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The Review of higheR educaTion

SprinG 2009

finish with minimal supervision.” Unlike communication faculty, however, when speaking of their students, the four faculty members in oceanogra- phy used phrases like “nice people,”“happy,” and “helpful” to describe their students. Indeed, the faculty interviewed expressed these characteristics as integral qualities of successful students. One faculty member commented, when asked about the definition of a successful student, “Well, one that’s happy.One that’s comfortable with what they’re doing.We don’t want people to go out and have a job that they’re not happy with.”

All faculty members interviewed, however, commented about the need to ask for and to offer assistance as a characteristic of success. For example, one faculty member stated, “They would know when to ask for help; that seems to be what trips up some students,”while another defined a successful student as“someone who helps other students when an opportunity comes.” In this manner, this department represents the collaborative nature of work in the sciences, one that depends highly on teamwork in laboratory settings and research teams (Golde, 1998).

Psychology. The Psychology Department represents the third highest completion rate at this institution, with 70.2% of its admitted students graduating with their Ph.D. From a disciplinary culture perspective, psy- chology falls in the soft-pure life classification of Biglan (1973). Much like other psychology programs, this department serves a large undergraduate population of majors; it also offers master’s and doctoral degrees in several concentrations. The Psychology Department typically admits 23 new doc- toral students each year. These students often receive what amounts to full funding: a combination of teaching assistants for undergraduate classes and some research assistantships through individual faculty projects.

In meeting with the faculty members in this department, I got a distinct sense of a culture with highly demanding expectations for its students and its faculty. Faculty are very aware that the time and effort required for students to be successful often make it difficult for all students to meet these demands. Therefore, for these faculty members, successful students had characteristics external to the program—inherent characteristics that students brought with them. Foremost among them were natural talent and self-direction.

One faculty member, when asked about the department’s students, described: “They’re highly intelligent and they come in with really good GRE scores.” Another faculty member echoed that successful students “are exceedingly bright. We have the highest GRE scores on campus.” A third remarked that successful doctoral students in psychology are “bright, so they’re good at coursework but they’re also good at their research because they’re so bright.” The implied relationship between intelligence and GRE scores is noteworthy, particularly as this relationship has not generally been documented by the existing research on this topic (e.g., Kuncel, Hezlett, & Ones, 2001; Nettles & Millett, 2006; Rubio, Rubin, & Brennan, 2003).

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