The University Record, September 12, 1994

Grad students urged to put balance in lives

By Rebecca A. Doyle

New graduate students got advice ranging from how to seek out a faculty mentor to “don’t forget to have some fun” at the Graduate Student Convocation last Thursday.

President James J. Duderstadt welcomed the new students by reminiscing about his own graduate school days 30 years ago. He offered a few words “not so much as advice but as observation.”

Graduate students play many roles in a research university, Duderstadt said, as students, as teachers, as scholars and as colleagues among the faculty “and as such, you will very rapidly be confronted with these age-old tensions which have always enveloped the faculty of the University,” particularly the perceived tension between scholarship and teaching.

Faculty may assume that students wish to pursue an academic career, he said, but “in reality, in our society today, graduate education really prepares one for an extraordinarily broad array of careers,” he said. “I think that’s one of the misunderstandings today in graduate education. We all too frequently try to clone the current generation of faculty.”

In words he described as “almost sacrilegious to the tradition of graduate studies,” Duderstadt urged students to “inject a sense of daring and adventure in what you intend to do.”

“Try to be creative, imaginative. You have not yet fallen into the ruts that have trapped and guided more traditional scholarship,” he said, explaining that many new graduate students could do something new, challenging and adventuresome by bringing a fresh viewpoint to their fields.

John H. D’Arms, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and vice provost for academic affairs, spoke about anxiety new graduate students may feel.

“Sometimes faculty forget many of you were graduating seniors just three months ago,” he said. “They forget that three months of summer doesn’t automatically make you a secure, fresh and confident professional.”

But D’Arms said he didn’t want to alleviate all the anxiety.

“Some anxiety is a good thing. Just remember that of the 16,000 applicants for graduate school, you are among the 2,000 who were admitted.

“And remember that many of the faculty here were attracted to this university by the prospect of working with high quality graduate students—which you are.”

Sarah Winans Newman, professor of anatomy and cell biology, spoke about the importance of finding a faculty mentor.

“Look for role models among the faculty,” she urged. “You should know that most faculty here are anxious to talk to you about your interests and your goals.” Newman told the new students not to be shy about approaching faculty members, and not to wait to find a faculty mentor until later in their graduate school careers.

“You have the opportunity and the responsibility to fashion your goals for your own career,” Newman said. “As a faculty, we are here because we wanted to be continually challenged by you. You enrich our lives, and we welcome you.”

Warren C. Whatley, associate dean for graduate student recruitment and support and associate professor of economics, told the new graduate students that this is “an exciting time filled with new beginnings and anticipation, expectations, even fears.”

Whatley noted that there is more diversity among graduate students than among the University’s faculty, staff or administration, and that “your presence brings the richness of the world to us.”

He also noted that many graduate students also are teaching assistants, adding that “the GRE does not test your ability to understand other cultures.” The students must develop the tools needed for effective conversation with other cultures.

Kenneth C. Fischer, director of the University Musical Society (UMS), told students of the many cultural opportunities at the University, but also warned them not to repeat the mistakes he made as a graduate student.

“I never got my graduate degree,” he said. Fischer said he spent too much time enjoying the many musical and dramatic performances offered on campus. “I soaked up more culture around here than you can imagine.

“So that’s why I’m here—to warn you. You’ve got to find a better balance in your life than I did,” he cautioned. Fischer drew a crowd after the convocation by offering free tickets to some of the performances sponsored by the UMS.

Caroline Winterer, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History, introduced the speakers and detailed a few of her own experiences as a graduate student. Describing herself as a fifth-year graduate student, she urged students to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the reception following the convocation to “meet firsthand some of the people who may play a very important role later in your graduate careers.”

Entertainment following the convocation was provided by D’Arms and his traditional jazz group, the Mid-Life Crises.