Tips for Forming Your Dissertation Defense Committee

Image Credit: Randall Munroe

For many graduate students the dissertation defense committee is somewhat of a mystery. How many members must you have? Who should you ask to serve on your committee? How far ahead should you be preparing for this? To answer these questions I asked chairs from departments all across campus as well as DU’s Graduate Student Services team. They had some wonderful insights, advice, and explanations that I think will be extremely helpful for you all as you embark on this important task.

Consult Your Advisor

Ok, so you have different options and important components to consider when putting together your dissertation committee. Generally a Defense Committee Chair (non-voting) –> Dissertation Director (voting) –> and a minimum of two additional committee members (voting) comprise the dissertation committee. Dr. Valavanis, profess or in Electrical & Computer Engineering, states normally students typically select all three members from their college (two from the department and one from another unit within their college/school/other units, depending on the topic), and one external member (industry, other university) who is an expert in the area of the dissertation. Deciding on if that’s the path that you’ll go down, it’s important to first seek the advice of your advisor.

Department chair and associate professor in the Higher Education program, Dr. Gildersleeve, recommends that students should “always take their advisor/supervisor’s advice. S/he has done this before, and has a clearer idea of how the process can unfold.” For doctoral students in the Graduate School of Social Work program, Dr. Bender recommends that students in addition to one’s advisor, should also consult the Associate Dean. Dr. Hazel, department chair and associate professor in the Child, Family, and School Psychology program, echos this advice stating “your major advisor will be your primary resource and support. However, no one person will be able to advise you in all things, so considering the complementary skills that other faculty can bring to your committee is important.” When thinking about questions to ask your advisor, Communication Studies chair and associate professor, Dr. Foust, recommends that students ask about the “possible strengths that other committee members might bring to the project–for instance, if your advisor has a strong background in research methods, you might select a committee member who has research or experience relative to the theories or contexts with which you’re working.” It’s also important to consult your advisor before you start cold calling other faculty. Anthropology professor, Dr. Conyers, reminds us that advisees are a direct reflection of their advisor and it’s important that we go over all our dissertation details before moving onto the next step. Dr. Conyers prefers to be the one to recommend committee members and call in favors to find an outside chair, using it also as an opportunity to involve “someone who has not been involved in our department before, in the hope we can show others what we do here, and open up channels for future collaborations.”

Plan Ahead

While you definitely want to make sure you’re prepared before you start soliciting faculty members, you should start making connections with potential individuals in advance. Who knows, your future outside chair could be someone you met at DURAPS! One great way to do this is to take a class from a professor who has work in which you’re interested. Mechanical and Materials Engineering professor, Dr. Yi, states that taking a class from a professor allows them to gain specific knowledge and expertise in a student’s area and specialization, enabling them to reliably judge their performance. Dr. Foust points out that some faculty request that grad students have taken at least 1 class with them before they agree to serve on committees. She states that “this can also be helpful for locating mentorship beyond content-expertise (so students not only find a mentor who is an expert in your research area, but they might also find a second faculty mentor who nurtures them as a teacher, and a third faculty member with whom they talk about methodological concerns, etc.).”

Dr. Foust also points out that “getting to know many faculty members serves graduate students well during sabbaticals–remember that faculty members take time off for their research, so your ideal committee members might not be available at the exact right time.” Emily Kintigh and Dr. Clark, in Media Film in Journalism Studies, also found this to be an important consideration and suggest that students “lay out a realistic work plan with deadlines that take into account thesis committee members’ schedules during breaks, summer, sabbaticals, etc. Dr. Yi states that he is often “reluctant to select a professor from outside the department, who knows very little about engineering, but sometimes has to, especially in the summer time when it is difficult to find a faculty available on campus.

Strike the Perfect Balance

Ok, so you know that you need at least three voting committee members, but how do you choose? Dr. Gildersleeve, provided the following advice “balance your committee with expertise that will serve your project; a content area expert, a methodologist, and a theory expert. This group of experts is dedicated to making your project the best it can be. You want to make the most of the opportunity to have nationally recognized experts (like the DU Faculty) supporting your project.” Kimberly Bender states that for students in her department “the choice of members for the committee should be guided by the candidate’s need for consultation on substantive matters, research methods, and statistical analytic approaches. It is common for a student to form a committee by choosing one person with whom they have an established working relationship, one person who has special substantive knowledge related to the research topic, and one person who has special research methods or statistical knowledge congruent with the proposed dissertation research.” Dr. Davis, professor and chair of the English department, also finds that it’s important to choose an individual with whom a student has a working relationship, especially when selecting a committee director. Dr. Wilcots, former Associate Provost of the Office of Graduate Studies, recommends that any dissertation that draws upon a field of study outside of the discipline in which the degree is being offered have a defense committee that includes a faculty person from every field represented. For example Anthropology faculty are not trained and credentialed to provide a scholarly decision on the quality of a novel, and Higher Ed faculty are not trained and credentialed to provide a scholarly decision on a film.

Dr. Hazel points out that “in some institutions, how the faculty get along is a serious consideration for students in the selection of their committee members. In the Morgridge College of Education, we are fortunate that the faculty hold each other in high regard and I have never seen power struggles in dissertation committees. Therefore, students can and should consider solely the expertise that the faculty can bring to the committee in their selection. I hope this is true across all units, but would advise students to confirm this with their major advisor.”

The Dissertation Director

DU’s Student Services experts state that the dissertation director needs to be a tenured or tenure-track member of the candidate’s graduate program. It is the dissertation director’s responsibility to ensure that the student’s research meets appropriate academic standards for the discipline in which the degree is being conferred. Dr. Cutforth, chair and professor in the Research Methods and Statistics department, outlines the following considerations when selecting one’s director:

  • Consider their expertise, accessibility, quality of feedback, and personality: The dissertation director’s role includes assisting you in developing your topic of interest and ultimately approving it as a researchable topic, approving your committee members in consultation with you and determining their role in the dissertation process; reading every line, section, and chapter of your dissertation, and judging the quality of your dissertation and deciding when you’re ready to successfully defend it in your oral defense.
    • Their expertise: Your director should have expertise and interest in your topic area so that they can direct you to relevant literature sources, foresee challenges that you may encounter as you proceed with your study, guide your choice of data collection and analysis procedures, and be thoroughly invested in your work.
    • Their accessibility: Your director should be able to give you the time you need to complete your project. Factors to consider include whether their own research or speaking engagements take them off campus for large periods of time, whether they are likely to be on sabbatical or family leave during your dissertation process, whether they are on numerous other dissertation projects, and whether they are available during the summer. All these factors influence the amount of time they will be able to provide to you.
    • Their quality of feedback: Your director provides quality control for your dissertation and decides when you can send chapters to your committee and when you’re ready for the final oral defense. Find out from other students whether s/he is respected for reading, critiquing, and returning drafts promptly (i.e., within 2 weeks except during busy periods like grading, vacation, and other deadlines). A director who provides specific and detailed feedback rather than vague comments will ensure that you are well prepared for your proposal and final oral defense.
    • Their personality: You will be working closely with your dissertation director so you should choose someone with whom you get on well. Do you want a director who closely monitors each phase of your work and tells you exactly what has to be done at each step, or would you rather have a director who lets you progress on your own and to finish a complete draft of the project before turning it in? Most directors fall somewhere between these two extremes. They also differ in the manner in which they provide feedback. Ideally you want someone who is direct and kind in critiquing your work but who ultimately will ensure that your study meets your department’s, college’s, and university’s standards.

Outside Chair(s)

The outside chair is a tenured member of the DU faculty from outside of the student’s department or discipline whose role is to provide a non-specialist’s perspective on the quality of the dissertation.

Dr. Gildersleeve encourages grad students not to be afraid to reach out to faculty members, even if you don’t know them very well or at all yet. “Make an appointment and share your ideas/project with us. If it fits within our scholarly agendas, we will be just as excited about supporting your project as you are.” Dr. Hazel discusses her experience stating that she’s “worked with outside chairs that have content expertise in the dissertation study and those that are from disciplines that had no relationship to the dissertation. In all cases, I have found the outside chairs to be engaged and thoughtful in their leadership of the dissertation defense. In other words, if you don’t know a faculty member outside your unit with expertise in your study, worry not! You will still have a faculty member who is dedicated to the process, who has read your dissertation and will ask thoughtful questions, and who will make sure that your defense proceeds in compliance with University policies.” Dr. Davis advises that outside chairs ideally should come from a discipline that is related to the project, but that students can also ask their committee members to suggest people they think might be interested in the topic. Often times, one’s dissertation director assists with choosing an outside chair. Dr. Cutforth states that  dissertation directors “will likely know faculty whose research is connected to your dissertation and/or those who enjoy being outside chair of dissertations in your college.”

So there you have it. The DU Defense Committee in a nutshell. As you begin on this process I recommend that you also read this article from Inside Higher Ed “Dealing With the Committee” for more logistical advice. If you have any comments/thoughts feel free to add them in the comments. Good luck with creating your dissertation defense committee in the coming months!

Books and Bottles: Parenthood in Academe- Adrienne Martinez’ Experience

Guest post by Adrienne Martinez, MSW; Director of GSSW’s Student & Career Services; Higher Education PhD student in DU’s Morgridge College of Education

As I reflect on my experience as a doctoral student, I am confronted with memories of remarkable achievement, deep struggle, and, of course, the infamous self-doubt. The most indelible memory, for obvious reasons, was the day I went into labor.

Nine months prior, I walked into a faculty member’s office to share the news that I was dropping her class. I simply could not fathom mustering up the energy to complete the course. I did not doubt my ability under usual circumstances, but this was anything but usual. Before pregnancy, I could thrive comfortably with six hours of sleep. I was undoubtedly busy while working full-time and enrolled in two courses but suddenly, I found myself slipping into a deep slumber almost immediately after I returned home from work. Unlike before, I allowed myself to sleep when my body told me I was tired. I was now responsible for another’s well-being and development, both of which required that I take better care of myself.

My faculty member’s response was not one I expected. I entered the room with shame and disappointment to share the news that I had to drop the course. She spoke to me with compassion, support, and in confidence. I always admired her ability to engage her classes in critical discussion and with an inclusive pedagogy, but her ability to support and encourage me in that moment is what I have carried with me since. Whether knowingly or not, she provided the space for me to be vulnerable and learn from her both as a faculty member and as a mother.

The remainder of the academic year was mostly a blur. Taking the stairs in Katherine Ruffato Hall became increasingly difficult as the days passed.  My backpack made me almost perfectly spherical for most of winter and all of spring quarter. I learned how to conduct a comparison analysis using SPSS, a chi square test by hand, and was pressured most by learning the difference between an infant and a convertible car seat. To be honest, the latter caused the most trepidation. As I conducted an analysis of variance tests on imaginary data, I also prepared for what I knew would be life-changing. What I didn’t know is that all of my preconceived plans of how I would find a new life balance was not <.05.

When I started my doctorate, I knew I was interested in access to postsecondary opportunity for historically excluded and underrepresented students. A more specific research interest was emerging and was strengthened each quarter. In my dissertation, I intend to explore the ways in which teen parents experience secondary education and the factors that illuminate a pathway to and through college for such students.

My new identity as a mother nuanced my understanding of my dissertation topic. I was not a teen parent and cannot truly understand the complexity, pressure, and achievement of the experience. My understanding of parenthood may look quite different than those whose stories will inform my research. My struggles are saturated with both privilege and responsibility.  I am educated and have the opportunity to pursue a terminal degree. I am in a very stable financial situation. I have an incredible partner who assumes many of the household and parenting tasks; sometimes equally, other times he bares more weight. And with that, I have the strength and support to pursue this degree and, thus, elevate the experiences that are often disregarded in academia – both in the research and in practice.

Often times I question why I’m still doing this and why I choose to struggle almost every day of every quarter. And on those days of questioning, I remember who I have to support me, who has been there to guide me, and who has yet to follow me. It will be me who has the degree and those three little letters after my name. But it will not be me who achieved it solely. I am indebted to my partner and my son for their daily encouragement and support. To my parents who help with childcare on a weekly basis. My aunt who cares for my son daily and other aunts who help with care when I’m in class. My brothers and cousins who unknowingly provide a space for my self-care through laughter and jokes. This has not been done alone and I will achieve because of them.

I am most certainly not the only person to both raise a child and family while pursuing a terminal degree. Though this experience has been the most challenging balance of my life and has been incredibly isolating, it has also reminded me that I’m part of a larger community that is just as resolved to see me finish this degree as I am to earn it.

Introducing the Grad Lounge: DU’s Newest Open Work Space for Grad Students

Welcome to DU’s new open work space for graduate students, The Grad Lounge. The Grad Lounge is open from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm every Monday through Friday and is located inside the Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence suite in Driscoll North. The space was just created this quarter for DU graduate students and provides an area to work on the many projects that seem to take so much longer than anticipated. Today I sat down for a chat with Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence’s Assistant Director of Graduate Student Programs, Sujie Kim, to learn more about this new resource. Happy reading!

Open Work Space Just for Grad Students

Graduate students are often criticized for their tendencies to sequester themselves during their time in school. While alone-time is definitely vital for any scholar, it’s also important to get out one’s lab/cubicle/desk periodically. The Grad Lounge is a perfect opportunity for that, providing not only an open work space to get that dissertation chapter started, but also a space for our graduate community to write together. Additionally, it can be used as a convenient spot to relax, unwind, or just kill time before a class/meeting. The lounge is equipped with items to support every graduate student’s cognitive needs including tables, couches, writing supplies, a fridge, a microwave and even Play Dough, fidget spinners, and peppermints (which have been shown to help with mental recall)!

Drop In Writing Assistance

Prefer more low-key, graduate focused writing support? Need to talk to a writing center consultant but have your kids with you? The Writing Center can help! The Writing Center will be offering drop-in consultations every quarter right in the lounge. Sujie explained that what’s great about these sessions is the fact that they are flexible and can be made to fit graduate students’ diverse writing needs. Unlike the traditional 45-minute sessions that are offered in the Anderson Academic Commons, these drop-in hours can be more customized. Advanced graduate consultants are available to talk with you about ideas for a paper, help you refine arguments, and working on later-stage revising and editing. The Writing Center also now offers online scheduling that can be made for sessions in the AAC or Grad Lounge (current hours in the grad lounge have ended for the fall quarter but will resume in the winter). Once you’ve created an account, the system will also send you reminders the day of your scheduled appointments, allow you to register for workshops, and add you to an automated wait list if you cannot get an appointment at your preferred time. In the future the Grad Lounge will also be offering accountability and writing groups for graduate students.

Mental Health Support

Graduate life can take a toll on you, both mentally and physically. To help combat the mental stresses that students pursuing post-baccalaureate goals encounter, Sujie coordinates Grad Chat and Wellness Wednesdays. Grad Chat offers the opportunity for graduate students of color to talk and engage around mental health topics over a meal. This fall the monthly sessions included stress management and care and medication management. Sujie explained that each meeting is facilitated by a mental health expert such as the Health and Counseling Center’s postdoctoral fellow (who helped with the stress management session) and a psychiatrist (who facilitated the medication management session). Wellness Wednesdays is a another opportunity for students to make time for self-care during the quarter. Wellness Wednesdays is a weekly program that currently provides coffee, snacks and de-stress activities. Future programming will include yoga, wellness workshops, mindfulness and meditation, and massage.

So next time you’re traversing Driscoll Bridge to get out of the cold and snow be sure to drop in at the Grad Lounge! If you have any questions or would like to utilize the space for an upcoming meeting feel free to email Sujie (currently, the Black Graduate Student AssociationGraduate Women’s Council, and Latino/a Graduate Association, hold regular meetings in the lounge). Happy writing!

Sie Center Postdoc, Kelsey Norman, Explores Migrant and Refugee Settlement in the Global South

A photo of Kelsey taken by an interviewee while conducting fieldwork in Alexandria, Egypt in 2015.

Happy day 2 of National Postdoc Appreciation Week! We’re taking this week to acknowledge the wonderful research our DU postdocs are conducting on campus. Today we’re featuring Dr. Kelsey Norman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Josef Korbel School’s Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy. The Sié Center’s many research projects focus on managing violence and maximizing resilience at the local, national, regional, and global levels. In her scholarship, Dr. Norman examines Middle East and North African states as countries of migrant and refugee settlement. Below she explains more about her research, dissertation process, and steps she took in her postdoc job search. Happy reading!

Researcher: Dr. Kelsey Norman: I graduated in June this year from The University of California, Irvine with a Ph.D. in Political Science. I received a Master of Public Policy from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dissertation Research: My dissertation, “Reluctant Reception: Understanding Host State Migration and Refugee Policies in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey,” explores migrant and refugee settlement in three Middle East and North African host states and asks: What policy options do states in the Global South have for engaging with migrants and refugees, and what factors make a state choose one option over another? To answer this question I conducted extensive fieldwork and 131 interviews in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey with government officials, international organizations, local NGOs, and individual migrants and refugees.  I find that in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey were able to mostly ignore the implications of their new inward migration due to three primary factors: migrants and refugees found ways to integrate into large informal economies, international organizations and domestic organizations intervened to provide essential services, and the issue of migration was not so highly politicized that it gained prolonged traction in media or amongst the national population. By allowing migrants and refugees to integrate in a de facto sense through minimal government intervention and by relying on international organizations to provide primary services, host states derive international credibility while only exerting minimal state resources.

I also look at the factors that cause migration and refugee policy to change over time in each host state. I find that geostrategic imperatives and international perceptions drive state engagement decisions more than the capacity of each host state. Capacity is therefore not only an empirical reality but also a perception that can serve strategic purposes, and this influences the choices that host states make regarding migrant and refugee responsibility. Additionally, I find that host states will enact a liberal strategy if (a) doing so allows it to co-opt domestic civil society critics, or (b) doing so will reap economic or diplomatic benefits from either a powerful neighboring state or a geostrategically important sending state. This contravenes the extant neoinstitutionalist and postnationalist explanations for why states in the Global North adopt liberal migration policies.

Research at the Sié Center: My primary project is working on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript, but I’m pursuing an active research agenda that includes: (1) further work on forced migration and host state policies in the Middle East; (2) migrant and refugee activism in semi-authoritarian settings; (3) the rise of global migration deterrence measures; (4) diaspora involvement in home country politics; (5) the role of international organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in determining host state migration policy outcomes. I currently work with Dr. Deborah Avant, the Director of the Sié Chéou-Kang for International Security and Diplomacy, but I look forward to working with various members of the center and of the broader Korbel academic community.

Biggest Challenge as a Doctoral Student: Endurance. Working on a project for five+ years is difficult under any circumstances. I began my dissertation project in 2012, just following the Arab Spring and as Syrians were only beginning to seek refuge in neighboring countries. I did not anticipate, as I was finishing fieldwork in the summer of 2015, that the migration and refugee “crises” I had been researching would suddenly become front-page news in Europe, the United States and across the world. What had been a niche topic as I was writing proposals, seeking out contacts and conducting interviews, suddenly became mainstream. Initially this seemed promising: increased attention would mean increased support in terms of international funding and perhaps even refugee resettlement. But the momentary global sympathy after the body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach quickly dissipated, and was replaced by xenophobic nationalism, anti-immigration platforms, and calls for reinforced borders. Against this backdrop, the process of writing my dissertation between 2015 and 2017 was difficult. Often I felt that my efforts would have been better directed toward activism or public engagement that attempted to counter some of the racist and exclusionary rhetoric that has become so prominent. But I persisted in finishing my dissertation and the degree, and I’m hopeful that the research I conducted will eventually be available as a book, meaning that the labor and time spent in relative isolation won’t have been in vain!

Postdoc Job Search Steps:  I applied widely for postdocs and jobs. The primary resource I used was APSA ejobs, but because I was also looking at positions in policy schools or affiliated with institutes that aren’t necessarily composed of political scientists, I looked at positions advertised via other websites as well, including jobs.ac.uk and globaljobs.org. As a bit of advice, it’s a good idea to let other academics (in your department or elsewhere) know that you’re on the job market. Sometimes job advertisements aren’t circulated widely enough, but if something crosses your colleague’s desk and they know you’re in the process of looking for a postdoctoral position, they can easily forward the advertisement to you.

Advice for DU Doctoral Students: Various people during the course of my PhD told me, “the best dissertation is a finished dissertation.” Your dissertation won’t be perfect, and if you’re hoping to eventually publish it as a book you’ll have to do substantial rewriting anyway. More generally, I think this mentality applies to publishing and having your writing available for academic or public audiences. Don’t fret too much about perfection, and be brave about getting your ideas out there for peer-review or public critique.

Graduate Citings Tales from the Field – Samantha Brown

samantha-brown-university-of-denverHello Graduate Students! We hope you’re having a spectacular summer filled with a balance of relaxation and productivity. For August we’re featuring postdoctoral fellow and DU alumnae Dr. Samantha Brown. Dr. Brown is committed to reducing barriers to accessing services for vulnerable children and families and has conducted extensive research surrounding child health and well-being. As a recent DU grad student Dr. Brown is very familiar with the stresses brought on by publication and dissertation completion. Be sure to read her research advice at the end of the article!

Researcher: Dr. Samantha Brown, postdoctoral fellow in the in the SEED Research Center in the Department of Psychology and PhD alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work.

Current Research: My overarching graduate research program sought to translate research on adverse childhood experiences, family functioning, and stress into the development and testing of preventive interventions aimed at promoting prosocial parenting behavior and child health and well-being. In support of this work, I implemented a randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based intervention that I adapted for child welfare-involved families with substance misuse for my dissertation. In addition, I am working with a research team to identify the mechanisms through which early adversity and family stress impact current parenting and child well-being.

While conducting my dissertation research (which I finished in 2016, yay!) I found that the mindfulness-based intervention could be feasibly integrated within public child welfare. Findings also indicate that the program reduced parenting stress and improved parenting and child behavior problems. These results are exciting in that there is potential to implement integrative mindfulness programs within child- and family-serving agencies. I am currently in the process of submitting findings from my dissertation for publication.

Collaborators: I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from talented scholars across multiple fields. The work that I have accomplished thus far would not have been possible without the great support and mentorship that I have received from my advisor and dissertation chair, Kimberly Bender, and my committee members, Jeffrey Jenson, Jennifer Bellamy, and Lavita Nadkarni. I will also continue to pursue this important area of study as a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Sarah Watamura in the SEED Research Center.

Initial Inspiration: My prior clinical experience as a substance abuse counselor and child welfare caseworker is the driving force behind my current research interests and has motivated me to serve as a catalyst for change in reducing barriers to accessing services for vulnerable children and families. I worked with many children and families impacted by early adverse experiences and became interested in exploring alternative interventions that might be useful in helping individuals to develop sustainable skills to cope with these stressful situations.

Biggest Challenge: Setting aside enough time to complete tasks has been a challenge! I often underestimate how long projects may take, and then feel guilty when I don’t cross items off of my list. I have slowly learned to be strategic about every bit of time that I have available, which has helped me to stay productive and motivated, for the most part!

Research Advice: It is important to connect with a community of scholars who can provide support during a time that seems like a never-ending process! Surrounding yourself by positive role-models can only strengthen your skills and will add immensely to your experience. Sometimes the publication process can be tedious, but don’t let rejections or negative comments sway you from pursuing your important work! It is simply part of the process, and use those moments as learning experiences.

Graduate Citings: Harry Gollob Award Winner – Kayla Knopp

knoppHello graduates! While you’re enjoying the summer break, we’d like to share the work of Kayla Knopp, a recipient of this year’s Harry Gollob Award given by the Department of Psychology to the best first author publication for a current graduate student. Kayla’s paper was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in September 2016.

Researcher: I’m a 6th-year Clinical Psychology PhD. student. My research has three main focuses: first, understanding how people form, maintain, and break commitments in romantic relationships; second, studying diverse relationships (e.g., non-monogamous relationships, relationships of LGBTQ people); and third, applying new statistical methods to better answer research questions about relationships. Right now, I’m mainly working on my dissertation study, which is exploring “defining the relationship” (“DTR”) talks in teens’ and young adults’ romantic relationships. In addition to conducting research, I work as a therapist with couples and families, and I teach undergraduate courses in psychology at the University of Colorado Denver. Once I earn my PhD, my goal is to work as a clinical researcher and supervisor at a university – and I hope to be able to settle down in a city that my partner and I love as much as we love Denver!

Published Research: In this paper, Within- and Between-Family Associations of Marital Functioning and Child Well-being, we looked at the way children’s well-being changed over time in concordance with their parents’ marital functioning. We found that at times when parents’ communication and conflict management was relatively better (or worse), children’s emotional and behavioral well-being was also relatively better (or worse). Before this paper, other studies had only looked at differences between different families rather than looking at changes over time within the same families. This paper gets us closer to understanding how to help parents with children make sure their family is functioning as well as possible.

Collaborators: Dr. Galena Rhoades, Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Howard Markman

Inspiration: I was inspired by learning a new statistical method (disentangling within-subject and between-subjects effects in a multilevel model). I noticed that this method was very applicable to my field, but I had never seen other researchers use it in this way. I think this paper is a great example of how we can use statistical innovations to help us understand psychological processes better.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge with this paper has been helping other people (like reviewers and other experts in my field) understand why this particular method is important. In a way, my coauthors and I were saying to other researchers that they need to make a change to the way they’ve been analyzing data and making conceptual inferences up to this point. It took a lot perseverance to write (and rewrite) this paper in a way that was meaningful and useful to these other researchers.

Research Result: First, I hope that parents find the information useful. One online blog has already published a summary of the paper, and I hope that some couples try to make changes to the way they communicate and solve conflict as a result of reading about this research. My other hope is that other researchers can use this paper as a template for how to use this kind of statistical method with similar data in the future.

Research Advice: Be persistent! Be open to feedback along the way. Projects and papers sometimes take a long time and many iterations to get off the ground. If you stick with it and continue to get input from others about how your project can be improved, you’ll be successful.

Meet Your New Graduate Student Government Board Members!

Did you know DU’s Graduate Student Government has 4 new members? We’re excited to introduce you to your new president, vice president, director of inclusive excellence, and director of communications! Check out who they are and what they plan to do in their newly appointed positions. Like all of you, they are grad students experiencing the ups and downs of postgraduate education. Be sure to read the advice that each of them have to share with you all!

Ariel Zarate

GSG Position: President; Major: 1st year master’s student enrolled in a dual degree program with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the Graduate School of Social Work.

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I enjoy being challenged and felt this was a great opportunity to develop valuable leadership and diplomacy skills while working on campus initiatives in which I have already been involved. I hope to continue to build upon GSG’s currently existing programs as well as facilitate partnerships between schools. I want to break out of the he existing silo structure and create spaces for mutual learning outside of the classroom. Additionally, I aim to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus, again using collaboration and integrated learning and development methods.

What are you studying/researching? I am currently researching mental health interventions in conflict settings focusing on community based interventions targeting and developed by women.

What has been your biggest challenge and what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge has been balancing external opportunities and graduate work. My interests are broad and I often find myself wanting to pursue more. I am currently working toward this goal so the best advice I can think of is to be organized and to research something you are passionate about. I have greatly enjoyed my research thus far because the scope of work drives my graduate school and professional career ambitions.

Michael Fiorini

GSG Position: Vice President; Major: 1st year PsyD in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology’s (GSPP) Clinical Psychology Program

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I’ve been involved in GSG as a senator for GSPP for the past year and during that time have helped spearhead initiatives for inclusiveness in GSPP and at DU more broadly. I think we are in great position to better integrate DU’s different schools and departments for cohesiveness, community, and greater collaboration; I aim to be integral to that process. I look forward to facilitating our GSG representative transition and continuing the work we’ve already done regarding grad student campus integration. Pet projects include: continued access for grad students to DU facilities and benefits like our fitness center and RTD passes.

What are you studying/researching? I practice as a psychotherapist in training for the DU community and neighborhood, as well as for a program rehabilitating criminals on parole from around the state. Academically I work for a research group studying the cognitive effects of traumatic brain injury in athletes. 

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? I think my biggest challenge as a grad student is our visibility, funding, and agency as a presence on campus. Given how much we contribute to the University, I think there is a lot of room for improving our general standing in campus affairs. Probably the best thing you can do is to be confident in your abilities. If you have believe in yourself and trust in your ability, when you hear about a new study being conducted you’ll be more willing and able to participate. As far as publishing independent work, it might feel like it’s a difficult thing to do at first. It’s possible you’ll get rejected or asked to edit your work before consideration, but don’t let that get you down. If you keep at it and find out about relevant journals or publishers, eventually you will find one that will be interested if the work itself is solid. You’re helping them out just as much as they’re helping you!

Amanda Meise

GSG Position: Director of Inclusive Excellence; Major: 3rd year PhD student in Communication Studies

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? This position is in direct relation to graduate research and aspirations. I have spent the past two years exploring Inclusive Excellence (IE), assessing campus climate, and working on several campus initiatives to help bring the goals of IE to fruition. I hope that this position will enable me to continue to expand the reach of my dialogues, understanding and contribution to moving DU as a community towards becoming the Inclusively Excellent space it strives to be. I hope to create a campus-wide dialogue about what IE means, the state of the current institutional climate, and how we can work collectively with the community to raise awareness of IE.

What are you studying/researching? My research includes topics of sexual violence, critical race studies, new materialist feminism, dialogue and IE. I work with Dr. Joshua Hanan in Communication Studies and Dr. Frank Tuitt who is the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost on Inclusive Excellence. In my dissertation I will be considering how communication scholars can add to the growing body of research on Inclusive Excellence at predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge as a grad student has been time management within the quarter system and finding the time for self-care. My advice would be to find a faculty member to mentor you through the process of submissions and revisions.

Gabe Conley

GSG Position: Director of Communications; Major: 1st year master’s student in Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Program

Why did you apply? I strongly believe in the power of student voices and the Director of Communications position gives me the opportunity to bridge the gap between graduate students and their relationship at DU. I am exited the help spread awareness and promote campus-wide events here at DU.

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I hope to develop a better understanding of DU’s campus structure and climate to find possible solutions for establishing a close-knit graduate community. I also aspire to enhance a deep knowledge about my role in order to be an effective Director for Communications. I am currently doing research on retention issues on college campuses and solutions for closing the achievement gap between majority and minority student populations.

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge as a graduate student is commuting and getting hungry after being on campus all day! I would recommend that all grad students use the citation management software RefWorks to store all your references. It’s free through the DU library and comes quite in handy and saves you the time and energy. The library periodically offers workshops on Refworks which are also super helpful!