Blog Posts

Re-Orientation to Graduate School

By Jan Allen

The start of the academic year finds graduate school deans and their team welcoming new and returning students to campus. Many of these returning students are also starting a new phase, with new challenges, in their academic career: research and thesis or dissertation writing.

Most graduate schools host new student orientation that provides a warm welcome, strategic guidance, and essential resources for graduate school success.  Some schools have added a re-orientation event to recognize students’ admission to candidacy and prepare them for research, writing, and degree completion.

The University of Kentucky’s GradScholar: A Doctoral Re-Orientation is designed to help students navigate the transition to more independence as a researcher and scholar. In a day-long seminar graduate school staff, speakers, and panels of graduate faculty and students offer strategies for

  • dissertation writing and completion
  • working and communicating with advisors and the doctoral committee
  • writing for publication
  • how to start writing and stay motivated
  • academic and career professional development during a resource fair with campus partners

Dr. Morris Grubbs, Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Professional Enhancement, hosts GradScholar and reports that it is in part “based on the work of Susan Gardner and helps students to identify their challenges at each of the three phases in the development of a graduate student and scholar, and then we share resources to help students manage and overcome each of these challenges.”

Students who were welcomed at the start of their graduate program and introduced to members of their entering cohort are welcomed to the candidacy stage of research and dissertation and introduced to other students who are engaging in research and writing their dissertation. New interdisciplinary communities of support develop as students find others with the same writing schedule or writing challenges.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County Graduate School hosts a very robust recognition ceremony each November for doctoral students who have reached candidacy in the past year. Students walk across the stage accompanied by their mentor and receive a certificate and congratulations from the Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Janet Rutledge. Students’ family and friends are invited to the event and reception that follows. The program booklet includes information on resources for support and deadlines for submitting paperwork for remaining expectations and milestones leading to degree completion.

Since 2016 the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has held a doctoral candidate pinning ceremony to reflect the University’s commitment to retaining doctoral candidates and support their degree completion. (Since 2010 doctoral enrollment has increased almost 40 percent and doctoral degree completion has increased by 203 percent.) Dean Mary Farmer-Kaiser’s goal has been to host a ceremony that “enabled newly minted doctoral candidates to celebrate what they’ve achieved and to remind them that there’s still a road ahead, one that our faculty and staff members are here to support them on as they move toward the finish line.” The event is livestreamed so family and friends can participate.

Other schools also host recognition ceremonies in which the dean or other speakers help students understand the significance of the candidacy milestone (passing their comprehensive written and oral exam and defending the dissertation proposal to the student’s graduate committee). Some schools include a candidacy pledge; others have a speaker or panel of advanced students offer advice and encouragement for writing and degree completion.

Do you offer a graduate re-orientation or recognition event for students once they are admitted to candidacy? Please let me know about it.

Gardner, S. K. (2009). The development of doctoral students: Phases of challenges and support. ASHE Higher Education Report, 34(6), pp.1-127.

Cornell University Doctoral Candidacy Recognition Ceremony  

Howard University Doctoral Candidate Recognition Ceremony

University of Kentucky GradScholar: A Doctoral Re-Orientation

University of Louisiana Lafayette Doctoral Candidacy Recognition and Pinning Ceremony

University of Maryland Baltimore County Candidacy Ceremony