Essays in Education


This article provides an analysis of definitions of excellence in graduate study provided by Master’s degree and doctoral candidates, identified by their department as “excellent,” and by chairs of graduate programs (n = 43) at two western Canadian universities. Faculty members’ definitions tended to focus primarily on external markers of success rather than on personal characteristics of graduate students. Both graduate faculty respondents (n = 20) and graduate student interview participants (n = 23) mentioned the importance of visibility in the department and the community. The graduate student participants made infrequent mention of external indicators, such as grades and ability to garner funding, and attributed their identification as excellent to their own actions and internal attributes. External factors frequently mentioned by graduate students were the cutting edge nature of their research and the importance of the supervisory relationship. Further exploration is needed to develop a working definition of “excellence” in graduate study and explore the factors involved in its attainment. This paper offers a rudimentary framework for how excellence in graduate study is currently defined, makes preliminary recommendations, and discusses possible directions for future research into excellence in graduate studies.

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