Learning community provides space for sharing the joys, challenges of doctoral training

Community is important—not only for graduate student research, but for scholars’ well-being. Recognizing this, the Graduate School hosts the Graduate Fellows Learning Community, which meets once a month throughout the academic year. Led by Associate Dean for Student Success Sharon Lean, the Learning Community is made up of Ph.D. students, including Dean’s Diversity Fellows (DDF), King-Chávez-Parks Future Faculty Fellows (KCP-FFF) and Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) Fellows, from programs across campus. The goal is to create an inclusive, supportive, interdisciplinary community of scholars and to provide a space for mutual support and reflection on the joys and challenges of pursuing the Ph.D.

“As a first-generation college student, I came to college with the in-grained idea that individual hard work was the key to success,” said Elizabeth Mays, a KCP-FFF in biomedical engineering.  “I've learned over the years that though a strong work ethic helps, having a community to relate to as well as to give and receive support is vital.”

David Criss, a KCP-FFF in economics, agrees and finds the advice of graduate students further along in their research processes particularly rewarding. 

In addition to open discussions, presenters are often invited to talk and provide an additional perspective to academia. This past year, the fellows met with Chief Diversity Officer Marquita Chamblee and Associate Dean of CFPCA Loraleigh Keashly to review and discuss the Campus Climate Survey. There are also professional development opportunities, such as seminars on mentorship, conflict management and even sessions when the fellows can practice presenting their research. 

Julio Pimentel, a DDF in cancer biology, finds these sessions when he can get interdisciplinary feedback particularly helpful. It makes him think about how to prepare his research for a lay audience. 

Many fellows take part in the Graduate School’s annual research symposium and volunteer to participate in information sessions for prospective students from pipeline programs on and off campus. 

While the annual agenda allows for plenty of professional development, the Learning Community is by no means a rigorously formal group. 

“A sense of community is created where jokes are passed, quick venting sessions happen every ten or so minutes, achievements are acknowledged, guests are invited in, and food is shared,” said Salam Aboulhassan, a KCP-FFF in sociology. “I’m grateful to be a part of it.” 

The COVID-19 outbreak won’t stop them from meeting and continuing that shared community virtually, Lean said, at a time that it’s arguably needed the most.

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