TitleIncreased Ph.D. production in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentElectrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department
RequestorRoss Snider Phone406-994-1645
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts  
Proposed Dates Start: July 1 2013 End:  
The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department has latent Ph.D. capability due to the fact that a significant amount of research is currently being performed by Masterís students. The ECE department needs more GTAs so that there is a readily available pool of Ph.D. students that can staff research projects when needed, rather than meeting the immediate need of performing on a research grant with Masterís students.
The specific strategic plan areas that the ECE department can make a significant contribution to are in the following objective areas that are concerned with increasing the Ph.D. production rate at MSU.

Objective L.2: Increase graduation rates at MSU.
Metric L.2.2: By 2019, the number of graduate degrees awarded will increase from 548 to 625 per year. The number of doctoral degrees awarded will increase from 56 to 80 per year.

Objective d.3: Expand the scale, breadth and quality of doctoral education.
Metric d.3.2: The graduate student population will increase 20 percent to approximately 2,350 by 2019, with an emphasis on increasing doctoral student enrollment.
Metric d.3.3: By 2019, the number of graduate degrees awarded will increase from 548 to 625 per year. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) masterís and doctoral degrees will increase to 325. All doctoral degrees awarded will increase from 56 to 80 per year.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       48000       
Benefits       10149       
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services              
Other Operations              
TOTAL 58149     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

A total of three additional GTA positions are requested.

Each position comprises 10 months of stipend support ($16,000), fees for two semesters ($1,473, assuming enrollment in 9 credits per semester), and the health insurance fees for two semesters ($1,910). Tuition waivers will be provided by the department.

This results in a total budget of $19,383 per GTA. For three GTA positions, the total budget is  $58,149.

Describe the Proposal

This year MSU published a strategic plan that outlines the goals the university aims to accomplish in the next decade. An important focus of MSU’s Strategic Plan is to increase the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded, which will better reflect MSU’s standing as a Carnegie Research University (very high research activity). The ECE graduate committee views that the ECE department can make a significant impact on this goal by increasing the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded.

The ECE department has a number of latent Ph.D. positions that are currently unfilled for a number of reasons, many of which are unique to the ECE department. Many GRA positions are currently being given to Master’s degree candidates due to the time pressure of research grants and the availability of graduate students. In Electrical and Computer Engineering (and unlike other science fields), students have the highly viable option of pursuing only a Master’s degree and then obtaining a very good job afterwards. This means that there is a large pool of easily accessible Master’s degree candidates to draw upon. In contrast, admission of a Ph.D. candidate is a much more difficult and lengthy process. First, a grant has to be awarded and money in hand since a Ph.D. candidate can only be brought in if there is direct support from a faculty member. Then a search for a qualified Ph.D. candidate is made, which can take a significant amount of time (and often takes a year or more). This is a problem since the clock on a research grant is running and there is a limited amount of time in which to perform on the grant. As a result, these positions which would ideally be supporting Ph.D. candidates are instead allocated to Master’s students in order to perform on the grant.

What the ECE department needs is recruitment and admission of highly qualified Ph.D. candidates who can perform on research grants with a running start. This means that Ph.D. candidates should be supported by GTAs for the first year or two while they take course work and study to pass the qualifying exam. Once they are done with course work, they can then concentrate on a research project and be fully productive.


Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

Beyond the benefit of increasing the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded, this will help with the sustainability of the research program in the ECE department. This is because the institutional knowledge of Master’s degree students disappears prematurely, as they graduate immediately after climbing the learning curve. Ph.D. students are needed since they remain for several years after initial training, resulting in greater research productivity. This will have an impact on MSU strategic Objective d.1: Elevate the research excellence and recognition of MSU faculty by increasing Metric d.1.2: By 2019, national and international recognition of MSU faculty will improve as measured through accomplishments such as national awards, peer-reviewed publications, invited presentations, journal citations, fellowships, editorial positions, technology transfer activities, visiting appointments, scholars visiting MSU, occurrence of scholarly conferences on the MSU campus, membership on governmental policy committees, review panels, museum-level exhibitions, creative work that engages audiences at leading venues and placement of doctoral students.

A further benefit of the additional GTA positions is an enhancement of the undergraduate teaching mission in the ECE Department. In particular, the Electrical and Computer Engineering undergraduate programs are recognized for the extensive hands-on training provided. Additional GTA resources will enable a number of important enhancements to the laboratory elements of our course offerings. For example, the ECE Department is planning to offer "Odd Wednesdays", an evening period approximately every other week where a number of teaching laboratories will be open and staffed by faculty and GTAs, and available for students who may have questions on their coursework, need additional time to complete lab assignments, or even obtain assistance with appropriate outside projects. Additional GTA staffing can also be provided for high-enrollment lower division courses, providing additional support for students entering the ECE program. In addition, incremental GTA availability can also assist faculty with some course operations, potentially freeing up some faculty time for mentoring graduate students. Finally, some GTA resources can be dedicated to developing new course materials and laboratory experiments, further enhancing the undergraduate teaching mission.

Implementation Plan

The implementation plan is to bring in an additional three GTAs each year starting as soon as possible. These positions will be used to recruit highly qualified Ph.D. candidates to the graduate program in ECE.


Assessment Plan

The metric to be used to assess the plan is twofold. The long term metric will be the count of Ph.D. degrees awarded by the ECE department. A short term metric will be the ratio of Ph.D. students to Master degree students within the ECE department. If this ratio increases, then it is highly probable that Ph.D. production will increase in the longer term. Thus:

Metric 1 = Ph.D. degrees awarded                                                          (long term metric).

Metric 2 = (Ph.D. candidate count) / (Master’s degree student count)         (short term metric).

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

If the objectives are not met, then it would be reasonable to sunset the GTA positions (provided there is no immediate impact on a particular student).


Department Head: Rob Maher (
Dean/Director: Brett Gunnink (
Executive/VP: Tom Mccoy (