Healthy Living for Graduate Students
A hectic and demanding schedule coupled with a, oftentimes, limited budget make maintaining healthful practices very difficult for graduate students. In addition, graduate studies introduce a whole new set of stressors that can take its toll on both the body and mind.
To address the difficulties graduate students may have in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I organized a series of three events, each focusing on a different aspect of health management. The three topics of interest include nutrition, fitness, and stress management. The project goal is to educate and inform this specific population on how to make wise choices and firm commitments to staying healthy, which will then improve productivity and the quality of life. The project is also an extension of health and wellness projects of past Professors for the Future fellows from the Nutrition graduate group.
The first event of the series was a lecture style seminar given by Dr. Liz Applegate. Dr. Applegate is a renowned expert in nutrition and is the Director of Sports Nutrition as well as a faculty member in the department of Nutrition. Dr. Applegate gave a dynamic talk addressing the nutritional and health challenges facing graduate students that stem from busy schedules, demanding workloads, and fixed budgets. She offered many easy eating strategies aimed at increasing energy level, maintaining weight, and warding off illness. Dr. Applegate and I also generated a pamphlet outlining major points and tips in her talk that the audience could take home and use as a daily reminder to eat right.
The goal of the second event was to promote fitness and exercise by introducing graduate students to fitness and wellness resources at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on campus. In order to reach a large number of graduate students, the Graduate Student Association and I coordinated a traveling version of their weekly coffee/bagel/donut day. This free breakfast event was moved to the ARC for one day, during which ARC representatives provided tours, information regarding all programming available to graduate students, and were on hand to answer questions about the facility. Of course, we also changed the coffee/bagel/donut day to a coffee/bagel/fresh fruit day.
The last event focused on stress management. Dr. Brian Vasquez from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) led an interactive workshop for graduate students that helped identify unhealthy stress in our lives as well as how to manage it effectively. He also summarized the many campus resources available to graduate students for managing stress and promoting well-being.
This project was especially rewarding for me because of my strong interest in health and nutrition. There were several challenges along the way, such as how to best reach graduate students, the logistics of planning an event, and what topics to address. However, I really enjoyed putting the project together and hope I was successful in giving graduate students the tools for healthy living. I certainly learned a lot.
Facilitating Undergraduate Research and Graduate Mentoring
Jeremy M. Davis
Undergraduates at UC-Davis are at an advantage in having the opportunity to work within the world-class research community on our campus. When students participate in campus research, they become an active member of the academic community and develop technical and professional skills that will assist them in finding rewarding employment upon graduation. Similarly, graduate students graduate students gain valuable experience in mentoring and laboratory management by working with undergraduate researchers.
Finally the entire research community benefits because introducing students to the scientific process in action brings new energy to the laboratory environment.
For my Professors for the Future project, I sought to facilitate participation of undergraduates in campus research, particularly through collaborations with graduate students. Therefore, this year, I collaborated with Gail Martinez of the Office of the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Affairs to develop a searchable online database of the research interests of faculty andgraduate students. This database will be the first component of the new Office of Undergraduate Research, and will represent a great improvement over past efforts to recruit undergraduates into the research community.
In this web-based database, faculty and graduate students will post their research interests and positions in their laboratories available for undergraduate students. Undergraduate students will be able to search this database by their fields of interest and email researchers with whom they would like to work. Compared to past databases this database will be:
Large and Integrative: Databases currently available are specific to particular departments and are limited only to faculty members. This new database will be campus-wide, and will include both faculty and graduate student researchers from all of the campus colleges, as well as the schools of medicine and veterinary medicine. This will ensure that interested students will be able to find a position that suits their interest. Furthermore, by allowing graduate students to post positions, they will be able to gain experience as research mentors.
Undergraduate User Friendly: Current databases typically list faculty members by name and require that students visit the faculty member’s website to get an understanding of the researcher’s specific interests. In order to allow students to more easily find laboratories that are exploring questions that they are interested in, using the new database, students will be able to search for laboratories by research interest and the output of this search will contain an undergraduate-friendly explanation of the research conducted by that laboratory and the type of science experiences the undergraduate can expect to gain by working there.
More Current: Databases currently available are out of date, often leading potential undergraduate researchers to faculty members that may no longer even be on campus, much less interested in assistance. This tends to discourage students from continuing to use the databases, and can stall their efforts to find a research position. In this new database, faculty and graduate students will be asked to regularly update their research interests and the availability of research positions. Those that do not update their information will have their database entry reflect this, so that students know that the researcher may no longer be interested in assistance.
Communicating Research: A Seminar Series
Nearly all graduate students at UCD will attend at least one professional meeting to present their research at some point during their graduate career. Presenting an oral or poster paper at a national or international meeting can be an intimidating experience, especially for first- and second-year graduate students who have little or no experience attending such events.
Inexperienced presenters also frequently make a number of easily-avoided mistakes (such as using too-small fonts or confusing graphs) that can negatively impact others’ evaluations of their presentations – and their research! Unfortunately, few graduate students have the opportunity to obtain any formal training in presentation skills for professional meetings. Therefore, I chose to organize a spring-quarter seminar series aimed at helping students to develop clear, well-organized oral and poster presentations and presentation abstracts. One seminar was devoted to oral presentations, one to poster presentations, and the third to writing abstracts.
Because I wanted these seminars to have an informal atmosphere in which attendees would feel comfortable asking for advice, I decided that these seminars would be “by graduate students, for graduate students.” Using ads in GradLink, the weekly graduate student e-mail newsletter, I solicited the help of graduate students and postdocs who had extensive experience presenting their research at professional meetings and/or had won awards for their presentations. These students and postdocs (Kellie Whited [Nutrition], Melissa Salazar [Education], and Alessandro Graziano [Center for Neuroscience]) served as panelists for the seminars. The series was well-attended: 21 students attended the workshop on oral presentations and 7 attended the poster workshop. Additionally, four students who were unable to attend the seminar because of time conflicts requested materials from the poster workshop. The abstract workshop had not yet taken place as of the time this summary was written.
Based on the results of surveys completed by the seminar attendees (18/26 filled out the surveys), these seminars were largely well-received: ratings of speakers’ quality averaged 4.33 of 5 possible points, and attendees gave the seminars an average of 3.8 of 5 possible points for helpfulness. Those students who found the seminars less helpful tended to be more advanced graduate students with some presentation experience. Sixteen of the eighteen survey respondents said that they would recommend the seminars to a friend or colleague, and several stated that they would particularly recommend them to first-year students. Overall, I feel that this project was a success, and I plan to make tipsheets developed by the seminar speakers available on a website that so students will have access to this information after the conclusion of the seminar series.
Writing a Successful Science Proposal
Learning to write effective research proposals is key to a successful research career. Post-Doctoral scholar and graduate students will benefit from early exposure to these skills, but there are currently few opportunities designed for us. Those opportunities that do exist are narrowly focused toward writing the proposal.
To provide an introduction for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, I created a series of seminars to describe the entire proposal submission process. In addition to proposal writing, the seminars introduced a number of other important aspects about the grant writing process. I also developed a series of web pages, in flowchart form, that document the process of proposal development.
The Office of Research provided invaluable support for my project. Over two seminars, Associate Vice Chancellor Lynne Chronister reviewed the steps in proposal writing and submission, including; finding funding sources, proposal development, pre-award and post-award responsibilities, and working with the administration.
Contract analysts Mary Ellen Chaney and David Ricci developed an interactive session using the National Science Foundation's Fastlane submission site as an example, to navigate through the steps required for developing and submitting a proposal here at UC Davis. Topics covered included proposal requirements, preparing and uploading documents, finalizing the proposal, and post-award responsibilities.
The response from participants was very positive, and there have been many suggestions that this become a permanent program in the professional development series. I have worked with the Office of Research and Office of Graduate Studies to realize that goal.
Successfully Preparing for a Qualifying Exam
The qualifying exam is a hallmark of most doctoral programs. It is often the most stressful and intense step of a doctoral student’s schooling. Students often feel lost and are unsure about their preparation.
The level of assistance for graduate students is highly variable and often depends on the student’s graduate program or committee members. While some students are given clear instructions from their program or advisors, others may not be given as much guidance and may be unsure of how to proceed. Yet there are surprisingly few university-level services to specifically support students approaching their exam. A large barrier to providing university-level guidance is the wide variety of qualifying examination procedures across graduate programs. The Office of Graduate Studies allows the format and committee selection process to be determined by the graduate program.
For my PFTF project I organized a workshop to guide students, from all disciplines, through the preparation for their exam. Professor Louis Grivetti presented a one hour lecture followed by one hour of examples and questions focusing on universal “strategies for success” that were applicable to graduate students from all departments. It followed the preparation recommendations developed by Professor Grivetti: understand the qualifying exam, know your examiners, prepare early, reduce your stress, and have an exam day plan. Professor Grivetti’s presentation was based his interdisciplinary, quarter-long qualifying exam preparation class offered by the Nutrition Graduate Group (NUT 298).
The workshop was held once during the winter quarter and once during the spring quarter. It was very successful. Over sixty students attended each workshop, and many eagerly asked questions beyond the two hour schedule. During the first workshop over twenty students filled out a survey to evaluate the workshop. All respondents found the workshop helpful. The primary suggestions for the workshop were: to offer it more frequently, to have a panel of professors from across disciplines, and to provide handouts. Given the positive response of the attendee’s I hope this workshop will continue in the future. The greatest difficulty will be in continuing to find professors willing to provide their insight to the exam process.
Writing and Research Groups for Graduate Students: Getting the Support You Need for Your Work
Graduate students start hearing about the isolation of the academy at the beginning of their programs of study. Because much of what we do involves writing and writing is usually an inherently solitary activity our work encourages isolation and makes it difficult for us to foster the kinds of relationships that would help us cope with the stress of graduate school.
I know from personal experience that being in a writing group improves my writing and helps me meet deadlines. But it also provides a support network in which group members help each other cope with life in graduate school more generally.
This year I have been working with the University Writing Program, Dr. Mardena Creek in particular, to present workshops to graduate students on how writing groups can help them and how to go about forming one of their own. These are small groups, usually made up of students in similar disciplines, who meet regularly to discuss one another’s work. This work can range from seminar papers, to chapters of a dissertation, to conference presentations. Writing groups also provide an excellent forum for practicing conference presentations and for developing poster presentations for conferences.
Participating graduate students, from first year students to students working on their dissertations, have been receptive to the idea of using writing groups. Also, the University Writing Program is considering using such groups in the curriculum they are developing for graduate students, both the small groups I have proposed in my workshops and larger, instructor lead groups.
Graduate (PhD) Student to Tenure-Track Faculty Member: Metamorphosis or Quantum Leap
Graduate students aspiring to be tenure-track faculty members need to focus both on completing their doctoral degree and developing the skills necessary to be successful faculty members. Given that graduate students are usually under a lot of stress not only to meet various deadlines but also to overcome the frustration of pursuing their dissertation project for too long, it is unlikely for them to focus on developing the skill set necessary for the future.
In addition, there is also a lack of emphasis on developing these skills in our graduate program curriculum. Even though one can argue that a postdoctoral scholarship can help in acquiring the necessary skills, in reality, most postdoctoral scholars spend a significant portion of their time in refining their researching skills, but hardly address other issues like teaching, administration, people management, and grant writing among several others. All these put together often results in the inevitable - faculty position aspirant graduate students are forced to make a quantum leap to a highly responsible and specialized position of being a tenure track faculty member.
The aim of my project was to identify key issues that should be addressed by graduate students who aspire to become tenure-track faculty members. I conducted 3 online surveys and over 285 graduate students, 45 postdoctoral scholars, and 60 faculty members responded. They voiced their opinions about what they thought were some of the most challenging issues and how these issues should be addressed. Over 70% of the respondents classified grant writing, identifying and obtaining funding, and publishing as some of the critical research-based challenges that junior faculty members face. More than 77% of the responses identified designing new courses and motivational teaching as the biggest teaching-based challenges. Most people also felt that all the above issues should be addressed by graduate students before starting their careers as faculty members. Two common suggestions included: (i) Graduate students interested in pursuing tenure-track faculty positions should be identified early in their graduate program and given specialized training. This training should be a part of their PhD requirements. (ii) Training should be given at a departmental level (and not campus level) since the approach towards teaching and research is considerably different in every department. Some of the other issues identified were time management, coping with stress, balancing personal and professional lives, and people management for which seminars and workshops were suggested. They also highlighted the fact that several of these already exist in UC, Davis. A detailed report on all the survey findings and statistics will be compiled and submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies and various departments on campus.
Christopher J. May
Microteaching is a teacher training program designed to provide a relatively quick, comfortable, and effective means of getting feedback on one’s teaching style, pedagogy, and content choices. Microteaching was first developed at Stanford in the 1960s as a tool for teacher improvement and has become popular for group/departmental TA training.
The Teaching Resources Center (TRC) on campus currently offers several types of consultation services to individual TA’s, but none geared towards departments or groups of students. Demand for such services has increased in recent years as several departments annually request TRC services as part of their teacher training courses. Since this is often taxing on the TRC’s limited resources, the TRC has considered implementing microteaching for quite some time.
As initially adapted for use at the TRC, microteaching involves a 10-minute presentation to one’s peers of some portion of a lecture, lab, or discussion section. Peers then play two roles. First, as mock students, they both ask and respond to questions from the instructor. Second, as mentors, they subsequently offer constructive feedback to the presenters on their teaching. A Teaching Assistant Consultant (TAC) from the TRC is on hand to facilitate and structure the post-teaching discussion. Thus, TA’s both receive constructive feedback on their teaching in a short amount of time, and also begin to develop a meta-awareness of teaching in providing feedback to others.
This microteaching program was first implemented for the Statistics Department’s teaching course in the Fall. The program was fairly successful, however it turned out that providing microteaching to all 15 students in the class took 5 weeks. This wasn’t particularly “micro” and therefore did not seem to really offer advantages above and beyond services currently offered by the TRC. Microteaching groups, it turns out, should not have much more than five members. While this means that microteaching is no longer a viable solution to departmental demand for TA training, TA’s may still find microteaching to be a valuable service.
In Microteaching 2.0, the focus has been shifted from larger groups to smaller groups of instructors as well as from classroom excerpts exclusively to presentations in general. Graduate students are often interested in receiving feedback on their presentation skills, for talks they give to students, to their department, as well as to colleagues at conferences. Since presentations are intended to be educational, students also therefore receive pedagogical feedback. A publicity blitz on the retooled microteaching has yielded a large number of interested students and response thus far has been very positive. Microteaching 2.0 has been institutionalized by placing an announcement on the TRC website alongside the advertisements for our other services, as well as including a “how-to” on microteaching in the manuals disseminated to TAC program coordinators.
Seeing Past the Present: Helping Grad Students through the First Years of a TAship
Cristina Pardo Ballester
In the Foreign Languages—in Spanish, French, or German for example—new graduate students teach introductory foreign language classes five days each week. Achieving a balance between attending three departmental seminars, a heavy teaching load, and family responsibilities can affect the lives of any new graduate student.
My project follows what Kristen Koster, a PFTF fellow in 2003-2004, started but with some modifications in order to let the foreign language departments understand that there are important issues to address. My project followed two steps:
First, an assessment of graduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences through an anonymous electronic mail-based survey regarding their experiences at UC Davis based on coursework and teaching load was conducted in the fall 2005. A report was presented and discussed with the Chair of the Spanish department. This paper summarized the responses of nineteen grad students in the Spanish department who participated in the anonymous Education and Teaching survey. Comments and concerns from these students were based on four themes: course and research /academic advising, teaching load, lack of materials, and lack of funds. As a result of this report the Spanish department is considering to offer two dissertation research fellowships every year as an award for its TA’s. This fellowship will help those TA’s with the progression of their research dissertations. A second report was also written for the Graduate Council Committee. This report included the concerns and needs of 169 graduate students. After analyzing all responses collected in this survey, I confirmed that the Foreign Languages TA’s have a heavier workload than other TAs. Anthropology and Math students were also spending a great deal of time each week as primary instructors, but they are not as busy as the Foreign Language TA’s.
Finally, I designed two workshops and a panel. The first workshop, Teaching and Technology Talk, was presented by three speakers. During this workshop we learned about SAKAI, MOODLE and other multimedia tools. The second workshop, Human Subjects and Publishing was directed to graduate students who are performing research studies involving people. Finally, a panel Coordination and Language Curriculum of a Language program addressed how best to prepare for the foreign language coordinator’ job. Four panelists from Spanish, German, French and Linguistics departments informed us about: Developing syllabi and selecting textbooks, material development, funding, the preparation or publication of textbooks,ethics of using textbooks by in house faculty, the process of curriculum change, the process of creating new courses and getting them approved among others.
Website for International Students
International students face many challenges today. The events of 9/11 have drastically changed the situation for international students in the U.S. and on our campus. The Service for International Students and Scholars (SISS) at UC Davis does an excellent job in keeping international students updated with the latest Visa regulations. However, many industries and national research institutions now require strict security clearances before employing any non-citizen.
The process of security clearance may take more than one year and international students and scholars need to start the process ahead of time. My original project aimed at collecting information about security clearance requirements depending on institution and academic field. Having visited several career fairs and seminars, I found it practically impossible to provide the entire international community with information of common use. On the contrary, policies and restrictions revealed themselves as so complex and involved that a presentation of this subject on a single website is impossible.
I then decided to design a ‘Website for International Students’ that would present information relevant to all aspects of international life at UC Davis and thus address the entire community. This website inhibits one section on security clearances of the original project, however contains many more links to sources for TOEFL and GRE tests, Tax Information, Fellowships, Services and Organizations, Events, Travel, and a section on Restaurants and Recipes of authentic food. The SISS and the Postdoctoral Scholars Association agree that this website contains a lot of information for international students conveniently located in a single spot.
I think that this project was a success and I hope that the international community will continue to update and extend this valuable database for international students.
Graduate Student Mental and Physical Wellness Survey
Alison L. Sheets
Graduate school can be a mentally and physically challenging experience. UC Davis is very aware of this and supports a number of campus wellness services that address graduate student needs.
For my PFTF project, my goals were to assess graduate student awareness of and need for campus wellness services, and to identify ways that these services could be modified to better meet student needs. In order to reach these goals, I worked with the Wellness Center at the ARC, the Office of Graduate Studies, and Student Affairs Research and Information (SARI) to develop a survey of graduate student mental and physical wellness. The survey was divided into four main sections: stress, time management, nutrition, and awareness of campus resources.
All graduate students were invited via e-mail to take the survey, and 1074 students (29.2%) completed it. This response rate can be partially attributed to chances to win incentive prizes of either a massage or a UCD bookstore gift certificate. The majority of respondents were first year graduate students, and the number for each successive year was slightly lower. Also, a substantially larger number of PhD candidates responded than Masters candidates, 832 and 251 (or 76.6% and 23.4%), respectively. Both of these trends are consistent with UC Davis graduate student enrollment numbers, and thus the sample population can be considered representative of the entire UC Davis graduate enrollment.
A few interesting results obtained from the stress portion of this survey include that sources of stress remain consistent between desired degree goals, and three of the five most often reported stress sources can be grouped as work-life balance issues: balancing research with family or social activities (65.5 %), balancing research with other academic commitments (53.2 %), and lack of sleep (44.8 %). Difficulties making research progress was another frequently reported stressor (54.4 %). The biggest influence on reported stress sources was the student’s year in graduate school. This could be due to changes in academic requirements and student expectations. Fortunately, most graduate students chose healthy ways of managing stress including exercise (64.8 %), watching TV (57.6%), and spending time with friends (50.6 %).
A full report of the survey results will be shared with the Office of Graduate Studies, the Wellness Center, Cowell Student Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and SARI. SARI will post the report online so that it is accessible to members of the campus community. The full data set will also be made available to these campus units, after all identifying information has been removed.
Graduate Student Civic Engagement at the University of California, Davis
The UC Davis Principles of Community recognize, “that each of us has an obligation to the community of which we have chosen to be a part. We will strive to build a true community of spirit and purpose based on mutual respect and caring."
Commitment to this principle guided my PFTF effort to aide a campus-wide discussion on graduate student civic engagement. The project began with the creation of the Graduate Student Community Service Committee (GSCSC). The GSCSC has brought together graduate students dedicated to encouraging other graduate students to be involved in community service by increasing awareness of the opportunities that are available to help in our community.
For the 2005-2006 academic year, the main activity of the committee was participation in a six diverse weekend service projects. These monthly projects were well attended by both non-committee and committee graduate students and our participation was well received. Graduate students who participated in these projects were dedicated and hard working and all of the organizations have requested that we continue to work with them in the future. In addition to these projects, by bringing service organization guest speakers to the campus, creating a useful webpage (http://gscsc.ucdavis.edu), and creating a service opportunities notebook to be used at graduate student events the committee has had success educating graduate students about bringing service into their research, their teaching, and their personal lives. For all of this work, the committee was recognized at the UCD Community Service Awards.
My success in creating the GSCSC has led to the opportunity to participate in the discussion of graduate student engagement. I have contributed in two California Campus Compact sponsored symposium focused on this topic, both of which focused on the need to use the graduate school experience as an opportunity to create professional civically engaged people that will in turn become engaged faculty. One of the main lessons learned at these events was the need for UCD to continue to participate in these discussions which will be possible if Chancellor Vanderhoef become a member of California Campus Compact.
The question of success of my project is if the project is accepted within the community and campus as a new tradition. The community is continuing to request our presence and our membership is slowly growing with more and more campus departments providing support, finances, and recognition. Continued success of my project will be ensured if our campus joins California Campus Compact and continues to discuss graduate student civic engagement.
Complex Systems Network- A Forum for Postdocs
The seminar series on complex systems, which I organized during the first two quarters of 2006, provided a forum for postdoctoral scholars and faculty on the relatively young scientific field of complex systems. It gave postdocs and faculty the opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge on the various disciplines that are involved in the study of complex systems.
The term complex system formally refers to a system of many parts which are coupled in a nonlinear fashion. Most biological systems are complex systems. Many research disciplines are becoming interested in this branch of mathematical analysis because the digital computer has made theoretical exploration of such systems possible.
The first part of the project was to decide on speakers and create a web site for the series. By the end of fall 2005 the list of speakers was complete and the web page went online: http://seminars.cs.ucdavis.edu/. The first seminar took place on January 11.
From there on the seminar series “Science of Complex Systems” ran every Wednesday until May 17, 2006. The seminar was always well attended with 15 - 20 people in the audience. The list of speakers consisted of UC Davis affiliates and off-campus affiliates. In total there were 15 speakers. Eight faculty, six postdocs, and one graduate student presented their work, of which five came from off-campus. Most importantly, the on-campus speakers represented a good number of different departments: Physics (Jim Crutchfield), Mathematics and Center for Genomics and Development (Alex Mogilner), Statistics (Nello Cristianini), Mechanical Engineering (Raissa D’Souza), Psychology (Jeff Schank), Center for Computational Science and Engineering (Robert Shcherbakov and Karoline Wiesner), Institute for Data Analysis and Visualization (Gunther Weber, Ingrid Hotz), and Computer Science (Oliver Kreylos). Every seminar has been audio recorded. And I received an Education Technology Resource Award (ETRA) from MediaWorks at UC Davis to produce audio-slide presentations from all talks. The result will be made available on the web site as a teaching resource.
The final event is a “Town Hall Meeting” on May 17. It is open to everyone to discuss and seek campus input on complex systems topics including: Joint research activities, colloquia and seminars, computing needs, faculty hiring initiative, multidisciplinary grants. This event will hopefully initiate further activities involving postdocs in the field of complex systems on the UC Davis campus.
The series was co-sponsored by the Center for Computational Science and Engineering and the Consortium for Women and Research.