PFTF Fellows 2011-2012

2011-2012 Professors for the Future

Writing Science for the Public

Lisa Auchincloss

In the STEM disciplines, communication of research results to a broad range of audiences is often key to success and increased scientific impact. Students in these disciplines receive rigorous training on how to communicate with others in their field via scientific journal articles. However, rarely are these students required or encouraged to develop communication and specifically writing skills that cater to non-expert audiences despite the fact that scientists often need to communicate with these audiences for their work to be understood and have a greater impact.

For my project, I developed a workshop series that focused on four basic skill sets within writing science for a non-expert audience: removal of jargon, development of appropriate tone and style, deciding what role to take when communicating with non-experts, and interacting with media outlets. I created four independent workshops that could either serve as a series or stand on their own to develop each of these skills in the attendees. The workshops did not require prior preparation and instead focused on developing and practicing the skills during the two hour time slot to allow graduate students and post-docs to attend without a large time commitment. Each workshop involved at least 20 minutes of independent writing time and three out of the four utilized peer review so that participants could both produce and improve a piece of writing during the allotted time.

Overall, reviews of the workshops were very positive with the main criticism being that more time was desired for writing. Participants particularly enjoyed interacting with peers of different disciplines since they could offer novel perspectives on the presented work. Considering the attendance and engagement level of participants, I feel UC Davis would benefit from continuing to develop low-stress, low-time commitment workshops that teach STEM students skills to communicate with a variety of audiences.

Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety and Improving Presentations

Lydia Beaudrot and Erin Hendel

Public speaking is a necessary skill for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. In order to be successful, we must present our research at professional conferences and lecture to audiences of various sizes and academic backgrounds. Even though requirements for public speaking are common to graduate students in every field of study, there is a lack of preparation and training at UC Davis to help graduate students successfully meet these requirements. We offered a 2-credit course during spring quarter 2012 to address this need. We facilitated a revised version of the course developed by Margaret Swisher (2010-2011 PFTF Fellow).

The course had three main components: (1) exploring the roots of speaking anxiety with assistance from guest speakers from psychology (2) learning the fundamentals of effective presentations from guest speakers from communications and design, and professors with strong presentation skills and (3) class presentations with supportive group feedback. We received overwhelming interest in the course and approximately twenty scholars completed the course.

Leadership Development Series for Graduate Student Organizations

Lisceth Cruz

Studies have documented the importance of student involvement in contributing to a student's academic success. Participation in extra-curricular activities has been identified as a key factor in student retention and graduation rates at all levels of higher education.

This is especially important for students from marginalized communities who are navigating higher education institutions and who often find support groups in the organizations in which they are affiliated. Being a part of student organizations allows students to develop knowledge and leadership skills outside of the classroom. It is through these organizations that students can partake in meaningful activities, help create a healthy work-life balance, interact with students outside their respective fields, and most importantly, create and belong to a community on their campus.

Currently, UC Davis is home to approximately 4,500 graduate students. There are ten graduate student organizations on campus aside from the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and the graduate GSA's in each department or graduate group. Conversely, there are 559 registered undergraduate student organizations serving about 20,000 undergraduate students. Obviously, these ratios dramatically favor an undergraduate student finding a student organization that fits his or her needs. As stated above, all students, both graduate and undergraduate, benefit from these organizations.

Three workshops were offered to graduate students during the course of the year. These workshops provided information on finding on-campus funding opportunities, networking, event planning, community building, and Robert's Rules of Order for leading meetings. They were also intended to provide leadership skills for students who are either currently belong to a graduate student organization or are interested in becoming a part of the leadership of their group.

The first workshop, “Getting Involved: Student engagement in Graduate School,” provided participants with information about different organizations on campus and resources to help organizations in their endeavors. The second, “Getting it Done: Event Planning,” focused on the easy, delegation-oriented methods to plan events as well as providing financing sources specifically for graduate students. Finally, “Getting Productive: Effective Meetings,” explained Robert's Rules of Order for leading meetings, presented methods for garnering student participation and task delegation techniques, and explained the importance of student networking.

As on participant feedback, they felt they had benefited from receiving information about resources on campus aimed towards helping their events occur as well as providing leads to funding. Additionally, participants were able to meet students from other organizations, discuss possible future collaborations, and build a deeper community of graduate and professional students.

These workshops will be offered again in the Fall quarter of 2012. If participants attend all three sessions they will receive a certificate of student leadership. Per students' request, one additional session focusing solely on Robert's Rules of Order will be offered.

Assessing Student Participation and Interaction Using a Real-Time Classroom Observation Tool

Cara Harwood and Luke Peterson

Education research shows that students learn more when they have an active role in the learning process, rather than a passive role observing the instructor. However, current methods for evaluating teaching, such as videotaping and classroom observations, focus primarily on what the instructor is doing, rather than the role that the individual students play in the classroom.

We developed a computer-based observation tool to help college instructors, including graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, gather information on student participation and instructor facilitation in the classroom. The ‘Student Participation Observation Tool' (SPOT) is distinct from other observation methods and tools in that it 1) focuses on students, 2) categorizes classroom interactions in a temporal context, and 3) collects summative quantitative data on classroom interactions. SPOT is the basis for a new type of teaching consultation that will be offered to graduate students and postdoctoral instructors by Teaching Assistant Consultants in the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Many instructors aim to have an interactive classroom where their students participate in discussions, ask questions, and contribute ideas, and SPOT can help instructors assess whether or not they are meeting these goals.​

SPOT has a simple graphical user interface and runs on Mac OS, Windows, and GNU/Linux computers. It is currently compatible with lecture-based or discussion-based courses with up to 100 students. While observing a class, the user clicks a button driven interface whose buttons represent distinct actions of the instructor, individual students, or groups. Instructor actions can be categorized as explaining, questioning a student or students, responding to a student, waiting, or giving administrative information. Student actions can be categorized as asking questions, contributing ideas, or presenting information. Buttons also exist for students working in small groups or individually. Observational notes can also be recorded with the tool. SPOT time stamps observation notes and interactions, along with a unique interaction code, and saves this information in a simple text file. Following the observation, a Python script processes the text file to generate a summary report with tables and plots that highlight data that will be referenced during a follow-up consultation. At the consultation, teaching consultants and instructors discuss results from the SPOT observation and brainstorm strategies to help instructors meet teaching goals.

Scientific Leadership & Management

Matt Jones

The ultimate goal of many budding research scientists is to become a faculty member. However, the skill sets required to be successful during this career stage are very different from those developed as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow. In addition to being a skilled researcher, nascent faculty must develop leadership abilities and become proficient in research and lab management.

In order to facilitate development of these skills I coordinated a workshop series during Spring 2012. The first seminar discussed ‘Project Management in the Lab' from both academic and industrial perspectives. Two speakers from off campus, Michael and Nanny Bosch, described best practice in risk management, team communication and delegation of responsibility and highlighted related courses available through the UC Davis Extension. For the second seminar, ‘Lab Leadership Skills', Dr. Janice Morand from the UC Davis Internship and Career Center led a workshop to reveal how different personality types perceive and respond to scenarios within a lab environment. Participants also completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to reveal insights into their personal decision-making and leadership styles.

The workshops were well attended, with 39 participants from 15 different departments across campus attending at least one seminar. I would like to thank Michael Bosch, Nanny Bosch and Dr. Janice Morand for leading the workshops and Lisa Auchincloss, Ben Reeb and Dr. Jessica Spradley for offering to contribute their PFTF funds towards the cost of the Myers-Briggs assessments. The ‘Lab Leadership Techniques' workshop was generously supported by the Office of Graduate Studies and the Plant Biology Graduate Group.

Personal Finance for Grads and Postdocs

Kristen Kennedy Terry

The goal of my project, entitled “Personal Finance for Grads and Postdocs”, was to provide education, information, and practical tools to UC Davis graduate students and postdocs to assist them in making some of life's most important personal financial decisions.

The impetus for this project comes from the fact that many graduate students and postdocs do not enter the professional world until their early thirties, much later than the average working professional. Because of this, graduate students and postdocs often do not confront personal financial decisions, such as investing and saving for retirement or buying a first home, until fairly late in life. Moreover, because graduate students and postdocs remain in an academic setting for many years, they do not have access to the formal and informal financial information that would be available to them in a business environment.

“Personal Finance for Grads and Postdocs” offered a series of free, on-campus workshops targeted at specific areas of personal finance and facilitated by financial professionals. The four workshops covered the following areas of personal finance: 1) planning for retirement, including creating a budget and managing debt; 2) investing in equities and bonds; 3) understanding income taxes, including college savings plans for dependents; and, 4) qualifying for a home loan. The first two workshops were held in the fall quarter and were facilitated by a financial planner from Merrill Lynch in Hayward, CA. The final two workshops, held in the spring quarter, were facilitated by financial professionals from Davis, CA: Matthew Wehner from Carbahal & Company and David Wiest from Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Each of the four workshops was well attended (20-25 participants) and the feedback received via post-workshop surveys indicates that graduate students and postdocs at UC Davis are very interested in managing their financial future.

Effective and Efficient Engagement of Students in High Enrollment Classes

Kelly Neil

Newly hired faculty fresh out of graduate school often are expected to teach courses consisting of 75, 100 or 150+ students, yet rarely do graduate students or post docs serve as primary instructors for such large classes. Research shows adult students learn most effectively in cooperative learning environments that value performance based activities, students' individual accountability for learning, and instructors who act as facilitators of learning instead of transmitters of information.

To achieve these goals of cooperative learning environments in a high enrollment course is a daunting challenge.

My project for the 2011-2012 Professors for the Future Program consisted of a series of three workshops aimed at helping graduate students and post docs tackle this challenge. My first workshop fostered a discussion among attendees about how we define cooperative learning environments, how these environments can improve instruction in high-enrollment courses, and what kinds of teaching strategies could create such environments. We then discussed how to modify and implement those strategies in the high enrollment classroom. The second event provided attendees to hear from two faculty speakers with substantial experience teaching large classes. These faculty members discussed the challenges they have faced and the strategies they use to facilitate effective learning in their high-enrollment classes. The third event focused on how to discuss teaching large classes in a Statement of Teaching Philosophy (a common job application requirement) and how to talk confidently about these strategies in a job interview. As college classes continue to increase in size and as new faculty members face the teaching challenges that accompany this growth, workshops such as these can equip graduate students and post docs with the skills they need to improve student learning in the high-enrollment classroom.

Digital Storytelling: (Re)connecting Mind and Heart in Academic and Personal Life

Mong Thi Nguyen

For graduate students, the time constraints and pressures to achieve academic milestones, meet deadlines, and pursue research makes it far to easy to neglect the (needed) time to reflect on the people, events, accomplishments, and challenges that have (and continue) to impact our work in academia; especially, the experiences leading up to, during, and after graduate school.

My project offers participants a place and time to reflect on and (re)connect with the influential experiences that guide our heart and mind, connecting our academic and personal pursuits. It is guided simply by the idea that we all have stories to share. Through digital storytelling participants write, record, and share their stories as movies.

This project was originally designed as a series of workshops spanning three meetings to allow participants time to reflect and (re)connect with their journey in academia. However, it was redesign during winter quarter to meet graduate students' demanding schedule and condensed into a half-day workshop. The components of the workshop included: an introduction to digital storytelling, time for writing and sharing stories, tutorials for digital storytelling programs, and a screening of the stories. An additional component was added during spring quarter to address the use of digital media and technology in the classroom.

Three digital storytelling workshops were held in the past year, and although participants did not complete the entire series, participants did share their stories in story circles, and discussed the potential of digital storytelling. I intend to continue this project in Fall 2012, offering workshops and resources to graduate students and postdocs interested in documenting their experience.

Information about this digital storytelling workshop and resources can be found at:

Employment Status and PhD Program Satisfaction among Graduating Doctoral Students The Role of the Student-Advisor Relationship

Ben Reeb

Relatively little empirical or theoretical attention has been given to the role of the student-advisor relationship in relation to graduate students' professional development or overall evaluation of their academic training. In particular, few quantitative studies have examined student-advisor relationship quality as a predictor of doctoral students' future employment or satisfaction with their graduate program.

Participants for the current study graduated from UC Davis PhD programs between 2007 and 2012 and completed the University of California at Davis Questionnaire for Exiting Doctoral Students (QEDS; N = 2,365).Students' perceptions of their relationship with their major professor were examined in relation to employment status at time of graduation and overall satisfaction with graduate school. Findings from one-way ANOVA analyses indicated significantly higher levels of student-advisor relationship quality among graduating doctoral students who had secured post-graduate employment, as compared to students who were unsure about their future employment or who were applying for work but had not yet interviewed for any positions. Ordinary least squares analysis demonstrated that student-advisor relationship quality was a significant predictor of students' increased overall satisfaction with graduate school at UC Davis.

Findings from this project are consistent with previous qualitative studies indicating the importance of the advisor-advisee relationship in doctoral education. The present study extends this work by providing empirical evidence that students' relationships with their advisors likely play a significant role in career success beyond graduate school and predict students' overall satisfaction with their doctoral training, at least among graduating UC Davis students. Given these significant professional and personal implications of student-advisor relationship quality, it may be useful for graduate departments and university Human Resource programs to emphasize the importance of positive, supportive, and mutually satisfying student-advisor alliances and provide accessible and effective support when difficulties in this relationship arise. An important task for future research will be to examine specific risk and protective factors in student-advisor relationships and determine how and under which circumstances interpersonal problems between students and their major professors develop; this knowledge may inform the development of successful prevention and mediation strategies. To this end, the addition of several items to the QEDS (e.g., gender configuration of dyad, advisor and advisee age, program of study, and time to complete program) will contribute to the understanding of the specific underlying processes through which the student-advisor relationship influences student success at the doctoral level.

Power to PhDs: Celebrating Health, Happiness, and Hope. A Support Group for Those Coping With a Chronic Illness or Disability

Jessica Spradley

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars diagnosed with chronic illnesses or disabilities often struggle through their early academic training. Either they are penalized due to misunderstandings or unawareness of their conditions, or if their conditions are noticed then they may be encouraged to leave academia in order to better look after their health.

These conditions include visible disabilities such as permanent paralysis or other conditions requiring assistive devices, but also “invisible” disabilities such as learning disabilities, dyslexia, or traumatic brain injuries. Chronic conditions may include diabetes, cancers, autoimmune diseases, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, panic disorder, etc. To add to these challenges, students and postdocs often move far from home to come to the University, so those suffering from such conditions may have no supportive family or friends nearby during times that are already stressful enough for healthy people.

My project had 3 major components: weekly group meetings, an email listserv, and a website of resources - including a message board, Events Calendar, and other helpful and inspirational information. I organized and facilitated the weekly support groups which are well-attended and continue to provide an encouraging and supportive environment. In addition, family members, friends, and caretakers of those with chronic illness or disability were also invited to attend to help foster a greater network of support and understanding. Participants have requested that Power to PhDs continue throughout the year; thus I intend to continue it as long as there is interest.

Engaging the English Language Learner in the Classroom

Heather Sturman

​​Over the past ten years, international undergraduate enrollment at UC Davis has more than doubled, from 233 to 526 (UC Davis News Service, 2010). These students mix in with the general population, but still occasionally need additional English language support, so they enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses as well as other college classes.

Graduate student and postdoctoral TAs and instructors may not receive the training necessary to help English language learners (ELLs) in their classroom succeed. As an experienced ESL instructor and researcher in the Linguistics department, I provided the support graduate student and postdoctoral TAs and instructors needed as they taught in increasingly multiethnic and multilingual classrooms.

My workshop series, offered during Winter 2011 and Spring 2011 quarters, showed workshop participants techniques they could use to better serve their ELL and native-English-speaking students. Workshop topics included how to address issues of diversity in the classroom (e.g., how to work with students from a variety of cultural backgrounds and how to handle charged classroom discussions); how to develop engaging and inclusive teaching techniques (e.g., icebreakers, games, and group discussions); how to identify ELLs based on their written work and give appropriate feedback; and how to ensure that all students understand the material presented in class. The workshop series also provided participants the resources they needed to help ELLs find extra assistance with their English language and academic subject skills; for example they were told about tutoring at the Student Academic Success Center and online resources. Workshop participants and I broke down cultural and language barriers between graduate student and posdoctoral TAs and instructors and undergraduate ELLs. We worked together to fight against racist ideologies and promoted a more multinational-centered curriculum that gives each student a voice, regardless of language and/or cultural background.

Unlocking the Genres of Academic Writing

Juliet Wahleithner

After talking with several fellow Ph.D. students, it became clear we had each faced a similar hurdle early in our graduate school careers: We knew very little about the academic genres we were being asked to write in our courses. As a result, we were forced to figure out these academic genres on our own. We wished we had taken a class that focused just on introducing us to the genres of academia.

For my PFTF project, I coordinated a quarter-long writing group open to graduate students in the Social Sciences. Eight students from a range of academic fields (Sociology, Psychology, Native American Studies, Community Development, and Education) participated. Over the course of 10 weeks, we focused on writing research proposals and literature reviews. For each, we engaged in a cycle of exploring and analyzing models of the genre and then bringing in our own writing for Focused Feedback sessions. When working on research proposals, we also examined calls for different types of proposals and discussed the different ways of responding to the needs of each specific audience. Additionally, Professor Sarah Perrault from the University Writing Program visited one session to share her expertise about writing literature reviews.

At the end of the quarter, I invited participants to complete a survey I created about their experience, which seven of the eight participants completed. On average, participants rated the content of the workshop as 9.29 (10-point Likert scale). They rated the format of the workshop as 8.86 (10-point Likert scale). Finally, they rated the usefulness as 9.14 (10-point Likert scale). One participant commented, “This workshop was invaluable to me this quarter. Having access to everyone's institutional knowledge was amazing. I think this class should be offered every year!” Participants were also asked to comment on whether the content and format met their expectations and whether the group was useful and to provide recommendations if this workshop is offered in the future. Overwhelmingly, participants responded positively about the experience with comments such as, “It was a good opportunity to gain interdisciplinary perspectives on my work,” and, “I thought the topics were relevant and missing from my graduate group.” Recommendations for future offerings included providing the option for course credit and including more structure for some sessions.

During the final meeting of the quarter, participants commented that they enjoyed the opportunity to bring writing to the group for feedback. We decided to continue the work into the next quarter, but on a much more informal basis. Five members of the group are continuing to meet regularly to write together, share ideas, and solicit feedback.

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