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Fellows 2001-2002

Years in the Balance: An Informal Discussion and Mentoring Series for First- and Second-Year Doctoral Students

Tiffany Aldrich

My project, entitled “Years in the Balance,” was an informal discussion and mentoring series for first- and second-year doctoral students and was designed to reduce preventable attrition among that at-risk group.

During the winter quarter of 2002 I held three roundtable discussions that were led by advanced graduate students from a variety of disciplines within the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, including History, English, Applied Science, Political Science, Sociology, Mathematics, and the Animal Behavior Graduate Group. During these sessions, which were open to all departments, advanced graduate students presented their junior colleagues with approaches to solving problems endemic to the first years of graduate school. The three topics of conversation in the series were: Establishing Community, Coming to Terms with the Learning Experience, and Negotiating the Advisor-Advisee Relationship. Participants were encouraged to share their experiences, to ask questions, and to seek personalized advice from the presenters.

After each session, as a means of assessing and evaluating the success of the roundtable discussion, I asked participants to complete a brief questionnaire designed to solicit feedback on the relevance and helpfulness of the meeting, and I considered their responses when planning the next session. Overall, the roundtables were a success: several students and even a few presenters attended more than one meeting, and most junior graduate student participants commented on the helpfulness of hearing their experiences echoed and validated by others. Attendees also voiced appreciation for the ideas they got about how to change their personal and professional lives for the better. In their words, the discussions “demystified a lot” and made them “feel more empowered about getting answers” to their questions. The few suggestions I received on how to improve the series reflected certain individuals’ desires to hear more advice specific to their disciplines. I had anticipated this need and had purposely composed each of my panels of graduate students representing several areas of study, but the fact that some students still sought more discipline-specific information leads me to believe that departments across campus that do not currently offer student-to-student mentoring would do well to institute such programs.

The final component of my project was a troubleshooting document that I composed for and emailed to all presenters and attendees of the roundtable series, comprising the experience and advice of the eleven advanced graduate student presenters.

Scholarly Publication: A Writers' Group for Postdoctoral Scholars

Joanne Bookmyer

The number of postdoctoral scholars in the social sciences and humanities on the UC Davis campus is relatively small and they are scattered across a number of departments. As a result, many do not have the opportunity to engage with and benefit from the knowledge and expertise of their colleagues and peers.

I formed a special interest group, focused on the issue of scholarly publication, for postdoctoral scholars. Participants agreed to meet with postdoctoral scholars from other disciplines on a biweekly basis during the winter and spring quarter.

At each meeting we discussed and critiqued a draft of one participant’s work. The goals of the project were to encourage a sense of community that transcends departmental barriers, to share knowledge and expertise with future colleagues and, most important, to encourage group members to write.

This opportunity provided participants with a mechanism to improve our own writing by learning from others engaged in the writing process. The project has been successful in that the group has critiqued (and hopefully strengthened) a number of papers, some in the very preliminary stages of development and some nearly completed and ready for submission. The project has also been successful in that the writing cohort has developed into a community. The writing group intends to continue meeting into the foreseeable future.

Publishing in the Academy

Sharon Braden

This project created a series of roundtable sessions and lectures that addressed particular issues directly related to academic publication. Certainly, the demands and requirements of the publishing vary depending on fields of study. These roundtables were multi-disciplinary in content and guests spoke to both the specific and generality of publishing.

Our first roundtable highlighted the experience of graduate students from both the sciences and humanities who already have successfully published in their fields. Our second was a presentation entitled "Getting Published Today: A Survival Strategy for Academic Authors" by Bill Germano, Vice President of Routledge Press, and author of Getting it Published. The final roundtable featured junior and senior faculty members from a wide array of disciplines speaking as authors as well as members of editorial boards. Just a few of the issues that were discussed: publishing your first book, finding an editor, professional demeanor, how to approach publishers and journal boards, things to avoid, how to handle what you have never had to do before (manage graphics, copyright issues, etc.), suggestions on how to make their job as board members easier, and the challenges they see facing aspiring young authors today.

The “Publishing in the Academy” project received positive feedback from attendees, faculty panelists, and from numerous university departments and programs. Additionally, we believe that much of the success we had in raising funds for this project has to do with the deep investment students and faculty have in establishing and maintaining a successful academic career and the real need to have adequate first-hand knowledge regarding the complexities of the publishing process. While we believe that our project made a substantial contribution to the academic lives of students at UCD, we know that it is only a beginning and hope that other Professors for the Future fellows will take up this project where we left off.

Equation-Free Statistics & Experimental Design Cookbook

Joseph Garner

The project was designed to help graduate students apply the technical knowledge learnt in conventional equation-led statistics classes to the real world of designing, analyzing, and criticizing experiments.

I also hoped to learn how to teach these skills to a large group in as user-friendly and effective manner as possible. Together with my mentors I designed a course of interactive workshops split between paper criticism and discussion of focussed topics.

The workshops were supported on the web with detailed and condensed notes, interactive spreadsheet examples, exercises, and links to online journal articles. Following feedback from the winter quarter’s workshop participants, the design of the workshop series was tweaked, and the series offered a second time in spring quarter. The project has proved to be very profitable both for myself, and for the workshop participants, from whom feedback has been very enthusiastic.

Developing a 'Healthy Nutritional Habits' Handbook for Graduate Students

Caroline Kurtz

In graduate school, we are taught that studying hard, being independent, having a positive mentor/student relationship, and the all important funding will get us through the graduate school process. However, positive nutritional habits are often neglected and many times not even recognized by students as a major contributor to the success of graduate students.

Much nutritional information is available to the public in the form of magazine and newspaper articles. However, much of it is questionable at best. In addition, the information may be confusing and require a background in nutrition to understand. Moreover, those who do recognize their behavior as counterproductive may not know how to improve their situation.

For my PFTF project, I am developing a handbook to guide graduate students through specific nutritional and health issues. The handbook is being written so that students across all disciplines can first recognize the issues and then learn how to deal with them. The approach is more solution oriented rather than just providing copious amounts of facts and figures. Issues will be highlighted and strategies will be explored. Some topics of discussion will include: eating on the go or sporadic eating, caffeine consumption-the pros and cons, herbal supplements, recognizing eating disorders, time management, and eating during stressful times.

Students also attended a talk by nationally recognized expert and UC Davis nutrition professor, Dr. Liz Applegate. Her talk elaborated on the nutritional and health issues that will also be presented in the handbook. Her talk drew a large attendance and allowed students to ask questions; thereby resulting in a better understanding of how they might improve their academic performance through better nutritional practices.

UCD Come Together

Susan Lee

Graduate school can be a time of intense focus. Students often take a minimal number of classes, spending most of their time in one lab and in one department. Not only does this lead to departmental isolation, but also to social isolation.

Therefore, the goal of UCD Come Together was to combat this departmental and social isolation, experienced by both graduate students and post-doctoral scholars.

Towards this goal, a series of informal events were planned. The events included a ski trip to Lake Tahoe, a carbo-dinner and run, a potluck dinner, and two intramural inner tube water polo teams. There were two key aspects to the events. The first was the diverse range of event types. This allowed students with different interests and skill-levels to participate. The second key aspect was the informal nature of the events. This informality allowed the participants to interact to a degree that was comfortable for each of them individually.

The success of the project was judged by the number of participants, the number of departments represented, and the participants’ response. Over 80 graduate students and post-doctoral scholars, representing over 30 departments, took part in at least one event. Overall, the response to the events was very positive, with many of the students expressing their desire for more events of this type.

In conclusion, in addition to accomplishing its goal of combating departmental and social isolation, UCD Come Together also raised awareness of isolation in the graduate/post-graduate environment. Both individuals and campus groups have expressed interest in carrying on with these types of informal events.

Publishing in the Academy

Hope Medina (In conjunction with Sharon Braden)

This project created a series of roundtable sessions and lectures that addressed particular issues directly related to academic publication. Certainly, the demands and requirements of the publishing vary depending on fields of study. These roundtables were multi-disciplinary in content and guests spoke to both the specific and generality of publishing.

Our first roundtable highlighted the experience of graduate students from both the sciences and humanities who already have successfully published in their fields. Our second was a presentation entitled "Getting Published Today: A Survival Strategy for Academic Authors" by Bill Germano, Vice President of Routledge Press, and author of Getting it Published. The final roundtable featured junior and senior faculty members from a wide array of disciplines speaking as authors as well as members of editorial boards. Just a few of the issues that were discussed: publishing your first book, finding an editor, professional demeanor, how to approach publishers and journal boards, things to avoid, how to handle what you have never had to do before (manage graphics, copyright issues, etc.), suggestions on how to make their job as board members easier, and the challenges they see facing aspiring young authors today.

The “Publishing in the Academy” project received positive feedback from attendees, faculty panelists, and from numerous university departments and programs. Additionally, we believe that much of the success we had in raising funds for this project has to do with the deep investment students and faculty have in establishing and maintaining a successful academic career and the real need to have adequate first-hand knowledge regarding the complexities of the publishing process. While we believe that our project made a substantial contribution to the academic lives of students at UCD, we know that it is only a beginning and hope that other Professors for the Future fellows will take up this project where we left off.

The Nature and Causes of Graduate Student Attrition at UC Davis

Nicole Elisabeth Rabaud

Attrition from graduate programs is often an invisible problem. Since graduate students need not officially withdraw from the University, institutional statistics do not always register the departure of students who leave without finishing their degrees. However, attrition represents a significant loss to the University, in terms of resources expended to recruit and fund students in their beginning stages, not to mention the loss of bright, talented members of the community.

It can also have long-term or lifelong consequences to students who do not complete. Finally, national studies have revealed that many graduate students who do not withdraw nonetheless consider withdrawing on a regular basis. An understanding of the nature and causes of attrition can be useful in addressing the needs of students who are themselves at risk of leaving.

I conducted interviews with graduate staff advisors in each of the 72 graduate programs and groups at UC Davis. Interview questions focused on numbers of students who had left without a degree or changed their degree objective from the PhD to the Master's, and their reasons for doing so. Further, they also considered administrative support, student population and demographics, and funding, as well as the academic, social and political characters of each group.

Preliminary analysis of 60% of UC Davis' graduate groups revealed that the yearly total attrition rate for the campus was 6%. Causes for leaving without a degree were primarily due to difficulty completing the final stages of graduate work, namely the dissertation or thesis (34%). The second reason was the offer of a lucrative position (21%), and third, the occurrence of a medical or family crisis (12%). Students who changed their degree objective from the PhD to the Master's did so primarily due to job offers (27%), followed by academic difficulties (23%) and by loss of interest (19%). Difficulties with the major professor contributed to 3% of departures without a degree and 10% of switching to the Master's. Direct unavailability of funding contributed only to 1% of either type of attrition.

With respect to the demographics within individual graduate groups and programs, attrition seemed lessened in programs that were more than 50% populated by women. Similarly, diversity also appeared to decrease attrition among groups in which more than 22% of students were non-White Americans. This effect could not be observed in relation to the proportion of International students.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Anna Warwick Sears

My project was designed to survey the gender differences in career goals of UC Davis Ph.D. students in math and sciences. I am particularly interested in whether women graduate students alter their career goals during graduate school, as they become immersed in the culture of academia, and gain a better sense of their career options.

Women’s career issues have been in the forefront the news this year. Study after study documents the difficulties of women balancing their ambitions for career advancement and a happy home life. Debate is most active around the issues of women in academia. Here, women’s advancement to senior level positions has been particularly slow. This has an ironic flavor, because for most other areas, academia is thought to be a hot-bed of liberalism and left-leaning idealism. However, behind the façade of neutral meritocracy, the structure of the academic culture creates an uncomfortable environment for women. While the instance of outright gender discrimination is waning, the pressures of publication, service and teaching, and the consequent long work hours have a disproportionately harsh effect on women’s career success. What worked well for male professors with wives at home taking care of the children and domestic details, is difficult for two career couples. The most awkward problem is that the years when academic women want to have children, happen to coincide with those years when their careers are most demanding, after graduate school, before gaining tenure. Besides this, women are more likely to have additional responsibilities in their extended families, such as caring for aging parents. In consequence, although the number of women Ph. D. recipients has been increasing steadily, the number of women faculty has lagged far behind. This is particularly noticeable at research universities. According to a recent article in Harvard Review, the more prestigious the institution, the less well women are represented in the faculty. Why is this? Most studies have focused on hiring inequity, search committee composition, and attrition rates at the faculty level. In this project, I explored another explanation.

A recent audit of the University of California showed that for several fields, the number of women hired was in direct proportion to the number of women in the applicant pool, but the number of women in the applicant pool was only a fraction of the number of women receiving Ph. D’s in that field. Although in some cases this may be because jobs are targeted for applicants at the full professor level (where there are few women to draw from), there is a strong indication that women may be self-selecting out of the applicant pool. Is this true in the math and sciences at UC Davis? While a career at a prestigious research institution may be the model of success in academia, perhaps women Ph. D. students develop a different model of success, based on their experiences in graduate school.

I surveyed 1095 graduate students from 23 graduate groups in math and science at Davis, and received 258 responses (24% response rate). Forty of these students also filled out an in-depth qualitative survey describing how their career goals had changed since they had been in graduate school, and the qualities of their ideal job. My results support the findings of studies at higher levels of academia, as well as my initial hypothesis: Fifteen percent of women who begin graduate school with aspirations for employment at a research institution abandon this goal, preferring to work in government, industry, or at other levels of academia. Only three percent of men make this change. While only 41% of women felt that the UC system is a desirable place to work, 62% of men expressed interest in working in the UC system. Substantial numbers of both genders remain undecided (35% of women, 19% of men). The most consistent factor for career satisfaction (for 86% of women and 74% of men) was the ability to balance personal and professional lives. However, women expressed more constraint from their personal lives. For example, 46% of women (vs. 30% of men) said that location was an important factor in their job search because of their spouse’s job, or their desire to be close to their family and friends. Lack of jobs was the most common obstacle for career success reported by both women (70%) and men (69%), but family responsibilities were the second most common obstacle reported by women (48%), while funding was the second most common obstacle reported by men (50%). Respondents were allowed to choose the three most significant obstacles, so the percentages add up to more than 100%. Women also expressed more concern about long work hours (39% of women, vs. 26% of men). Nineteen percent of women expressed concern about the inflexibility of the tenure clock, while only nine percent of men felt that this was an obstacle to career success. I plan to make tables and graphs of these and other results available on the world wide web.

In conclusion, these gender differences are consistent with the hypothesis that more women than men are self-selecting out of the applicant pool for academic careers at research institutions. Both the broad survey and the qualitative free responses suggest that social factors contribute to this self-selection. If the University of California system wishes to attract the broadest range of talented Ph.D’s of both genders, it must invoke structural changes to make the school more amenable to 21st century family life-styles. This could include revising the tenure system, making childcare widely available on campus, extending family leave policies, and giving teaching and service higher priority in tenure considerations.

International Graduate Students, Postdoctoral Scholars & Their Faculty Mentors: A Critical Partnership

Samer Talozi

As of fall 2000, international graduate students comprised 20 % of the UC Davis graduate student population, and international postdoctoral scholars comprised 50% of the UC Davis postdoctoral population. Internationals face many challenges upon arrival in the US such as language related challenges, adjusting to a different culture, and finding housing.

An additional challenge faces graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, which is to select a faculty advisor/mentor and maintain a healthy partnership with that person. A partnership that is very important in achieving the academic goal for both students and scholars. Maintaining a healthy and open partnership with the faculty advisor/mentor is a challenge for both domestic and internationals alike. However, being an international adds a linguistic, cultural, and other types of challenges than the ones face domestic students or scholars.

The objective of this project was to identify and study the different challenges that face international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in developing a healthy and open partnership with their faculty advisors/mentors. My goal was to draw upon the experiences of current internationals in the campus community and to prepare a guide to help newly accepted internationals in developing a healthy partnership with academic/major advisors. To achieve this objective I held a roundtable discussion about this topic and distributed a survey in order to involve a larger campus community of internationals in the discussion. The roundtable discussion was helpful in identifying the many different challenges involved. Participants shared their own experiences and provided recommendations and advice on how to proceed with this project. They also provided input on the content of the survey. The survey was distributed via e-mail.

The results of this study showed that for international graduate students that 84% were satisfied about their relationship with their faculty advisor, 16% somewhat satisfied, 66% thought English as a second language was a challenge, and 26% thought that cultural differences were a factor. While for postdoctoral scholars 83% were satisfied about their relationship with their faculty mentor, 17% somewhat satisfied, only 34% thought English as second language was a factor, and 50% thought that cultural differences were a factor. More analysis of the results is available in the final report and can be obtained by e-mailing me at satalozi@ucdavis.edu or through Teresa Dillinger.

Parenting in the Academy: a Series of Roundtable Discussions

Bibit Halliday Traut

The strategy of balancing an academic career and family is contrary to the culture of many research universities. In particular, having children is often viewed as an impediment to a successful career. Women students often report that one of their principal concerns in considering academic careers is whether they can also manage a family.

Providing examples of role models of professors balancing career and family is critical to enhance women’s abilities to envision a future in academia. Unfortunately, role models of “balancers” are in short supply. Some may argue that this scarcity reflects the reality that achievement in academia cannot be accomplished without a total time commitment to one’s career. Despite the reliance on this traditional model for doing academia, a new model is emerging as women and men restructure traditional family and work roles.

As a participant mentor in a past PFTF project (Thriving in the Ivory Tower), it became apparent to me that graduate students, in particular women, are looking for models of professors who successfully balance a professional and personal life (“balanced model”). Unfortunately, it is difficult to find examples of practitioners of this new model, making it difficult to visualize achieving a successful career in academia along with a rewarding personal life. In response, I organized a series of roundtable discussions on Parenting in the Academy. The goal of this series was to bring together graduate students, professors, and resource specialists to share their advice, perspectives and resources for balancing family and academia. Men and women were encouraged to participate, as both face the challenge of balancing a professional and a personal life. The three discussions in the series focused on: (1) Parenting in Graduate School, (2) Pregnancy and Productivity, and (3) Parenting and Professorship.

Designing and implementing this series on Parenting in the Academy enhanced my personal and professional development by asserting and confirming my belief and hope that a “balanced model” can exist. The project was a success because it brought together graduate students and professors across disciplines and established a dialogue on balancing family and academia. Furthermore, it offered the opportunity to compile a binder of resources available to student parents within the University of California, Davis community. Finally, this PFTF project helped to establish a network of mentors successful in following the balanced model across multiple academic disciplines.

Making Use of the Portal: MyUCDavis for Graduate Students

Loriena Yancura

Most graduate students aren’t aware of many campus resources available to them.  One such resource is MyUCDavis, a custom made Web Portal available to all students and instructors at UCD.  MyUCDavis provides a virtual space for us to manage UC Davis-related coursework, communications, library services and campus activities.

Its newest feature which was released Spring quarter 2002, is an interactive grade book.

My Professors for the future project was to be a graduate student “voice” in the development of the My UCDavis gradebook.  I was part of the cross-disciplinary committee of Professors and Instructors who designed this feature to meet the diverse record-keeping needs of the teaching faculty on campus.  Along the way, I also became involved in the My UCDavis website builder module, which assists course administrators in building class websites.  I helped Dr. Victoria Cross of the Teaching Resources Center develop and implement a survey to assess the effectiveness of Web CT Pilot Project.  These were both very valuable undertakings because they enabled me to become familiar with the broad range of teaching activities that can be enhanced through technology. 

The final part of my project was to disseminate the knowledge that I gained through these experiences.  I conducted a series of 4 hands-on workshops to familiarize graduate student instructors with the gradebook and web builder modules of My UCDavis. 

This project has been a wholeheartedly positive experience.  My experiences with the Professors for The Future Fellowship Program and mentoring from Drs. Carolyn Aldwin, Victoria Cross, Teresa Dillinger and Rose Kraft have contributed to its success.  As a future faculty member, it is important that I learn to take advantage of technology that will help me make valuable contributions to the academic community.