Scott Adler came to CU Boulder in fall 1996, when he joined the faculty as a professor of political science. He became dean of the Graduate School in June 2019.
Adler served as chair of the political science department and was founding director of the department’s American Politics Research Lab. He also served as director of the Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences (CARTSS), 2016-18, and as director of graduate studies in political science, 2013-16.
Adler earned doctoral and master’s degrees in political science from Columbia University, and his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan.
As dean, Adler’s vision for the Graduate School focuses on broadening the accessibility of CU Boulder’s graduate programs to a wider range of students, while also enabling students to gain knowledge and skills that go beyond a single discipline or field of study. In this academic leadership position, Adler plans to support and expand the many successful initiatives in place to enhance the experience of graduate students and the quality of graduate education at CU Boulder. He is honored to be in this position and work with some of the finest graduate students anywhere.
What attracted you to the Graduate School dean’s position?
Having the opportunity to work with the spectacular group of people in creating new opportunities and training programs, and being able to send our students off to great jobs is exciting to me.
I’ve been involved in graduate education since arriving at CU. Over the years, I have given considerable thought to how we could improve opportunities for our graduate students. Directing CARTSS was an opportunity to look at what we were doing in all the social and behavior sciences, so I became more involved with the Graduate School, creating new programs and training opportunities in an interdisciplinary fashion.
Recently, as a member of Academic Futures, I got excited about re-imagining CU’s future and being involved in the long-term planning of a comprehensive public research university.
When this position for dean opened, I jumped at it. It was an opportunity to meld all my interests together: long-term vision for the campus, the value I place on graduate education, and my interest in forward-thinking and positive change for our students.
What will you miss about your work in the political science department?
Being in the classroom with students. There’s nothing like that interaction. For years I’ve been teaching American politics, and right now is an especially exciting time to be studying politics. I’ll miss that. I’m hoping for the chance to be back in the classroom, particularly in interacting with graduate students in a scholarly setting.
As well, I loved involving graduate students in my research. I had a big research program over the last few years, which allowed me to bring graduate students into the work I’m excited about. As a means of helping them do the work they wanted to do, we created the American Politics Research Lab several years ago. It was an exciting space where undergraduates, graduate students and faculty could come together, share ideas, help one another and build opportunities to advance, promote and integrate each other’s research. There’s nothing like that intellectual give and take. I’ll miss talking with students about their research plans, helping them develop their research agendas and cultivating them into full-fledged scholars. I’d like to continue to do this, but on a grander scale.
What excites you the most about being dean of the Graduate School?
The Graduate School is the crossroads of all that we do from a scholarly perspective. I’m really excited to work closely with all disciplines, departments, colleges and schools across campus and collaborate with them on exploring interdisciplinary opportunities and creating new degrees and certificate programs.
What do you consider to be the hallmark of the Graduate School at CU Boulder?
The Graduate School has many hallmarks. Our programs across disciplines receive top national and international recognition year after year. Our faculty bring in a tremendous amount of research funding for projects that attract some of the finest graduate students anywhere. And, our recent expansion of master’s and professional degree is significant. On top of all this, we continue to improve the experience for all of our graduate students through our peer mentoring program, our writing seminars and retreats, and our dedication to helping students prepare and explore the vast career opportunities available to them in and beyond the academy.
What do you want undergraduates to know about getting a graduate degree?
I want us to be connecting with potential students across the state who perhaps have not considered graduate school. There are some very good students who get a bachelor’s degree, but no one has presented the idea of going to graduate school to earn a master’s degree, a PhD or a professional degree. We should be talking to them and telling them what they gain by getting a degree beyond their bachelor’s degree. Maybe they don’t understand how the funding works or what future opportunities it will afford them. So, we’re starting to develop a plan to reach out to more of those students who haven’t traditionally thought about graduate school.
Additionally, I’d like to break down barriers. For a long time, I’ve been interested in making it easier for students to move between units and get training that goes beyond their own department or college. I’d like to see more of our students take advantage of the fantastic scholarship and training available across our campus.
While for years we have thought of our research as problem-oriented rather than discipline-oriented, we’ve not done the same with our graduate education and training. There are many opportunities in academe to take advantage of the interdisciplinary synergies, and I’d like the Graduate School to encourage more cross-over between different disciplines for our graduate students.
When and why did you choose political science?
Politics was always a topic of conversation at the dinner table in our house when growing up. By the time I was a teenager, I had worked on several political campaigns, and in college I quickly gravitated to political science as a major. I discovered I really liked the research angle in my courses.
A teaching assistant in one of my classes—a graduate student—started talking to me about graduate school and guided me through the process. Faculty members in the department helped me while considering different graduate schools. Eventually I determined that if I’m going to pursue research, I would need to get a PhD. I spent some time in Washington, D.C., between undergraduate and graduate school and realized that studying Congress fascinated me. I’ve never looked back from there.
What does your free time look like?
I have a corgi named Albus Dumbledore, who is always underfoot. He was a rescue from the Humane Society. My family and I spend lot of time outdoors—hiking, camping, snowboarding, and taking full advantage of Colorado. Part of the reason I took this job is because I felt invested in Boulder, CU and Colorado.