KEEPING
THE PROMISE

Expanding access to educational excellence

FAR BEYOND: THE CASE FOR GRADUATE STUDENT SUPPORT

FAR BEYOND THE EXPECTED: ENHANCING OUR ABILITY TO ATTRACT HIGH-ACHIEVING GRADUATE STUDENTS

Stony Brook University, 60 years young and decidedly bold in its accomplishments and its ambition, has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s and world’s great public research institutions. We have attracted true groundbreakers to our faculty who, together with their students, are addressing challenges of global impact: infectious disease and cancer, environmental sustainability, renewable energy, the origins of humankind, the preservation of species.

Stony Brook is one of only 62 universities to be invited into the prestigious American Association of Universities (AAU), an organization founded in 1900 to advance the international standing of U.S. research universities. Its members, according to the AAU, “are on the leading edge of innovation, scholarship, and solutions that contribute to the nation’s economy, security and well-being.”  Stony Brook is an AAU member because of the quality of its faculty, its research output, and the students in its doctoral programs.

In addition to building an extraordinary academic and research enterprise, however, Stony Brook has since its founding been dedicated to its core mission as a public institution: access to education—not just for undergraduate students but for all students. In only a few short decades, Stony Brook has become a model for serving first-generation college-goers as well as the underserved, underrepresented, and economically challenged. Those who are educated at Stony Brook University find their education to be not only affordable but also of exceptional quality. Stony Brook goes Far Beyond, delivering to its students prestigious programs, first-rate scholars, stellar facilities, and degrees with clout.

Those who earn advanced degrees at Stony Brook, in fact, are teaching and conducting research in the nation’s top universities. Stanford, Yale, Purdue, Northwestern, and Harvard, for example, currently employ Stony Brook-educated faculty members. According to a recent article in U.S. News, however, only 42 percent of people with scientific PhDs end up in academia. Stony Brook doctoral graduates are productive leaders in industry, business, the health professions, and the arts.

THE CHALLENGE OF GRADUATE EDUCATION

Exceptional graduate programs seek top students because of their creativity, their energy, their ambition. In addition, high-achieving women and underrepresented minority graduate students, particularly in the STEMM fields, are coveted by every major research university. Great programs are measured not only by their world-class faculty, facilities, research centers, and knowledge output; they are also ranked by the caliber of student they are able to attract. More than half of Stony Brook’s graduate programs are ranked in the top 25 nationally, and several—including applied mathematics, nuclear physics, psychology, nursing, and others— are ranked in the top ten.

Stony Brook consistently attracts the nation’s and world’s top doctoral candidates, many of whom also apply to and are accepted at other highly ranked public, private, and Ivy League institutions. Many of these applicants tell us Stony Brook is their first- or second-choice doctoral institution. Turning high-level applicants into matriculated doctoral students, however, has been a perennial challenge for Stony Brook. Like most institutions, Stony Brook offers full tuition as well as a stipend to all doctoral candidates. Unfortunately, although the state of New York supports higher education better than many other states, Stony Brook’s stipends tend to be significantly lower than institutions with more robust funding sources and billion dollar endowments. Moreover, the stipends we offer do not take into account the higher cost of living on Long Island, which is significantly more expensive than many other college towns.

Top students must evaluate the bottom line. They want to have the ability to live comfortably, purchase or rent a decent home, support their families, and undertake their graduate studies without the need to seek alternative employment. Too often, Stony Brook’s top applicants accept offers at universities where they believe their financial needs will be better met.

A university dedicated to access, Stony Brook University sees a higher number of applicants from underrepresented minority URM) and under-resourced groups. Through our Center for Inclusive Education (CIE), we have been able to offer some financial assistance through several grant-funded fellowship programs earmarked for students from underrepresented populations. The CIE also offers social support, advocacy, and other programs as incentives for students to choose Stony Brook—and stay at Stony Brook—for the duration of their graduate studies. Programs like the Turner Fellowship and Graduate Council Fellowship provide clear evidence that more top scholars would matriculate into Stony Brook graduate programs with a more robust financial package.

Stony Brook has also received an Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate – Transformation, Frontiers of Research and Academic Models of Excellence (AGEP-T FRAME) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). FRAME is an alliance between Stony Brook, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Brookhaven Science Associates, and INCREASE (a consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Through the grant, NSF is committed to dramatically increasing diversity in the STEM disciplines. The goal of Stony Brook and Brookhaven is to double the number of doctoral students in the STEM fields at both institutions. The grant also provides funding to increase the success of underrepresented minority (URM) students by providing targeted support and intensive training for URM STEM doctoral students at Stony Brook and Brookhaven with the goal of their becoming productive and independent researchers who receive faculty offers, and accept postdoctoral positions, at high-level research institutions.

While these programs can make a difference for doctoral students at Stony Brook, a significant investment from alumni and the private sector is needed to bring graduate stipends to a competitive level in all academic disciplines.

ACHIEVING THE MARGIN OF EXCELLENCE THROUGH FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Stony Brook ranks 14th among the 34 public research institutions in the AAU in terms of the number of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) graduate degrees awarded. Graduate students in the STEMM fields—which represent a signature strength of Stony Brook—typically work in teams under the mentorship of a principal investigator. The average stipend for Stony Brook doctoral students is about $20,000. The current National Science Foundation stipend is $34,000. STEMM students need extra incentive and funding, especially during their first two years, since during their third year and subsequent years their research stipend is often covered by the supervising professor’s research grant.

Students in social sciences and humanities doctoral programs tend to work alone or in pairs, creating new knowledge or achievement in performance through scholarly discovery and practice. Their academic paths, though different from those in the lab sciences, result in immeasurable contributions to humanity. These students are at a particular competitive disadvantage because their stipends, which are rarely covered by a faculty member’s research grant, only last four years. They would benefit immensely from an across-the-board stipend increase to allow them to write their dissertations, which usually occurs during the fifth year.

Competition is particularly high for talented women and underrepresented minority group Ph.D. students, particularly those in the STEMM fields. While Stony Brook excels in attracting and educating these groups at the undergraduate level, our stipends and other support fall short for graduate students, especially for those who face financial challenges due to their life circumstances. Ultimately, all doctoral students would benefit greatly if we were able to effectively boost their stipends to a more competitive level, thus closing the gap between Stony Brook and our competitors.

THE BREADTH OF PROBLEM-SOLVING

All research universities, Stony Brook included, depend on their graduate student work force to drive their research agendas. Top graduate students add immeasurable value to the knowledge engine by contributing their time, energy, and ideas to the university’s efforts to address the world’s most pressing challenges.  Stony Brook doctoral students are in essence the skilled labor force—the ambitious budding scholars who bring with them fresh perspectives and ideas. Graduate research faculty feel comfortable putting riskier and farther reaching questions in the hands of graduate students because they have five years to contemplate, innovate, develop hypotheses, and find solutions.

Moreover, because Stony Brook graduate students do everything faculty members do—teaching, research, and outreach—they elevate the overall educational quality, prestige, and ranking of the university. They inspire undergraduates in the classroom and provide hands-on research opportunities. They impact the overall research output of the university through papers they publish and the symposia and scholarly meetings they attend as representatives of the Stony Brook brand.

Stony Brook doctoral students are game changers who drive the conversation and go Far Beyond to create new knowledge that will make an impact in every field on every continent. Here are just a few examples.

  • Zachariah Foda, a dual M.D./Ph.D. candidate in Stony Brook’s medical science training program, is trying to develop new types of therapeutics for cancer and diabetes. He was awarded a National Institutes of Health predoctoral fellowship for his dissertation work.
  • Anna Plonka, who earned her doctorate in geosciences, conducts research that has implications for carbon dioxide sequestration and pollution control. She has authored 12 peer-reviewed articles and forged collaborations among Stony Brook University, Argonne National Laboratory, and Berkeley Labs.
  • Stony Brook graduate Luisa Escobar Hoyos, who earned her Ph.D. in cellular pharmacology conducts research to understand why cancer patients with the same cancers respond differently to identical treatments.
  • Megan Tudor from the department of psychology focuses on people with autism spectrum disorders. She has published findings on the influence of sleep problems and pain in this population and on the well-being of siblings of youth with ASD.
  • Jue Liu earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 2015. Now a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, he explores materials for rechargeable batteries, with specific attention on the relationship between structure and functionality.

All of these students are launching meaningful careers in academia and other fields or are completing postdoctoral work at prestigious institutions and laboratories. Competition for students like these is stronger than it has ever been, yet securing them is paramount if Stony Brook is to maintain and advance the historical excellence of our graduate programs. We do not want to lose those students to our competitors because of financial considerations. We already have top applicants. It is now time for our matriculated population to mirror our applicant pool.

With your commitment to Far Beyond: The Campaign for Stony Brook, we will be able to both attract and secure the top scholars and extraordinary minds who will enhance our research enterprise, elevate our reputation, and deliver knowledge for humanity’s sake. Our applicants will no longer need to accept offers at other prestigious universities because we are unable to meet their financial needs. Our status as a renowned research institution will grow, and we will be able to make exceptional opportunities available to the next-generation of great thinkers, great problem-solvers, and great knowledge producers—many, many of whom come from underserved and underrepresented populations.

WAYS TO CHANGE THE GRADUATE EDUCATION EQUATION

Today, doctoral students are funded through a variety of channels. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, for example, as well as other federal and state government entities, provide research support in STEMM and other fields. Business and industry sponsors often provide funding to further specific research agendas.

Ideally, all doctoral students applying for positions at Stony Brook University would be offered the state’s maximum stipend plus enough additional support to allow them to live comfortably on Long Island, support their families, and fully commit to their research without having to work outside of the university or incur significant debt.

You can change the equation. You can play a critical role in helping Stony Brook compete for well-qualified doctoral students, consequently elevating the status of the university as it seeks to “effect real, powerful change in our community and across the world.” (www.stonybrook.edu/campaign.)

  • Establish or give to a fund to offer more generous and competitive stipends to prospective students—perhaps for the first two years of their studies or for the extra year they need to write their dissertations.
  • Consider an issue or problem you are passionate about—cancer, the environment, renewable energy—and direct your graduate-focused philanthropic gift to a department or school where this type of research is going on.
  • Focus your generosity on high potential individuals from underserved and underrepresented areas.
  • Honor someone who matters to you by establishing a fellowship or assistantship in that person’s name.
  • Give discretionary funds to the Graduate School, allowing special additional financial incentives to help top students choose Stony Brook.

Every dollar makes a difference at a place like Stony Brook University. We are a young institution that has clearly gone Far Beyond. Far Beyond in public education. Far Beyond in addressing the great problems facing humanity. Far Beyond in serving the underserved. Help us go Far Beyond as we invite and secure doctoral students of the highest caliber who will change the world through the discoveries they will make, the problems they will solve, and the knowledge they will create here at Stony Brook University.

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