PFTF Fellows 2007-2008

2007-2008 Professors for the Future Fellows

Aiming for Academia: The Roles and Responsibilities of an Academic Career

Robin Altman

This project addresses the need to prepare individuals for the responsibilities they will face if they choose to pursue a career in the academy. Although many graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are heartily interested in pursuing careers in academia, their knowledge of what will be expected of them is limited and they may not have a realistic understanding of what this path entails. 

At the same time, while there is a wealth of information available for trainees at UC Davis about applying for academic positions, there is very little about the roles and responsibilities of these positions. Both graduate students and postdoctoral scholars would benefit from education about the many roles and responsibilities of academic careers.

To address this need, my project will offer a series of seminars that cover topics of relevance to those interested in pursuing academic positions. This series will cover such topics as: (1) merit review and the tenure process, (2) balancing research and teaching, (3) academic service (such as departmental obligations and university service,) and (4) mentoring. A panel of professors from varying academic institutions, such as the University of California, the California State system, and smaller, private institutions will discuss and compare how these responsibilities function in different settings. Each seminar will consist of a presentation by the panel, as well as an open-ended question and answer session. In addition, each seminar will include a workshop element such that participants will be able to organize their own experiences into a plan that will help them better prepare for careers in the academy.

This project will provide an accessible avenue for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to become better educated about the responsibilities of an academic career path, and in doing so, will provide information to help better prepare for these careers.

Bridging the Gap from Scientist to Science Journalist

Wes Dowd

This project explores opportunities for careers in science journalism presented by the societal and institutional need for individuals trained in the sciences to translate complex scientific results for the wider lay audience. This field plays an especially pivotal role in light of global warming, losses of biodiversity, and complex and often contradictory medical studies, among other scientific challenges. 

My proposed PFTF project will provide several events designed to educate graduate students about the science journalism field and to offer networking opportunities. I will organize workshops lead by UCD Internship and Career Center personnel and others that will focus on (a) finding and assessing careers in science journalism (e.g., target audiences, pay scale, job-related travel, advancement opportunities), (b) getting your foot in the door (e.g., National Association of Science Writers internships; American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program), (c) developing examples of your science writing for resumes and portfolios, and (d) freelancing. I will also plan evening socials/networking opportunities with representatives of regional media outlets. These may include “speed career-dating”. Finally, I would like to arrange for a panel discussion of the societal requirements and benefits of clear and effective science journalism. This panel will ideally include current members of the science journalism community as well as UCD faculty members with a particularly strong record of science outreach. This event will provide UCD students with further networking, mentoring, and career-starting opportunities.

Connecting and Integrating Great Ideas

Thelma Garcia

Graduate school prepares students to overcome the many challenges there are in the outside world. In the recent years, the need for multi-disciplinary and hands-on experience has increased. At the same time, UC Davis has a long standing duty to outreach to the local community. 

Fortunately, there are several resources in and surrounding the campus that will help graduate and post-doc students conduct outreach in their communities and obtain the necessary experiences to become successful after their academic education. Unfortunately, these resources are not all in-sync and are not easily accessible by UC Davis students. The purpose of my project is to help coordinate the structure, partnership, and connection between the Yolo County 4-H Youth Development Program, the Yolo County Housing Authorities (Yolo County wide subsidized housing for low-income families) and the Community Liaison Program (through the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis). This project will benefit the graduate students and post-docs and the local community by providing an infrastructure for UC Davis students to work directly with youth in local disadvantaged communities.

This project will help students engage with the community and benefit. This will extend the university beyond the campus promoting solution-oriented research and engagement. This project will enhance this preparation by providing graduate students with means to develop interdisciplinary and teamwork skills through the exploration of various projects coordinated at different levels through the university. Furthermore, this project will foster decision making and stewardship and assist in the scientific, technical, organization and educational assistance between UC Davis graduate and post-doc students and the local community.

The success of this project will be assessed by conducting weekly discussions and reflections under the Community Liaison Program coordinator and director Joyce Gutstein. There will also be a quarterly report describing the process made. As part of this project, I will be holding meetings with the 4-H group, the Yolo County Housing Authority executive director Lisa Baker). Secondly, Aarti Subramaniam (PFTF fellow 2006-2007) will provide me with guidance on this project as it builds on her project. The resulting product network will be shared with Aarti so she can provide a further network through her current position at the UCD 4-H Center for Youth Development. We are hopeful that this project will be continued once the infrastructure is in place and generations of graduate and post-doc students will benefit from it.

Women in the Academic Pipeline in the Physical Sciences: What Women are Getting Versus What Women Want

Andrea Mitchell Goforth

​In the academic year 2006-2007, women constituted only 14% of chemistry, tenure-track faculty positions at the United States top 50 academic research institutions, as determined by total research expenditures according to a recent issue of Chemical and Engineering News.‡ Other reports have indicated that in the other physical sciences, the percentage of females in academia is even lower, although across the sciences the percentage of Ph.D.s awarded to women approaches the percentage awarded to men. 

This research project aims to identify reasons for the disparity in the number of women physical scientists “in the academic pipeline,” i.e., those pursuing advanced degrees in chemistry and physics, versus the number who chose an academic, tenure-track position upon completion of their degrees.

Several important issues could perceivably be the cause of the low representation of female scientists in the university setting versus the percentage of their Ph.D. counterparts in industry. Some of these include: concern for balancing the demands of the tenure-track with the those of family life, fear of isolation or lack of camaraderie in the absence of other females, tales of gender bias in strongly, historically male-dominated disciplines, and the lower pay scale. The goal of this research project will be to determine the key factors in the decisions made by female physical scientists in choosing between an academic or an industrial career.

‡Marasco, Karen. “Women faculty gain little ground.” Chemical & Engineering News 84 (2006):5860.

Active Engagement: How to Develop Programs Which Address Community-University Linkages

Margareta Lelea

How can we create bridges between our work in the university and the needs of our local, global and transnational communities? Although concepts of engagement and academic service are integral to university philosophy, particularly at land grant institutions, actually creating and maintaining effective linkages while fulfilling all of our responsibilities as graduate students, post-doc's and faculty can be challenging. 

How can we integrate these needs in a sustained way so that these efforts are not seen as something ‘extra' that we do, but instead as something integral? How can we foster the potential of this environment to be a catalyst for change? How can we institutionalize our projects so that the linkage isn't broken when we leave? How can we learn from the institutionalization process so that we can be better equipped to create programs in other institutional contexts?

Graduate students are often discouraged from doing innovative projects with phrases such as, “That is a great idea, but who is going to do it when you leave?” or there is the perennial, “You need to focus on graduating”. New faculty faces the threat of not getting tenure if they “waste their time on too many projects”. Are these concerns justified or is there a way of finding reconciliation among these needs?

The campus' Strategic Plan outlines a strategy of campus-community engagement to “Contribute to the solution of society's most pressing problems locally and around the globe through disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, life-long education and community partnerships”. Building on the previous research of PFTF fellows linking graduate education with community service, this project aims to develop a series of workshops which will help us develop skills for creating and managing programs within the structure of the university which integrate these multiple goals.

Broader Impacts 101: Strategies for Integrating Your Research with Educational Outreach

Anne Leonard  and  Joshua Hull

Pursuing a career in academia, researchers often find that funding and promotion are based not only upon intellectual merit, but also upon their research's "broader impacts" on society. According to NSF materials, examples of this broader impact might include demonstrating a commitment to mentoring young researchers, facilitating the involvement of under-represented demographic groups, and sharing research beyond the scientific community. 

For graduate students doing basic research or facing pressure to publish and progress towards their degree, pursuing broader impacts in a meaningful way can be a challenge. Beyond professional advancement, researchers may have an underlying interest in using their expertise to benefit society, but be unsure how to pursue this goal efficiently and in a manner that makes direct use of the skills gained in graduate education. Since the public may be reluctant to fund projects that researchers cannot explain to them, however, such community engagement is often crucial to career longevity.

Our project will create an easily accessible web resource that both brings together the diverse array of current campus resources (e.g. outreach groups, mentoring programs) and also presents straightforward, creative ways for graduate students to connect their research to the broader community (classroom visits, local media, websites).

Improving "Effective" Communication Between International TAs and Undergraduates at UC Davis

Paul McPherron

​At UC Davis, all International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) take a spoken English test, called the SPEAK test, which is used by individual departments to grant teaching assistantships. Differences between the test and actual English practices of ITAs have led me to question the use of campus-wide language policies for ITAs at UC Davis; however, it is not clear what alternative spaces or university practices could replace proficiency exams such as the SPEAK test. 

My PFTF project aims to address this issue through two main components. First, I will create a focus group of TRC administrators, ITAs, graduates students, and other individuals interested in ITA policy and programs. This group will review the SPEAK test and other ITA language policies that are primarily connected to the TRC. The focus group will make recommendations for changes in the SPEAK test and grading rubrics, and perhaps devise new policies for determining how international students receive teaching appointments. A second component of my project will be the creation of workshops on ITA language use and teaching styles geared toward undergraduate students. Creating workshops in the residence halls will be an attempt to focus on undergraduates as well as ITAs in addressing the problem of teacher intelligibility.

One workshop series or review of policies can only be an initial step in dealing with the issue of ITA intelligibility and cannot solve all problems, but hopefully the lasting impact of the focus group's proposals and the workshops will be to re-cast the issue of ITA intelligibility as a campus-wide issue, not simply an ITA issue.

Dissertation Focus Group

Louis Moore

For my 2007-2008 project, I am creating a focus group for graduate students working on their dissertations at UC Davis. The main objective is to provide students at the dissertation level with support among their peers. The focus group will utilize Smartsite so members can ask questions about sources and send segments of their dissertation for peer editing. In addition, the group will create an interdisciplinary community in which members can share their research in informal presentations. 

The most important function of the focus group is that it will allow graduate students to receive advice and information from members that work in different disciplines outside of their own. The goal for many of us as we research and write our dissertation is to be as interdisciplinary as possible. However, the majority of us do not seek help or assistance from other students or professors in different departments. Thus the focus group will create an instant network of students from different disciplines to share their work. Being part of the interdisciplinary community will provide members the advantage to submit their work for group members to read and offer feedback. This will provide the student invaluable assistance on their dissertation and enhance the quality of their work.

Lastly, the focus group will serve as a community for the members to network with other graduate students. Participants will be encouraged to share information about conferences, fellowships and jobs that can help other members of the group with their professional development. By coming together as a community of scholars that all recognize the importance of networking with our peers, members of the focus group will benefit from their involvement.

Incorporating Cooperative and Inquiry-Based Teaching in University Science Classrooms

Jessica Oster

As a teaching assistant for geology labs and discussion sections, I often ask myself: How can I better engage my students? How can I foster a productive learning environment in my classroom and make my students comfortable with challenging material? 

Graduate students in the physical sciences are often confronted by these questions when they teach concepts that seem difficult or abstract to students. The purpose of my project is to educate graduate students in cooperative and inquiry-based approaches to teaching. These methods incorporate hands-on activities and small-group work into science lessons, and they have been shown to improve student understanding of difficult concepts and promote critical thinking, especially among female and minority students.

My project will focus on discerning how, as teaching assistants, graduate students can incorporate cooperative and inquiry-based learning techniques into their classrooms, while working inside the framework of university physical science courses. Building on the work begun during the 2006 – 2007 Professors of the Future Program, I will offer workshops for teaching assistants and graduate students to discuss methods of incorporating cooperative and inquiry-based learning into the UC Davis science classroom. A panel discussion with UCD physical science professors and employees of the Teaching Resources Center will provide graduate students with an opportunity to ask professors about their views on using cooperative learning as well as introduce them to some of the statistics surrounding the success of these methods in college classrooms and the resources available to them here at UC Davis.

In addition to this, I plan to create an internet-based resource to provide graduate students with the tools they need to incorporate these techniques into their classrooms. This website will provide general information about cooperative and inquiry-based learning as well as links to articles about the topic and campus resources that graduate students may utilize. I also hope to include a database of hands-on activities that graduate students can incorporate into their lesson plans. This database will be designed as a wiki that will allow graduate students to search for hands-on classroom activities by topic, to review these activities once they've used them, and to add their own activities to the website. In this way, I hope to build an online resource that will help graduate students from all the physical sciences and that will outlive my time in the Professors of the Future Program.

Academic Leadership: Learning How to Manage Research Personnel

David Sela

It is widely regarded that current graduate and post-doctoral training lacks adequate preparation to manage people within a research group. This deficiency often results in a considerable expenditure of time and effort by new faculty members who are compelled to develop management skills by trial and error. The nature of professional interactions within the academy is unique in that a clear delineation of management, mentoring, and collaborative relationships is not always readily apparent. 

However, successful management approaches can be utilized irrespective of one's field and relationship. As most academic disciplines involve a degree of working with and managing junior researchers, the establishment of a successful research program is predicated on motivating individuals from a leadership position.

The power to direct personnel is linked to the responsibility to optimize the effectiveness of the research program and confront problems within the group dynamic as they arise. Common challenges include managing individuals from diverse backgrounds, with different goals and abilities, or at different stages of professional development. Clearly research personnel vary considerably and thus require distinct strategies to better motivate them within the context of broader programmatic goals. Accordingly, effective management can be enhanced through judicious recruitment to the group or the removal of a counterproductive member if warranted.

In order to provide training for the next generation of campus leaders, I will conduct a series of management workshops for graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. Initially I will interview representatives from various academic disciplines to best address concerns relevant to the broadest fraction of the campus community. Subsequently, I plan to recruit faculty members who possess significant experience in personnel management to lead the workshops. A workgroup consisting of faculty presenters and other interested parties will be established and linked by a SmartSite online course and collaborative project tool. In addition to the workshop series, a public website will be created to host presentation materials as well as links to external resources. In order to measure success of this project, and to better inform future workshop organizers, participant surveys will be distributed and reviewed. Ultimately the goals of this workshop series will not be fully realized until participants obtain leadership positions and have the opportunity to implement management approaches. Therefore an effort to track participants in subsequent years will be initiated. If effective, this PFTF project may serve as a template for regular management trainings offered to the UCD campus community.

Tips and Procedures for Writing a Dissertation

Yoko Tsubota

The purpose of writing a dissertation varies. But what dissertation writers have in common is that they all must complete it. Despite the great ideas and ability to conduct research, however, less than half of graduate students admitted to doctoral programs at UC Davis complete them. 

The aim of the PFTF project, “Tips and Procedures for Writing a Dissertation” is to support graduate students who are at different stages of their dissertational work (i.e., planning, writing a proposal, collecting data, and writing the dissertation itself). “Tips and Procedures for Writing a Dissertation” is a workshop series that will discuss issues of concern to students and provide practical tips and procedures for each stage of dissertation writing. The workshops will cover writing as well as other skills associated with completing the dissertation process, including overcoming writer's block and advisor-advisee communication.

The tips and procedures introduced in the workshops will also be valuable in post-graduate writing. Writing a dissertation is not just about writing nor is it the end of education: rather, it is a process of learning to become an independent scholar.

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