Time-to-completion and extensions for graduate students

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Yesterday I received an open letter regarding a topic of great importance to many of our graduate students: time-to-completion and extension policies. I want to address some of the issues raised in that letter in hopes that it will alleviate some of the concerns our graduate students have about this matter.

Since last September, the Graduate Studies Executive Council (GSEC) has been working to revise our current policies, which had not been updated in more than a decade. The policy changes that have been proposed will be voted on by the GSEC at its March 14 meeting. It won’t be, however, the first time these issues are raised: the proposed policy changes have been discussed at all Queen’s faculty councils and committees, with feedback provided directly to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and to GSEC.

I think it’s important to make a few things clear, particularly in light of the concern I understand these proposed changes have been causing in the graduate student community.  Most importantly (and the issue I fear has been the most misconstrued) is that the proposed policies do not impose a hard limit on graduate students’ time-to-completion, or make extensions difficult to obtain. What will change is that PhD students will be required to receive an extension – which can be granted by their department – beginning in their fifth year. In the past, students did not have to obtain an extension until Year 7 – a timeline that was the longest in the province.

There is no doubt that the question of time-to-completion can affect a student’s work, finances, and job opportunities. It also has an impact on our supervisors, and our ability to accept new students. We feel it is in everyone’s interest to encourage timely progression, while keeping in mind, of course, that there can be a number of circumstances that may prevent a student from completing his or her degree in the minimum required time. That is why extensions are available, with the approval of the department in the first instance and the SGS should a subsequent extension be warranted.

Annual mandatory progress updates, which were initiated last year, are also designed to help both students and faculty members better assess how students are doing, identify any barriers that have impacted the research and/or research progress, and to set goals and objectives for the next year. This formal process encourages conversation between student and supervisor, and ensures that we are supporting students in a systematic way much earlier in the process than we may have before.

The SGS has also been working to expand its support services to better help students with time-to-completion issues. Expanding Horizons, a series of workshops and seminars to support the academic, personal, and professional success of our graduate students, along with their Dissertation Boot Camps, aimed at providing the resources to accelerate the writing process for students, can all be of great benefit.

The key, ultimately, is in striking the right balance between allowing students to pursue original, carefully executed research, while ensuring that research is possible to complete within the time allocated for a doctoral degree. We hope these new parameters will help to provide some additional structure for that process.

Ultimately, this university is committed to working with our students to ensure that degrees are completed in an efficient manner, and that extensions are not onerous to obtain when they are needed. These policies, if they are passed, will not interfere with that commitment.

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