Science departments decry shortage of grad students


Yale Daily News

Despite the University’s stated commitments to invest more money into the sciences, many science departments across Yale still expect a low number of graduate students to matriculate this year.

Physics professor Steve Lamoreaux said his program extended offers of admissions to approximately 60 students this year. Yet, he expects just 20 of those students to matriculate to Yale. Lamoreaux said that the department’s faculty members have already complained that this number is too low. The repercussions from the lack of graduate students in the natural sciences are echoed across various University departments, including mathematics and astronomy. Still, professors from other departments like applied physics stated that they were content in their number of graduate students.

“The funding model, especially in the sciences, includes significant contribution from research grants,” said Yair Minsky, chair of the mathematics department. “Indeed, the National Science Foundation — where most math funding comes from — does not fund students as substantially for math as for the sciences, and has been cutting back on its graduate student support in recent years. So, the effect on us is that we need more funding from the university to make up the difference.”

According to the University Science Strategy Committee report, research grants and grant budgets have decreased in recent years, creating difficulties in launching cutting-edge research programs. While the University almost completely funds PhD candidates in the Humanities and Social Sciences, graduate students in the Natural Sciences typically only get Yale funding for the first year or two of graduate school and have to rely on grant money received by individual departments in subsequent years. According to faculty members interviewed by the News, the shortage of graduate students can cause difficulties in carrying out research and providing teaching assistants for undergraduate classes.

Daniel Prober, professor of applied physics and electrical engineering who also serves on the applied physics department’s graduate admissions committee, said that his department has been content with its number of graduate students. Still, he added that the department has had strong negotiations with Yale when bargaining for more slots for PhD candidates, as well as for further funding of the department’s “quantum element,” which he says the University is more inclined to support financially as evidenced by its mention as a “top-priority” investment in the University Science Strategy Committee Report.

“We’re restricted, but we’re satisfied with the number so far,” Prober said. “That wasn’t always the case, but we’ve grown in research quality. We have a good record that we can bring to the table when these discussions take place.”

He stated that other departments may be trapped between decreases in external funding and a lack of internal funding. He noted that many initiatives that lie outside of the scope of individual departments have seen increases in funding, including West Campus projects.

Minsky noted that the current number of approximately 30 students in the mathematics program falls significantly below the preferred 45 — falling into the category of those departments lacking the sufficient number of graduate students needed to fully carry out research and other academic goals.

“As the faculty numbers increase in the coming few years, we hope to build the graduate program back up as well,” Minsky said. “It was actually in the low 40’s until about 10 years ago, and slowly reduced for reasons I don’t fully understand.”

Last semester, University President Peter Salovey accepted the University Science Strategy Committee recommendation to increase University funding for graduate students in the sciences.

The recommendation cited a decrease in research grants over the past few years, which had often limited graduate programs.

“We will continue working with the Provost’s office, the Development office and our faculty to achieve the goals set out in the USSC,” Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley said. “We do our best [to] admit as many qualified students as possible within the funding available from the university and the programs.”

According to Director for Graduate Studies for Geology and Geophysics Maureen Long, she is encouraged by the USSC recommendations’ commitment to graduate students in science and engineering fields. She concurred with the report’s assertions that the endowment allotted to graduate students in these disciplines “is modest relative to the size of the programs.”

The University Science Strategy Report was released in the summer of 2018.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu







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