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Stanford studying career paths of PhD alumni, discussing IT privacy measures

At Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting, Patricia Gumport, vice provost for graduate education, said Stanford is conducting a study on the career paths of PhD alumni. Andrew Fire, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Privacy, presented an interim report on the committee's work.

L.A. Cicero Patricia Gumport speaking to the Faculty Senate.

Patricia Gumport, vice provost for graduate education, addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday

At the May 15 Faculty Senate meeting, Patricia Gumport, vice provost for graduate education, discussed the Stanford PhD Alumni Employment Study, a pilot project launched last year.

The pilot study, which began in July 2013 and will be completed in August 2014, represents a collaboration between the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and the Institutional Research & Decision Support organization at Stanford.

Gumport said the study seeks to answer the questions: What are our PhD alumni doing, where are they working – in a postdoctoral fellowship, in academia, business, government or a nonprofit organization – and how well did we prepare them?

They may sound like basic questions, she said, but answering them is a time-consuming and intensive undertaking that requires a thoughtful approach.

"There are many potential uses for the data," Gumport said. "We're really excited about this study – and we want input from you on how we can share the data with you and make it accessible so you can begin to use it."

Gumport said the impetus for the study was twofold: the widespread demand for the data from faculty, departments, deans, current and prospective students, as well as staff that design programs, to inform students and prepare them for a variety of career paths.

In addition, she said members of a faculty panel that spoke to the senate in May 2013 about the future of the PhD degree consistently said that they would like more data on the employment outcomes of Stanford's doctoral alumni.

The study will focus on two cohort blocks, each with two academic years: a five-year cohort, whose members earned PhDs in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 academic years; and a 10-year cohort, whose members earned PhDs in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 academic years. Within those time periods, 2,420 people earned doctorates at Stanford.

Gumport said there will be two data points for each person in the study: initial employment in the first year after the PhD was awarded, and employment in the summer of 2013.

To give the senate an idea of the types of data that the study will eventually provide, Gumport breezed through more than a dozen slides, including current locations of PhD alumni – represented as dots – on maps of the United States and of the world; current employment by sector; and initial employment sector by department and cohort.

She cautioned the senate audience from drawing interpretations from the preliminary findings, since data collection is ongoing.

Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Privacy

Andrew Fire, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Privacy, presented an interim report on the work of the committee, which was organized in February to advise the senate and the university on issues surrounding computing security, operability and privacy.

"What we've done is to discuss potential processes, potential rules and potential solutions that would allow a great deal of security – as much as probably we could get – as well as enough privacy in our computing to have both academic freedom and personal privacy," said Fire, a professor of pathology and of genetics.

He said none of the issues that arise when talking about security, privacy and operability in a research university is trivial.

He added that it was very important for faculty members to tell the Faculty Senate if they feel rules that Stanford has put in place constrain research or productivity.

"Probably the most significant component that has happened over the time of the discussions has been the derivation of a good two-way street of communication between the Faculty Senate and the individuals who are really in the trenches making policy and trying to find solutions that protect us all and protect the university," Fire said.

He urged faculty members to ensure that all devices used for university activities are password protected, backed up, patched (to ensure they have the latest security protection) and encrypted.

Among the first outcomes of the committee's deliberations:

  • Stanford has updated data classifications to clarify handling of research data and added an "Unrestricted" data category.
  • Stanford has relaxed the mandate for Windows XP systems to offer exceptions with mitigation options for systems controlling scientific instruments and running unique analytical software.

The 14-member committee will continue to meet and work on additional information security and privacy issues with Randy Livingston, vice president for business affairs, as well as representatives of University IT (IT Services, Administrative Systems and the Information Security Office), the University Privacy Office and the Office of the General Counsel.

For example, one of the issues under discussion is a revision to the university's policy on institutional access to personal data.

Current information secure computing at Sanford is available here.

Changes afoot at Hoover

President John Hennessy announced that John Raisian, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution, will step down at the end of the next academic year after 25 years in the post. Hennessy said a 10-member task force has been appointed to find Raisian's successor.

Students address the senate

The senate also heard reports on the state of student life at Stanford from its four student representatives: Daniel Ashton, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU); Natasha Patel, ASSU Undergraduate Senate representative; Anna Ntiriwah-Asare, ASSU representative-at-large; and Trevor Martin, ASSU Graduate Student Council representative.

The students addressed a variety of issues, including student mental health and well-being, faculty diversity, community centers, the potential impact of online learning initiatives on teaching assistants, and the need for more graduate housing.

The full minutes of the May 15 meeting will be available on the Faculty Senate website next week. The minutes will include the question-and-answer sessions that followed the presentations. The next senate meeting will be held May 29.