Graduate Program Assessment Process for MS & PhD Programs

The goal of the USU Geosciences graduate programs is to equip students with advanced fundamental knowledge in the field, accompanied by research training and experience, in specific areas of the geosciences. Students reach this goal in the MS and PhD programs by completing a set of advanced coursework, accompanied by original research and study of the current literature, culminating in either a MS thesis or report or a PhD dissertation. The USU College of Science has standardized expectations for the annual review of graduate students. We assess graduate student progress and our graduate programs based on a set of specific learning objectives through the following process.

Supervisory Committee and Assessment Frequency

Each graduate student in Geosciences has a supervisory committee that will participate in assessing graduate student progress. For MS students, the committee comprises a minimum of three faculty with relevant expertise including the major professor (advisor). PhD students require a committee of five, including the major professor and one member from outside the department.

The supervisory committee meets with the graduate student once a year during the spring semester.

Learning Objectives

The Department of Geosciences has established the following four categories of learning objectives for the MS and PhD graduate programs. Each objective is assessed annually.

  • Foundational Skills: these objectives are aimed at students achieving knowledge of geoscience theory at the level required for their prospective degree program
    • Coursework: the student makes progress in advanced coursework as identified on the student’s Program of Study
    • Comprehensive exams/thesis proposal: the student progresses towards timely completion of exams and/or research proposals as required by degree program and outlined in the Graduate Student Handbook
  • Research Skills: these objectives are aimed at acquiring professional-level knowledge and expertise in their chosen specialization
    • Independent research/learning skills: the student develops ability to conduct independent thesis/dissertation research, data collection and analysis techniques, including staying up to date on literature
    • Research products: the student generates high-quality and rigorous results based on their research (e.g., analytical data, mapping, computational)
    • Interpret and synthesize results: the student progresses towards developing sound interpretations of their research products, including synthesizing multiple data sets
    • Writing skills: the student progresses towards completing high-quality written products of their research, such as a thesis, dissertation, and/or publication; this includes developing science writing skills
  • Communication Skills: these objectives are aimed at the development of critical interpersonal, leadership, and science communication skills
    • Workgroup meetings: the student participates in regular meeting with their major professor and research group as applicable
    • Presentations/Conferences: the student orally presents their research and attends professional meetings/conferences
    • Teaching/Mentoring: the student demonstrates effective teaching and or peer mentoring, as applicable for their role (e.g., teaching assistant, undergraduate research mentor)
    • Leadership/Teamwork: the student effectively works in a team setting, and demonstrates leadership as applicable
  • Professional Development: these objectives are aimed at building the “soft skills” and professional profile needed to effectively pursue career goals
    • Service: the student demonstrates service to the department, university, and broader community
    • Career development: the student builds the materials (CV/resume, cover letters) and skills necessary (interviewing) for their career goals. The student participates in networking and pursues professional connections appropriate for their career goals.
    • Ethical conduct: the student demonstrates ethical and professional conduct, including respect for intellectual property, citation of credit and financial support, and the Geosciences Department Code of Conduct

Assessment of Individual Graduate Students

Following the College of Science guidelines, each graduate student is required to complete or update an Individual Development Plan (IDP) annually. The IDP is a personal and professional development tool used to help students assess strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and communicate with their advisor and mentors. Annually, in advance of the spring committee meeting, each graduate student prepares and submits to their committee an annual progress report on their graduate program, including updates on research, coursework, and other activities. In addition, the student completes the “Student Assessment” portion of the Geosciences Annual-Evaluation form assessment matrix that directly addresses each of the Learning Objectives described above. In this self-assessment, the student scores each learning objective as “below”, “at”, or “above” expectations for their stage in the program.

During the annual committee meeting, the committee reviews the progress report and student self-assessment with the graduate student, and scores the “Committee Assessment” portion of the matrix. The committee and student discuss any differences between the assessments during the meeting.

Following the annual committee meeting, the committee completes the remainder of the Annual-Evaluation form to document any actions items to address deficiencies, or discussion topics covered during the meeting. The Annual-Evaluation form are sent to the graduate program coordinator (GPC) for inclusion in the Department graduate student file.

Department Review of Graduate Program and Adjustments

Data from individual student assessments are collated by the Graduate Program Coordinator on an annual basis. The data will be used to evaluate the number of students below, at, or above expectations for each learning objective, and the cumulative average percentages for all students. These data are reviewed by the Department Graduate Committee to identify deficiencies and propose specific recommendations to improve student outcomes. These recommendations are presented to the Geosciences Faculty and implemented based on faculty feedback and approval.

College of Science Review

A summary of the Geosciences Department assessment and proposed plan to address deficiencies is submitted annually to the College of Science Dean’s office. Deficiencies identified across multiple programs within the College may be addressed at the College level as determined by the Dean’s leadership team.