Fireside Chat: Creating a Space and Place – What we do matters

Mentor sitting with grad students talking and listeningCreating a space for graduate education to support the unique needs of you, our grad students is so important.  Grad students are not just “older” undergrads.  You are unique individuals creating and discovering new knowledge that impacts our nation and the world.

It is important to create a space or place no matter how small or large where grad students know they are valued and can find their voices.

Creating a space is about creating quality experiences for our grad students.  As Grad Deans and faculty, we must not be afraid of disruption.  Our charge is to lead change.

It is important for grad students to be heard.  Their voices and messages provide great insight and we need to listen.  Grad student voices can be overshadowed on campuses where the majority voice is that of the undergrad.  Yet – as I always say – it’s the grad students that are the “legacy of our universities.”  Their voices have always caused me to stop and reflect.  We need to create a space where their voices can be heard, and we can listen.3 graduate students sitting and sharing their stories with the audience

Recently, I had the chance to hear the voices of grad students at another university. I listened and was moved. I will share some of the insight I learned from their voices.

In that space, I heard about the importance of asking questions.  While I know that to be true, I heard it in a different way.  Grad Education provides a venue for grad students to explore new opportunities and to find their real purpose. Questions like “How is the work I am doing supporting my goal for the future?”  Statements such as “Touching the future with training I have received so that I can touch the lives of others” through counseling education.Male grad student sharing his story telling us he is about to graduate

Asking – “What is a PhD for?” and listening as grad students shared their perspectives and experiences.  “To be truth seeking and when I see bad science to stand up.”  To see the PhD as a path for personal development and “to develop technical excellence in your field.”  To see “each step is as hard as the one before but it’s worth it.”

female humanities grad student telling her storyI was moved when one grad student spoke about “reclaiming the future.”  She was in the humanities and was bringing history and family experiences to new frontiers through song and blue grass.

Another student spoke about how she dealt with the transitional nature of grad school.  “Everything in Grad School is transitioning.”   She spoke about how she first connected with peers in her lab then branched out to her department and through place and space of Grad School, she connected to the university – peers across campus.  “Grad school helps one to connect with people at the university level” that she couldn’t do by herself.  It was the place and space that made a difference as well as the action she took.

She told the audience about how she invited her peers in her lab to spend 30 minutes with her eating lunch.  She and others really looked forward to sharing ideas and conversations that wouldn’t be possible if she didn’t take the initiative to connect with them – even if it was for 30 minutes.

Our grad students are with us for a short time and yet what they give to us is lasting – we all can create space/place (even if it is at a picnic table for lunch) to support our grad students and assist them to connect.Male grad student telling his story

We all benefit – from a more inclusive community.  Our charge to lead change begins with grad students, faculty, and Grad Deans to build a culture with new meaningful and relevant program and opportunities – it takes an acorn to grow into a tree.  WE all can be that acorn – we don’t have to start out as the tree.

What we do matters!Picture of an acorn with saying It only takes an acorn to grow a tree

Fireside Chat: Collaboration – A Real Life Experience and Key Skill

There is always something special about the first time you do something. It is exciting, it is scary, it can be rewarding, and there are challenges.

However, in the end there is growth, expansion, and most of all the experience of creating. It is empowering! That is how I feel about collaboration; it can be all those things including fun.

Collaboration is like exploring the next frontier and you get to do it with colleagues, friends, or a group. Like when you get bold enough, take a tour, and do not know anyone in the group and the tour ends up being fantastic and you made new friends.

So, what is it about collaboration that is exciting? Collaboration allows you to see amazing possibilities.  It provides the environment in which you can think BOLDLY about the problem or issue. It is where possibilities begin. It is where we get to answer without limitations, “What if…”

Exploring the unknown and having other minds to add to the depth and expansiveness of the exploration, the unknowing. It is the unknowing and creating new knowledge that is exciting, rewarding and fun. Exploring options, “feeding” off others ideas, and seeing possibilities where there was none. Sharing and consoling when you fail or hit a dead end and regrouping to continue on a new path.

Oh, yes it can be scary. Like how am I going to relate to all the different folks in my group? What if my ideas are not the best? It is scary that I do not have all the answers and I think everyone else in my group thinks I do or should.  Can I really collaborate?  Will it be easier just to do this project myself and not rely on my teammates? What if we do not listen well to each other how will that affect our collaboration? Perhaps you can think of other scary aspects of collaboration that you could add to my list.

What I know is this, collaboration is valued.  From my experience as a graduate student, industry member, faculty member, administrator, and neighborhood/community member, the benefits, outcomes, and rewards of collaboration outweigh the scariness or challenges.

Let me give you a real life example. When I was president of our neighborhood association, we had situation where a developer wanted to build a project that would significantly diminish the safety and quality of life for our families especially our children.

Now I could have taken this on myself, but it was through inviting the neighborhood to form a collaborative group that we were able to reach an outcome that benefited our community more than, if I tried to solve the problem alone. Through that collaborative process, I learned and gained skills that I use today and those skills have helped me to advance in my career.

I learned that listening and really understanding my group members was critical. What were their issues, what were their solutions, what were their considerations? Respecting different viewpoints even though the ideas did not always agree with mine was so important to our collaborative process.

Let me tell you, everyone had a viewpoint on what we should do! I gained valuable experience in honing my interpersonal, organizational, and leadership skills that are highly valued in the job market and I use every day.

I also learned a valuable lesson. The importance of patience. Not everyone reaches a solution or comes to consensus at the same time. Some take longer in the information gathering stage than others. It is important for the collaborative group to allow for that because in the end, the outcome will be stronger.

There are many challenges to collaboration. In the end, it is so worth it. The impact of what collaboration can create is more than I could ever dream by myself.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

Fireside Chat: Friends and Chocolate

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate” especially in graduate school. Making friends in graduate school was so important to me. My friends have lasted me a lifetime. They kept me connected with what was important and hearing from them instantly brings back great memories and a smile.

My friends helped me get through the difficult times like taking my qualifying exams or preparing for my orals. They were my cheerleaders. They shared their experiences. They were someone I could talk to and they helped to make the process of graduate education not be so crazy and hard.

I am still in contact with many of my friends. Even if we do not get to see each other, we take the time at least once a year to drop a line and catch up with each other.

Best fun I had was making friends with people outside my department. It was a great way to let off steam. We might go for hikes or a run (not my favorite) or hang out in the park. Sometimes we gathered our “pennies” and went to happy hour for a beer and pizza at Big Al’s; he was big and his pizza the best in town. Our gatherings over food were always special. It was a time where we would explore and dream about our future.

Sometimes I just needed a friend to listen to me. Like when I was dealing with a difficult major professor. His idea was that I was to work, work, and work; until he told me, I was finished. My idea was to push back and say, I have a job waiting and I cannot just “work, work, work, until you tell me I am done”. Having my friends made the difference of me being able to complete my degree.

We talked about what was going on in the world, elections, weather, and any subject other than school. We celebrated our successes and milestones. My friends made my experience in graduate school full, full of growth, happiness, fun, and of course food. I hope yours will as well; and do not forget to bring the chocolate!