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As he prepares to return to the faculty later this year, Dean Steve Matson shares his perspective on graduate education at Carolina

Editor’s note: After a decade of exceptional service to The Graduate School, Dean Steve Matson will step down in 2018. In this column, he shares his perspective on a decade of change and achievement at Carolina. His thoughtful leadership will be greatly missed.

Steve Matson, Dean
Steve Matson, Dean

It has been 10 years since I was appointed dean of The Graduate School. Much has changed in those 10 years. My hair is grayer, my children are older and now I have grandchildren. My dedication to our outstanding graduate students, though, has remained constant. I have gained valuable perspective on the role and importance of graduate education in our fast-paced world. I want to share some of those thoughts as I prepare to return to my faculty position in the biology department later this year.

Graduate education has never been more important for our economy and our stature in the world than it is today. Solutions to the challenges we face often have their roots in graduate schools across the country. Our graduate schools are epicenters of discovery, innovation and dissemination of new ideas, new medicines, new strategies for tackling societal problems, new devices to make our lives better, and the list goes on and on. We must continue to view our graduate schools as national treasures and ensure that they remain the best in the world.

One of the most significant changes I’ve seen is that graduate schools across the country, and certainly at Carolina, have become much more than administrative units that manage the admission, enrollment and graduation of post-baccalaureate students. Graduate schools today lead change and ensure that centralized services are in place to provide professional development, support and enhance diversity and inclusion, and award (and help students identify) funding for academic needs. We depend on our partnerships with friends of graduate education, who inspire us with their own commitment to graduate students.

The fundamental importance of graduate education in the 21st century has led to significant expansion in careers requiring graduate degrees during the past 10 years; our alumni now enjoy job opportunities well beyond the professoriate. And our students are taking advantage of these opportunities. The Graduate School meets this challenge by providing interdisciplinary professional development that prepares students to compete successfully in a global job market. Consequently, the professional development program has expanded – attendance has increased by more than 400 percent since 2006-07! – and is constantly evolving toward even greater effectiveness.

On a national level, providing extensive, professional development for graduate students has become the norm. I am proud to say that Carolina has been a leader in this area, beginning with my predecessor: Linda Dykstra. Led by a dedicated team in The Graduate School, and counseled by an advisory board, the professional development program is an essential resource for our graduate students. This year, we added a new Graduate Certificate in Business Fundamentals and joined the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning consortium. Our students will be well-positioned for leadership roles as they embark on their careers.

To complement this effort, our new alumni survey, currently deployed in 17 programs, will provide information on the careers our students take. Never before have we had access to data like this to feed back to graduate programs for benchmarking and program enhancement. Only a centralized unit like a graduate school can support this type of data collection and analysis effort.

The last decade has also witnessed the critical need for graduate deans to advocate for the important role of graduate education in the university and in society. The need became acute as the Great Recession began to erode the funding provided to our public universities.

Graduate deans had to master the art of advocacy at the university, local, state and federal levels to ensure that the contributions of graduate education were understood. We would all live much different lives without the discoveries and innovations that begin in our graduate schools. Just try to imagine life without a smartphone, a microwave oven and antibiotics. Graduate education is a public good, and the need to communicate that fact has never been greater.

Carolina epitomizes graduate education as a public good. It has been an honor to serve as graduate dean and to work with colleagues within The Graduate School and with faculty and staff campus-wide who are steadfast in their commitment to graduate student success. America’s graduate schools are the envy of the world, and Carolina is certainly a world leader in graduate education. Together, we’ll protect that distinction – and build on it – in the years to come.

Steven W. Matson, Ph.D.
Dean, The Graduate School
Professor of Biology
UNC-Chapel Hill

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