Dissertation Writing Handbook for History Graduate Students
Perhaps the largest and most difficult task facing a Ph.D. student is the research and writing of the dissertation. The process is often a lonely one, and it must be an individual one. In the History Department, as in other departments, the pressure to finish quickly has grown substantially in the past few years. This has meant additional concerns for students about making timely progress in their research and writing. At the same time, the dissertation process has remained largely unexamined and unstructured.
One problem that has been widely identified is the need for more formal advice and guidelines for students at the dissertation stage. In the 1990 report "The Role and Nature of the Doctoral Dissertation," the Council of Graduate Schools specifically cited students' need for better advising as a matter of utmost concern. In order to begin to address this issue for the history department, I have put together a handbook containing advice and suggestions for the dissertation process. This handbook is primarily based on the results of a survey I sent to History Department faculty and recent Ph.D.'s. I was overwhelmed by the high response rate for a long mail survey. The care former students took in answering my questions testifies to their own concerns about the dissertation process. While the response rate for faculty was somewhat lower, the responses I did get were careful, extensive, and thoughtful. The handbook contains advice for students on topic selection, research, writing, rewriting, motivation, and working with the dissertation committee. In addition to the material from within the history department, I have included information from research done on the dissertation process more generally, information on campus resources, and suggestions for further reading.
My role in this process has been that of compiler and sorter. I am not an expert, but rather a novice, and thus have been in a good position to know what questions should be asked, what problems might arise, and what concerns students have. I have learned from the process of collecting information from students and faculty.
While this handbook is specific to the History Department, it could be used as a model for social science and humanities departments more generally. This project has enhanced my understanding of the complicated nature of the dissertation process, its role in the Ph.D., and the importance of working toward better advising, information, and communication between students and faculty. This project would not have been possible without the support of the Professors for the Future Program.
Co-organized the Program in College Teaching in Conjunction with the Teaching Resources Center
I worked as co-administrator for the Program in College Teaching, a certificate program designed to train graduate students for teaching careers. Students in the program work with a mentor throughout the year as they gain first hand teaching experience. Completion of the program also involves independent activities related to teaching skills, such as choosing appropriate instructional formats and teaching strategies, using student writing to promote learning, practicing classroom communication skills, evaluating student learning, effective writing and grading of exams, embracing diversity and promoting equity in the classroom, helping students outside the classroom, and considering ethical issues in teaching.
I was involved in organizing and leading biweekly program meetings designed to give program participants exposure to a variety of teaching approaches, and to share what they had learned with each other. Planning these meetings involved deciding on discussion topics, arranging for guest speakers for the meetings, developing meeting agendas, and planning and leading group activities designed to stimulate the participants' thoughts about different aspects of teaching. Additionally, I assisted a group of program participants who developed a weekly seminar on aspects of diversity in college teaching.
I also served as a program consultant, working individually with the 24 program participants to improve their teaching. I helped the students design their own teacher training programs, including assisting in setting up their mentored teaching experience and developing their individual program activities. I observed and videotaped the students teaching, both at UC Davis and at local community colleges, and helped them critique their own teaching and also provided my feedback.
In organizing the Program in College Teaching I helped 24 graduate students work on improving their teaching and increasing their potential for a successful academic career. I gained leadership experience, as well as greater exposure to a variety of teaching approaches and techniques that will improve my own teaching. Without the support of Professors for the Future it would not have been possible for me to co-administer the Program in College Teaching.
Compilation of a Handbook for English 3 Instructors on Course Development.
As graduate students in English, my colleagues and I are asked to teach two different freshman composition courses, English 1 which uses nonfiction prose models, and English 3 which combines an introduction to three literary genres with composition instruction. As instructors of these courses, we are given an opportunity and a responsibility seldom offered to graduate students: the chance to teach college level students completely independently.
The Department of English requires a course for first time teachers of English 1 and offers pedagogical and moral support for us in that endeavor in the form of a required class. The pedagogy course for English 3, however, is less structured and guidelines for English 3 are more vague. But despite our natural affinity for literature, the challenge of combining an introduction to literature with writing instruction in 10 weeks is an enormous one, which I felt students needed help with. During the 1994-95 academic year I compiled a handbook for graduate student instructors of English 3 which included a theoretical rationale for curriculum development as well as detailed suggestions for course planning, text selection, and writing instruction.
The purpose of my project was to assist harried graduate students in developing and implementing meaningful courses for undergraduates and to augment the assistance provided by the lectures who staff the Composition Program. In addition, my project suggested ways in which the course could be thematically structured and could more frequently offer a multicultural perspective. Too often, graduate students new to teaching are not fully aware of instructional goals and techniques. By providing a theoretical rationale as well as sample syllabi and book lists, I hoped to enable graduate student instructors to make more informed choices about what, how, and why they teach.
Research for my project allowed me to have a series of discussions with other graduate student instructors as well as with long-time lecturers in the field. These discussions not only gave me a sense of what my peers needed to know to be more effective teachers but also taught me the value of collaboration and collective brainstorming; many of the ideas and strategies outlined in my handbook are borrowed and/or adapted from the experienced teachers who graciously gave their time and expertise to the project. Presentations by the Teaching Resources Center and Professors for the Future meetings on mentoring and undergraduate teaching were also invaluable to my project.
Women's Engineering Link (WEL) Mentoring Program
Kerry Ann Kinney
Women are underrepresented as engineers in academia as well as in industry. Some of the obstacles women face in the engineering field include: isolation, lack of role models, self-confidence eroding experiences in the classroom and lab, and lack of incentive for graduate study. In order to address some of these issues, Karin Mack (Director of the Center for Women in Engineering) and I have developed a mentoring program - the Women's Engineering Link (WEL).
This program links undergraduate women engineering students with graduate women engineers in a professional, friendly working environment. The undergraduate women participating in this program assist their graduate mentors 3 to 5 hours per week on their research projects and receive 2 units of credit. In addition, the undergraduates attend a biweekly seminar (1 unit of credit) which covers topics relevant to women engineers in academia and industry. Not only do the undergraduate women learn more about graduate school, but they are also exposed to successful women engineers who can help them make informed decisions about their options in engineering.
We started the pilot program officially during Spring Quarter of this year. A total of 14 graduate women and 16 undergraduate women participated. The seminar covered the following topics: (1) women in academia, (2) women in industry, (3) women in graduate school, and (4) balancing career and family. The undergraduate participants kept logbooks in which they documented what projects they were working on and how they thought the program was going. The feedback so far has been very positive and we will be using suggestions from the graduate and undergraduate participants to further improve the program next year. Many thanks to the Professors for the Future Program, the Center for Women in Engineering and the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department for co-sponsoring this project.
Interdisciplinary Graduate Symposium/Colloquium
Professors for the Future gives graduate students an extremely rare opportunity, the chance to create something beneficial to the graduate experience at UC Davis. My project, as a Professors for the Future Fellow, was to create venues for graduate students in which they could share their current research with the academic and civic communities in Davis.
Sponsored by Graduate Studies, I formed an interdisciplinary council, or collective, that organized and created venues through a series of colloquia and, ultimately, a two day festival on April 7 & 8.
Our first project was to co-sponsor a series of quarterly colloquia in conjunction with the Women's Studies program to showcase the work of a graduate students participating in the Designated Emphasis in Feminist Theory program. The colloquia created an opportunity for graduate students from Women's Studies (who come from such diverse departments such as education, German, sociology and English) to share their current research with their teachers, peers and students. Each quarter, the colloquium was organized around a theme, "Gendered Bodies," with three or four students presenting fifteen minute papers followed by an informal question and answer period.
The first weekend of Spring quarter, the interdisciplinary collective hosted a two day festival "Beyond Binaries," at UC Davis. A flyer and program were created to guide the audience to the various events on campus which included academic panels, performances, film viewings and discussions, an art show, and readings of poems and plays by UC Davis graduate students. The festival in April was a tremendous success for a variety of reasons: graduate students from such diverse departments as textiles, comparative literature, German and Russian, history, English, political science, art history, studio art, creative writing and dramatic art came together to share their knowledge, creativity and research. Original works, such as "Transcending the Hyphen" by Heema Govindjee, were created by graduate students for the festival, working across disciplinary boundaries in fields they had previously not explored. Many students used the festival as a chance to give papers a "trail run" before presenting them at international or rational conferences. Well over two hundred people attended this year's festival, responding with enthusiasm and delight to the various events. Perhaps the crowning glory lies in the fact that some of the participants were so positive in their response to this year's festival that plans are currently underway for a festival for the next academic year.
Peer Mentoring Program for Students in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
My experiences as a graduate student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Group (BMB) have highlighted the importance of establishing a strong network of colleagues and mentors. My colleagues and mentors provide a creative and productive atmosphere for sharing ideas and concerns, and for serving at times as a sounding board for each other. To obtain a Ph.D. in BMB in the normative time period, it is important that students make the best decisions possible as they move throughout their graduate education.
Hence, finding a laboratory and major professor with whom you can share 5-6 productive years is important, as is dealing with the potential issues of student/major professor conflicts, or funding crises. These issues can be productively dealt with by candid discussion with our colleagues.
The primary goal of the BMB Peer Mentoring Program is the establishment of an informal setting whereby students together can share some of the helpful insights gained in the course of their graduate education for the benefit of both new and continuing BMB students. The secondary goal is to increase networking between all students in the group and to facilitate group cohesion. To achieve these goals, a two page description of the proposed Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Peer Mentoring Program was distributed to all students within the group describing the purpose, rationale, and setup. A questionnaire was included with the primary purpose of assessing the issues of concern that BMB students would like to see addressed by the proposed program. The five issues that most concerned students were Identifying a Major Professor, Student/Mentor Conflict Resolution, Funding, Career Alternatives, and the Oral Exam. Student volunteers to serve as peer mentors for these issues have now been identified within the five areas, with 3-6 students serving as mentors within any one area. Lists of the mentors, with their identified areas and means of contact (phone, email) have been distributed to all students and faculty within the BMB Graduate Group.
To what end students will take to the program and make use of their colleagues remains to be assessed. A committee to oversee the program has been established and we are in the process of evaluating the success of the program.
Incorporation of Minority Texts in Curriculum of Teaching Assistants, Specifically in Language Departments
In the past few decades, both undergraduate and graduate education have changed. The effects of a rich diversity of cultural backgrounds are increasingly evident. To acknowledge this change and its benefits in the French Department, I proposed to increase the scope of literary texts that are read in the Second-Year French Program. At present, every French class in the final Second-Year course (French 23) reads the same novel: Albert Camus's The Stranger.
Despite the many advantages of this novel and its traditional place in French classrooms nationwide, there are a number of other texts by non-European writers that offer similar benefits; a selection of these works can add much needed variety to the curriculum and increase the cultural scope of the course.
To formulate a list of works from which instructors (mostly graduate students) could select a text for their course, I interviewed professors and graduate students who specialize in the area of Francophone literature. I also asked friends and colleagues from a number of departments, native speakers of French whose origins lie outside of France, for their recommendations. To make my list as comprehensive as possible, I sent a survey to over 100 universities nationwide, asking them which texts they taught in their own Second-year French programs. The response was very favorable. From the survey information I received and my own research, I have been able to prepare a list of suitable French texts from such African countries as Morocco, Algeria, and Cameroon. The Caribbean countries of Guadeloupe and Martinique are also represented. I am hopeful that the writers from these countries will increase both the students' enjoyment and understanding of the French language and their knowledge of the cultural diversity of French speaking peoples worldwide. My work on this project, so enriching personally and professionally, could not have been completed without the continuing support of the Professors for the Future Program.
Creating a Peer-Mentoring Program in Nutrition
As diverse communities are increasingly represented at the University, the changing needs of the graduate, as well as undergraduate, student population should be recognized. Recent observations suggest that today's graduate student often requires more than one mentor during their journey toward successful completion of the graduate degree.
The specific objective of my project was to establish, implement, and evaluate a well-defined graduate student peer mentor program in the Graduate Group of Nutrition. Eighteen advanced graduate students were recruited to be mentors and were matched with new students as they were admitted to the program for the 1994-95 academic year. New students thus were put in touch with a contact person, even before arriving in Davis, with whom they could discuss many pressing issues including, but not limited to, housing, banking, child care, or fall coursework. Once in Davis, the new students met with their mentors to discuss immediate concerns and program expectations, and to schedule meetings for the fall and subsequent quarters, as needed. Program evaluations were solicited from the participants during the winter quarter so that improvements may be implemented the next year.
The oftentimes bewildering transition to graduate school was potentially made easier for these new students by having someone more experienced to talk to and learn from. In addition, the program gave an opportunity to advanced graduate students to train as mentors. This is a valuable experience regardless of one's professional interests, but is especially pertinent for those planning to pursue careers in academia.
As coordinator of the program, I was available in the spring and summer of 1994 as a resource for new students prior to the assignment of mentors. In this role I counseled several out-of-state students by phone, made referrals and answered questions regarding housing, coursework concerns, and Davis campus and community life in general. I also assisted in planning the fall new graduate student orientation and luncheon, introducing those new students who had not previously met their mentors.
My experiences coordinating this program have enriched my leadership development and have provided excellent opportunities for additional training in peer supervision, task delegation, and program evaluation. Additional Professors for the Future activities have complemented this opportunity for professional development.
Identify and Assess Graduate Student Career Choices and Preparation for Their Chosen Careers
Paul V. Switzer
The goal of my project was to identify graduate student career choices and assess the state of student preparation for their chosen careers. To meet this goal, I conducted a survey of graduate students in the Biological Sciences and Ecology, focusing primarily on Ph.D. students. Over 300 students took the survey, answering questions about their career choice and career preparation.
- Of the 12 career options on the survey, the highest frequency of responses (31%) was to research universities. However, almost 1 out of 5 Ph.D. students responding is currently interested in a career that has teaching as the main emphasis (i.e., either a teaching university or pure teaching institution).
- Approximately 1/3 of the students responding had switched their career goals since starting graduate school, with the switching being equally likely among career choices. The most common reasons students gave for switching careers were that they had simply gained an interest in a different career (32%) or were affected by the current job market (23%).
- While 55% of the respondents felt "knowledgeable" or "very knowledgeable" (4 or 5 on a scale of 5) about their career choice, 38% only felt "a little knowledgeable" (2 on a scale of 5). The primary source of the students' current information was peers and over half of the students felt that they (as opposed to someone else) should be primarily responsible for informing themselves about their career choice.
- More than 4 out of 5 respondents wanted more information about their career choice, but less than half of the students knew where they might find that information. Of those students that were aware of where to find information, 57% (23% of all respondents) knew about the existence of the Internship and Career Center. The most popular request for the form of information was a brief workshop (such as the one offered by the Internship and Career Center in April 1995), followed by getting the information informally from a source such as their major professor.
- Over 1/3 of the respondents stated that taking the time to fill out the survey itself (which averaged less than 5 minutes) helped them think more about their career choices.
The results of the survey paint an interesting picture for the career choices and preparedness of UC Davis graduate students in the Biological Sciences and Ecology. Students have a variety of career goals and a substantial percentage of these goals do not have research as a primary focus. Overwhelmingly, graduate students desire more information about their careers, but unfortunately few of them know where to find this information. However, the results of my project suggest that getting this information need not be expensive in terms of time or money -- even taking a few minutes to answer some basic questions about career choices helped many students. Therefore, a few timely discussions with a major professor, combined with some information on the resources already available on campus, might go a long way toward helping graduate students become prepared for their chosen careers.
Assessing the Needs of and Providing Support for Visually Impaired Students
Chris Thomas Tromborg
The University of California, Davis has been a leader in recruiting students from a diversity of underrepresented populations. Unfortunately, the number of visually impaired students who have entered and successfully completed doctoral programs remains low. Hence, this project was designed to define and prescribe solutions to problems limiting the successful completion of graduate programs by visually impaired students.
Potential problem areas included quality of student interactions with faculty, availability of financial resources, availability of sighted assistants, availability of informed academic advising, availability of social support networks, and quality of grievance resolution procedures.
To obtain information about these areas, telephone conversations were conducted with past graduates and students presently enrolled in doctoral programs. Conversations were also held with professors having experience working with students requiring special accommodation. Finally, support staff from Disabled Students Services were consulted for advice regarding improvement in support services.
The findings suggest that there is a need to improve communication between advanced and incoming students and between students and graduate faculty. Incoming visually impaired students were determined not to be utilizing the knowledge obtained by their predecessors effectively. Further, they were not aware of or did not have access to information about resources in appropriate formats.
To address these problems, a list of the telephone numbers of successful graduates, current graduate students, and selected faculty members has been placed on computer disc. A list of organizations providing financial support and other services (compiled by The Blind Students of California) has been placed on computer disc. Funds provided by the Professors for the Future program were utilized to commission the production of a Braille version of The Graduate Student Guide, providing it in a format heretofore unavailable to visually impaired students. Finally, a brief synopsis of the findings, conclusions, and suggestions resulting from this endeavor has been compiled into a brief report and assembled together with the preceding materials. This packet will be placed on file and made available to students at the Disability Resource Center.
My participation in the Professors for the Future Program has enabled me to realize considerable professional growth, improve my understanding of the problems confronted by visually impaired students, and most importantly, to become a better academic citizen.
Co-organization of a Mentoring Forum for Graduate Students, Editing and Distribution of Graduate Student Grievance Handbook
As a 1994-95 Professors for the Future Fellow, I served as the Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean, Graduate Studies and to the Chancellor. In this role, I functioned as a liaison between graduate students and the Office of Graduate Studies and the Chancellor. I kept apprised of graduate student issues and interests through my participation on both graduate student and administrative committees. Articulation of issues and maintaining open communication lines was an integral part of my role.
In addition to serving in this position, I undertook a number of projects, positively contributing to the graduate student experience in particular and graduate education at UC Davis in general:
- Becoming a trained mediator through the Mediation Services Program and involving other graduate students in this program.
- Co-organizing a mentoring forum for graduate students, "Finding Your Mentors @ ucdavis.edu"
- Assisting the instruction of the Fall 1994 graduate student seminar on "Scientific Integrity and Professionalism."
- Editing and distributing the "Resources for Addressing Graduate Student Complaints and Grievances" handbook to graduate programs, chairs and staff.
- Facilitating communication and promoting conflict resolution for graduate program students and faculty.
- Articulating graduate student concerns and viewpoints through participation on Graduate Council, Dean's Council, Graduate Dean's Advisory Group on Ethnic Diversity, Child Care Administrative Advisory Committee, and the ad hoc student committees for the selection of Vice Chancellor and Provost as well as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
- Fostering networks with and for graduate students through collaboration with the Graduate Students Association and the Graduate Student Liaison for the Women's Resources and Research Center.
In addition, I will continue several projects in the upcoming year:
- Establishing a pre- and post-Professors for the Future Fellows Program survey.
- Completing an opinion paper and a descriptive paper focusing on the Professors for the Future Program.
- Co-presenting the Professors for the Future Program from a participant's perspective at a national conference in November 1995, Boulder, CO.
- Chairing a graduate student committee to review current UC Davis guidelines focusing on "Ethics in Authorship" and intellectual property.
As I come to the close of my year as a Professors for the Future Fellow, I feel a sense of pride, accomplishment and growth. I have been afforded the opportunity to make a difference for graduate education at UC Davis and, at the same time, have personally benefited from the experience. Because of my participation in this program, I'm knowledgeable about the mission and operation of the university, I'm acutely aware of today's issues in higher education, and I'm better equipped to establish my career.