The Faculty of Forestry, Geography, and Geomatics at Laval University in Canada has what is, as far as I know, a novel approach to encouraging grad students to complete their degrees promptly: financial incentives. The plan (here, in French) translates roughly as “financial support for success”.
I can’t read French, but a Francophone correspondent summarizes the incentives to Ph.D. students as follows (and tells me that Google Translate does a reasonable job with the document):
- $3000 for passing the project exam and comprehensive exam before the end of your 4th term
- $3000 at the end of your 7th term if your committee reports favorably on your progress
- $4000 if you submit your thesis before the end of your 9th term (i.e. before the end of your 3rd year). Note that Ph.D. programs in Canada are a bit shorter than in the US, so while finishing in 3 years is very quick even by Canadian standards, it’s not as extraordinary as finishing in 3 years would be in the US in ecology.
- $500 for every paper you publish in a peer-reviewed journal before the end of your 12th term (i.e. end of your 4th year)
So in summary, if you’re doing good research, demonstrate your capabilities, and are quick to finish, you could earn as much as $10,000, plus $500 for every paper you publish. That’s a lot of money for a Canadian grad student.
Note that at least some Laval forestry, geography, and geomatics students do have other sources of funding, such as support from their supervisors, but I don’t know any details of these other sources.
The money for the incentives comes from the university, which has a dedicated fund to support graduate student success. It distributes that money to faculties, mostly according to the number of students. Each faculty then has to come up with its own plan as to how to spend the money to support graduate student success.
I’d never heard of such a funding system for grad students before, and so was surprised when I heard about it. Also curious to learn more, just because it is such an unusual way to fund students as far as I know. And since the average length of graduate programs is drifting upwards in many places (at least, people say it is; I don’t have data), I can imagine many of you are curious as well.
More commonly, timely progress through a graduate program is enforced by deadlines. Students are obliged to pass certain milestones by certain deadlines, on pain of having to withdraw from the program or perhaps lose their funding (typically, ecology grad students are guaranteed funding only for some specified number of years). Of course, in practice these deadlines might not be enforced (students might be granted extensions, for instance), but their mere existence is intended to keep students on track. Timely progress also is enforced in all sorts of less-formal ways, even as prosaic as a supervisor asking a student, “So, how’s your work going?” Seen from that perspective, financial incentives to finish quickly can be seen as substituting “carrots” (incentives) for “sticks” (deadlines). Or perhaps supplementing sticks with carrots, since deadlines and financial incentives aren’t mutually exclusive.
There are lots of obvious questions one can ask about this sort of incentive system, which I assume must’ve occurred to the relevant faculty and administrators at Laval. I emphasize that in writing this post, I’m not judging the Laval program at all. I know nothing else about the Forestry, Geography, and Geomatics Faculty at Laval and so am in no position to judge whether their funding system is a good choice for them. (Plus, since the system is new, they themselves can’t yet be sure if the system will succeed) My interest is not in Laval specifically, but rather in the general issue of what sort of rules, practices, and incentives work best for ensuring that graduate students complete their programs in a timely manner.
What do you think? Are there circumstances in which it makes sense to pay grad students to finish promptly?