PFTF Fellows 2010-2011

2010-2011 Professors for the Future Fellows

Beyond the Basics: Course Design, Syllabus Creation, and Advanced Teaching at the College Level and Reflecting on Your Teaching and Crafting a Philosophy

Sharada Balachandran Orihuela

For the Professors for the Future program, I led two workshop series: “Beyond the Basics: Course Design, Syllabus Creation, and Advanced Teaching at the College Level Workshop Series” and “Reflecting on Your Teaching and Crafting a Philosophy.”

Beyond the Basics: Course Design, Syllabus Creation, & Advanced Teaching at the College Level

This workshop series is intended to support graduate students and postdoctoral scholars seeking the development necessary for teaching their own courses, and making the transition from teaching assistant to professor. Thus, the four workshops in the series emphasize the creation of an effective syllabus as well as other important aspects of course design. There were a total of 20 participants in this workshop from fields that included Chemistry, Psychology, French, Theatre and Dance, and Water Resources.

The first week I presented on learning-centered approaches to teaching and asked participants to brainstorm a set of expectations for their students that would easily be translated into a course objectives. The second week was spent critiquing course syllabi, and developing a list of syllabi requirements. More specifically we developed ways to turn the course syllabus into a teaching tool. We spent the third workshop meeting developing a set of first- and last-day activities that would reinforce the work that we want the syllabus to do for our students (give them a reasonable set of expectations, introduce them to the material, etc.). We spent the last day of the workshop peer-reviewing our syllabi.

Reflecting on Your Teaching and Crafting a Philosophy

Teaching statements are often included as part of academic job applications. The goals for workshop participants were to: articulate student learning goals, reflect on personal teaching strategies, organize philosophy components in order to write a coherent essay, recognize and replicate the formal elements of a statement of teaching philosophy, and finally, to create and revise a statement of teaching philosophy. More so I wanted to provide graduate students and post-doctoral scholars with the space and the opportunity to process the difficult task of articulating their strengths as teachers. Ultimately the goal was to help graduate students and post-doctoral scholars prepare for a highly competitive hiring climate. Overall, the workshop was extremely successful. I had a total of 17 participants from a variety of fields including Spanish, Animal Biology, Veterinary Medicine, and Forensic Science.

We spent the first day discussing personal teaching ideas, learning about the elements of a statement of teaching philosophy, converting student learning goals into student behavioral objectives, and discussing key learning components in the different fields represented in the room. Participants were asked to begin writing their statements of teaching philosophy. The second day of the workshop was spent reading and critiquing a varied sample of statements of teaching philosophy. Finally, the last week of the workshop series was spent doing a guided peer-review.

DIY Ivory Tower: A Blog of Tools, Tips, and Tricks for Graduate Student Productivity

Adam Costanzo

The rapid development of information technology has created a gap between the training received by professors in the Social Sciences and Humanities and the newest research and teaching tools available today. This gap disconnects graduate students from critical technological advancements in both research and teaching methods.

For my Professors for the Future project, I developed a web site to host reviews, comparisons, and summaries of the software and hardware tools which graduate students in the Social Sciences and Humanities can use to improve their research and teaching. During the fall quarter I researched web site hosting platforms, eventually choosing Wordpress, an easily customizable and scalable blogging platform. At this time I also brought on board two additional contributors for the site, a staffer from the UC Davis History Project specializing in Digital Humanities and a graduate student from the Cultural Studies program who also works as a trainer for UCD’s Information and Educational Technology office.

Since its launch in January, the site, DIY Ivory Tower (, has received about 3,500 total views. Each month the total hit count and daily averages have increased. For the past month, the site has averaged about forty views per day. Much of this visitor traffic comes from the UC Davis community. The site is mentioned in the Graduate Student Association’s weekly email to all graduate students and appears on a list of UCDblogs maintained by the University Communications office. The site also sees traffic from beyond Davis. Our logs indicate that about 700 visitors have come to the site via search engines like Google where they had entered search terms relevant to the topics covered in our posts.

The topics covered thus far on the site reflect the differing areas of expertise and views of technology held by the three contributors. Our most popular posts to this point include ones detailing software and techniques for electronic paper grading, choosing the proper resolution for images in PowerPoint, saving keystrokes with text expansion and custom hotkey software, sending web content directly to your e-reader, and using video in the classroom without running afoul of copyright law. Comments received on the site as well as those relayed to us in person indicate that UC Davis grads have benefited from the advice and information provided by the site.

Looking forward, I and the other contributors to DIY Ivory Tower intend to continue adding new content to the site. We also hope to bring in new readers from UC Davis and beyond by stepping up promotion of the site and by adding additional contributors. In June, for example, once she has finished her comprehensive exams, a graduate student from the Political Science department, will join the site as our fourth contributor. It is my great hope that we can create a community of readers and contributors robust enough to sustain the project indefinitely.

Communicating Scientific Research to Diverse Audiences: Four Approaches

Kelly Garbach

Many graduate students and post-doctoral scholars have asked, "How can I best communicate my research and results? How can I incorporate good communication practices into my teaching?"

These questions are significant in all aspects of graduate work and professional training. Graduate students present work to diverse audiences, ranging from beginning undergraduates, to practitioners and community partners that may have years of practical experience, and academic experts at professional meetings. We are also charged with mentoring other students in effective communication and presentation skills in the classes that we teach or assist with. Yet many graduate students lack the resources to systematically build communication skills and improve presentations for diverse audiences.

To address this challenge, I developed four vignettes to build communication skills for: general audiences; professional colleagues; community outreach and extension; and short, 6-minute format that emphasizes visual communication for decision-makers. In the spring quarter (2010 and 2011), 56 students in the Agroecosystem Sustainability course worked with these four vignettes; student input from both graduate students and advanced undergrads greatly helped to refine them. Two-page instructions and supporting materials for each vignette will be available through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, starting in summer 2011. I look forward to sharing these ideas with the broader teaching community and hope that others find them useful and interesting.

Building Community for Grad Student and Postdoc Families

Colleen Hiner

Responding to the needs of parents in higher education, this project sought to provide resources, support, and encouragement to parents in various stages of their academic pursuit.

To accomplish this, the project used a twofold approach, using both a virtual space and the “real life” environment to foster and promote mutual support.

The virtual community is a space for graduate students to learn about resources and share ideas, suggestions, advice. The website offers student parents a virtual community with real life resources and advice for navigating through the graduate school process while also focusing on critical issues of parenting*.

In addition, the “Building Community for Graduate Student Families” project featured two campus events for graduate and postdoctoral families. In March 2011 there was a well-attended “Parenting in the Academy” panel discussion featuring speakers from a variety of fields and in a variety of academic positions, including faculty, a staff researcher and a postdoctoral researcher. The panelists, in addition to sharing their own stories, highlighted what works, what doesn’t, what to expect, and what can be done to improve work-life balance for graduate student/postdoc families.

In May 2011, another event, the “Family Picnic and Play-In,” created a social atmosphere for graduate student and postdoctoral families to network and build awareness on campus about graduate families by bringing their children out to play. The event featured face painting, balloons and complimentary snacks. Twenty families/individuals participated as well as numerous joyful children.

Overall, this project, “Building Community for Graduate Student Families,” has promoted increased visibility of the children and other dependents that make graduate student families who they are. By making families visible, graduate student parents have learned more about each other and each other’s needs. In addition, through virtual and physical networking, graduate student parents have been given the opportunity to build mutual support systems and a sense of community.


Teaching Opportunities for Postdoctoral Scholars (TOPS)

Damon Meyer

There are many important skill sets required to be a successful professor in Academia. Traditionally, postdoctoral scholars are trained in conducting original research, formally presenting their work and writing academic grants/articles. However, the absence of training in teaching techniques, generation and grading of tests and lecture/lab preparation results in postdoctoral scholars who lack an important skill set that would enable them to be a successful professor in Academia.

Moreover, new professors are required to teach introductory courses related to their discipline. Therefore, gaining teaching experience and training in teaching practices will prepare future professors for the eventual teaching required of them as assistant faculty.

I have worked to establish a postdoctoral scholars teaching program dedicated to providing valuable teacher training and teaching experience as lecturers by participating in courses taught on the UC Davis campus.  The goal of my project is to establish a network between professors and interested postdoctoral scholars thereby creating teaching opportunities that will develop skills essential to the career development of postdoctoral scholars. This network will consist of available faculty willing to mentor interested postdoctoral scholars, the classes each faculty member teaches and contact information. As a mentor, the faculty member would give instruction on effective teaching practices, lecture preparation and test preparation, administration and grading. In addition, following lectures given by postdoctoral scholars the mentor will evaluate the lecture and give constructive critiques meant to improve future course lectures. The experience of teaching offered by the proposed teaching program would prove to be invaluable for the career development of postdoctoral scholars, further broadening the opportunities available both within and outside academia. 

With the help of Dr. Wolf Heyer, Dr. Jerry Hedrick, Mikaela Huntzinger, members of the PSA, the Grad Council Welfare Subcommittee and many others I have established a framework for how the TOPS program would work. This draft was presented to Grad Council on April 1st where it was well received and the idea was generally supported. During this meeting several issued were brought up which include: (1) The sustainability of the program; (2) Who will take charge of matching students; and (3) How the program will be advertised. Currently I am working on addressing these issues by collaborating with the CETL, PSA and GTC to help with advertising and sustainability. I am also working with the Office of Graduate Studies to further refine the implementation of the TOPS program. I hope in the near future to establish a working list of interested faculty which can be contacted by postdoctoral scholars and can serve as a pilot for the TOPS program.

M3 Toolbox: Successfully Mentoring, Managing, and Motivating Student Researchers

Brina Mortensen and Jennifer Neugebauer

Undergraduates can be a great resource for graduate students, both to assist with their research and to develop mentoring skills and philosophies.  Determining each undergraduate student’s motivation, managing their responsibilities, and providing guidance towards their goals is important for both the graduate student and the undergraduate student to have a successful experience.

Mentoring undergraduate student researchers is near and dear to our hearts and combined, we have mentored 22 undergraduate researchers in our respective labs.  Conventional graduate curriculum does not develop the required skills needed to successfully mentor students.  Because of our own personal experiences and passion to improve our own mentoring skills, we developed mentoring resources for the graduate and post-doctoral community at UC Davis.

Our project as Professors for the Future fellows was to develop the M3 Toolbox: Successfully Mentoring, Managing, and Motivating Student Researchers.  To develop the tools for the M3 Toolbox, we used a variety of methods including literature reviews, interviews with successful mentors in academia and industry, and our own personal case histories.  We incorporated the results from our research into a series of three workshops (one for each “M”) that were held in the spring quarter and were open to all graduate students and post docs at UC Davis.  The workshops were designed to be interactive and were independent yet complementary to each other.  Participants that attended all three workshops received a certificate of completion.  The M3 Toolbox tools we developed include: Communicating Expectations, Elements of a Good Student Research Project, Identifying Communication Styles, First Day Questionnaires for Mentees and Mentors, Tools for Resolution, Identifying Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation, Understanding Different Learning Styles, Establishing Project Ownership, and a personal statement of Mentoring Philosophy.

In addition to the workshops, we developed a website to house the M3 Toolbox and other resources.  This website is available to all graduate students, postdocs, and faculty, and we plan on continually updating the website to keep it an effective and relevant resource.

We feel the M3 Toolbox benefits graduate students and postdocs now and in their future careers. Graduate students pursuing careers in academia, industry, and government will all benefit from improved mentoring, managing, and motivating skills.

Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety

Margaret Swisher

Public speaking is a pervasive requirement for graduate and postdoctoral students; we are asked to present our research at professional conferences and meetings and to lecture to undergraduate students. These requirements for public speaking are common to graduate students in every field of study and there is a lack of preparation and training at UC Davis to help graduate students meet those requirements successfully.

I offered a course during winter quarter 2010 to address this need. I co-taught the class with Barbara Myslik, a graduate student in communication. Lectures from the class were podcast on iTunes and YouTube. The course had two components: exploring the roots of speaking anxiety with assistance from guest speakers in a variety of fields including therapists, psychologists and professors who excel at public speaking; and class presentations with supportive group feedback.

Eighteen graduate students took the course. They came from a variety of fields, including physics, psychology, astronomy, education, nursing, and biomedical engineering. The students focused on presenting their research to both academic and non-academic audiences in an effective way. The students were enthusiastic about the class and gave extremely positive feedback on their class evaluations, indicating that the class was effective in reducing their anxiety regarding public speaking and helped them give more effective and engaging presentations. A professor at the University of Oregon requested the class syllabus and reading list to use in his role as advisor to the campus Toastmasters group. In addition, the lectures have been viewed 150 times on YouTube, with positive comments posted from viewers.

Bridging Clinical Science, Engineering, and Non-Science Disciplines for Advancing Healthcare Research and Practice

Nam Tran

Advances in biomedical technology and healthcare practice can be facilitated by transdisciplinary (i.e., across disciplinary boundaries) education. The synergy of social scientists, engineers, and biomedical researchers serves to augment the experiences of individual graduate student and postdoctoral scholars at UC Davis.

A multimedia transdisciplinary biomedical education program was developed based on formal needs assessment and focus groups consisting of industry, sociology, biomedical, and clinical experts. Experts included members from the UC Davis community, Northwestern University, University of Hawaii, Manoa, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).

Following the needs assessment, a 5-lecture education program was developed and trialed with students from the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering. Lectures included topics focusing on needs assessment, sociological aspects of biomedical research, human subject research ethics, areas of clinical need, and diagnostic device commercialization. Student evaluations guided refinements in the program. The finalized program was presented to graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, resident physicians, and nursing staff at UC Davis Health System and subsequently uploaded to a dedicated non-profit educational NIBIB supported YouTube site ( to enhance outreach.

Metrics of success included post-lecture evaluations and the successful implementation of transdisciplinary concepts discussed in the course by UC Davis students. Overall, the course was highly rated with a mean evaluation score of 4.7/5.0 (5.0 = excellent). UC Davis Biomedical Engineering teams (three teams) successfully applied concepts discussed in the course to address real clinical needs such as: (a) consistent burn wound imaging, (b) waterproof wireless vitals monitoring, and (c) integration of wireless technology for diagnostic testing and social networking.  Prototype devices were developed over the current Spring and have begun preliminary clinical trials at UC Davis Medical Center. Students will demonstrate their work on June 3rd at the UC Davis Biomedical Engineering Symposium and present their data on June 24th at a NIBIB Point-of-Care Technologies Symposium at UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento.

The course not only addresses the need but also meets the need of providing transdisciplinary training experiences to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at UC Davis. These students benefit from interacting with clinicians, business, industry, and social scientists. The course has facilitated enhancements to the undergraduate biomedical engineering curriculum and resulted in the development of three prototype medical devices. These devices not only address a diagnostic need, but incorporate features to address sociological, ethical, biological, and commercial considerations. In conclusion, the course serves as a template for future transdisciplinary courses aimed at meeting a health care need.

Creating an Interdisciplinary Research Environment in the Human Behavioral Sciences

Matthew Zimmerman

There is not enough opportunity for UC Davis graduate students to have interdisciplinary learning experiences.  Many of us are “stove-piped” in our own disciplines and the transaction costs seem too high for interacting with researchers studying similar phenomena in other disciplines.

For my PFTF project, I choose to create an interdisciplinary research and learning environment for students of the human behavioral sciences with the goal of fostering cross-discipline collaboration and, ultimately, publication. 

I initially recruited twenty students from twelve programs in the biological, social and behavioral sciences.  In a series of meetings we discussed interdisciplinary research and collaboration, gave each other feedback on presenting to an interdisciplinary audience (in preparation for the Graduate Interdisciplinary Research Symposium), and brainstormed areas of potential collaboration.  Although the project did not result in a publication effort, the participants did learn an appreciation for interdisciplinary communication and the perspectives of other disciplines.

Additional Fellows in the 2010-2011 PFTF Class (Withdrew Before Completion)

Andrea King  

Jenny Nadaner


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