Sociology 6th Year Funding Letter
Morton Schapiro
President
Northwestern University
633 Clark Street
Evanston, IL 60208

Dear President Schapiro,

We are writing to you today to ask your help in ensuring full access to sixth-year funding for graduate students. We know the length of university funding is a matter of great concern for PhD students across the university, but in this letter, we will speak specifically to the issues recent fiscal austerity measures have generated for sociology department graduate students.

As you may know, the Department of Sociology at Northwestern University is one of the very best sociology PhD programs in the nation—consistently ranked among the top ten departments for graduate training nationwide. Our graduate students place remarkably well: in the past five years our students have gained tenure-track assistant professorships at institutions such as University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Washington University-St. Louis, Bowdoin, Emory, Tufts, UC-Berkeley, University of Iowa, and Notre Dame. Alumni have also won post-doctoral fellowships at Columbia, U. Penn, Dartmouth, Oxford, Tufts, Cornell, and Harvard.

This extraordinary placement record underscores the quality of our graduate students and the effectiveness of our Ph.D. program. Furthermore, our alumni’s groundbreaking research is often award-winning. Over just the past few years, Northwestern alums took top awards at the American Sociological Association annual meeting. For example, this year, alum Nicole Van Cleve won the society’s top book prize, the Distinguished Scholarly Book Award, for work based on her dissertation. Last year, alum Juliette Galonnier won the society’s top dissertation prize, the Distinguished Dissertation Award.

How do we do it? Well, to be honest, it takes time. The great majority of Northwestern Sociology PhD students collect original empirical data as part of their dissertation research. Our department is particularly known for its expertise in qualitative methodologies—specifically ethnography and comparative-historical methods. Our top award-winning graduate students, like the two mentioned above, both fit into this category. High-impact qualitative research often requires two to three years of fieldwork and analysis, on top of four years of coursework, exams, and prospectus defense. As you can see, this means that students in our department, to produce the exceptional work for which we are known, often require five to seven years of graduate study, at a minimum. In the past, we have benefited from the opportunity to TA or RA in our final years of graduate study as we complete our dissertations.

The university’s recent cuts to graduate student funding past the fifth year of study have seriously impacted the psychological, physical, financial, and intellectual well-being of graduate students in our department. It also, frankly, threatens the quality of our collective research output. Students are now scrambling to put together less well-developed dissertation proposals, are concerned they are rushing their all-important data collection, and are changing their study designs to get through the program more quickly. We are living in fear of not having the opportunity to work as a TA or RA in our sixth, seventh, or eighth year of study—a situation that puts our families at great financial risk.

We ask that Northwestern continue to invest in the human resources that make the international leader in research and education that it is: faculty and graduate students. We the members of the Department of Sociology call on Northwestern University’s administration to guarantee six full years of funding to all graduate student workers.

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