Pilot program targets sixth-year students; support increases for engineering, sciences

Beginning next fall, Princeton will provide about $2 million in funding as part of a pilot program for sixth-year doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences to encourage shorter degree-completion times and to alleviate pressure on students to secure funding through teaching or outside grants. An additional $4 million has been allocated in this year’s budget for Ph.D. students in the natural sciences and engineering to help lessen the pressure on departments to obtain sponsored-research funding.

In the spring, 40 to 45 fifth-year humanities and social-sciences students who are on track to defend their dissertations within the following semester will be selected for a fall-term fellowship for their sixth year, which will pay the current annualized graduate-student stipend rate of about $32,000. If the students defend their dissertations before the end of the fall term, they will have the opportunity to convert to postgraduate-research-associate status for the remainder of the year and will be paid at an annualized rate of $47,500.

“Less time in a Ph.D. program is generally a good thing,” said Cole Crittenden *05, deputy dean of the Graduate School. “This is about providing sixth-year funding while incentivizing completion.” The initiative will offer sixth-year students an alternative to teaching or seeking outside funding, a process that is stressful and causes longer degree-completion times, he said.

“Less time in a Ph.D. program is generally a good thing. This is about providing sixth-year funding while incentivizing completion.”

Cole Crittenden *05, deputy dean of the Graduate School

Funding for sixth-year students is an issue at Princeton and across the country. Like many of its peer institutions, Princeton guarantees funding for five years for all Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences. But in recent years, time-to-degree completion in these disciplines has risen to an average of more than six years at the University and seven years nationwide.

Last year, Yale announced it would provide funding for humanities and social-science Ph.D. students who are on track to finish their work within a year, but those students are required to teach while they complete their dissertations. Princeton’s program will not have a teaching requirement, allowing students to focus on their work and earn their degrees sooner, Crittenden said.

In engineering and the natural sciences, funding pressures start when students enter their second year. Students in these disciplines are guaranteed a fellowship during their first year and are funded primarily through sponsored-research dollars from their second year on, Crittenden said.

Beginning this academic year, $4 million will be allocated among departments to alleviate pressure on faculty members to secure outside funding for their Ph.D. students, which has been stagnating in recent years, he said.