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Academic plan discussions turn to research, doctoral programs

03/14/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Scenes during the Town Hall Meeting held in the Alumni Center at Northeastern University on March 14, 2016. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Members of the Northeastern community discussed the future of the university through two different lenses—doctoral education, and research and scholarship—on Monday at separate academic plan town hall meetings. The topics represent two of the strategic themes of the academic plan, which will guide the university’s course over the next 10 years.

In the early afternoon, university leaders, students, faculty, and staff gathered to examine doctoral education, which is the focus of one the academic plan strategic themes. The Office of the Provost has created a PhD Joint Task Force to engage with the Northeastern community to seek a set of shared values for Northeastern’s doctoral programs of the future.

Participants sought to find some consensus on answers to four questions: How will we define excellence; should and how can doctoral programs incorporate experiential education; what might a centralized resource for doctoral students look like and how can it help; and what can be done to most improve the university’s doctoral programs. They broke into groups to tackle these questions and later reported overall themes that emerged in discussions.

As part of the discussions on a centralized resource for doctoral students, participants suggested having mentoring workshops for student advisors, a website featuring resources for these students, and university-wide workshops for grant writing.

On integrating experiential learning into doctoral programs, participants suggested taking a bottom-up, tailored approach to accommodate the uniqueness of each program. Flexibility, they said, was important because what might work best for an engineering doctoral program might not be as well-suited for a program in the humanities.

Some suggestions were applicable to more than one of the topics discussed. For example, participants in multiple groups pointed to the need to increase resources and financial support to help doctoral students with cost-of-living expenses and for travel to present their research at conferences.

At two academic plan town hall meetings on Monday, members of the Northeastern community examined strategic themes—doctoral education, and research and scholarship—of the academic plan, which will guide the university’s course over the next 10 years. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

At two academic plan town hall meetings on Monday, members of the Northeastern community examined strategic themes—doctoral education, and research and scholarship—of the academic plan, which will guide the university’s course over the next 10 years. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Later in the day, the second town hall focused on the strategic theme of research and scholarship for impact. Similar to the earlier meeting, participants first broke into groups to discuss several topics, including what research at Northeastern will look like 10 years from now, interdisciplinary research, student engagement at all levels, and global and external collaborations and partnerships.

Participants were then asked to share their thoughts on a final question: “If we could make one substantial investment to accelerate research at Northeastern, what would it be?”

Among the variety of suggestions discussed were lowering teaching loads to free up more time for research and offering more fellowships for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. Participants also considered opportunities to provide more resources to help students and faculty translate their research and innovations from the lab to practice via collaborations with industry; one even suggested this could take the form of a “co-op for faculty” model.

Another idea discussed was creating a centralized resource, perhaps a website, that shows all of the research areas in which faculty and students are working, so that they could learn more about what research is happening across the university and make it easier to identify potential areas for collaboration.

The two discussions marked the fifth and sixth town hall meetings on Northeastern’s next academic plan, which will take shape over the next year through extensive discussions with Northeastern students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, donors, and community members. The final plan will be ratified in fall 2016.

The academic plan will serve as the framework for the university’s next long-range plan, which will map out how the academic plan will be put into action.

Previous town hall meetings have focused on topics such as diversity and inclusion, faculty of the future, and the “essence of Northeastern.”

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