In its latest study, the Survey of Earned Doctorates gave Western its highest ranking ever, ninth, among 590 master’s-granting U.S. institutions for its number of graduates who went on to earn research doctorates between 2005 and 2014.
According to the survey, 434 Western graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree went on to earn research doctorates between 2005 and 2014. The annual survey is a census that keeps track of any individual who receives a research doctorate from an accredited U.S. academic institution during an academic year.
Western’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Steve VanderStaay, Ph.D., said these findings are evidence of the university’s ability to prepare undergraduates for postgraduate education — an improvement the university has taken many steps to improve.
Western had 58 graduates who went on to receive a research doctorate in the 2014 academic year, according to Western’s press release on its Survey of Earned Doctorates ranking. Of those, 27 were earned in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, 13 were earned in the social sciences, 10 were earned in the humanities, three were earned in education and two were earned in other areas.
“The number of students you have who go on to earn a Ph.D. is an important indicator of educational quality,” VanderStaay said. “If a student is able to enter a competitive Ph.D. program and successfully earn a research Ph.D., then you know they received a good bachelor’s education.”
VanderStaay said figures on what specific research doctorates are earned by Western graduates are not available, but he speculates that chemistry is the most common doctorate earned.
Most of Western’s improvements, including the Tutoring Center, freshman interest groups and Student Outreach Services are geared toward ensuring the success of freshman. VanderStaay said this is because freshman drop out of school more frequently than any other class.
Although Western consistently revises the education curriculum, it still isn’t up to par with its major curriculums, VanderStaay said.
Junior Savanna Stephan-Borer is an anthropology major planning to earn a medical doctorate. When discussing Western’s effectiveness at preparing undergraduates to earn doctorates, Stephan-Borer said the university could do better in providing aspiring doctorate recipients with a wider range of easily available resources that wouldn’t require students to go far out of their way to get the help they need.
Stephan-Borer also said that Western’s success in terms of helping students depends on how far along students are on their academic track.
“When you’re starting out as a freshman or a sophomore, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough one-on-one with a specific adviser,” she said.
Stephan-Borer said that when a student gets into their 300 and 400 level courses where classes are smaller, the relationships with the professors are more personal and they’re able to become more involved overall with their major.
Ryan Wasserman, Ph.D., graduated from Western and is the chair for Western’s philosophy program. He said his time at Western influenced him to be readily available to students for extra help, something he said was helpful for him as an undergraduate.
In terms of the philosophy department itself, Wasserman said the department places a large emphasis on writing to help students prepare for more difficult philosophy classes in master’s or doctorate programs.
“A lot of us have worksheets, projects or homework assignments designed to improve academic writing and that becomes even more important in the next stage,” Wasserman said.
When thinking about the university as a whole, Wasserman said the number of faculty members who are published in notable academic journals is a benefit to undergraduates, especially when it comes to letters of recommendation by those professors for students who are applying to postgraduate programs.
Wasserman said a downfall in Western’s ability to prep students is its lack of funding for research. However, he said this isn’t something that is necessarily Western’s fault.
“There’s two different ways you could support money, one would be university programs or state funding, and that’s being designated to help students to do research or travel and there’s just not much of that,” he said. The problem with funding is a problem on a larger scale, Wasserman said.
Director for the Center for Social Science Instruction and a professor in Western’s sociology department Lucky Tedrow cites the department’s faculty and training for its success in preparing undergraduates. The sociology department turns out at least two to three graduates a year who go on to earn research doctorates, he said.
Tedrow said the department’s success could also be attributed to its ability to send sociology students to undergraduate research conferences, along with numerous grants from the National Science Foundation.
In terms of Western’s overall success with preparing students to earn doctorates, Tedrow said “it all starts with faculty.”