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May 28, 2015

UChicagoGRAD to streamline, increase grad student services

A range of services for graduate and postgraduate students—from their admission to their interaction with the University of Chicago as alumni—will be consolidated into UChicagoGRAD, a new office doing much of the work of the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, which has now been dissolved. The new office was announced last week in an email by Eric Isaacs, the University provost.

“In the decentralized structure of UChicago, it can be very hard to navigate through, to get where you want to be. I just want grad students to know that this whole operation was designed completely with grad student success in mind,” Brooke Noonan, the director of graduate student and postdoctoral experience for UChicagoGRAD, said.

Noonan described the new office as a “one-stop shop” for the University’s services for graduates and postgraduate students, where students can come in for one service and discover another. The office will provide support for students seeking fellowships, and their writing program, as “gateway drugs.”

One aspect of the new office, a graduate and postgraduate–specific career development program, started last summer as part of the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. The program is meant to prepare graduate students for careers in business, nonprofits, or government agencies as well as academia.

“We know that the academic job market is not what it was even 10 years ago, and certainly not what it was 20 years ago. So what we want to do is be very nimble in training our graduate students to have successful careers that translate the work that they’ve done here in a variety of ways…. I’ve said we want our grad students to make as much of an impact after they leave here in the classroom as they do in the boardroom,” Noonan said.

Some elements of the new office, like interview preparation, public speaking practice, and writing programs, also began as pilot projects in the office of Graduate Student Affairs.

“While we were trying out these little pilot programs we just didn’t have a lot of resources, staff-wise or otherwise, to dedicate to them. So with UChicagoGRAD we’ve not only institutionalized these resources, I think we’ll be ramping them up to serve a broader population within the grad community,” said Noonan.

Admission decisions about graduate and postgraduate admissions will still be made by their division or school. In what Noonan called “the biggest change” in the rollout of UChicagoGRAD, the yet-to-be-hired Director of Graduate Enrollment will be the first senior administrative figure to support admissions and recruiting across every admitting academic unit.

“What we’re hoping to do is to provide some non-discipline-specific support around recruitment strategies, marketing strategies, under-represented minority recruitment. If we get a specialist in all of those areas that can help the academic units, we think that it's going to be an unstoppable combination,” Noonan said.

Over the course of the next year, Noonan hopes the office will add a digital communication equivalent to the office’s programs for written and oral communication. Noonan also plans to set up a data collection system that will allow the office to evaluate the success of its programs.

Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology and vice-provost of academic initiatives, will lead UChicagoGRAD. Beth Niestat will be the director of graduate student and postdoctoral administration and policy. Debby Nelson, who ran the office of Graduate Student Affairs as the deputy provost for graduate education, will return to her full-time work as an English professor.

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