Grad student programs get a boost

The Graduate School is expanding a position this summer to help grow student workshops.

by Anne Millerbernd

Once she receives her doctorate, Diane Cormany hopes to become an academic.

After having spent four years in the communication studies program, her last step in earning that doctoral degree is completing her dissertation. But at the beginning of her doctoral studies, many things about writing a dissertation weren’t obvious, Cormany said.

However, after attending two professionalization workshops put on by the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School, Cormany said she felt better equipped to write and publish her work.

This summer, the Graduate School is expanding an existing position dedicated to organizing the sessions that Cormany and hundreds of other graduate students attend each year in search of skills they’ll need while pursuing their graduate degrees and eventual careers.

Graduate School officials hope to fill the full-time position in July. Once someone is hired, the school will likely add workshops on handling finances and exploring career options, said Sally Kohlstedt, acting vice provost and dean of graduate education.

The sessions will be shaped around graduate students’ suggestions, and the Graduate School also plans to find faculty or staff members across different departments to teach about things like conducting research, publishing work, writing resumes and interviewing techniques.

While students will have more workshops to choose from, Kohlstedt said, those with lower attendance will likely be cut.

The workshops serve as one of the few professionalization resources graduate students have, Council of Graduate Students President Andrew McNally said.

“Most of the career services that are offered through each of the colleges are specifically designed for undergraduate students’ needs,” McNally said, “which are a little different from graduate students’ needs.”

Noro Andriamanalina, who oversaw the workshops for the past decade, said she agrees that professional development is important for graduate students, but also encouraged them to reach out to the University’s Career Services and to other resources.

The workshops have been handled by someone working a quarter-time position, which Andriamanalina said isn’t enough to fully assist students.

“What I did was the minimum of what anybody should do for graduate students,” she said.

Andriamanalina said she hopes whoever takes on the role of organizing the workshops full time will invest enough energy to grow them, while particularly increasing focus on cultural competency and creating online versions of the workshops for students who can’t make it to the sessions.

Without a post-graduate plan or a job offer, Andriamanalina said, graduate students will often delay leaving the University.

“If we think about helping graduate students from day one of grad school to think about, ‘How do you want this experience to be?’” she said, “then you’re contributing to their timely completion.”

Cormany, who plans to earn her degree next spring, said writing and publishing a dissertation is a huge part of the graduate experience, so any tips she can get are helpful.

“Just having the means to organize as I go, which is how I looked at the [literature] review workshop, is helpful and is needed immediately,” she said.

For now, the position will be funded for only one year, Kohlstedt said, and the Graduate School will apply for funds for the permanent position again in the fall.