Office of the Provost
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies

Dear Graduate and Professional Students,

Last week I attended the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) meeting in Nashville. This is an annual meeting of faculty and staff involved in graduate education across the country. It is a great opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss ways to further improve graduate and professional education. This year’s meeting featured sessions on many of the topics we are working on here at Pitt, including mentoring, graduate student mental health, increasing diversity, professional development, GRE scores, and graduate student data.

I chaired a plenary talk by our own Dr. Linda DeAngelo from the School of Education on the importance of faculty mentoring, especially for students of color. Linda’s talk inspired a lot of discussion and questions about how we can encourage and support high-quality mentoring. There was broad agreement that improving mentoring relationships is important to the success of both students and faculty. A good mentor-mentee relationship results in the student getting better advice, being happier, and also being more productive. It also reduces time to degree and enhances career success.

We have been offering even more opportunities for faculty to get mentor training—in partnership with the Center for Mentoring in the University Center for Teaching and Learning. The efforts are in part based on evidence-based programs developed through the National Research Mentoring Network—one of the most widely used mentor training programs available.

There was also a lot of talk about the use and misuse of standardized testing, especially GREs, in graduate admissions. As you may know, we have many programs that have recently stopped using GRE scores—in fact almost half of our PhD programs have eliminated this requirement. From my conversations at CGS I would say that we have made good progress in reconsidering the GRE, but it is important that this be done in a broader evaluation of admissions requirements for our programs.

Another plenary speaker was Scott Page from the University of Michigan. Scott is a quantitative social scientist whose work focuses on the benefits of diversity. His talk was mostly drawn from his recent book, The Diversity Bonus.

Scott’s talk focused on the degree to which better solutions—especially solutions to complex problems—arise from diverse groups. This “bonus” shows in many domains, including academics. For example, when we look at high-impact publications: Publications with 5 or more authors are 4.5 times more likely to have 100 citations. Also, when we try to make predictions in fields ranging from genetics to economics, averaging predictions drawn from diverse approaches improves the accuracy of the prediction.

When we think about the kinds of work we do at universities and the kinds of work we are training our students to do, I think it’s critical that we recognize the degree to which we can benefit from assembling more diverse teams to engage our most complex problems. 

Back to what is new on our campus, one important development in the next semester will be the update of the University’s Plan for Pitt. The strategic plan is important for guiding decision making and resource application across the University. This update will be a chance for people across Pitt’s campuses to come together and think hard about where we want to be as a university in five years.

I want to encourage you to become engaged in this effort, so you can expect to get information about surveys, focus groups, and other events designed to get feedback on how we can make the University a better place for graduate and professional students. Once the new plan is in place there likely will be opportunities for the best ideas aligned with this plan to compete for seed funding.

I hope that you have had a successful semester and will find opportunities for rest and rejuvenation during the winter break.


Nathan Urban
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies

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