University Tops 2,500 Doctorates with Spring Graduates
May 29, 2012
President David E. Daniel presided over a recent hooding ceremony, where Ranita and Somasish Ghosh Dastidar were among those honored for earning doctoral degrees.
When Ranita and Somasish Ghosh Dastidar both earned PhDs this academic year, they helped UT Dallas reach a milestone: More than 2,500 students have graduated from the University with doctoral degrees.
The Dastidars participated in a recent Hooding Ceremony to honor their accomplishments and those of dozens of other students. More than 80 doctorates are expected to be confirmed from the spring semester alone. This year’s annual total won’t be known until after Aug. 31.
The University’s totals in recent years are triple those of a decade ago and a far cry from 1972, when the University granted its first PhD just three years after being established as part of the UT System. Dr. Austin Cunningham, graduate studies dean, has witnessed the growth since then.
“We have made enormous strides since our founding a little over 40 years ago. That’s an accomplishment the faculty should be proud of, and it shows we are on the trajectory toward meeting our goals,” Dr. Cunningham said. “It’s a tribute to the imagination and commitment of faculty and the quality of graduate students we’re getting.”
The spring 2012 semester is expected to have produced 84 doctoral graduates, most of whom participated in the hooding ceremony.
The growing number of doctoral graduates means UT Dallas is making progress toward its goal of consistently producing at least 200 doctoral graduates annually, one of the benchmarks set by the Texas Legislature to gain access to funding set aside to assist institutions with potential to become major, nationally competitive research universities, a status often referred to in shorthand as "Tier One."
By reaching the pinnacle of academic achievement in a discipline, a PhD graduate is able to contribute to regional economic viability as well as compete in the global market. Doctoral degrees at UT Dallas include both PhDs and AuDs, the doctorate of audiology given by the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
It’s a rigorous academic road. Ranita and Somasish Ghosh Dastidar spent five years earning their PhDs in biology. The natives of Kolkata, India, lived on campus and worked in adjacent research labs. Somasish earned his PhD in December; his wife, Ranita, in May.
Having a spouse who is also a fellow researcher has brought built-in support and understanding, said Ranita. “It can be frustrating when you don’t get the results you want in the lab. You have to have the drive to complete it. But exciting outcomes keep us going after more. Both of us understand each other very well, and the lab work has taught us perseverance, dedication and patience. It’s been a very good journey together,” she said.
Hongbing Lian, a new PhD in telecommunications engineering, and his wife, Lei Xuan, took turns earning their doctoral degrees from UT Dallas. Xuan received her PhD in psychological sciences in 2010. Meanwhile, Lian has worked full-time while attending doctoral classes for the last 10 years. But the long academic effort was worth it, he said.
“It was my childhood dream to get my PhD in the U.S. – because of the quality here,” said Lian, who came to Dallas in 1996 from Hefei, China. “It was harder for me to focus with my daytime job, but with encouragement from my professor, I was able to complete my dissertation. By the time I was done, my son was old enough to proof my papers for me.”
Hongbing Lian (right) and his wife Lei Xuan took turns earning their PhDs.
At the Hooding Ceremony on May 17, doctoral candidates clad in academic regalia entered the packed Clark Center Auditorium. Cameras flashed, and parents and spouses held mobile devices to record the ceremony.
UT Dallas President David E. Daniel shared his own journey toward earning a doctoral degree and praised the newly minted PhD and AuD graduates in their transition from student to colleague.
“Continue to take the path that seems more difficult in the short term. It will make you better qualified and more knowledgeable for the next stage of your career,” he urged the graduates. “There is no substitute for developing a core competency in your field and working your way up the ladder by doing a good job at each level.”
The students were seated next to their faculty mentors who had led them to the highest rung of the academic ladder. As each name was called, their faculty advisors joined Dr. Cunningham in placing the colorful, velvet-edged doctoral hoods over the graduates’ heads. Many graduates hugged their mentors in gratitude for their years of academic guidance.
Bill Fahle said his love of research grew during a lengthy journey to earn his doctorate. His wife Heather Fahle accompanied him to the ceremony.
For Bill Fahle, his doctoral degree is the culmination of 17 years of part-time academic work at UT Dallas since he began his bachelor’s degree. He hopes to teach one day.
“I’ve become addicted to the research process because it’s so fun,” he said.
The University has worked to improve its doctoral programs and maintain a steady pipeline of doctoral candidates.
Dr. Mark Spong, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, said his priorities include recruiting a high-quality, diverse population of graduate students, increasing the number of endowed fellowships as well as the boosting the level of external funding to support those students. Recruiting talented research faculty is also crucial.
“All of our departments are producing high-quality graduates that are well prepared for top academic and industry jobs. Some are even starting their own high-tech companies in DFW to commercialize their own research results, which I think is particularly exciting,” Dr. Spong said.
The University currently offers 29 doctoral programs, with the most graduates in computer science and management science. The University is seeking approval to add degrees in the sciences and engineering.
The School of Engineering and Computer Science graduated the largest number of doctoral students this spring with 38, followed by the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences with 15. Next were the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics with nine; the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences with eight PhDs and 10 AuDs; and the School of Arts and Humanities with four.
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