BU ups ante in race for Ph.D. students

Binghamton University is coupling an increase in doctoral student funding with the faculty hiring surge spread over the next five years with the influx of money from SUNY 2020 in an effort to increase the school’s reputation and quality.

A research fellowship established this semester by Donald Nieman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, will fund summer research fellowships for roughly 50 doctoral students each year, providing a one-time $4,000 bump to their stipends, which range from $14,000 to $16,000 per year. The fellowship will be for research the students will conduct the summer after their first year and will be used to incentivize offers to students from the school.

“You are offering someone a package. You are saying, If you come here you will be a part of this Ph.D. program, you will work with this doctoral adviser, and you will have a graduate assistantship that will pay you this much money, and on top of this, you will have a summer fellowship,” Nieman said. “Then, the student decides, well, yeah, I want to come to Binghamton. And so they would receive this fellowship during the summer after their first year in the program.”

He hopes the funding will allow BU to compete with top-tier schools with their offers.

“This program won’t make us have the highest stipend levels by any imagination, but it will help lower the gap between Binghamton and other top schools,” he said.

The internships will be distributed among the departments based on the size and needs of the department, according to Nieman. Some departments, such as psychology, anthropology and chemistry, will receive more than others, such as creative writing.

“The departments would determine who the best applicants are for the program, because they know their applicant pool better than I do, and they know the students who have offers from other universities, and I want them to be able to decide which students really deserve these awards,” Nieman said.

If the program is successful, Nieman said he will consider expanding it. But for the time being, he intends to wait and see.

“How successful the program is will determine whether we will decide to expand it,” Nieman said. “For right now, we think it is a pretty significant investment in the quality of Ph.D. programs in Binghamton. The best students who get into Ph.D. programs get stipends, and that is the money they have to live in while they are doctoral students, and it is not much money to live on for a year. People looking for various programs are on one level thinking if I go here I can live with this stipend, and I won’t have to take out loans or the loans I do take won’t have to be as much.”

He noted that better doctoral students may improve undergraduate education as well.

“This is important because Ph.D. students who come here participate in teaching activities, so it is especially important to the quality of our undergraduate programs,” Nieman said.