Published: March 28, 2018

Whether you are an undergraduate who has a favorite TA, a staff member who supports graduate students in your unit or a faculty member who teaches graduate students or supervises teaching or research assistants, please join me in taking time this week to thank graduate students for their many contributions to our campus and community.

Dean of the Graduate School Ann Schmiesing

Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Affairs Ann Schmiesing

Graduate Student Appreciation Week, celebrated nationally and here at CU Boulder from April 2–6, provides an opportunity to recognize the significant impact our graduate students have as researchers, teachers, artists, performers and so much more.

In celebration of Graduate Student Appreciation Week, the Graduate School is partnering with various campus offices to provide CU Boulder graduate students with a variety of free events and services throughout the week, including a graduate student breakfast, coffee at the Norlin Library Laughing Goat and SEEC Café, professional headshot photos, Student Affairs open houses and a “Hone Your Elevator Pitch” career session. Many departments are hosting events for their graduate students this week, too.

Graduate Student Appreciation Week is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the many ways in which we as a campus are working to enhance the experiences of graduate students. Since becoming dean of the Graduate School in June 2016, I have been committed to making a difference for the more than 5,000 graduate students who study here. The Graduate School has partnered with campus administration and United Government of Graduate Students (UGGS) leaders on significant increases to the campus base graduate student stipend rate. In fall 2016, a 6.5 percent increase took effect, followed by a 5.9 percent increase in fall 2017 and a planned 6 percent increase for the 2018–19 academic year.

These larger-than-average increases are having an impact. In 2015–16, CU Boulder academic year stipends were $650, or 3.7 percent above the average TA salary of Association of American Universities (AAU) public institutions that participated in the AAU data exchange; by academic year 2016–17, the most recent year for which data is available, CU Boulder stipends were $1,990, or 11.2 percent above this average. This year’s increase and next year’s proposed increase likely will boost CU Boulder stipends even higher in relation to the AAU public institution survey respondents.

Recognizing that many AAU public universities are located in areas with a lower cost of living than Boulder, our approach to improving the experiences of our graduate students includes ongoing efforts to expand graduate housing options, as well as plans to provide bus passes for graduate students on summer student-faculty appointments. With regard to housing, this month we will conduct a graduate student housing survey so that we can best respond to graduate students’ needs.

In addition to increasing graduate stipends, we have improved the payment schedule: In fall 2017, we began paying teaching assistants and graduate part-time instructors a half-month’s salary at the end of August so they do not have to wait until the end of September for their first paycheck. Beginning in fall 2018, graduate students also will benefit from the elimination of course and program fees and from the proposed elimination of the graduate student athletic fee. 

We have improved the experiences of our graduate students in other ways, too. The Graduate School and New Student & Family Programs now sponsor, in partnership with UGGS, a fall orientation for new graduate students, as well as a January orientation for graduate students who begin their studies in the spring semester.

Our menu of professional development opportunities for graduate students continues to grow, with the inauguration of our annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and, in May 2018, our Dissertation Writing Retreat for doctoral students. To foster greater community among graduate students, we also now sponsor a weekly GradTalk social hour, and our Graduate Peer Mentoring Program has nearly doubled in size since its launch in the 2016–17 academic year. We continue to offer numerous graduate fellowships and grants, and we support graduate students in their teaching through the Graduate Teacher Program.

In so many ways, CU Boulder’s graduate students embody Chancellor Philip DiStefano’s strategic imperatives of positively impacting humanity, shaping tomorrow’s leaders and being the top university for innovation. Please join me this week as we honor our graduate students for their myriad contributions to the university’s mission.

Ann Schmiesing,
Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Affairs