On The Awesomeness of Graduate Students

Sometimes it is so much easier to focus on the negative in life – and work – than the positives. This week I have been reflecting on how awesome my graduate students and postdocs are, both former and current. There is something transformative about working in a lab where lab members look out for each other, champion each others successes, encourage each other through stress, and come to work with a happy, positive demeanor. I am naturally prone to see the flaws in academia, so the lab makes me a more balanced scholar.

The event that triggered my feeling of “my lab is the best, holy smokes, I can’t believe these people work with me” was a simple request by a colleague. She had finished a single-authored paper and needed some fresh eyes on it. You know how it is when you have written something all by your lonesome – you can never quite tell if you are making sense. She asked me, and I asked the lab, if they could give her paper a read and send her comments. ALL THREE OF MY GRADUATE STUDENTS SENT EXTENSIVE COMMENTS WITHIN A FEW DAYS. These are all students who are working on their own projects, preparing for comprehensive exams, writing papers of their own. They got nothing for their work other than my and my colleague’s goodwill.

If I think back over time, I see a lab filled with students and postdocs like this. The undergraduates who helped train newcomers, the graduate students who have shepherded undergraduates through first research projects (and manuscript rejections and revisions), the postdocs who have spend hours training others on how to collect and analyze data. I know I do my share, but a positive work environment can’t rest on a single person’s shoulders. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing folks over the years!

I wonder, too, if working towards collaboration in our labs – rather than competition – could help make academia a more inclusive place overall. If we can see ourselves as all working towards a common goal with common goodwill, couldn’t we then start to chip away at the -isms (sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) that are plaguing academia today? A cultural mind shift is needed, and it is incumbent upon those of us with privilege to lead the way. And, yeah, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to mention the -isms.

GRL Graduate Student Paty Jaimes Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

The Geocognition Research Lab is proud to announce that first-year graduate student Patricia (Paty) Jaimes is the proud recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship! Paty’s research project, Within and Beyond the Leaky Pipeline: Understanding Minority Student Transitions in Earth System Science, will allow her to explore the underlying causes of the lack of diversity among Earth System scientists. Paty’s work has the potential to dramatically influence what it means to be a scientist studying the planet and we are all looking forward to both her research and her recommendations for diversifying the field!

Congratulations, Paty!

GRL student Patricia Jaimes receives award!

Patricia Jaimes, a first-year student in the Geocognition Research Lab, has received the 2016 Tracy A. Hammer Award for Professional Development from the Michigan State University College of Natural Sciences. This award is made even more special because Fellow first-year graduate student Caitlin Kirby made the nomination. Congratulations to both students!

To quote from Caitlin’s letter of recommendation: “I have witnessed Paty’s dedication…during her first semester of graduate school as she has fully dived into…her graduate classes, submitting a proposal to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and generating research ideas and analyzing data…As a researcher in the Geocognition Laboratory, she is working to discover why there is a lack of underrepresented minorities in Earth System Sciences (ESS), and to find avenues for improving the pathways for minority students to ESS degrees. Her interests were shaped by her job mentoring fellow students at NEIU, where she was frustrated by the trend of minority students dropping out of STEM degrees because of challenges they faced at school and at home. Paty has turned this frustration into positive energy, and is working as a research assistant on an NSF-funded grant seeking to understand the links between social capital, mentoring relationships, and success in ESS for diverse populations…

I personally think the final sentence of Cailtin’s letter says it best: “It is in connecting with others …that Paty’s passion becomes evident and, I believe, has the power to improve the climate of ESS to make it more inclusive for everyone, regardless of their personal challenges.

I’m looking forward to future surprises from my amazing cohort of current students (Caitlin Kirby, Patricia Jaimes, and Amanda Lorenz) and am so thankful that they support each other!