Academic changes for engineering Ph.D. students puts focus on research

An academic overhaul for Ph.D. students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science will take shape next fall, which is intended to improve students’ research prowess by freeing up time for them to work in labs.

After two years of planning, departments in the engineering school are now working to implement a new curriculum that will cut the number of recommended academic credit hours almost in half.

When engineering students work toward their doctorate degrees, they take a mix of academic and research credits. The changes tilt the balance back toward research, which has become an increased focus for the school.

“These changes give students a wealth of knowledge in their field. SEAS sees importance in a depth of knowledge and breadth of knowledge,” Majid Manzari, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department, said.

GW has the No. 93 ranked graduate engineering program in the country according to U.S. News & World Report, a ranking the school thinks it can raise after a burst of hiring and a $275-million Science and Engineering Hall set to open in 2015.

The move aligns the engineering school with its competitor schools, professor of engineering and applied science Rahul Simha said.

“If you think about it, the typical Ph.D. student, their main goal is research,” Simha said. “If we have a lot of required courses, it delays the entry into the thesis phase.”

“What that means for us is that if we are out of alignment with our competition, then the best students will rather go into places where they can get into research, there’s the cost,” he added.

The school enrolled 116 Ph.D. students this year, some of whom come into the program without a master’s degree. Those students would still take more academic credits than those who have already completed a master’s program under the new academic setup.

When the number of recommended credits is cut from 54 to 30, each department will be able to decide how many credits Ph.D.-seeking students should dedicate to coursework and research.

Professor of engineering and applied science Simon Berkovich said these changes would result in more community and social issues being solved by GW students through their academic research.

“Students need the knowledge and flexibility of new research,” Berkovich said.
“The engineering school relies on individual work of students in hope of some kind of breakthrough and achievement.”

Through a spokeswoman, SEAS associate deans Rumana Riffat and Can Korman declined to comment. David Dolling, the school’s dean, did not return a request for comment.

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