By Maria Celia Villac
At this time when the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M is called upon to consider its mission statement and to set priorities for the future it behooves us to look closely at an important issue: How long do graduate students take to get their degrees in our department? This is a fundamental question that pertains to many aspects of academic life, ranging from the stimulating atmosphere created by a rapid turnover of the student body to the overall productivity of the department, which partially translates into funding. The length of time students and universities invest in graduate education is important to the society that supports our activities and expects useful results in return. Finally, it is central to the student's personal satisfaction, and also that of the student's advisor, considering that graduate school is just one of many career steps to take.
The Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI)* reports that between 1990 and 1993 slightly more than 50% of students at participating institutions working toward a master's degree took two to three years to graduate, and approximately 40% needed more than three years. Among doctoral students, JOI reports that 25% complete their degrees in fewer than five years, about 54% graduate in five to six years, and 21% need more than six years. The graduate-school careers of oceanography students at Texas A&M who completed their degrees between 1989 and 1994 mirror the tendency shown by the JOI report. The JOI data reveal that most students in our department graduate in a timely manner, but that we may have room for improvement, especially in the master's program in which 60% of the students take more than three years to graduate.
The Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M currently consists of a very young student body. Most of the masters students have been enrolled for two years or less, and a large portion of the doctoral students have been enrolled for three years or less. As students we should ask ourselves where we fit in this curve, and advisors ought to examine where their students fit. As for the department as a whole, there is a need to decide how the curve should look five years from now and how to achieve it. Understanding major trends in oceanography today as well as the job market can play a key role in determining how much time students need to invest in order to become competitive professionals in the field. Perhaps the shortest possible passage through graduate school is neither the best nor the only option for every student. Whatever goal the department sets, an important step will be to ensure that a constructive mechanism for tracking student progress is in place to maximize the efficacy of our program.
Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Updated July 24, 1995