In its site visits, the Committee on Doctoral and Postdoctoral Study in the United States looked for features that were present in successful programs as well as for elements that were detrimental to quality education. The committee noted that successful programs possessed, in addition to the sine qua non of a quality faculty, the following three characteristics:
- A focused, realistic mission
- A positive learning environment
- Relevant professional development
A positive learning environment is an environment that provides the assistance, encouragement, nurturing, and feedback necessary to attract and retain students and to give them an education appropriate for their future careers.
The findings of the committee are as follows:
- There are several different models (missions) for programs, including
- the standard model, which supports research in a broad range of areas, offers depth in each one, and has as its goal preparation for careers at research universities, and
- specialized models, such as the subdisciplinary model, the interdisciplinary model, the problem-based model, and the college-teachers model, which were seen to alleviate two large human resource problems, recruitment and placement, and to be conducive to clustering of faculty, postdoctoral associates, and students, a practice that helps create a positive learning environment and promote relevant professional development.
- Both standard and specialized programs can be successful. However, programs that do not have the human or financial resources to run a successful standard program should consider whether a specialized model might better fit their needs.
- New Ph.D.s with a broad academic background and communication skills appropriate for their future careers are better able to find jobs.
- Active recruiting increases the pool of quality students. It does not just reapportion the pool. It also increases the number of women and underrepresented minorities. Students with strong mathematical backgrounds have a choice of studying mathematical sciences, physical sciences, engineering, law, medicine, and other areas. More of them can be attracted to the mathematical sciences.
- Clustering faculty, postdoctoral associates, and doctoral students together in research areas is a major factor in creating a positive learning environment.
- A positive learning environment is important to all doctoral students but is crucial for women and underrepresented minorities.