The most important differences between our ex-
perience and our predictions have been in the rel-
ative importance of pre-dissertation field work
and dissertation completion awards. Pre-disserta-
tion field work support has proven particularly im-
portant…. Our overall conclusion is that there
are indeed critical periods in a graduate student's
career when progress is vulnerable. In the light of
experience we would adjust our sense of their rel-
ative importance by highlighting pre-dissertation
support in particular.
—Graduate chair of an anthropology
THIS CHAPTER introduces the departments that participated in the Graduate Education Initiative (GEI). It describes the changes they planned, the challenges in implementing those changes, and the successes and failures that resulted. It is intended to complement the intensively statistical analysis of changes in completion rates and time-to-degree (TTD) in the next two chapters and the multivariate analysis of the effects of particular program elements in Chapter 6. First, we describe key attributes of the treatment departments before the advent of the GEI in simple quantitative terms; then we turn to how they “looked” five years into the GEI.1 Next, detailed vignettes recount the experiences of six departments in designing GEI-related “innovations” and in implementing them, so as to convey the complex mechanisms affecting whether the GEI did or did not have its desired effects. Third, we describe broader aspects of departmental and institutional cultures and weigh their influence on selected departmental outcomes.
1 Ideally, the control departments would have been studied in the same way, but the ab-
sence of comparably detailed qualitative information on their histories for the same period
made the comparison impractical. Later chapters that explore the overall effects of the GEI
compare both the treatment and control departments on a variety of dimensions.