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Fellows 2018-2019

Science Outreach: How to Increase the Impact of Your Work

Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez

There are numerous reasons why science outreach in any form is essential for our society and our future scientific workforce. Thus, being involved in science outreach in any form is of importance for many scientists including postdoctoral scholars. However, leadership opportunities, specifically mentoring and outreach to engage with the public and K-12 are lacking for postdoctoral scholars at UC Davis.

With the goal of sharing the importance of science outreach and ways one could seek funding and get involved in different outreach activities, I have developed a three-part workshop called “Science Outreach: How to Increase the Impact of Your Work”. The first part of the workshop will include the discussion of the impact of outreach for the scientist, the scholar/participants, and the community. The second part of the workshop will consist of a brainstorming activity for developing participants own outreach activities, and will finish with examples of science outreach activities, several of which I have developed and are published and currently used in different platforms. The final component of the workshop will focus on how to seek funding and resources from departments and private organizations to conduct your own outreach activities. The goal of the workshop is to change perspectives towards science outreach, its impact, and accessibility. 

I am First: Navigating Graduate School through a Proactive Mindset

  • Destiny Garcia

  • Melissa Patiño Vega


In recent years, there has been a rise in interest in supporting first-generation college students. However, the vast majority of support for this diverse population is seen at the undergraduate level. While supporting first-generation undergraduate students brings innumerable benefits to our campuses and communities, it is equally as important to support first-generation graduate students (FGGS). FGGSs have tremendous potential to become important leaders in both private and public sectors, yet many could benefit from additional support academically, personally, and financially in their preparation to become successful, contributing members of our communities.

The need for awareness and advocacy has sparked interest in the development of the symposium: I AM FIRST: NAVIGATING GRADUATE SCHOOL THROUGH A PROACTIVE MINDSET. This collaborative project seeks to provide equitable educational opportunities for all graduate students, and specifically targeting FGGS from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. We hope to cast a safe and inclusive space where graduate and postdoc students can engage and collaborate in overcoming similar challenges as well as establish a support group. Our half a day symposium consists of a series of workshops and discussions guided by community counselors, financial experts, faculty from diverse backgrounds, and diverse graduate students. Our workshop topics are titled as the following:

  • Explaining Your Graduate Journey to Family and Loved Ones
  • Every Penny Counts
  • Real Talk
  • Mental Health

Although this project specifically targets FGGS, the workshop topics touch on hardships that any graduate or professional student can relate to, making it an inclusive space for all members of the UC Davis community.

Mentoring Up in HArCS: Developing Mentoring Relationships in the Humanities

Rebecca Hogue

UC Davis is home to many outstanding mentorship resources, for both mentors and mentees, yet many graduate students struggle to find lasting faculty relationships that aid in their professional development. My Professors of the Future project will seek to address this concern: while mentoring relationships fail for many reasons, many students suffer from unclear expectations about their or their mentor’s behavior and lack the communication tools to navigate mentoring dynamics. Inspired by former UC Davis Graduate Diversity Officer Steve Lee’s essay “Mentoring Up,” which examined two STEM case studies in order to supply mentees with strategies to manage their own mentoring relationships, I am interested in applying some of his research conclusions for HArCS students. In the essay, he presents seven core principles that will facilitate better relationships between mentee and mentor, the first of which is “Maintaining Effective Communication.” While graduate students of HArCS may likely research communication as their objects of study, communicating with one’s mentor proves itself to be entirely different genre with very different stakes given the state of the job market within the Humanities. As part of my project, I will conduct a survey of graduate students and professors in HArCS, and will host two workshops on developing the written and verbal communication skills that attend to the various stages of the mentorship process: acquiring a mentor, maintaining the relationship as a graduate student advances through the program, and professional development. By working with both graduate students and professors in HArCS, my hope is help develop more resources specifically geared toward the needs of graduate students in the Humanities at UC Davis.

Supporting International Graduate Students: Reducing Barriers to Student Well-Being

Leonardo Jo

Graduate school can be overwhelming. Graduate students often find themselves immersed in an environment of supervision and competitiveness while having to deal with different aspects of social and financial insecurity. For international students the pressures of graduate school are often magnified.  In adjusting to a rigorous academic system, international graduate students additionally have to deal with unique sources of stress such as being away from their home country, language barriers, and culture shock. Furthermore, students from different cultural backgrounds may have difficulty talking about their challenges. Many of them carry a burden of stigma against counseling services. Consequently, international graduate students are at a great risk for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. To address this problem, it is important to increase awareness of international graduate student mental health, and to develop educational programs to increase accessibility and use of on-campus counseling services by international graduate students.

To reach this goal, I propose a two-phase PFTF proposal. The first phase will consist in the creation of a pilot web survey that will be distributed to international graduate students during the 2019 Winter Quarter. This anonymous survey will be used to (1) assess the general mental health status of international graduate students, (2) identify common stress-related sources, and (3) assess perception and knowledge of on-campus counseling resources. The second phase of the project will consist in discussing the results of the survey with members of Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS), the Office of Graduate Studies, and Services for International Students and Scholars (SISS). The goal of the discussion sessions will be directed to increase awareness of international graduate students’ mental health and to develop educational strategies to reduce the stigma surrounding counseling services. We hope this proposed work will facilitate international graduate students’ knowledge and use of campus mental health resources, so they may get the support they require from our campus community.

What Grad School Didn’t Teach Me: Managing Finances in Academia

Dovin Kiernan

When beginning their first tenure-track position, new faculty are often alarmed by the amount of financial know-how they need to successfully obtain and run a lab. Although many programs exist to teach grad students and post-docs how to mentor, publish, write grants, deliver presentations, and communicate with the public, there are few resources that teach business and financial literacy. In stark contrast to this lack of training, a key determinant in the success of new faculty is their ability to navigate financial dealings: New faculty need to be financially savvy in order to negotiate their salary and start-up, make the most of grant funding, hire and provide benefits to their employees, source and bargain for equipment, pay their lab’s bills, account for their university’s indirect costs, and obtain and profit from patents. Improving the financial competence of UC Davis grad students and post-docs may thus improve their success as they transition to faculty positions.

The project proposed here will addresses this gap in two phases. In the first phase, three key demographics will be surveyed to better understand the problem and generate solutions. New faculty will be surveyed to identify aspects of their job pertaining to budgeting and financial management for which they felt ill-prepared. Senior faculty who have participated in hiring committees and salary negotiations will be surveyed for recommendations they would give to junior colleagues. And, finally, departmental grant and budget administrators will be asked to identify areas they believe new faculty struggle with, and to provide their insight on budgeting and financial management skills they believe would facilitate faculty success.

In the second phase of the project, survey responses will be analyzed to identify the financial skills critical to success in academia. Building on this knowledge, a workshop that prepares grad students and post docs to manage the finances and business interests of their future labs will be developed and delivered on campus.

Fostering an Open and Collaborative Research Culture

John Mola

Culture dictates success – from sports teams to family units to entire political systems. In lab groups, research programs, or colleges we develop a culture, and in that culture success or failure can be decided wholly independent of the skillset of the individuals involved. This is often apparent in the differences between labs with contrasting cultures, sometimes even right next door. Labs (or any level of organization) with supportive cultures motivate researchers to come to work, to collaborate, to provide feedback, and to advance their shared goals together. In contrast, work environments with toxic or unsupportive characteristics can dampen research interest, slow progress, and ultimately lead to many individuals leaving careers where they may otherwise thrive. This issue can be especially problematic for individuals in underrepresented groups who may already have additional challenges on their career path. This loss of talent affects not only the individuals involved, but our scientific progress at large. Rather than allowing this dysfunction to continue, we should to learn how to become supportive colleagues so we can foster novel ideas and happy, productive researchers. 

My project aims to accomplish this in two ways. First, by providing training to develop skills useful in collaborative environments, such as listening, constructive criticism, and idea building. Participants in these trainings will be valued colleagues with strong supportive skillsets. Second, my project seeks to establish a template for an “open lab meeting” program. Open Lab Meetings are a concept I have worked to develop where researchers across a variety of disciplines can present ideas, practice conference talks, and receive feedback in a non-hierarchical environment. We encourage the exploration of research challenges and do not shy away from looking “unpolished” in our work – that is in fact the point! This program has been undertaken in the Graduate Group in Ecology for 6 quarters now, and I will develop a template for its implementation within other programs.

The Forbes Files: A Series of Podcasts Featuring Native American Studies Graduate Student Research

Rachael Nez

After discovering interviews with Jack Forbes and David Risling in the UC Davis podcast archives, I felt compelled to continue the discussions and research of Native American graduate students. By providing a digital space to discuss their work, I am producing a series of podcasts that will allow graduate students to talk about their graduate research, highlighting and detailing not only the challenges but the rewards of research, community and graduate school.  I look forward to expanding on the wisdom of Jack Forbes and Dave Risling, both prominent scholars in Native American Studies, by continuing the dialogue on the nation building research of graduate students by way of a digital audio file. Through the use of multimedia tools, the Forbes Files will have the capabilities of reaching a broad audience, both educating and honoring the research of graduate students.

Mentoring 101: From Introduction to Implementation

Carlyn Peterson

The “Mentoring 101: From Introduction to Implementation” PFTF Project is a training program for STEM graduate students and post-docs interested in developing their mentoring skills. This project will include a workshop series to include a background on mentoring, what makes a good mentor, how to write a mentoring philosophy, among other topics. The series will consist of 5 workshops, in collaboration with different units at UC Davis, to provide mentors a background on mentoring. A certification will be provided to those mentors who complete 4/5 workshops in the series to allow them to develop their own professional development packets. Mentors will then be matched with mentees through the URC to allow mentors to implement the things they will learn in the workshop series. Surveys will be provided to both the mentors and mentees at the beginning of their mentoring relationships, halfway through the quarter, and at the completion of the quarter to reflect on their mentoring and to provide further resources on evaluating their progress as mentors. The information and surveys will also be provided to those mentors who currently have mentees or who may not be comfortable taking on additional mentees, to allow them to evaluate their progress with their current mentees. This project will serve the STEM graduate student and post-doc communities by providing imperative information on mentoring and documented professional development opportunities.

Having the Hard Conversations: Equipping Future Managers with the Communication Skills to Successfully Lead a Team

Veronica Prush

As graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, our professional development is focused primarily on expanding the breadth of our knowledge related to our research, refining our teaching abilities, and honing our time management skills. Most of us are preparing for careers in the private sector, academia, or policy, and in all of these fields managerial skills are critical. The transfer of managerial knowledge and techniques in academia is largely unstructured and derived primarily by observing the methods of our advisors. As the expectation is that we will continue on in leadership positions, more formalized training in management is critical. I am developing a series of workshops that will focus on providing attendees with a set of resources and discussions targeted at assisting them on their journey to becoming more effective managers, with a primary focus on communication skills and engaging in difficult conversations.

Women in STEM Symposium

Tania Toruño

Many students struggle when deciding career paths to follow after completing their undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate programs. Thinking about academic jobs in fields typically dominated by men, like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can also be intimidating and overwhelming. The perception of not belonging to or not being able to succeed in STEM academic positions, especially for women and underrepresented minorities, is an issue. In order to promote young women to pursue education and careers in STEM fields, I plan to organize a “Women in STEM symposium”. This symposium will be a platform for students at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate) to meet with female STEM leaders at UC Davis and other UC campuses. The goal of the symposium is to create a space for students to have an open conversation with female STEM leaders about their professional and personal experiences, as well as resources that helped them became successful principal investigators. Their stores will inspire the next generation of female scientists to pursue careers in STEM fields.

We Belong: Exploring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Academia

Angela Usher

A diversity and inclusion themed podcast series for and about doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars. Within a sound stage where students and faculty come to exchange ideas, receive support, and promote a sense of belonging while also discussing barriers to inclusion such as bias and unequal access to resources.  The goal of the project is to create a media that students can easily access to learn about other students and their challenges and responses to bias, and what it means to create better environments for discussing topics related to social justice, equality, diversity and inclusion. The intended audience is doctoral and post-doctoral students at UC Davis. 

The primary purpose of the project is for podcasts listeners to explore how others have developed a perspective or framework that has helped them find their voice and connect with communities that support equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as providing a forum for understanding that other students have experienced a sense of not belonging and grappled with, made sense of, and responded to bias.

The Science of Communicating Science with Future Scientists

Ayanna Wade

Being able to communicate science to a broader audience is, and will always be, a necessary skill for graduate students and postdocs. This need could be met at a baseline level by talking to scientists in unrelated fields. However, I argue the best way to hone science communication is to talk with the general public. One way to achieve this is through community outreach. Outreach is a great vehicle for science communication because it benefits everyone involved. It allows graduate students and postdocs to think critically about their field, it allows the public to ask questions and feel assured their tax dollars are well-spent, and it exposes the younger generation to careers in science—among many other things. A challenge with outreach, though, is that it can take a lot of time to plan and execute, which can be difficult to prioritize as a researcher and trainee.

The goal of my Professors for the Future project is to facilitate outreach event creation for graduate students and postdocs in the hopes of making these experiences more prevalent in the community. For my project, I will write a handbook outlining all the steps involved in planning outreach, aiming to limit time away from school and research obligations. Based on my experience, my project will be geared toward individuals interested in leading K-12 outreach, but the content could easily be adapted to outreach for all ages and audiences. This tool will also provide general information, such as the importance of science communication and how to reach broader audiences, that will be useful to anyone, and could inspire new people to host their own event. To expand the reach of my project, I will also team up with another Professors for the Future fellow, Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez, to provide a community outreach workshop featuring content from the handbook for further engagement of interested trainees. I hope that with the resources provided by my project, more people will create their own outreach events, because when there is more outreach, there are more graduate students, postdocs, and community members getting excited about science.

Public Communication for STEM Students

Barbara Wortham

The rapid online consumption of science in the form of blog posts and internet news stories written by all manner of experts means that most Americans have an opinion about many different research subjects. This mass opinion leads to controversy and debate that can impede discourse between certified scientists who work in those fields and the public. My project for the Professors for the Future fellowship seeks to train scientists to discuss their politically charged science topics with members of the public. This year I hope to bring in panelists that approach this problem from many perspectives: a science teacher, a doctor, a political policy fellow with a Ph.D. in a research field, and a science communication expert. Each panelist will explain how they approach this difficult subject and teach a broad spectrum of grad students how to have productive dialogue’s with community members that have a politically based opinion. After the panel, a group of 30 graduate students will get the opportunity to work on a 5 minute elevator talk that includes some of the approaches the panelists suggested and will get feedback from their peers and the panelists on their changes. Science communication is a key skill for graduate students and is a key aspect to our community. The advancement of skilled communicators in science will help other scientists and the UC Davis community broadly.