Season 6 - Episode 613
National Graduate Student Appreciation Week runs April 3-7 this year, affording the perfect time to celebrate the more than 5,000 graduate students who daily enrich the Baylor campus community. In this Baylor Connections, Sara Dolan, Associate Dean for Professional Development in the Graduate School and longtime psychology professor and researcher, shares how graduate students impact teaching, research and scholarship at Baylor, and examines their impact long after their last class at Baylor.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. Today we are talking about graduate students and their role in all of those things. As we visit with Sara Dolan, Dr. Sara Dolan serves as Professor of Psychology at Baylor and is Associate Dean of Professional Development in Baylor's graduate school. An American psychological association citizen psychologist, whose nationally recognized research serves communities, professionals, and individuals impacted by trauma. She also serves in the graduate school. In the graduate school, Dolan and colleagues support graduate students and faculty success in a variety of ways, including through the Graduate Student Association. April 3rd through seventh of this year, marks the Annual Graduate Student Appreciation Week, established by the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students. And it's a great time for us to talk about all the great ways that graduate students contribute to the exciting things that are taking place at Baylor. Sara, it's great to have you back on the program. It's been a while, but it's great to talk about your research and to talk more about the other graduate students today.
Sara Dolan:Thanks for having me, Derek. This is such a great event. I'm glad that we get to publicize it to really raise awareness of all the great stuff our graduate students are doing.
Derek Smith:Yeah, and we're going to talk about that. Are they almost a little bit of a hidden gym at Baylor? I think to the Baylor family as a whole, I should say, little bit of a hidden gym?
Sara Dolan:So we certainly think so. And we hope that this graduate Student Appreciation Week makes the work of our graduate students more visible. We've been a really outstanding place for undergraduate teaching for 175 years. And more recently, Baylor's been recognized as an outstanding place for undergraduates to participate in research. But we've had masters and doctoral students here for decades. Now, we number 5,000, which is amazingly a quarter of Baylor student population. And our grad students have been the fuel that drives faculty research, faculty scholarship. And our grad students provide really outstanding classroom and laboratory teaching for undergrads. Our grad students are presenting, they're publishing, they're at the same conferences, they're publishing in the same peer review journals as our senior most tenured faculty. And now that we're an R1 university, which is impossible to achieve without graduating lots of really good PhD students, graduate students are taking on a more prominent role in Baylor's success. And I do want to say, our administration's been really outstanding in supporting graduate education, especially in the last few years as we've achieved this R1 milestone.
Derek Smith:Well, a lot of great resources and energy coming out of the graduate school. We've had Dr. Lyon on before and others who work with our graduate students. It's exciting to see. And for you, this is a role, as I mentioned, that we haven't talked to you as much about a different side of things in addition to your work in Baylor's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Hey, I have to ask you real quick, because we talk about different sides of things. We know you as an expert, researcher and professor, but I also know you as a diehard Baylor basketball fan. I know you and I were both hoping that we might have some travel plans that we would have to navigate around this week. Unfortunately not the case. But how much do you enjoy cheering on the Bears? Because I see a lot of the games.
Sara Dolan:Yeah. I went to college at Indiana University, which you know. And that's a school that has a really rich basketball tradition. So I grew up watching college basketball and cheering for basketball. But Baylor's awesome. You just can't beat having both a men's and a women's program with national championship banners. So it's almost like a second full-time job. I go to all the games that I can, men's and women's. I went to both of the most recent national championships for men and women. And I really think our sports teams bring this sense of pride to all of us here at Baylor. And the student athletes really demonstrate who we are as an outstanding Christian university.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, that's a great way to put it. As we visit with Sara Dolan. Now I have to ask, does that bring out a different side of you? We see the professorial University side. Does that bring out a different edge to you in any way?
Sara Dolan:It does. I'm actually quite competitive when it comes to college sports. Right now, my coworkers in the graduate school are having a March Madness bracket challenge, and there's been some talk, shall we say, that I like to engage in.
Derek Smith:That's good. Visiting with Dr. Sara Dolan here on Baylor Connections. And talking about graduate students and their work. Before you entered into this role in the graduate school, you've done a lot of great research. And I'm curious if you could describe that to us briefly and the role that graduate students have played in your own work, because I know that... I'm sure that shapes in a lot of ways just how you enter into this role.
Sara Dolan:Oh, absolutely. So my own research program looks at how thinking styles and thinking skills affect how people cope with various kinds of mental health issues like trauma, like substance use disorders. And I've got a wonderful, very active group of doctoral students. They contribute to that work and they do their own work. It's really more exciting for me to see the kinds of projects that they come up with on their own. And I see part of my job as a graduate faculty member and doctoral advisor, it's to encourage them to conduct their own research. It will dovetail with my expertise so that I can adequately supervise them. But the most exciting part is to allow them and encourage them to flourish, and think and work more independently in things that excite them. And I mean, I'm really proud of my own doctoral students, and that pride is really carried over to the work that I'm doing here in the graduate school. Now I get to be proud of all 5,000 of our graduate students.
Derek Smith:That's great. And as you described that, I remember as I started interviewing different professors, and they would say It's really my students who are doing all of the work or my students who are doing most all of the work. And I'll admit, I don't know why. I think I thought maybe they were exaggerating just a bit or displaying some humility, which they certainly do that. But came to realize, no, it's these students who are really driving this work across campus. And I'm not sure, Sara, if that's something a lot of people really know. Just when you see this research coming out of Baylor, how much that's fueled by the students.
Sara Dolan:Yeah, I would say even especially in the STEM and kind of STEM adjacent programs, the students are gathering the data. The students are doing a lot of the analysis of the research data. The students are writing up those data for papers and presentations. And it's really wonderful for their careers. But that tends to be the fuel that keeps STEM research labs going. This is the work that gets our junior faculty to the tenured place. It's the, I would say, fuel that drives the engine of the research across campus. I think faculty are probably, at this point more like managers. They're certainly doing strategic planning and thinking of research ideas. But I would say our graduate students are the worker bees who make it all happen
Derek Smith:Almost like a small business in some ways, it seems. A lot of the labs that are taking place and doing great work as we visit with Dr. Sara Dolan. Well, yeah, Sara, it's Graduate Student Appreciation Week fourth coming. As we talked today, you mentioned it's a great opportunity to celebrate grad students. What does it mean to you to get to celebrate them? What does that look like in your mind?
Sara Dolan:Well, we tried to celebrate it last year, but we were a little late to the game. So I'm really proud of our Graduate Student Association who brought this National Graduate Student Appreciation Week to the radar here at Baylor. It's really all on them to make this happen. But I'll tell you, as an associate dean in the graduate school, we do a lot to demonstrate appreciation for graduate students. We have individual awards for outstanding teaching, outstanding research, outstanding dissertation. But those awards go to individual students. We do a very nice banquet for them each year, and that's really great. But this week long event gets to show our appreciation for their excellence for a whole week. And it spreads across the entire graduate school. I'll tell you, we had a post-doctoral fellow Appreciation week last semester, which really raised awareness of how postdocs contribute to research here at Baylor. And our graduate students, as we've said, are significant contributors to research and undergraduate teaching. They serve as mentors to undergraduate researchers. They serve as leaders on campus. And we want that work to be in the Baylor consciousness as well. And we really do hope that our students feel appreciated. We've got some fun events planned, raffles, prizes. The Graduate Student Association and the graduate school have partnered to offer lots of really cool things, including the Dean is going to give up his parking space for a week to one lucky graduate student winner. So we hope that all graduate students come to our events and enter the raffles. But we also hope that our academic departments do something special for their own students too.
Derek Smith:Hey, that's big time. You get the Dean's parking spot. You're in good stead there for sure. As we visit with Dr. Sara Dolan here on Baylor Connections, professor of psychology at Baylor and Associate Dean of Professional Development in Baylor's graduate school. You mentioned the graduate student a association a couple of times. And I want to ask you about that and broadly ask you what it means to welcome grad students into the Baylor family and to help them navigate a very distinct time in their professional lives along with probably their personal lives.
Sara Dolan:Oh yeah, absolutely. Graduate students are in this unique kind of in between stage. They're students, yes. They're junior colleagues, yes. But they've got to navigate a lot of unique challenges, and the Graduate Student Association helps with that. Now, the first thing they do is really facilitate recruitment outstanding students here to Baylor. So our graduate students work with faculty to find and recruit really good students and to show off Baylor when these students come for their campus visits. And the recruiting really doesn't stop because we want the best and brightest students to come to Baylor, to stay at Baylor, to pursue grant funded research, to teach in our classrooms. We want them to get the best education they can graduate, and then go fling their green and gold afar. And our Graduate Student Association starts everyone off with a campus-wide orientation, which features very short kind of welcome speeches by President Livingstone, and Provost Brickhouse and the vice president for student affairs, Kevin Jackson, Dean Lyon. And we talk about all the great things that are at Baylor that we can be and we can help them be at Baylor. That program is also available to our online and hybrid students. And then we encourage our faculty and our program directors to continue that work of welcoming students, and caring for them, and making sure that they're a part of our academic community throughout their time here.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Sara Dolan. And you talk about the Graduate Student Association. Every university has a... Well, maybe not every university, but many universities have a grad student association of some sort. For at Baylor. What makes ours distinct compared to others? And are there some of the same things you find everywhere?
Sara Dolan:Yeah, the role of a GSA really is to provide community to enrich the quality of academic and social life for graduate students. Also though, to advocate for the rights of students and voice their concerns. And I want to really give a shout-out to our GSA. Graduate education is in some turbulent times across the country, there have been some stories in the news about graduate students unionizing, and graduate students protesting, and doing all sorts of things that they need to do to advocate for their needs financially, and personally, and professionally. And our GSA has chosen very intentionally, to partner with the administration to get those needs met. And I think because of the style of collaboration that our GSA embodies, our administration's been extraordinarily responsive. I've got lists of things that our GSA has successfully advocated for, including a parental leave policy reduction of graduate student fees. Derek, we used to have among the highest graduate student fees in the nation. And our Graduate Student Association worked with the graduate school, worked with our administration, and now we have the lowest because there's zero. We have zero graduate student fees, which is really great. They've also advocated for an increase in graduate stipends, which is really the crux of what other GSAs are doing across the country. And they got them. They got raises and stipends, three years of raises in a row that start this fall. And they've done it because of their Baylor style of being collaborative
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Sara Dolan. And you described the resources here and the ways I think it's changed over the years. And obviously you mentioned now 5,000 graduate students here at Baylor. So we're doing a lot of things, a lot of things right. But this is a very broad question, but who's coming? What's drawing students to Baylor? I think we can probably guess some things. But I'd love to hear your insights as these numbers grow as we're a Christian research university. What is it that's drawing students here? And who are we competing with for them?
Sara Dolan:Yeah, that's a great question because that answer is changing all the time. It's really exciting. So I will say, kind of at a high level in doctoral research programs, students generally come to work with a particular faculty member. They come to work in a particular graduate program. Sometimes that's based on reputation of the program or the faculty member. But a lot of times it's based on the topical bent that that faculty member has their research focus or that program has. So it's a little bit different from undergraduate education in that way. So graduate students look for a faculty member or program first, and then the institution is a little bit less important. But I will say one of the things that's really attractive about Baylor is the community that we offer. I think graduate students come for their faculty member and their program, but a lot of them stay because they're hooked by Baylor. Even Waco has been hooking students. But really primarily our faculty are the draw. Our faculty are second to none. We used to compete with universities that would be classified as R2, so maybe a little less research focused. Now that we're in the R1 playing field, we're competing with universities like University of Texas. We're competing with these other really large, very strong, very well funded graduate schools. So we've got to up our game a little bit. So we've got to offer more in stipends. We've got to offer more in opportunities for students to get the very best and brightest here.
Derek Smith:Students come here, they spend their time here, they learn. Some of them stay, but others will go out elsewhere. We talk a lot about flinging their green and gold afar anyone here at Baylor. But I'm curious, take us inside carrying that bay... Whether you want to call it carrying the university mission forward, or almost like a coaching tree in some ways for our faculty. What's it mean for a university to send a lot of graduate students out to different institutions across the country?
Sara Dolan:Yeah, Derek, I think your analogy of a coaching tree is really, really apt. We also use a family tree metaphor in academia. So we talk about an academic mother or father, your academic grandmother or grandfather, your academic children. I have a number of academic children now, which is really exciting. And often, our family trees sprout a network of connections to other trees. And opportunities come up in part because of those networks. The difference here in academia from basketball is that our academic parents and grandparents, our coaches generally aren't competing against their academic offspring like Coach Drew is doing now. But seriously, graduate students, once they leave Baylor, they represent who we are. They represent us, and our educational model, and our model of community, and environment to industry. And we hope they impact their future employers kind of bringing the Baylor imprint to industry, to other academic institutions, to the nonprofit organizations they work in, really all the places they work. And that's why it's so important to us that we get graduate education at Baylor right. We want our students to be spreading the good word about Baylor, far and wide.
Derek Smith:And boy, it seems like we're sending students out to some of the elite institutions, or research labs, or top companies. I mean, I know, we see alums quite a bit in the marketing department who are doing some pretty cool things. Going to some pretty cool places.
Sara Dolan:Oh, it's true. Yes. And I think that's been the case in lots of areas across the university for a while. But having this R1 designation really elevates the view of our graduates, and really opens up doors for our graduates to go to even better place. We've got students who are taking academic positions, research positions at national labs, for instance, which is really cool. That's kind of the high mark of what you can do with a STEM degree. So we're doing it. It's really an exciting time.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Sara Dolan. And as we look ahead, resources, opportunities continue to grow. And obviously, you and your colleagues get to play an exciting role in that. Where do you see it going? Are there some things on the horizon about which you're particularly excited?
Sara Dolan:Yeah, I love that question because that's a great thing that I get to do in my new job, is plan for the future to enhance graduate education even more. Our graduate students have needs that are like undergraduates in some ways, and are like faculty in some ways. Some of the things we're working on now are affordable housing. We've been working on livable wages and increasing our graduate stipends. We're working on resources for mental health and wellness. We're working on placing a bigger spotlight on diversity initiatives because those really support the entire community. But the thing that I'm most excited about is the opportunity to work with our outstanding faculty members to up their game in mentorship and training in both the research and the teaching arenas to prepare our students for the very best careers that they can have. I will say, one of the things I love so much about being at Baylor is that we're training our students to be great teachers and great scholars. But we're able to also help our students become the best versions of themselves. We don't want them to just go out and be a scholar. We want them to be a full, fulfilled, flourishing human being also. So that's one of the unique Baylor opportunities we have here. And again, I'd like to say a lot of this comes right from the top. Our administration, including President Livingstone and Provost Brickhouse, they've been especially attuned to graduate education in the last few years. And they've really been our greatest allies. And as Dean of the Graduate School, Larry Lyon, who you've had on your show, he would say, it's such a great time to be in graduate education at Baylor.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, it's exciting to see and to see where it's going. And as a Baylor Graduate School alum myself, it's neat to see all the exciting things that are taking place in the role that the grad school is playing. Sara Dolan, really appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us and sharing. And we'll look forward to seeing some of these initiatives continue to flourish and have to have you on again one of these days.
Sara Dolan:Great. Thanks, Derek. And happy Graduate Student Appreciation Week.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Happy graduate Student Appreciation Week to all of our 5,000 and many who are still coming here to Baylor University. Dr. Sara Dolan, associate dean of professional development in Baylor's graduate school and professor of psychology. Our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this in other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.