native of China who says that activities organized by the Graduate School have been “very helpful for a newcomer to learn about American and local culture.” Lin said her husband recently joined her after she had been in the United States for four years, and she is grateful that the University allows spouses to “use the libraries, audit courses, and participate in activities.”
Mark Davidson decided to apply to Princeton after he found himself working on a field study with Princeton professor Tullis Onstott *81 for his undergraduate thesis in South Africa. Onstott became his adviser at the Graduate School, and Davidson is now in the final stages of his Ph.D. work. “Coming from a developing country to somewhere as efficient, affluent, and nurturing as Princeton was quite a culture shock,” Davidson said. But he said he has made friends from around the world, linked by the knowledge that “we all have to jump through the same hoops of fire as those before us did.”
Davidson expects to start work as an environmental consultant in California in January through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa program.
For many Ph.D. recipients planning an academic career, the United States has a special appeal. “Where would you go? You’re at the mecca,” said Lynn Loo *01, a native of Malaysia who recently returned to Princeton as an associate professor of chemical engineering, “The intellectual freedom and creativity that are allowed — it’s a culture no one else has been able to reproduce anywhere else.”