MCS GSAC Meeting Minutes
January 13, 2000

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January 13, 2000

In Attendance:

Brian Sage
Heather Ziegler
Richard Pilston
Aimee Tomlinson
Alexander Bondarenko
Kathryn Trapp
Dorothy Farrell
Marc Fasnacht
David Owen
Lorraine Miller

1999 - 2000 GSAC Minutes Archive
May 5, 2000
April 12, 2000
March 22, 2000
March 1, 2000
February 9, 2000
January 13, 2000

Based on the planning and assessment activities of last semester, GSAC is now prepared to begin taking action in several areas:


In the interest of promoting centralized communication and highlighting GSAC's role in MCS, a MCS graduate program web site will be created. Contents will include GSAC minutes and contact information, descriptions of projects and initiatives being undertaken by GSAC, notification of events, and links to various sites of interest and importance. It was agreed that the site should contain a statement of purpose from GSAC, and Rich volunteered to draft such a statement for review, revision, and approval at the next meeting. The web site will be developed by Lorraine and maintained on the MCS Dean's Office server.

All members are to prepare a list of useful departmental contacts (e.g., graduate coordinators, specific faculty, and GSAC members) for submission at the next meeting. The lists will be compiled into a reference directory and made available for central use to graduate students in MCS.

David presented two items for communication to the graduate population: 1) University Master Plan web site and survey; and the upcoming town meeting to gather university community input about the master plan. 2) The expansion of Writing Clinic hours to accommodate graduate students whose native language is English.


Members were in agreement that information about graduate life at CMU is not always provided in enough detail or in an organized fashion to new and prospective graduate students. As a result, students are unsure of what to expect, or are surprised to find that their circumstances are not always what they'd imagined. In an effort to improve the quality and quantity of information about the graduate program, GSAC will focus on identifying important areas in which expectations of MCS graduate students arise. These areas included time to degree, semesters spent at TA vs. RA, summer work (How many, if any, summers can a student expect to have free?), graduate support (How many months out of a calendar year are supported? Where does the support come from?), and thesis committees (Are they required? When should they be formed?).

Since there are a host of potential areas to be addressed--many of which have been touched upon in various forums in the past--it was agreed that GSAC would first organize a finite list of such areas. The GSAC will compile a preliminary list from the existing resources of today's meeting, the results of the university-wide Graduate Student Survey, the demographic data provided last semester by the departments, and the recommendations of the College Advisory Board. This list is to be reviewed at the next meeting, at which time GSAC will decide whether or not to poll the graduate student body for further items.

The next steps in the process (to be discussed at future meetings) are the gathering of data in each of the areas to determine the range of outcomes in each area, and the benchmarking of data against that from other institutions to determine "reasonable" expectations for each discipline in MCS..


Due to the geography of MCS (Chemistry and Biological Sciences at Mellon Institute, Mathematical Sciences and Physics on campus) socializing as a college does not often occur. Happy hours are a common and favorite social event but do not promote the intermingling of all four departments, since they are usually held either at Mellon or on campus. The idea of graduate student lounges at Mellon and on campus is a popular one among students, but requires Dean Henry's approval for space and funds. Furthermore, the lounges would not overcome the problem of geography.

GSAC members discussed possibilities for getting all MCS graduate students together and concluded that a more structured event might be successful. Suggestions included a ski trip, a retreat, rafting, and day trips to regional areas of interest such as Falling Water.

Dorothy and Aimee volunteered to undertake the research and planning of social events--both formal and informal--for the upcoming semester, including contacting Graduate Affairs for suggestions and information on planning and advertising successful events.


Members expressed a need for more MCS-oriented information regarding careers, particularly those in industry. Information could include data on careers of alumni and tips on what to expect during the first few months on the job. One idea to promote contact with industry was to invite companies to interview students when they send representatives to give talks or conduct seminars.

Heather and Marc will draft a proposal outlining what is currently done to help students explore careers and identifing areas for expansion and improvement. Renee Starek, the MCS Career Consultant, will be invited to the next GSAC meeting for her input.


Discussion of graduate departmental ombudspersons centered on the selection process and identifying the duties of the position. It was agreed that both students and faculty should have input into the selection process, since the ombudspersons are to serve as ambassadors between the two groups. Also, members concluded that a detailed definition of the role needs to be developed so that students understand clearly how the ombudsperson is to function in their department.

Rich and Kathyrn agreed to compile a list of qualities that a good candidate for ombudsperson should exhibit, as well as outline the duties of the position. Additionally, they will develop a list of support resources that an ombudsperson could refer to in carrying out his or her duties.

Faculty members who are likely to be interested in the issue of ombudspersons will be invited to a subsequent GSAC meeting so that their input may be included in the drafting of a selection process and description of duties. The GSAC members should bring to the next meeting the names of one or two such faculty members from their departments.


GSAC will meet every three weeks for one and a half to two hours. The next meeting will be the first week of February. Members should e-mail time that they are NOT available to May Simaan so she can schedule a day and time.