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Where Your Voice Matters

A recent meeting of the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty provided a vivid example of the many opportunities graduate students have to shape their Duke experience. At this meeting, fifth-year electrical and computer engineering doctoral student Heather Wake and fourth-year sociology doctoral student Patricia Thomas helped faculty to understand exam scheduling difficulties faced by graduate students.

During late November and December 2008, Wake and Thomas conducted a survey of advanced Duke Ph.D. candidates and recent Duke Ph.D. recipients to gather information about difficulties encountered by students trying to schedule a date either for a preliminary examination or for a final Ph.D. defense. The survey was received by 1,345 Duke graduate students, and 625 responded. Although many students reported that scheduling these exams was relatively easy, a significant number found it difficult to schedule one or both of them.

The points that emerged from the survey (see below) make it evident that knowing the practices in one’s own department as well as the Graduate School’s degree requirement policies and responding proactively to known obstacles in a timely manner can facilitate the scheduling of preliminary exams or dissertation defenses, significantly reducing the stress associated with these important milestone moments. It was also evident that faculty appreciated the information brought to light by the survey and were open to listening and learning from student feedback to make the graduate experience better.