During registration for the 2017–2018 academic year, students in years G2 and above were asked to complete a survey that covered their relationships with advisors and their community building experiences, with a special focus on Dudley House. Part of a series of three surveys offered in alternate years, this academic year’s questions enabled students to share their thoughts on a variety of advising topics, including dissertation assistance, professional development, and teaching, as well as the aspects of Dudley House they found the most valuable. More than 95% of registering students responded.

“I’m thrilled by the high response rate for this important survey,” said Emma Dench, interim dean of GSAS and McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History and of the Classics. “Hearing directly from students in this way enables us to ensure that we are focusing our efforts in the right places and allows us to share the results with departments and programs, who can do the same.”

Program Requirements and Advising

Students felt overwhelmingly positive about their programs of study, with 97% saying that the requirements were reasonable, clear (89%), and flexible (88%). A high percentage also agreed that their primary advisor provided helpful advice on developing research topics (93%) and preparing a dissertation prospectus (89%), while 94% agreed that their advisor encouraged them to pursue their own ideas. They lauded advisors regarding the amount of time spent in the lab with 93% agreeing that expectations were reasonable. Respondents also noted that advisors were supportive of a good work/life balance (90%) and acknowledged the stresses of graduate school (88%).

In reference to feedback, students scored their advisors equally high in providing helpful advice (90%) during the writing of their dissertation, appropriate (88%) and timely (89%) feedback on their work, and that feedback was constructive and encouraging (92%).

Advisors supported students in their professional development as well, offering helpful advice on applying for grants and fellowships (84%), presentation skills (87%), and publication strategies (85%). They also are increasingly encouraging students to pursue nonacademic careers, with 68% of respondents sharing that their advisors gave them helpful advice.

Overall, 91% of students rated the effectiveness of their advisors good, very good, or excellent.

“I am pleased that the majority of students surveyed are having such a positive experience with their advisors,” said Garth McCavana, dean for student affairs. “It is important to note, however, that even with such high results, a small percentage are experiencing difficulties.” That’s why GSAS and Harvard University provide a number of resources to help students who may need it. “Often the best place to start is by reaching out to Jackie Yun, director of student services, who can help students navigate resources and provide coaching for dealing with difficult situations,” said McCavana.


The majority of students responding also found teaching to be a positive experience, with 87% saying they had either a good or excellent overall teaching experience and easily found teaching positions (75%). While teaching, 94% stated that they received training, with 67% citing departmental training programs.

However, fewer students than one might expect took advantage of the valuable resources offered by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, with 21% participating in microteaching, 13% seeking a video consultation on their teaching, and 21% signing up for programs and events, such as the Fall Teaching Conference, Bok Seminars, and Winter Teaching Week.

“The Bok Center understands graduate students’ competing priorities,” said Pamela Pollock, the Bok Center’s associate director for professional and scholarly development. “Teaching is intimately connected to your growth as a scholar. Whether you are apprenticing for a faculty career or acquiring valuable skills in communication, we have developed offerings around the entire graduate student experience. We tailor our programs and workshops thoughtfully, exposing students to experts from across the university and delivering programming in a timely and efficient way.”

Pollock encourages those who are interested in teaching or professional development to attend the Bok Center’s Winter Teaching Week (January 17 through 19) and to check out the slate of Bok Seminars for the spring term, which include new offerings on the Foundations of Teaching in STEM and the Foundations of Teaching in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Community and Dudley House

While the majority of those surveyed shared that they found a sense of community in their department (74%), nearly 50% noted some level of involvement with Dudley House. Outings organized by the Dudley fellows were the most popular, followed by arts/music and cultural activities.

“Dudley House provides numerous opportunities for students to step outside the library or lab and cultivate other interests,” said Jim Hogle, faculty dean of Dudley House and Edward S. Harkness Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology. “Work/life balance is extremely important for graduate students and Dudley can help with that, whether you are joining the annual ski trip to Sugarloaf in Maine, attending a concert by the Dudley World Music Ensemble, or dropping by the third floor game room for a round of pool.” Other resources, opportunities, and events can be found on the Dudley House website.

Looking Ahead

GSAS is carefully reviewing the survey results and determining how best to address the shortfalls in certain areas. “As a GSAS graduate student, I was one of the first to sign a petition that led to the creation of Dudley House more than 25 years ago,” said McCavana. “We’ll be looking for ways to partner with Dudley to share with students their events and other opportunities for involvement.” He also intends to find ways to reach students whose responses showed dissatisfaction with their experience. “As an academic institution, Harvard has invested heavily in resources for students,” he said. “It’s important that we find ever more creative ways to share those resources with GSAS students.”