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At orientation, talented graduate students from around the world prepare to extend their horizons

Denise Valenti, Office of Communications | Tue Sep 6, 2022

Princeton University welcomed 743 graduate students from 55 countries for the 2022-23 academic year during orientation activities held Aug. 31 to Sept. 1. These incoming graduate students are the Graduate School’s largest cohort in over a decade.

Christopher Eisgruber makes an address at the podium

Princeton's President Christopher L. Eisgruber delivers a keynote address at the Graduate School orientation on Aug. 31.

In a keynote address on Wednesday, Aug. 31, in Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, President Christopher L. Eisgruber urged the students to participate fully in the Princeton community and to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them outside of their academic work.

“I firmly believe you will do that work better and you will flourish and thrive as a person if you find ways to extend your horizons, which will end up contributing to your lives and careers in ways that are hard to describe or imagine,” Eisgruber said.

“You are one of the most diverse groups of entering graduate students in this University’s history,” he added. “Embrace that diversity, learn from that diversity, be proud of it, get to know one another across all sorts of different lines and boundaries. Because the group of people that you are together with now — whether graduate students or any other members of this community — are remarkable individuals who can broaden your perspective and learn from you in all sorts of different ways.”

Graduate School Dean Rodney Priestley, the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who began in his new role as dean on June 1, underscored the energy, excitement and potential of the new academic year. He shared his journey into the academy, which was sparked by his own graduate school experience and later shaped by his relationship with students in his lab.

The dean addresses new grad students

Priestley underscored the energy, excitement and potential of the new academic year in his opening remarks at orientation.

“As the dean, my goal is to help you to achieve your potential — for you to recognize Princeton as a place to explore, a place to thrive and a place where you belong,” he said. “Graduate school is challenging, of course. It can offer unexpected triumphs and setbacks. It is a place where even the most prepared can, at times, struggle. Some days you feel triumphant. I hope today is one of those days because you earned your right to be here.”

During orientation, Princeton’s graduate students acquainted themselves with one another — and with Princeton’s many services and offerings — at meals and an information fair held beneath a tent on Alexander Beach. They also attended a full slate of workshops and events, where they heard from current Princeton faculty, staff and students about what to expect in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Princeton’s newest graduate students are entering the University not only under the leadership of a new dean, but also during a period of significant growth and investment in graduate education. Beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, Princeton has increased its graduate fellowship and stipend rates.

Construction is underway at Princeton’s Lake Campus Development, where the new Meadows Graduate Housing facilities will house more than 600 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, allowing Princeton to offer housing to all graduate students who desire it. After the initial phase of development is complete, the Lake Campus Development will provide potential sites for locating world-class scientific facilities, enabling the University to strengthen the region’s innovation ecosystem and creating opportunities for academic partnerships with nonprofit, corporate and government sectors.

Grad students do an art activity at a retreat

Earlier in the week, 48 scholars from across 28 departments attended the Graduate Scholars Program retreat for pre-doctoral and first-year graduate students from economically diverse and historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Tatiane Rangel, a first-year doctoral student in Spanish and Portuguese from Brazil, said she was excited about the increased stipend, especially as someone who came from a background where she always needed to work while studying.

“The stipend allows us to be the best professionals we can be and to be fully committed to our lives on campus,” she said. “I hope to give as much to the University as it is offering to me.”

Among Priestley’s priorities as dean will be to sustain the Graduate School’s progress in diversifying the graduate student population, to attract talented scholars of all backgrounds and to cultivate a more inclusive and welcoming environment. Twenty-two percent of this year’s incoming graduate students are from historically underrepresented racial or ethnic groups and 27% are from first generation/low-income backgrounds.

Earlier in the week, the Graduate Scholars Program (GSP), held its annual retreat for pre-doctoral and first-year graduate students from economically diverse and historically underrepresented backgrounds. Forty-eight scholars from across 28 departments attended the GSP retreat as part of their introduction to Princeton. Nearly 200 graduate students have participated in the program — which provides mentorship and social and academic support throughout the year — since it launched in 2018.

Ani Ajith, a master’s student in computer science from India, said in his first days at Princeton, he already had met fellow scholars from Japan, Greece and Thailand, to name a few, and that he was enjoying learning about their work and lives in their home countries.

A group of grad students assemble outside East Pyne

Students in the Graduate Scholars Program tour Princeton’s historic campus.

“It’s interesting and fun for me,” Ajith said. “It wasn’t a main consideration when coming to Princeton, but it’s an added bonus now. There aren’t many places in the world where you can randomly talk to people and find so much diversity.”

Faculty and current students shared their best advice for navigating graduate academic work and life during a panel on “Success in Graduate School,” moderated by Lisa Schreyer, senior associate dean for student affairs at the Graduate School.

Johana De la Cruz Gamez, a master’s student in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, reminded incoming scholars that their challenges can be as important as their victories. “Every setback will add to your knowledge and confidence in the future,” she said. “So don’t let it discourage you, especially in the first year, which is a transition period. It’s good to take setbacks and embrace them to inform what you do moving forward.”

Erika Milam, the Charles C. and Emily R. Gillispie Professor in the History of Science, encouraged students to balance their well-being with their academic work from the earliest days of their arrival. “It will always feel like your work is never done, so you need to cultivate a practice of taking those breaks that you need before you hit a crisis,” she said.

Andrew Finn, a doctoral student in English, recommended that incoming students “become comfortable with uncertainty.”

“Everything here right now is going to be really new and fresh to you,” Finn said. “I think one of the hallmarks of being a graduate student is how excited we are by new things, but also how we sit and linger with problems and complex issues for many years at a time, not knowing where our research will take us.”