Dr. @Renetta_Tull & @UMBC Faculty host #WhenFacultySayX Oct. 9, 2015. Students have questions. Faculty have answers.


Understanding professors’ expectations shouldn’t be a mystery. However, sometimes, there are disconnects between what a faculty member wants a student to produce for a project, and how the student interprets the instructions. In many cases, the expectations of faculty are clearly articulated, either in written or oral format. However, in other cases, there are situations where a faculty member’s feedback or outcomes from discussions regarding progress may not be as clear because they involve aspects of non-verbal communication such as eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and eye contact.

Addressing the Needs of Graduate Students

We draw particular attention to the needs of graduate students for our “When Faculty Say X” success seminar series. Graduate students have several forms of faculty interaction that have their own sets of nuances. For graduate students, the faculty member is a teacher, a mentor, an advisor, and a future colleague. There are several phases through which one must pass to navigate the transitions. During coursework, there is the phase where one follows the syllabus, turns in the homework, and takes the exam. During the qualifying exam and proposal stages, it can be difficult for a student to determine what they are supposed to know on the journey toward building expertise in a discipline or particular area of research. In addition to becoming a contributor to the field, a professor may have a methodology that must be employed by all in her lab, or a set of theories which need to be used set the foundation for all work that comes out of the research group. There may be bibliographies that one must reference, techniques that must be mastered, and simple “unwritten rules” that must be followed. Some of the rules may include attending every group meeting and each departmental colloquium. Other rules may extend to writing, i.e., explicit use of a citation style, paragraph structure, or drafting process.  In the past, we have had in-person seminars and panels where students have a chance to post questions online, and faculty answer them in-person during a dinner seminar.

Launching #WhenFacultySayX 2015

In order to accommodate schedules of faculty guests who will join our seminar this year, and in an attempt involve all of the students in our PROMISE AGEP network and beyond, we are launching an interactive, online version of the seminar in conjunction with Twitter that will allow all to participate.

Here’s how it will work.

Between Wednesday, October 7, and Thursday, October 15, 2015, we invite graduate students to post questions to faculty below in the comment section (you do not need a wordpress account to participate, we encourage anonymous posts.) Simultaneously, we will launch #WhenFacultySayX on Twitter, and will encourage questions from graduate students broadly, and answers from faculty colleagues from any school. On Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, PROMISE Director, Dr. Renetta Tull (@Renetta_Tull) will answer questions on Twitter.  Our faculty experts, Dr. Ralph Pollack, Dr. Joel Morris, and Dr. John Jeffries,

Faculty: Faculty colleagues from around the world are welcome to share things that they want students to clearly understand, using the hashtag #WhenFacultySayX. You are also welcome to join the conversation below and reply through the comments. 

Students: This program was developed for you. It was developed to remove the barriers and fear regarding asking any and all questions related to your success. You may post anonymously.  Do you have a question that you want a faculty member to answer? Post it in the comment section of this post at the bottom of this page. You may post anonymously.

Our featured faculty panel of experts will answer questions that are posted on this website, below. 

WhenFacultySayX Panel 2015

Featured faculty:

  1. Dr. Ralph Pollack – representing natural and mathematical sciences. Dr. Pollack was a faculty member in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department at UMBC from 1970 – 2007 and Associate Vice President for Research from 2007. Dr. Pollack has extensive experience in both writing and reviewing proposals. He was funded continuously from his arrival at UMBC to his retirement from active research in 2007, and he has obtained funding for research, teaching, graduate student training, symposia, major equipment and travel from state, national, international and private agencies. 
  2. Dr. Joel Morris – representing engineering and IT. Dr. Morris’ research focuses on topics including stochastic and deterministic system theory with applications to communications and statistical signal processing, joint-time frequency/time-scale analysis and applications, robust signal processing, fading channel communications, and adaptive signal processing and applications. Professor Morris’ received training from Howard University, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Morris was a faculty panelist for the in-person version of “When Faculty Say X” a few years ago when PROMISE placed a strategic focus on scholarly writing. 
  3. Dr. John Jeffries – representing education and humanities. Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (Ph.D. Yale University). Dean Jeffries specializes in twentieth-century America and American political and policy history. His distinguished teaching has earned him designation as a UMBC Presidential Teaching Professor and gained him a University of Maryland Regents Award for Teaching Excellence.
  4. Dr. Renetta Tull – Online Moderator.  Dr. RenettaTull will moderate the discussion and will add commentary based on her experience as a former faculty member at University of Wisconsin-Madison, adjunct at College Park (http://hesp.umd.edu/facultyprofile/Tull/Renetta), and member of the program faculty groups for MSRP at MIT, and QoLT at Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. Tull is Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Student Development and Postdoctoral Affairs and writes on issues of graduate student professional development and degree completion. 

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Historical Perspective

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The “When Faculty Say X” seminar began as a PROMISE seminar in 2003, initially titled, “Understanding Faculty Expectations” as part of the PROMISE SUCCESS 2003, a pre-cursor to the PROMISE Summer Success Institute (SSI). During an orientation session for new graduate students at UMBC circa 2004, UMBC Psychology Professor Dr. Susan Sonnenschein posted a chart with two columns. The left column noted “What Faculty Say,” and the right column noted “What They Mean.” PROMISE adopted this method and started the “Faculty X|Y – When Faculty Say X, They Really Mean Y” seminar to allow students to anonymously ask questions, and have a faculty panel answer the questions (grouped by topic area) in person. This seminar has drawn crowds of more than 100 graduate students. The “they really mean y” portion of the title was dropped over time.  This 2015 #WhenFacultySayX virtual seminar is the online evolution of those early panels and workshops.

Some of the programs and questions from past years can be found in these links:

When Faculty say “X” … Understanding Faculty Expectations, Unwritten Rules. Dinner Seminar, Fri. Oct. 10, 2014

“When Faculty Say ‘X’ …” Do you understand what faculty say and mean? Dinner seminar, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013

Last year, we were unable to answer all of the questions during the seminar, so we added some videos to the library with answers to some of the questions. Here is an example:

(Other videos that answer questions from past years can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_uKXMv-Mty_sRI31EzJm0E0cJTX20mve)

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Added 10/9/15, 11:29 AM: Thank you to several of our PROMISE mentors and PhD alumni from around the country who are also assisting with answering questions.

Tags:

Categories: Ph.D. Completion

Author:Renetta Garrison Tull

Dr. Renetta Garrison Tull is the Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives at UMBC: An Honors University in Maryland (http://www.umbc.edu), and Professor of the Practice in the College of Engineering & IT. She is Special Assistant to the Sr. Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Director of Graduate and Professional Pipeline Development for the University System of Maryland (12 institutions). She is the Founding Director of PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) – http://www.umbc.edu/promise, and Co-PI for the USM LSAMP. Her research is on global diversity in STEM and she is an international speaker, covering nearly all continents, for groups and conferences such as the World Engineering Education Forum, the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies, and the Pacific Sciences Congress. Her personal website is: http://renettatull.wordpress.com. Connect with her on Google+ google.com/+RenettaTull. Follow on Twitter: @Renetta_Tull; https://twitter.com/Renetta_Tull

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32 Comments on “Dr. @Renetta_Tull & @UMBC Faculty host #WhenFacultySayX Oct. 9, 2015. Students have questions. Faculty have answers.”

  1. Anonymous
    October 7, 2015 at 12:11 PM #

    Questions:

    When faculty ask for a weekly update about your progress on your thesis/dissertation, what does the faculty expect to see from the student at each meeting if data collection might be slow?

    When faculty say you can give them drafts of your thesis/dissertation, how much should be completed in the draft? Should it be completed? What are the expectations?

    Like

    • October 9, 2015 at 8:06 AM #

      Hi, Anonymous,
      Good question! If you do not already have Strategic Plan that maps out in detail how you are going to complete your dissertation, step by step with real deadlines for each of the dissertation components, you should definitely create one and then share it with your chair for feedback. This document should not only have real deadlines like “Finish Collecting Data by December 21, 2015 but also mini-deadlines for each major deadline. That way you have a concrete document and timeline to refer to at these weekly progress update meetings. Of course, this Strategic Plan can be a fluid document, which you will make changes to when things do not go according to plan or data collection is going slow (life happens and deadlines move put having an overall plan makes adjustments so much easier). Having this plan also demonstrates to your chair that you are approaching your work in an organized and serious manner. It also helps you chair manage their time as your advisor. Even if you data collection is going slow, you should still be prepared to say something about the data you have collected thus far (e.g., is this data that same as the previously collected data, different etc., you might also write quick reflections on the data you are collecting to help you collect your thoughts as you prepare for this meetings). Sounds like a lot, but these reflections will be helpful when it comes time to sit down and write the analysis section. As for your last question, you first need to determine what your advisor considers a draft (perhaps talk to their other dissertation advisees that may be further along in the process, or just ask your advisor). Also, faculty are super busy, so it is also helpful to prepare an accompanying quick summary overview of what you are turning in to help. This is especially important when you are turning in a revised draft, as this quick summary informs your chair about what changes or edits you made in the document. It also again demonstrates you are organized, listening, and responding to feedback. It is also a good habit to get into because often with revised grant submissions and journal articles you have to provide such a document. One last thought, as it seems you are concerned with meeting you advisor’s expectations, take notes during the meeting, and then send a quick summary email to your advisor that includes the main points of your discussion. If you missed anything, this email will prompt your advisor to include additional information.

      Hope this is helpful!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 8:02 AM #

      I agree with AutumnReed. And it is important to discuss and agree, in advance, on the format and details of timely (weekly, bi-weekly, ..) reports to your advisor. You should also discuss with other more advanced students in your group.

      Like

  2. Nakamura
    October 7, 2015 at 12:15 PM #

    What does it mean when you ask your professor for specific guidance on one topic area of your research, and then they give you unsolicited recommendations on a totally different area of research that has nothing to do with your research area and original question?

    Like

    • October 9, 2015 at 6:32 PM #

      Hi Nakamura,
      There could be a number of possibilities here! A few that I think of immediately: 1) The professor is more familiar with the research in the unsolicited area and tends to redirect topics in that direction when there seems to be even a minor connection, in which case you can try to steer the conversation back and clarify that you are really interested in the original topic associated with your question. 2) Your topic of interest might not be well-established yet in the field, and the professor might be trying to prevent you from trying to reinvent the wheel with it. If this is true, you might consider going with a better established area of research that you’re also interested in to accomplish your goals and complete your research for the program, which would allow you more time and resources later to pursue the more cutting edge work. 3) In case you weren’t as clear as you intended to be with your initial question, you might find an example in the literature to bring back to the professor along with a written breakdown of your question and possible answers that you came up with. As a mentor, it’s harder to go on tangents when things are laid out right in front of you, even if you’re an absent-minded prof!

      Like

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 8:07 AM #

      That ‘unsolicited recommendation’ may be an attempt to have you investigate a connection between the two topics, or assess your interest in another seemly-unrelated topic. I also agree with Alexis Williams.

      Like

  3. Anonymous
    October 7, 2015 at 1:50 PM #

    How do you respond to a faculty member who is really friendly and calls you “friends” but pulls rank when you submit work that they deem not good?

    Like

    • Sean Vasaitis
      October 9, 2015 at 9:54 AM #

      Greetings,

      You will have to keep in mind that even if a faculty member calls you a friend, the faculty’s job requires her to critically evaluate your work, and to provide guidance as to how you can become better at that work. If you feel that the critique is unfair you need to be able to fully support why you feel that the faculty is incorrect, in a professional manner.

      Try not to take it personal, and at a minimum handle all work related matters with your highest level of professionalism. if you can do that you will be in good shape.

      Best wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 7:55 AM #

      Your advisor is not your ‘friend’. His/her job is to guide and train you to be an independent productive researcher when you graduate. Frequently students are supported, at least partially, by their advisor’s research grant, which requires timely productive results by all supported group members. Your development and success depends on critical evaluation of your productivity, both short-term and long-term. All students start with strengths and weaknesses, and it is the advisor’s job to help you to recognize and strengthen those weaknesses to the level required to be a productive researcher.

      Like

    • Ralph Pollack
      November 6, 2015 at 9:52 PM #

      A faculty member can be your friend in the sense that he cares for you and enjoys your company, but you must remember that the primary job of the faculty member in this relationship is one of teaching and mentoring, which includes evaluation. The relationship is primarily professional, not personal. “Friendship” should never get in the way of an honest evaluation. This is not “pulling rank;” it is just the faculty member doing his job. Allowing you to get by without doing your best work because of “friendship” is unfair to you and to other students, as well. Thinking that a faculty member who is friendly toward you is somehow not going to be as demanding of you is a trap that students must avoid. The response to a critical evaluation should be the same as the response to one you receive from a faculty member who is not a “friend.” If the critique is valid, you should learn from it. If you think it is not, you should discuss this with the faculty member on a professional level, but never take it personally. In any case, this should be a learning experience for you.

      Like

  4. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 1:23 PM #

    Is it inappropriate to give an advisor/mentor a gift with a note of appreciation? I couple of times I have been really appreciative of help and wanted to but I know many places that have rules against supervisors accepting gifts above a certain dollar figure of like 10 dollars.

    Like

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 7:37 AM #

      I suggest that you wait until passing your final defense before giving any form of ‘thank you’ gifts. Even then, a note/card/letter of appreciation is sufficient in my view. After you start working and become ‘rich’, and you still feel thankful, then ……

      Liked by 1 person

      • John Jeffries
        November 8, 2015 at 10:14 AM #

        I agree

        Like

  5. Rachel g.
    October 8, 2015 at 1:23 PM #

    Is it inappropriate to give an advisor/mentor a gift with a note of appreciation? I couple of times I have been really appreciative of help and wanted to but I know many places that have rules against supervisors accepting gifts above a certain dollar figure of like 10 dollars.

    Like

    • October 9, 2015 at 6:11 PM #

      If there is no obvious rule against gifts, it might still be good to use discretion when showing your appreciation. Often a card with a meaningful “thank you for…” is plenty for faculty members, who sometimes tend to hear more about what they’ve done wrong than what they’ve done right.

      If you’re more concerned about how open the advisor would be to receiving a gift, you could just ask. But if you’re concerned about the department overall, pay attention: As you make note of the climate of your department, is there a dynamic that encourages gift-giving, and is it acceptable for graduate students to do so? In some cases, graduate students are discouraged from giving gifts or even providing food (e.g., during defenses) so that they don’t feel more pressure than they do already.

      Like

  6. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 10:26 PM #

    During your first rotation, your advisor says ” I expect you to commit 10 hours/week in lab.” How long do they really expect you to commit?

    Like

    • Sean Vasaitis
      October 9, 2015 at 10:09 AM #

      Greetings,

      I would say at a minimum 10 hours a week. One important thing is to try to reach your productivity goals. If you are only there 10 hours a week but are meeting your goals you can make a great impression. If you are not making your goals you may want to consider putting in some extra effort.

      Best wishes!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 7:31 AM #

      I agree with Sean Vasaitis on this, which also applies to theoretical research in terms of agreed upon weekly productivity goals.

      Like

    • Ralph Pollack
      November 7, 2015 at 12:23 PM #

      I think that there is no ambiguity here. When an advisor says a minimum of 10 hrs per week, he means a minimum of 10 hrs per week. Your advisor is telling you this so that there will be no misunderstanding of the commitment that he expects from you. What is more important, however, is how you view working in that laboratory. If you are interested in the work, then you should want to be there every possible minute that you can be. If being there is not exciting for you and 10 hrs per week sounds like it is too much, then maybe that lab is not for you.

      When choosing a dissertation advisor, you should think about the advisor’s mentoring style. Some advisors have rules about how much time per week you should be in the lab. Others are more flexible, and are more interested in productivity and less about your presence. Those in the first group may be more likely to give you very close guidance and monitor your work more closely than those in the second group, although this is not always the case. A lot of monitoring is not necessarily good or bad. Some students want and/or need very close guidance. Others do better when they work independently with only occasional discussions with their advisor. It is important to choose an advisor whose mentoring style matches your learning style. While it may be tempting to choose an advisor with a relaxed mentoring style, this does not work with all students.

      Like

  7. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 10:43 PM #

    What does it mean when you start your PhD program and your academic adviser tells you that your success in the program depends on your grades in the first semester, but yet overloads you with classes (3 grad courses at UMCP correspond to 54 units, well above the 48 units required for FT).

    Like

    • October 9, 2015 at 5:53 PM #

      Three courses sounds typical but could get overwhelming, especially if you are also working and have other outside obligations. Consider the type of work each course requires in your discipline and try to balance the demands; I’m from the social sciences so what would be considered balanced was two survey/theory courses and a statistics course or other elective.

      Additionally, keep in mind that there is a lot of unnecessary pressure to maintain the highest of grades in grad school, when what matters more is learning the material and applying it often in meaningful ways to develop the necessary skills to complete later research. If your focus is on the meaning you are making from your learning, why it’s important to you, you will feel more empowered to do what’s necessary to also get better grades as a secondary outcome.

      You might consider voicing your concerns to your advisor and asking about specific methods for prioritizing work across the courses to meet the expectations of the program. Also, you might work together with an advanced graduate mentor to learn what worked well for him or her.

      Like

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 7:26 AM #

      Three courses/semester is the usual FT load for grad school in most disciplines. First semester courses are usually prerequisites for later and more advanced courses, and may correspond to the broad background and fundamental knowledge required in your field. Consequently, good grades in those early courses would indicate a good preparation and capability for the following courses and research-skills development.

      Like

      • John Jeffries
        November 8, 2015 at 10:17 AM #

        In general, I agree with Joel’s response–but there can be particular circumstances in which a reduced load would be better. In that case, talk with your adviser about the situation.

        Like

  8. Anonymous
    October 9, 2015 at 8:53 AM #

    What is the proper way to handle a forgetful advisor? One who promises things (like authorship rights), but then forgets and promises them to someone else.

    Like

    • Sean Vasaitis
      October 9, 2015 at 10:15 AM #

      Greetings,

      I suggest taking dated notes of your conversations and having expectations clearly laid out in writing. When doing so, present this as a means for you keeping your goals, outcomes, and expectations organized rather than a confrontational response to the advisor’s forgetfulness.

      Best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 7:11 AM #

      I would suggest that for such agreements that, along with the ‘dated notes’ you keep, you send an e-mail follow-up to your advisor for the ‘record’. Also, you can ask why those ‘authorship rights’ were given to someone else, but usually they are given to the person who provides the better/greater contribution.

      Like

  9. Anonymous
    October 9, 2015 at 9:19 AM #

    What should a student do when their advisor encourages them to submit drafts of the chapters of their dissertation but when the student does is he/she is non-responsive or or does not provide substantive feedback?

    Like

    • October 9, 2015 at 10:17 AM #

      If you have a non-responsive or non-substantive advisor, I would try a few things: (1)consult with other members of your committee to keep moving forward towards perfecting the drafts and getting actual guidance/agent-driven feedback.
      (2)set up a committee meeting (when you are ready!) because that is a high level/high accountability impetus for them to read and/or respond
      (3)pass shorter sections and/or drafts to other informal technical mentors or collaborators if you need feedback on the work itself, or pass to friends/writing or communications center colleagues if you need feedback on grammar or formal structure.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sean Vasaitis
      October 9, 2015 at 3:12 PM #

      I agree with Joy Johnson regarding involving other committee members. If you can satisfy the most critical member of your committee as you go along it will save you time later.

      Like

    • Joel Morris
      October 10, 2015 at 6:58 AM #

      It depends on what you mean by non-responsive and non-substantive feedback. Your advisor is likely to be more busy at some times than others. Is her/his behavior always this way? Have you two worked out a plan/description of what you are to provide and how often? Are there other grad students under your advisor’s direction, and working on the same or related topics, whom you can ‘compare notes’ wrt materials they submit and quality of feedback? Is there a ‘senior’ grad student in your group with whom you talk? You can ask your advisor for more feedback and, if this does not work, then discuss with your graduate program director (GPD).

      Like

    • John Jeffries
      November 8, 2015 at 10:22 AM #

      If no response, you should follow up with the adviser. If no substantive or helpful comments, then you should arrange to talk with the adviser. If the problem continues, without apparent good reason and after you have attempted the follow-ups, then you might talk with another committee member. And if the problem remains, then you should talk with the GPD.

      Like

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  1. PROMISE at Schools within the USM. “When Faculty Say X” discussion. | PROMISE: Maryland's AGEP - April 4, 2016

    […] Answers from the virtual event in 2015 […]

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