Policy on Evaluation of the Progress of Graduate Students

Good Practices that appear to be effective in Annual Reviews of Graduate Progress:

These are examples of what seems to be effective in providing rich data about student performance and in the checking of technical items that reflect progress milestones (and prevent problems).  This list has been generated by reviewing annual progress reviews submitted by departments at Virginia Tech for 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Review system:

  • If students are responsible for assembling all the necessary materials for their departmental files, it builds investment in the process, increases awareness of progress (or lack of progress) and reduces the time expenditure for the faculty part of the review.
  • Self-evaluation by the student encourages self-reflection about progress and also helps build investment in the degree.
  • Faculty evaluation, preferably based on input from all members of the student's Advisory Committee, provides the most comprehensive feedback to the student for progressing through the degree.  In some cases this evaluation is done in a committee meeting at which the student presents a report on his/her research progress and plans for the next stage of the work, followed by discussion and evaluation.  The results of the committee meeting should be documented in a letter to the student on behalf of the Advisory Committee (usually written by the Advisor and copied to other committee members and the student's departmental file).
  • Having the student sign (and date) that the annual evaluation has been shared with him/her is helpful because it becomes an important part of the record documenting appropriate departmental advising and communication.

What needs to be included in annual reviews:

  • Key technical information:  coursework and grade progress, completion of  milestones (e.g., Plan of Study filing and approval, preliminary examination, other departmental exams). The nature of some items will vary with degree (thesis vs. non-thesis masters, PhD), with specific departmental requirements beyond those of the Graduate School and the student's stage in degree.
  • Research progress on the thesis or dissertation for research degrees. Completion of a research prospectus satisfactory to the student's committee is usually a key milestone, then subsequent reviews usually focus on evaluations of research progress, and on things like publication of manuscripts, etc.
  • Other professional activities of importance to the degree field: e.g. research presentations and publications, other types of professional activities, teaching evaluations, etc.
  • Review of assistantship performance (e.g. teaching evaluations). This may be done separate from the review of the student's degree progress but may be relevant in the context of continued funding.
  • Signatures: Review forms should be signed by the student assembling the materials and doing a self-evaluation, and by the faculty involved in the evaluation.  After the faculty review is shared with the student, the student should sign that this has occurred (the student does not need to agree with the review, only to indicate that he/she has received the information and understands the nature of it).
  • Ratings: there should be a clear distinction made between Satisfactory progress toward the degree and inadequate or Unsatisfactory performance.  Some departments have multiple levels of Satisfactory ratings (e.g. Excellent, Very Good, Marginally satisfactory) but these don't appear to be critical to an effective review system.  One difficulty is in communicating to students that Satisfactory Progress toward a graduate degree requires very good performance as the minimum expectation (this is an issue of words like Satisfactory carrying connotations of being damned by faint praise).
  • Some departments list guidelines for preparing checklists or self-evaluations on the actual form for easy reference. Some also state the expectations for receiving a Satisfactory rating.

What needs to be done when a review is Unsatisfactory:

  • The nature of the problem(s) needs to be explained and constructive advice about the remedies needed to correct the situation, should be put in writing and communicated orally to the graduate student.
  • Need follow-up the next semester (a year is too long a period before the next review in cases where there are problems). Students who are having problems are the ones most in need of committee support and guidance.
  • In the difficult situation where a student has not improved performance in a reasonable period of time following an Unsatisfactory rating and constructive guidance, the department has a documented case for dismissal from the program at the time of the second Unsatisfactory rating.