Until now, my department hasn’t done any kind of formal, department-wide evaluation of our graduate students and their progress. A number of people, including me, have argued for some time that we should be doing something like CMU’s Black Friday. This semester Suresh, our current DGS, has made this happen; the meeting was today.
Overall I think it was really positive. First, it helps give faculty a global perspective on our grad program. I would hope that this is particularly useful for new faculty who don’t have the context that the rest of us have been building up for years. Second, this kind of meeting generates peer pressure. This is not a bad thing for hands-off advisers like me. Some of this peer pressure escapes from the meeting and reaches students; for example, at the meeting we heard about a few long-term PhD students who have been working full time for the past few years, who handed their advisers thesis drafts or other long-awaited material when they learned about this meeting.
One might ask: Does this stress out the students? At Virginia, where I did my PhD, an annual black Friday occurred and while we were aware of it, I don’t remember it as being particularly stress-inducing. Rather, a week or two afterwards a letter would materialize in each of our mailboxes saying perhaps “we want to see a proposal like right now” or “the faculty expects you to defend before Spring.” The hypothesis is that when these letters come from the faculty as a whole, they perhaps carry more weight than an adviser’s nagging.