Graduate and Professional Student Experience Survey

The Graduate and Professional Student Experience Survey (GPSES) asks graduate and professional students a wide array questions about their quality of life and experiences at UCSD. The survey is the first of its kind at UCSD, and was administered by the GSA in spring 2005. The Chancellor established a committee (the GPSES committee) to look into the results of the survey. You can find more info on the committe, some of their meeting notes, and reports here

{From the GSA website.} Did you know:

  • Almost 3/4 of G&P students are considering non-academic careers (but most feel they don't get enough advice about it in their programs)?
  • Nearly 2/3 of G&P students would again choose UCSD, but over 1/3 have seriously considered quitting?
  • Nearly half of G&P students regularly experience significant stress due to their academic program, the future/careers, or finances, and almost one-quarter have sought counseling while at UCSD?
  • Almost half of G&P students don't feel they have sufficient input into decision-making in their programs?
  • The survey and summary report are intended to identify, in concrete terms, graduate and professional student perceptions of their social, emotional, and educational experience at UCSD. Take a few minutes to see what people said.

Executive Summary (from the GSA website)

{Note: You can access the executive summary and the entire report on the GSA home page:}

Executive Summary of the UCSD 2005 Graduate and Professional Student Experience Survey
Andrew Stringfellow, Dana Dahlstrom, & Laura Kwinn (Graduate Student Association)


The 2005 Graduate and Professional Student Experience Survey was designed and conducted by a handful of volunteers in an attempt to understand all aspects of graduate and professional student life at UCSD. This is the first survey of its kind on campus and one that we hope will be part of a long-term effort to improve the quality of graduate education.

This survey and summary report are intended to identify, in concrete terms, graduate and professional student perceptions of their social, emotional, and educational experience at UCSD. Thus, this report offers no specific recommendations; rather, it is descriptive and highlights novel findings as well as areas in need of improvement. It is our hope that substantive changes, where necessary, will be further investigated and proposed by the Graduate and Professional Student Experience and Satisfaction Committee (

With over 170 questions and 1,600 respondents, the survey contains a wealth of data of which only a portion is presented here. Researchers interested in further exploring and analyzing the data may contact Andrew Stringfellow (ude.dscu|fgnirtsa#ude.dscu|fgnirtsa).
The Graduate and Professional Student Experience and Satisfaction Survey is the first comprehensive survey of the graduate and professional student experience at UCSD. It comprises 178 questions, and was administered in the spring of 2005. A very high response rate of 37.2% was obtained. Overall, the respondents to the Graduate and Professional Student Experience Survey provide a very representative sample of the student body. Thus, the response data are likely to be representative of the student body as a whole.
The graduate and professional student body at UCSD is quite diverse. Nearly two-fifths come from within California, and slightly more come from elsewhere in the US; nearly one-fifth received their previous degrees abroad. Over half of respondents enrolled in their programs within a year of completing their previous degree, while one-fifth waited two or more years before enrolling. The average age of students is about 28; although this varies by division of study, the overall average age for each division fits within a relatively narrow five-year band. Nearly three-fifths of respondents are single, while approximately two-fifths are married or otherwise partnered. As diverse as the background of graduate and professional students are their daily lives—the amount of time spent in class, in research, teaching, studying, writing, and working non academic jobs varies based on type and level of degree pursued. Further, for research doctorate students (the bulk of the student body and respondents to this survey), time spent on each of these varies by the year of study. Overall, then, the UCSD graduate and professional student body are quite varied in where they come from and in what they do while here.

General Results

General Experience

Overall, over two-thirds of graduate and professional students are satisfied with their academic experience at UCSD, and nearly two-thirds would again choose to attend UCSD. This is generally on par with other graduate institutions (Northwestern1, Carnegie Mellon2, Ohio State3), which range from 63-72% on similar measures; this is, however, markedly lower than overall satisfaction reported by undergraduates on UCUES (84%). However, only about half of graduate and professional students agree that UCSD has met their expectations. This fifteen-point discrepancy between overall satisfaction and programs meeting expectations may arise from much lower satisfaction with the social and cultural experience at UCSD: less than two-fifths find the social experience satisfactory, and less than one-third find the cultural experience so. Only about one-third feel a sense of belonging at UCSD, and fewer than one-third find sufficient opportunities for involvement on campus. Strikingly, only 10% of graduate and professional students feel a connection to the campus community, and nearly two-thirds (64%) do not feel a connection. This social satisfaction and connection/belonging are low in comparison to comparable survey: the undergraduate reports (UCUES) show a sense of belonging more than double the graduate rate; other graduate institutions (Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State, Stanford4) generally report social satisfaction in the 55-60% range—markedly higher than the 38% found at UCSD. Thus it is possibly the case that the somewhat negative “extracurricular” experience of graduate and professional students negatively impacts their overall UCSD experience.

Program Satisfaction

As above, students are generally satisfied with their academic experience at UCSD. However, sentiment is quite varied about specific aspects of the program environment. Most students find the working environment within their programs collegial, and most students understand what is required of them to graduate. Fewer than half feel their programs make a sufficient effort to foster a sense of community, and only 38% feel their programs provide an adequate social experience (on par with the overall satisfaction with social experience reported above)—and the majority feel a graduate student lounge area is important. Students generally find their programs less-than-flexible for personal responsibilities, and fewer than one-third find their programs encourage career diversity. Lastly, nearly half (46%) feel their programs do not allow sufficient student input into department decision-making (such as faculty hires and program requirements). As above, then, it appears that although graduate and professional students are academically satisfied, when it comes to “extracurricular” aspects of their training environment (funding, flexibility during study, career counseling, student input), there is room for improvement.

Mental Health

The state of mental health of graduate and professional students is somewhat poor. Nearly one-half of respondents are sometimes or frequently overwhelmed by stress, and over one-tenth may be experiencing symptoms of clinical depression. The biggest stressor is academic program, followed closely by the future/careers. Substantial numbers of students are also stressed by finances and “other” topics. Two-fifths of respondents have considered seeking counseling while enrolled in their programs, and nearly one-quarter have actually sought counseling (with nearly four-fifths of those who have sought counseling using Psychological and Counseling Services). The frequency with which graduate & professional students seek counseling is greater than the undergraduate rate—although the relatively poor state of graduate and professional student mental health is not surprising; indeed, it is quite commensurate with results reported by UC Berkeley in 20045.
Research Mentor Relationship

For students pursuing research degrees, the mentor relationship with their advisor is immeasurably important. 72.3% of survey respondents reported having a research advisor. Nearly three-fourths of respondents feel comfortable suggesting their own research directions to advisors, feel supported by labmates, feel their advisor values their work, and feel their advisor is available when needed. Somewhat fewer (63%) feel they receive sufficient feedback from their advisors. Overall, the results show that the majority of students are quite happy with the relationship with their advisors, and perhaps this explains in part why students report a relatively high degree of satisfaction with the academic experience at UCSD. It should be of concern, however, whether the nearly one-fifth of students who are dissatisfied with the mentor relationship are at special risk of attrition.

Differences in Experience

Differences in UCSD experience were examined for eight different variables (division of study, degree sought, year of study, gender, ethnicity & citizenship, sexual orientation, disability status, and students with families; for more information, see Appendix II of the general report), and were calculated in five areas (general experience, program satisfaction, mental health, connection to UCSD, and, for those with research mentors, mentor relationship; for more information, see Appendix III of the general report).
Division of Study

There many reliable differences in student experience base on division of study (Arts, Biological Sciences, Engineering, Health Sciences, Humanities, IR/PS, Physical Sciences, School of Medicine/SOM, Social Sciences).
Students in Arts & Health Sciences reported substantially higher satisfaction with their general experience at UCSD, and SOM students reported a lower satisfaction than others.
Students in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences experienced more stress than their counterparts in other divisions; additionally, students in Biological Sciences also reported somewhat elevated stress, although not so great as Arts, Humanities, nor Social Sciences students.

Students in Health Sciences were by far the most satisfied with their academic programs, and students in Biological Sciences & IR/PS also showed high satisfaction; on the other end, students in Humanities, Social Sciences, and SOM showed relatively low program satisfaction.

For connection, SOM and to a lesser extent IR/PS students felt less connected to UCSD than students in other divisions.
For mentor relationship, Humanities and Arts students more satisfied (and Social Sciences students were marginally more satisfied overall as well), and Engineering students were least satisfied.

Degree Sought

There were several differences in experience based on degree level (doctorate6 or masters7), and degree type (research8 or professional9). For mental health, students seeking a professional doctorate reported significantly less stress about the future than any other degree type.

There was a marginal difference in program satisfaction: overall, students seeking professional doctorates were least satisfied with their programs and masters students in professionally-oriented programs seemed most satisfied.

For sense of connection to UCSD, research doctorate students reported a relatively higher sense of belonging (it should be remembered that overall, all graduate and professional students feel very disconnected from UCSD), and professional doctorate students reported an extremely low sense of connection to UCSD as a group.

For mentor relationship, research masters students were less satisfied: for every question composing the mentor relationship factor, and they reported marginally lower satisfaction than doctorate students (time spent with advisor, advisor availability, sufficient feedback received, work is valued, comfortable suggesting research directions).

It is also possible to summarize the differences in experience by simpler variables.

For mental health, students seeking research-oriented degrees experience more stress than students seeking professionally-oriented degrees.

For connection, research students feel more connected to campus.
For program satisfaction, research students are somewhat more satisfied than professional students.
And for mentor relationship, doctorate students are more satisfied than masters students.

Year in Program

Quite clearly the experience of graduate & professional students changes over time (1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year, or “nth” year).

For general experience, 1st year students reported higher satisfaction than students in any other year of study.
Regarding program satisfaction, 1st year students felt their programs fostered a greater sense of community and encouraged a greater diversity of career options than did later students.

For connection, later students reported feeling more connected than junior students.

There were also effects of year in program on mental health: later-year students experienced more stress about their future and


Student gender showed two effects.

First, male graduate and professional students reported a slightly better general experience at UCSD—a small, but reliable effect.
Much more strikingly: for mental health, female students reported experiencing markedly more stress than male students. On further exploration, this effect held for every single mental health variable: stress due to academic program, finances, career/future plans, and other stressors, frequency of feeling overwhelmed, whether counseling was considered, and whether counseling was actually sought.

Ethnicity & Citizenship

Ethnic background10 & citizenship11 were reliably related to differences on all summary measures except mentor relationship.

For general experience with UCSD, there was a marginally reliable difference: underrepresented minority respondents reported somewhat less satisfaction.

For mental health, underrepresented minorities reported experiencing substantially more stress than white/Asian and international students; in fact, across-the-board, underrepresented minorities reported more stress about their programs, their future/careers, finances, and other topics, are more likely to feel overwhelmed, and are more likely than average to have considered seeking counseling).

For program satisfaction, underrepresented minorities reported lower satisfaction than white/Asian respondents.

For connection to UCSD, international students expressed a stronger connection than either white/Asian or underrepresented minority students (who did not differ from each other).

Sexual Orientation

To our knowledge, this information is not collected elsewhere at UCSD. Eighty-three (83) respondents (5.4%) identified themselves as gay/lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise claimed sexual minority status; if this trend holds across the student body, this extrapolates to 233 individuals.

For the summary factors, sexual orientation showed a single effect: for mental health, LGBTO students reported experiencing more stress than their heterosexual counterparts. LGBTO students experienced more stress related to academic program, finances, and “other” topics, reported feeling overwhelmed more often, and considered seeking counseling at a higher rate than their heterosexual counterparts.

Disability Status

Students with disabilities (physical or learning) represented 3.8% of survey respondents (59 people); this predicts that there are approximately 163 graduate & professional students with some form of disability. Although this information is ostensibly recorded by the Office of Students with Disabilities/OSD, it appears likely that the results of this survey provide a more accurate census of disabilities in the graduate & professional student population: only 42% of disabled students report that they have disclosed their disability to OSD, and only 43% report disclosing their disability to their program. All told, only 53% of students with disabilities appear to have disclosed their disability to either OSD or their program. It should also be noted that only 6% of students with disabilities were referred to OSD by their programs, and possibly as a result, only 50% of students with disabilities report that their disabilities have been accommodated.

There were three differences between students with disabilities and non disabled students on the summary measures:
Students with disabilities reported experiencing more stress (which mainly seems to arise from stress due to their academic programs)
Disabled students were marginally less satisfied with their general experience at UCSD

Finally, students with disabilities were less satisfied with their programs (however, as students with disabilities are disproportionately distributed across division of study; when division of study is factored, the overall difference in program satisfaction is no longer reliable).

Students with Families

To our knowledge, this information is not recorded elsewhere at UCSD. One-hundred respondents (6.4%) reported having children; this predicts that there are approximately 276 graduate & professional students with children. Eighty-nine (5.7%) respondents reported having dependent children; this predicts 245 graduate & professional students have children at home. More than half of students with children reported their children were born during their course of study, over one-eighth of students have taken a leave of absence to accommodate family responsibilities, and over one-fourth have reduced their workload. Graduate & professional students do not utilize UCSD resources for students with families: fewer than 10% of students have utilized lactation or childcare facilities, and sizeable percentages of students are unaware of these resources, and very few students have used any Women’s Center resources

There were two differences on summary measures between graduate & professional students with families, compared to those without; however, both of these effects are only marginal:

Students with families report experiencing marginally more stress mainly due to marginally more frequent stress over finances, and significantly more stress over “other” topics. However, students with families are not evenly distributed across division, year of study, and degree sought; if all of these variables are controlled for, the difference in mental health between students with families and those without is eliminated.

Students with children are marginally more likely to report a greater connection to campus; however, as with mental health, if all of the other demographic variables associated with students having families are controlled for, the effect disappears.

Focus on Mentor Relationships

Nearly three-fourths of respondents report a research mentor. If respondents are compared based on their overall mentor relationship, there are no demographic differences between those with an above-average relationship and those with a below-average relationship, indicating that the two groups are roughly comparable except for their mentor relationships.

When these two groups are compared for the quality of their UCSD experience, quality of the mentor relationship very strongly correlates with a neutral-to-negative UCSD experience, marked by general dissatisfaction, higher stress, and a greater likelihood of considering quitting.

Concretely, students with a below-average mentor relationship report less mentor “face time” (less than half has much), and less advisor availability, support, and feedback. This is despite the fact that nearly all of the students who report having asked their mentors for more feedback are in the “below average” group. There is also a marginal trend for students with a below-average mentor experience to be in larger-than-average labs. Finally, it is the case that students with above-average mentor relationships are more likely to be in programs where there is a means of evaluating research mentors.

Focus on Careers

Interest in non academic careers is widespread among graduate and professional students, with nearly three-quarters of all students considering various non academic career options. However, fewer than half of professional students feel their programs encourage career diversity. Fewer than one-third of research students feel their programs encourage career diversity, and more than one-third disagree.

The Career Services Center might be expected to alleviate this problematic situation, and it may for masters students, over half of whom have used CSC resources. Among doctoral students, however, fewer than one-third use any CSC resource—even those who are most dissatisfied with their within-program career resources. Overall, students are satisfied with CSC workshops, somewhat satisfied with CSC career advising and the CSC website, and neutral about CSC-organized job fairs.

It would appear then that for many students, career resources are a gap in their UCSD experience—in particular, the low use of the CSC by doctoral students, coupled with general dissatisfaction of within-program career resources, may contribute to stress and dissatisfaction over time (and in part explain the high levels of stress reported related to academic program and the future/career).


An important but unpleasant reality is that people may experience unfair or unwelcome treatment. In this survey, 352 respondents (approximately 23%) reported experiencing some form of “unwelcome attention or unfair treatment.” This predicts that 988 graduate & professional students in the whole student body would report experiencing some type of unfair treatment or unwelcome attention.

The most common type of conflict reported was gender/sexism (one-fourth of all “yes” responses, 6% of all survey respondents), with race or ethnicity and age-related prejudice each being selected by about one-eighth of those who responded “yes” (about 3% of all survey respondents).

Actually, the most frequently selected category was “other,” chosen by 40% of those who responded “yes” (9% of the total survey respondents). This indicates that a large number of respondents were unable to classify their experience into an existing category. The descriptions entered by those who selected “other” showed two additional patterns: program or course-related conflict (typically relating to “unfair” grading or instructor expectations), and personal conflicts with advisors, other faculty members, or other students.

As above, conflict is a fact of life. While it would be desirable to eliminate such problems, realistically, that will not occur. It is important, however, that there are methods of conflict resolution if and when conflict arises. Of the 23% of students who experienced unfair treatment, over two-thirds did not seek assistance in dealing with the problem. Of the slightly less than one-third who sought assistance, fewer than half found sufficient help. Reasons given for not seeking assistance include thinking there was anything that could be done (31%), the problem not seeming important enough (30%); fear of retaliation (19%), and not knowing where to seek assistance (14%).


Another reality is that not all students who begin graduate and professional programs complete them. OGSR reports an attrition rate for graduate studies of 35%; in this survey, over one-third (36%) have seriously considered leaving or quitting their program of study. The most frequently given reasons for considering leaving were that program expectations were not met (40%), financial/funding concerns (34%), changes in career plans (33%), quality of advisor relations (32%). Large percentages of respondents also indicated that problems with their social life (26%) or an unwelcoming environment at UCSD (21%) provoked such considerations. At this point, these should all be unsurprising—each of these has been a recurrent theme in previous sections (and indeed, they played a major role in the general plan of this report).


Overall, this survey shows that graduate and professional students at UCSD are generally satisfied with their academic experience and training. However, only about half feel that UCSD has met their expectations. Possibly this differential occurs due to the general dissatisfaction with the social and cultural opportunities on campus, and an extremely low sense of connection to UCSD. While it could be considered that this poor “extracurricular” experience is part of the graduate student’s lot, sentiment at UCSD is markedly lower than other graduate institutions.

Graduate and professional students experience a lot of stress, mainly due to academics and careers. Nearly one-fourth have sought counseling while at UCSD—a rate much higher than undergraduates. Thus, access to and use of counseling services should be of concern.

The UCSD experience differs along many variables. Of special note are that newer students generally have a more positive outlook on UCSD; and women, underrepresented minorities, disabled students, and LGBTO students experience markedly more stress than the norm. Further, there are many differences in student experience and satisfaction between divisions—studying these differences may highlight ways to address weaknesses.

Most students with research mentors are quite satisfied with these relationships. However, there are striking differences in student experience for those with below-average mentor relationships. Nearly every aspect of the student experience is severely and negatively impacted for these students.

A potentially surprising finding is that nearly three-fourths of students are considering non academic careers. Yet, very few (as low as 28%) feel their programs encourage career diversity. While some students take advantage of the Career Services Center, many do not, and among those that do, satisfaction is not overwhelming. These could contribute to the generally high level of anxiety about the future and careers which students experience.

Almost one-fourth of students report having experienced some form of unwelcome attention or unfair treatment, with
sexism, ageism, and ethnic and cultural conflicts being the most frequent. Additionally, a sizable number of students report course- or grading-related conflicts, as well as personal conflicts with advisors, other faculty, and other students. Some of this is a fact of life; however, only one-third of those experiencing conflict sought assistance, with most indicating they felt nothing could be done, they feared retaliation, or did not know where to go for assistance. And among those seeking assistance, only one half felt they received adequate help. There may thus be gaps both in awareness of assistance and the quality of institutional assistance available in cases of conflict.

Finally, over one-third of graduate and professional students have “seriously” considered quitting their programs. The reasons they give are many and varied, but the most prevalent reasons are those mentioned above: program expectations were not met, changes in career plans, quality of advisor relations, problems with their social life, an unwelcoming environment at UCSD, and/or financial/funding concerns. These have all been recurrent themes in this report. Hopefully, this report provides a foundation by which these problems can be further investigated and addressed.

Visit for the original Executive Summary and the full survey report

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