You are on CGS' Legacy Site.

    Thank you for visiting CGS! You are currently using CGS' legacy site, which is no longer supported. For up-to-date information, including publications purchasing and meeting information, please visit

    Lesson Eight – Recognition and Rewards
    Lesson Eight – Recognition and Rewards

    The circuitous maze from admission to graduation is often, for the doctoral student, one long and solitary journey through class work, examinations of gained proficiencies, and the research mountain to be climbed at the end of it all. Because graduate work takes years and because it can be so solitary, it is important to establish and recognize milestones along the way and to offer encouragement and congratulations from the entire academic community.


    In addition, there are few, if any, rewards for faculty for successfully mentoring students through the process, so it is helpful to establish mechanisms to remind faculty that mentoring is as valued as teaching, research, publishing, and committee assignments. Departments typically fail to provide encouragement and support to the mentor through rewards and incentives that mark the accomplishment of major milestones.


    A university-wide ceremony to recognize all doctoral students who have attained candidacy is a positive way to (a) teach students what candidacy means, (b) encourage students to reach that stage, (c) congratulate those who have achieved this milestone, (d) honor the mentors who have shepherded them this far, and (e) inspire faculty to encourage their students to achieve candidacy. Adding this formal ceremony can make candidacy something to which students aspire. A small certificate might be presented during the ceremony to each student, accompanied by his/her mentor. Friends, family, and colleagues can be invited to share in the occasion. Instituting this type of recognition can help transform the culture of a graduate school, providing a nurturing and supportive occasion to launch students into the dissertation phase of their journey.


    To keep doctoral students "in the fold” at the dissertation stage, the graduate program might provide periodic social events or retreats especially for these students. Some students may no longer need to be on campus on a full-time basis, may be working off-campus, and may experience a detachment from the university; others who are working full-time on their research may be feeling depressed or bogged down or forgotten in their labs or field work. This is probably the loneliest phase of graduate education. Events that bring dissertation cohorts together can provide support and encouragement. One idea is for the university to provide regular dissertation writing sessions and for the counseling center to sponsor for doctoral candidates support groups to address the stresses of this phase of degree completion.


    Dissertation fellowship awards provided by the graduate school on a competitive basis can provide students with a needed push to the finish line. These awards can be significantly less than assistantships. They are available to students who are nearing the end of their research and can use some extra support for research, living expenses, or release time from work in order to complete the dissertation. This comparatively small award in many cases can make the difference between almost finishing and finishing the dissertation.


    Most universities provide a robing or hooding ceremony during the graduation ceremonies for doctoral students, and such recognitions not only honor the graduate and mentor, but they also serve as incentives to other students. Master’s candidates and colleagues not yet finished with their doctoral research view the robing or hooding ceremony as a positive goal, and an enticement to complete the journey.


    University awards for excellence in graduate student mentoring offer public acknowledgment of the importance of this faculty role. Mentoring awards are given to recognize individual faculty members for their outstanding contributions to students' academic, intellectual, and professional development. Many prestigious organizations validate this concept. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine all advise that one of the first steps to recognizing a distinguished mentor is to create an institutional award similar to that of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), or the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) established in 1996. Moreover, they “recommend that institutions incorporate mentoring and advising effectiveness in the criteria used for appraisals of faculty performance, including evaluations for the purposes of promotion and tenure” (NAS, 1997, p.3).


    The Graduate Student Association (GSA) might offer mentoring awards by annually nominating a faculty member for excellent mentoring, pinpointing mentoring as one of the foundations of an excellent education. The GSA could select an outstanding advisor or teacher who strives to aid graduate students in their academic and professional pursuits. The winner might receive a plaque, a modest monetary award to use toward educational or research supplies, or a gift certificate.


    Back: Lesson Seven      Next: Lesson Nine


    CGS is the leading source of information, data analysis, and trends in graduate education. Our benchmarking data help member institutions to assess performance in key areas, make informed decisions, and develop plans that are suited to their goals.
    CGS Best Practice initiatives address common challenges in graduate education by supporting institutional innovations and sharing effective practices with the graduate community. Our programs have provided millions of dollars of support for improvement and innovation projects at member institutions.
    As the national voice for graduate education, CGS serves as a resource on issues regarding graduate education, research, and scholarship. CGS collaborates with other national stakeholders to advance the graduate education community in the policy and advocacy arenas.  
    CGS is an authority on global trends in graduate education and a leader in the international graduate community. Our resources and meetings on global issues help members internationalize their campuses, develop sustainable collaborations, and prepare their students for a global future.