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Some departments do an annual assessment of their PhD students' progress. It includes questions about topics such as: being independent, writing skills, analysis skills, time devoted, reliability, conscientiousness, punctuality, self-reliance, independence, intellectual curiosity, communication skills, etc.

It also includes a self-assessment done by the student as well as another one by his faculty research adviser. What I found interesting is that sometimes the assigned faculty meet the student before submitting the self evaluation form where he/she often tells the student to change some of the self evaluation responses. It is even indicated in the instruction of some universities' websites.

My questions are:

  1. How they are assessed, are they only to evaluate students or is it also to evaluate the faculty advising skills?

  2. How do these reviews impact the student graduation timeline? Although they are important skills students should acquire, mostly they are not part of the fundamental milestone for student graduation like qualifying exam, proposal, etc.

  • Are hypothetically asking or with regard to your own situation? Especially your second paragraph; which of this applies to your situation? – CuriousCat May 18 '15 at 16:22
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    Ask your advisor. Every department is different. – JeffE May 18 '15 at 22:26
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I don't think your two questions can be answered in a very general way, different universities obviously practice this differently. What I can say is that I don't think these self-assessments have much of an impact on the graduation timeline, more that they're used to identify any problems as early as possible (when they can be more easily fixed).

I'll instead comment on this almost-question:

What I found interesting is that sometimes the assigned faculty meet the student before submitting the self evaluation form where he/she often tells the student to change some of the self evaluation responses.

There's at least two categories of things where this makes sense:

1) PhD students (especially at around half to two-thirds in) will be overly-critical of their own performance. It's very easy to look at others and think they're doing much better than you are. Without being sexist, in my experience women in particular give themselves extremely harsh (informal) self-assesments even when they are very talented. In this case staff would correct this overly self-negative outlook.

2) These assesments are not the proper avenue for everything. In particular, at my university it is particularly stressed in the guidelines for filling out the assesment that this is not the correct avenue to initially notify the university if you're having trouble/disagreements with your supervisor. There's probably more examples of this.

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As a grad student, it is all too easy to get into a situation where you are coasting, perhaps not making any real progress. A good advisor ensures that such a state does not persist for long. In my experience, the main purpose of these assessments is to

  • serve as a reminder to less-conscientious advisors to check in with their students; and
  • in extreme cases, serve as a mechanism to spur less-motivated students to get back to work (possibly by putting the student on probation or something similar).

When the student and advisor are taking their jobs seriously, the assessment is usually superfluous. But it can also be an opportunity to highlight great work to the program chair or dean.

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Every department is different: I don't have any suggestion about how you actually answer the question. I know that faculty in a department will give different answers, and fellow students will give you different different answers. In my department, the assessment (a discussion in a faculty meeting behind closed doors) was nominally only about students, but it can turn into a gently scrutiny of the advisor if there is a problem. This is because it is organized around a cohorts; but earlier, it was more based on "report by advisor", which tended to encourage discussion of advisors (unpleasant!). The typical point of the review is to give fair notice to the student that their are not making satisfactory progress. A milestone is a requirement that a student do something by a particular time, and the assessment isn't something that the student does. But if your funding is cut off, as can be a consequence of a negative assessment, then that tends to have a consequence for progress to degree.

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