PFTF Fellows 2014-2015

2014-2015 Professors for the Future Fellows

Developing a Smartphone App with UCD Graduate Student Resources

Rachel Anderson

There is a wealth of information, support, and help available to UC Davis graduate students from many different avenues, and my goal was to make accessing these resources as convenient and simple as possible.  Most graduate students today have smartphones: they’re invaluable for communicating with students, peers, and faculty, and for accessing key information anywhere, anytime. 

I worked on developing a framework for a smartphone app that allows access to graduate student resources quickly and easily, with the ultimate goal of helping my peers feel confident and more prepared for the unexpected ups and downs of graduate school life.  The app has launched in the Google Play store (searchable as "UCD Grad Student Resources", from developer RBAnderson) and is available for download on any Android phone.  The main page currently features icons including upcoming GSA events and workshops, important contacts, a campus map, and links to vital resources.  This framework will continue to be updated as I receive feedback from the campus community about what resources are most valuable and useful to them. 

In the future, I am hoping to partner with an incoming fellow or other community-oriented individual to expand the reach of this app to iPhone users.  This project will continue to enhance the campus community by encouraging graduate students to seek support and information for challenges that they face, when asking for help isn’t always easy, and by increasing awareness of the many services available.​

Supporting and Preparing Graduate Student Parents in Academia and Beyond:  A Networking Cooperative for Student Success

Mariama Gray

Parenting graduate students face unique challenges to completing their degree and securing employment in academia.  Graduate student parents lack access to numerous essential resources, including help with publishing, mentoring, effective teaching training, and fellowships (Spalter-Roth & Kennelly, 2004).  Resources may be offered at times that conflict with parenting responsibilities, leading some to believe that parenting is incompatible with academia.  At UC Davis, current parenting graduate students work toward degree completion in a climate of stretched fiscal and human resources and in a structure that is modeled after the childless graduate student.

Drawing on my experience as a graduate student and mother, my PFTF project sought to create a network for parenting graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, and offer professional development that meets the needs of this unique community. In Winter Quarter, Professor Sarah Perrault facilitated a workshop on writing a literature review at Solano Park.  Students not only learned how to write or improve a literature review, but they also answered a survey about their most pressing needs and interests. Undergraduate community service volunteers provided free childcare for the parents who attended the workshop and light refreshments for all participants and their families were served.  In response to the survey data, I organized a mixer for the parenting community at UC Davis.  A wide cross-section of university graduate students attended the mixer, and asked that they be held regularly to build community.

In Spring Quarter, I partnered with GAAAP, UWP, and the WRRC to organize a series of events that would meet the needs of the surveyed students.  With GAAAP, I organized three parenting circles for parenting graduate students of color to discuss best practices, thriving strategies and shared living experiences.  The parenting circles, based on an indigenous pedagogy of talking circles, were designed to build community and interconnectedness.  The second series of events I organized through a grant from the WRRC was a monthly mixer at the Davis Farmer’s Market.  The potluck mixers, open to the UC Davis parenting community (graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, professors and staff), occurred twice during spring quarter and drew a wide audience of scholars from across the university.  The final series of events included writing retreats facilitated by the UWP: WAC.  Each retreat featured a two to three hour quiet space for writing, UWP writing consultants and light refreshments.  The third writing retreat focused on strategies for parents who are balancing their family and graduate school.

Postdoctoral Research Symposium

Kaisa Kajala

UC Davis has a large community of approximately 800 postdoctoral scholars, and they contribute greatly to the research carried out on our campus. Nationwide, 50% of first authors on scientific publications are postdoctoral scholars. In order to highlight and celebrate the excellent postdoctoral research carried out at UC Davis, I chaired an organizing committee of the first annual UC Davis Postdoctoral Research Symposium. The symposium was held on May 14th and it was a day-long event on with 54 oral presentations and 50 poster presentations by postdoctoral researchers from 50 different departments. The concurrent talk sessions were grouped thematically, and examples of the session titles include Tools for the Future and Changing Environment & Sustainability. In addition to the postdoctoral presenters and the organizing committee members, the nine sessions were chaired by postdoctoral researchers and many of our judges and volunteers were postdocs.

The Symposium provided over 100 postdoctoral researchers with training and networking opportunities unlike anything else on campus so far. Furthermore, we were able to provide coffee, lunch and awards ceremony catering, as well as $500 awards for the fourteen ­best presentations due to generous sponsorship from Graduate Studies, Office of Research, School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, College of Biological Sciences, School of Medicine, Divisions of Social Sciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences in College of Letters & Sciences, College of Engineering, School of Education and Betty Irene School of Nursing.           

The event itself attracted over 270 attendees. The feedback has been enthusiastic and positive so far, and the planning the event for 2016 is about to start.  

Preparing Graduate Students for the Job Market

John Kincaid

This project was focused on getting graduate students useful information about the skills and tools that they would need to be successful on the job market. The project tackled this problem through two seminars, the first on gaining in-classroom teaching experience through the community colleges, and the second giving students multiple perspectives on what different academic institutions are looking for in successful candidates.

The first seminar focused on multiple aspects of teaching at a community college as a graduate student. A panel consisting of two graduate students who had taught in the community college system, and a community college department chair, shared their experiences with graduate students. Topics included the process of how to seek and successfully obtain employment, time management, and the unique challenges presented in the community college classroom.

The second seminar hosted a panel of professors from various academic institutions. In attendance were two professors from UC Davis, a professor from CSU Sacramento and a professor from Solano Community College. The panel discussed what they and their colleagues looked for in a candidate when they took part in hiring. Topics included how to tailor application materials for the different institutions, ways to gain and frame experience and strategies for preparing for the job market.

Overall there seemed to be high demand among the UC Davis graduate community for this type of information. Our programs often do a good job of preparing us for work within a research institution but often overlook the fact that many graduates are looking for careers in other institutions. Giving students exposure to avenues to pursue employment in other academic settings, and strategies for preparing their application packages is a vital tool in preparing them for careers after their graduate work. 

Getting Your Research Out There: Pitching Your Story and Working with Your Press Office

Sara Kross

For young academics, media attention can lead to better chances at future funding, job opportunities, and potential collaborators. One of the most common and effective ways to broadcast your research to the media is through working with the University’s Strategic Communications team to construct a press release and media plan. However, students are often unaware of this service, and just like journalists, press officers are very busy. UC Davis has seven press officers in the office of Strategic Communications to cover the research of 5,000+ faculty and staff and 4,500+ graduate students. Therefore, it’s important for young researchers to understand what a press officer is looking for in a science story, and how to frame their communications with a press officer to maximize interest.

For my PFTF project at UC Davis, I developed and ran a two-hour workshop in April 2015 on how to ‘pitch’ your science story and work with your press officer. Three professional science communicators participated as speakers and to help participants brainstorm and develop ideas. Participants learned about the basics of developing their message: including how to identify jargon, identifying audiences that their research would be interesting to, and developing interesting analogies and anecdotes for adding interest to their stories. Participants heard from our speakers about the benefits of working with a press officer and best practices for working with a press officer, including when to make contact, what to expect from a press officer, and why going through a press officer increases the likely media coverage a story will receive. Participants then practiced pitching their research stories in small groups and received feedback from our speakers. Participant feedback was extremely positive and revealed that while students wished they had more time to work on their pitches, they likely wouldn’t have attended a longer workshop. Workshop participants were invited to attend the April CapSciComm networking social in downtown Davis following the workshop, where local science communicators get together to talk about getting science into the media.  A website has been developed to include the content covered in the workshop and make these resources available to people who weren’t able to attend in person. 

Preparing for Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fields

Chris Lopez

Students attend graduate school, in essence, to prepare for successful careers. Yet, at research universities including UC Davis, STEM graduate education focuses largely on funneling students into research-oriented careers. While fundamental research is certainly a worthy goal, realistically only a very small percent of doctoral candidates proceed to become a principle investigator, leaving the remaining students to venture into unknown fields to find career positions. Even if students can identify potential paths after graduate school, deficiencies in non-research skills can translate to a less-than-impressive candidate on job applications and during interviews. UC Davis offers many resources to improve these “soft” skills, but often identifying skills needed for a particular career is disconnected from finding that resource on campus.  

My PFTF project continued the work initiated by a former fellow to help STEM graduate students identify potential careers and develop skills while in graduate school that will allow them to be competitive in a diverse job market. Initially, I identified four main institutions that represented a variety of career types: teaching positions in community colleges, teaching/research at California state universities, science industry, and government. For each institution, I organized a seminar with invited speakers to discuss their experiences in their fields, the common traits of successful candidates, and how to find these positions. Each seminar was attended by 20 to 30 graduate students and postdocs, with positive feedback from both the attendees and the invited speakers.

Connecting graduate students with the resources to enhance their skill sets, including providing an arena in which to network with members in different fields, in a worthwhile enterprise and necessary to ensure UC Davis continues to produce strong candidates for diverse careers.  

The Writing Partner Program

Daniel Moglen

Writing is a task required by every graduate program, yet few resources are offered in the way of writing support.  As a result, for many students writing becomes at the least a burdensome task, and at the most a barrier to finishing their graduate program.  The Office of Graduate Studies offers a variety of writing resources for graduate students and Postdocs, including classes, workshops, and individual consultations, but offering these programs requires significant time and energy, and only serves a small percentage of those students seeking help.  Additionally, these already existing programs do not tap into a deep pool of resources that are prevalent on campus, namely other graduate students. 

For my Professors for the Future Project, I created and launched The Writing Partner Program, a program that forms peer-to-peer writing support groups for graduate students and Postdocs.  I see this program acting in conjunction with the writing resources that already exist on campus, and serving additional student populations – those that want to meet regularly with other students to write, talk about their writing, and provide mutual support.  In addition, I have created materials to give to the writing groups to help them self-facilitate their groups, and I have co-led two workshops (Winter and Spring Quarters), with Dr. Alison Bright, on the topic of how to structure an effective writing group.

Currently there are over 80 students enrolled in the program, with over 20 active writing groups.  The Writing Partner Program has become institutionalized, and will be overseen by the University Writing Program in the coming years.

Davis Families Website: An Online Resource Center for UC Davis Families

Lloyd Nackley

A critical challenge for many graduate students and postdoctoral scholars is how to advance a research career while balancing the demands of parenthood. My goal was to establish a web- based resource center that targeted different phases of parenthood and provided reviews of family friendly restaurants and events, links for existing babysitting co-ops and other “mom and dad” groups.
At the most basic level I have achieved my goal. A website specifically for parents in Davis now exists!  Unfortunately, I do not believe that, as of today, it is a finished product. To compare my website with a physical resource center, it’s like I’ve rented a building and supplies are still in boxes.
I spent considerable time learning about the different website hosting services; and I surveyed, polled, and debated others about a suitable website name. I choose Weebly because of cost and services provided (e.g. analytics) and purchased the domain name from Google Domains, because it was half the price of Weebly. In hindsight, I would say that deciding between Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress etc., or Google Domains, Amazon, GoDaddy etc., is not a big decision. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. The real challenge is filling the website with appropriate content. currently offers an events calendar with links and information to family-friendly activities in the Davis and Sacramento area. I believe that the calendar will be incredibly valuable for families who want to get out of the house, but do not know what’s going on. Additionally, I have organized a comprehensive list of the pre-schools available in Davis. I wish such a resource existed when my wife and I were searching for a preschool for our son. I also have links and information about the public school options for older children and a section on hospitals and health care is currently under development.

Although is in its beta stage and will be tested, I will continually add, build upon, and improve the site throughout the year. I know that this ‘one of a kind’ resource for will be a useful tool for graduate students, postdocs, and other members of the UC Davis community transitioning into parenthood.

​​Finding the Right Lab for You: Helping First Year Science Graduate Students Navigate Rotations

Gavin Rice

For new graduate students, setting up and carrying out laboratory rotations can be an intimidating and stressful experience.  These lab rotations are vital for both Principle Investigators (PIs) and students in order to determine if the lab is a good fit.  However, the first step in determining which PIs to contact and even writing the initial e-mail can be daunting. Many labs do not take students due to funding and budgetary restraints, and it is difficult for new students to know which labs are accepting students and which ones are not.  It is often the case that new students frantically look for lab rotations and make rushed decisions while trying to balance their time taking classes and adapting to graduate school. Even when new students find a rotation, it can be overwhelming to determine what to do next if their rotations have not produced a desired match, or to decide which lab to join if there are multiple offers. Most graduate programs at UC Davis try to address these issues of lab rotations during orientation, but there is a strong need for additional resources throughout the year for this stressful transitional period for new graduate students.

In order to address this need, I held 3 workshops focused on: 1) how to find professors that match the student’s interests, 2) how to improve the students experience for their subsequent rotations and 3) my final workshop addressed how to talk about difficult questions with their professor, such as funding, and the percentage of time that the student will be on a Research Assistantship or a Teaching Assistantship.  I provided worksheets for each workshop that ranged from a checklist of what questions students should ask their professors and fellow graduate students during a rotation to a worksheet where students could match their preferences for a lab environment with each professor they worked with. 

At the conclusion of the each seminar, I anonymously surveyed the attendees and found that all respondents found the seminar helpful, with the worksheets and tips being the most useful to them.

Sharing Science: Communicating Research to General Audiences

Sara Robinson and Watumesa Tan

The science community produces vast amounts of data and its discoveries at rapid speed. There is a need for scientists to discuss complex research findings in a clear and concise manner with members of the public to promote a more engaging role for science in the public eye. As blossoming scientists, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars primarily gain their science communication skills in lab meetings or conferences where the participants are familiar with the focused subject. Many scientists struggle to explain their research in simple and relatable ways to those outside their field of study, and to utilize widely accessible and far-reaching outlets for this purpose. Through our project, we attempted to create a bridge that connects scientists to those outside their immediate field.                                                                                             

Our project was focused on exposing graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to effective communication methods and avenues to explain scientific concepts and research.  We organized three workshops centered on the theme of communicating science to non-expert audiences using various techniques and modalities, including different social media applications. 

The first workshop introduced several key concepts of communicating science to a broad audience. Participants worked in groups to complete activities that demonstrated the importance of recognizing the diversity of knowledge and thought processes represented in a potential target audience, as well as the value of utilizing the active voice when discussing research findings. The workshop concluded with a discussion of strategies for teaching science and research techniques to K-12 audiences.

The second event aimed to provide an overview of important aspects of using social media to communicate science and research findings. Participants received information about defining their goals for using social media and the type of message they want to send, deciding which social media platforms would be best for the type of audience they want to reach, and the importance of personal versus professional identities when using social media. 

The third workshop encouraged participants to practice using effective communication techniques and social media strategies to describe, share and promote their own research. Individual participants wrote and refined their research stories, and then worked in pairs to craft brands or slogans based on their research and personal interests that they could then use to guide and promote consistency in their social media endeavors.

The significance of this workshop is two-fold. The ability to pass on complicated concepts and information in an effective manner can help scientists successfully engage in academic settings as well as a variety of public interactions.  Scientific communication skills are useful for academic and career purposes such as writing compelling grant proposals and discussing complex ideas with students in a manner that captivates interest and encourages understanding. Most importantly, in order to promote learning, to solve critical problems, and to gain recognition of the value of their work, it is crucially important that scientists participate in the public arena by sharing research findings in comprehensible, interesting, and easily accessible ways that engage and mobilize the community. 

Assisting Multilingual Students in the Writing Classroom

Leilani Serafin

English-language learners are one of the fastest-growing student populations in U.S. schools, and they continue to add to the atmosphere of cultural exchange here at UC Davis. However, novice writing instructors are often under-prepared to assist English-language learners as effectively as they could. Therefore, this project sought to encourage collaboration between graduate and postdoctoral instructors and campus resources like the Student Academic Success Center (SASC), especially in the instruction of English-language learners (ELL). While most instructors who assign writing reference the SASC in their syllabi, my experience has suggested that few are aware of the specific services the Center offers, or how to prepare their students to make use of these services. As a veteran writing tutor, I have seen firsthand the miscommunications that result when instructors send students to tutoring centers to “fix their grammar.” One of my biggest challenges as a tutor was in negotiating the desires of instructors to have their students’ papers “fixed,” and the needs of students—especially the large population of ELLs our university served—to engage in ongoing, sustained writing assistance that went beyond mere proofreading.

To address this challenge, I organized two workshops that addressed the topic of English-language learners in the writing classroom. The first workshop was facilitated by Dana Ferris, an ESL expert in the University Writing Program, who defined the concept of “error” in ELL writing, as well as how to assess and evaluate it. The second workshop was facilitated by two writing specialists from the SASC, who discussed how to conference one-to-one with students about their writing, how to help students interpret their writing assignments, and other audience-generated questions.

Enhancing the Integration of Undergraduates in Graduate and Postdoctoral Research at UC Davis

Matthew Stuckey

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars can greatly enhance their academic experience by incorporating undergraduates in the process of conducting their research.  They gain valuable opportunities to teach and mentor, as well as directly benefit from the assistance provided to move their work forward.  In its current state at UC Davis, undergraduate students who want research experience typically contact faculty members directly and inquire about opportunities to get involved.  While professors generally have an online presence detailing their research interests, the ongoing work of grad students and postdocs can often be difficult or impossible for undergraduates to identify.  As such, there is an existing potential to better connect undergraduate students with these university researchers.
To address this issue, two separate workshops were conducted in May 2015 titled Need Help With Your Research?  How to Find and Better Integrate Undergraduates in Your Workflow.  A panel of speakers was assembled, consisting of two program coordinators from the Undergraduate Research Center (URC) and two current undergraduate research assistants.  The workshops covered a variety of topics, including (1) how to find and interview perspective undergrad researchers, (2) how to better mentor and motivate your existing assistants, and (3) how to leverage existing resources provided by the URC.
The total 26 workshop participants were evenly split between postdocs and graduate students.  Approximately 80% of the attendees came from STEM fields with the remainder working in the social sciences and humanities.  In addition to capturing demographics, a survey was conducted amongst participants to assess the current state of undergraduate involvement in their research.  A smaller proportion of attendees were solely interested in improving mentorship (38%), while the rest were interested in both finding new assistants and working on mentorship (62%).  Over half (56%) reported that undergraduates were commonly utilized as research assistants in their field, while 31% said they were only sometimes utilized, and 13% rarely utilized.

Over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year, URC staff advised 442 undergraduates seeking research assistantships.  The contact information for these students was compiled into a database and made available to the workshop participants.  Approximately 70% of the postdocs and grad students requested access to the URC listings in order to efficiently advertise their own research opportunities.  Both workshops were well received and the high demand for URC resources suggests that both graduate students and postdoctoral scholars can benefit from a closer relationship with the URC going forward in the future.

The Fear to Ask: Showing Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows How to Ask For Help and Become Great Self Advocates

Henry "Hoby" Wedler

As a completely blind graduate student at UC Davis, I am well aware that a mainstay to my academic success is my ability to ask others for help and not feel shy or embarrassed to do so. Over the course of the past academic years, I have planned, organized, and facilitated three comprehensive workshops designed to show graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that it is okay to ask for help in any sector of their lives, academic or otherwise.

The first workshop was directed at helping students with time management and expressing that they need help to anyone around them. We began with an exercise of thinking about areas where we have received help before and how good it fell to receive that help. We then used those experiences as a mean of thinking about what it would be like to get help in areas where we feel we could use more help. Many students wanted help editing writing, some with child care, and others with social and emotional struggles. We used David Allen’s book Getting Things Done as a guide to show students how to be organized and we revealed great campus resources that were news to many participants.

The second workshop focused on seeking social and emotional help and letting students know that it really is acceptable to seek counseling. Dr. Thomas Roe is a clinical psychologist for UCD’s Student Health and Counseling Services center. He shared extremely valuable information with students. We had a dialog between him, myself, and the participants. Students verified that they left with new confidence in themselves and with a lot less fear to ask for help.

Our final workshop will focus on mastering the student-major professor relationship. Two professors, one from the life/physical sciences and one from the social sciences will present and discuss their expectations of graduate students and postdocs. They will then explain what students can expect of their major professors. I anticipate this workshop being successful and hopefully meaningful to our students.

Overall, my workshops have been quite successful and have inspired students to feel okay about getting help and being more successful because of it. Feedback was compiled in a series of survey questions. I hope I taught graduate students at UC Davis why asking questions and seeking assistance is indispensable to a quality education and that I provided them with an action plan for how to master these skills.  Finally, I expected to see mostly graduate students in our workshops, but many postdocs also attended and said that our workshops were among the most helpful they have attended here at UC Davis. The Professors for the Future program has been enlightening and rewarding and I will highly recommend it to future potential fellows.

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