I read with interest the PAW article (Campus Notebook, July 6) and letters (Oct. 26) about increasing grad-alumni participation in Princeton. They provoked conversations with friends who received graduate degrees at non-Princeton institutions: “How would you characterize your interactions with your graduate alma mater?” The uniform answer was: “Poorly — I have no feeling for the institution at large.” All felt their prime interaction was with their department (broadly), or (more narrowly) with their thesis prof’s research group. This response cut across age/academic disciplines. (My Ph.D. is in chemistry, but I actually spoke with a Princeton Ph.D. in English.)
Bottom line: Weak grad-alumni-institution interactions are the norm. Princeton’s situation is typical. After they receive their degrees, there’s no strong reason for grad alumni to remain in contact with one another, with their departments, or with the institution at large. The Woodrow Wilson School seems to be an outlier, because there are professional (networking) reasons for its graduates to maintain contact with one another. I suspect graduate alumni of schools of medicine, law, and business administration may have relatively strong post-degree interactions, but this doesn’t help Princeton.
A modest proposal: Since interactions seem to be department-based rather than institution-based, I suggest that Princeton create department-based “graduate alumni secretaries” (GAS) whose functions would parallel those of the undergraduate alumni class secretaries. A GAS would be a graduate alumnus, not a faculty or departmental staff member. The GAS might collate and disseminate news about graduate alumni, organize annual poster sessions for graduate alumni, etc. They also might help recruit the best and brightest seniors from their undergrad alma maters into Princeton graduate programs.