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Building and Maintaining Community

The effective socialization of graduate students into the intellectual community of the degree program is one of the most significant factors influencing student persistence in doctoral education. However, while an intellectual community is knowledge centered, it is rooted in relationships. Graduate education occurs through sharing and creating new knowledge in formal and informal situations, both within and outside of the classroom and lab. Community is developed through activities that foster collaboration and facilitate interaction.

Mentoring relationships serve to integrate students into the fabric of the department, as they cultivate essential professional and social networks. But mentoring is not the only way. Faculty, staff and the students themselves can provide opportunities for students to engage in both the social and intellectual life of the department.

Generally speaking, these opportunities range from periodic seminars or colloquia to discuss issues related to the field; to participation in departmental leadership; to regular social events sponsored by the program; to student-organized clubs, peer mentoring, and workshops. All serve to integrate students into the relevant intellectual community and provide multiple sources of support crucial to successful degree completion.

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Examples from the University of Michigan

Applied Physics

The Applied Physics “family” provides a sense of community both academically and socially. Known fondly as “the family,” we create a sense of belonging among our students, faculty and staff. Our first and second year students are given common office space to provide an ongoing opportunity to coordinate and share. A weekly Seminar gives our students the opportunity to learn about research and to experience fellowship, sharing a pizza lunch and conversation before the presentation. The Applied Physics website keeps the Alumni involved through listing where they are and staying in touch through Facebook. The website also provides contact information that allows all to “keep in touch.”

Asian Languages and Culture

This interdisciplinary program fosters intellectual community by bringing students together across disciplines in an introductory course that surveys their range of specializations. Similarly, they routinely have faculty from two different specialization areas team teach courses. Both, practices, they feel, contribute to an improved climate in the program and create group identity within each cohort.

Biological Chemistry

Approximately half of Biological Chemistry faculty members have their research laboratories in the core of the department, located on three floors of the Medical Science Research Building III, while other active members can be found throughout the campus. A vibrant community of scholars is achieved through varied activities, including student research lunches, student seminars, poster sessions, the annual departmental retreat, the Biological Chemistry seminar series, and the student awards ceremony.

Cell and Developmental Biology

The department provides several opportunities for students to integrate into the intellectual community, ranging from social events (annual off-campus department retreat, happy hours, etc.) to intellectual opportunities (lunch with visiting seminar speakers, selection and hosting of named lecture, etc.). All students participate in a weekly student seminar series that is organized and administered by the graduate students themselves. All students are highly encouraged to present their work and are provided with written responses from their peers. The more advanced students often provide the most serious and valuable critiques (sometimes, stronger than those faculty give). Further leadership and professional training is provided by having students serve on all department committees.

Chemical Biology

Each year, the program hosts a range of social activities in the fall term. The Fall Retreat, research poster sessions and orientation encourage new students to become acquainted with the faculty and current students. The program has also incorporated U-M’s Challenge Program and third-year student talks into the Fall Retreat. In addition, the program hosts lunches for first and second year students once a month from September through April. Finally, the Operating Committee (which oversees the grad program in general) has dinner with first year students once each term to gather feedback about what is and isn’t working well in the program. Students elect two matriculated students to serve on the Operating Committee.

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Graduate Researchers in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (GREEBS) sponsor the Big Sibs Mentoring Program. This provides a comfortable, informal way for first year students (the “Little Sibs”) to learn about the culture of graduate school, about the EEB department and about how to excel at the University of Michigan. This panel of more advanced graduate students meets regularly with the new cohort to answer questions and help ease the transition into graduate school. In this way new students are introduced to a broad cross-section of the department.

The OUTlist

The OUTlist seeks to foster professional relationships and mentoring opportunities through engaging LGBTQ faculty, staff, students, and alumni in the creation of online searchable profiles. The OUTlist will serve as a database where members of the University community can connect with one another and where individuals new to the community can look to for resources. Visit the Spectrum Center to add yourself to the OUTlist.

Visit: OUTlist


The department offers a dissertation research/writing seminar designed to support students engaged with the challenges of developing writing strategies and shaping their projects into finished dissertation form. It also serves as an excellent means of overcoming some of the anxieties accompanying the relative isolation many students may experience during the unnecessarily lonely struggle with the writing stage of the dissertation. The colloquium provides an opportunity to strengthen engagement with the program’s intellectual community by encouraging cross-field dialogue.


Among the many social and academic events provided by this program, the most looked forward to is the annual retreat for students and faculty. Each year in the spring, the Immunology program sponsors this off-campus event, taking the opportunity to highlight selected research within the program. Faculty, graduate students and research fellows are invited to present their work. The Retreat Committee, under the guidance of the Immunology Program Director, makes the decision as to who is selected to present at the retreat. Speakers will be chosen based on the abstracts and lab presentations. The keynote speaker, a renowned immunologist, is also selected by the faculty and students. In addition, the Immunology program is initiating an institution-wide journal club that will meet twice a month this Fall (Thursday mornings from 9 to 10:30 am) and we also meet one evening a month at the Arbor Brewing Company for networking and socializing


Incoming students are each assigned a peer mentor, a faculty mentor, and a counselor before they begin their program. The peer mentor is usually in the same program (or has similar mathematical interests) as the new student, and their role is to help them gain a better understanding of the program, workload, and life in Ann Arbor. The faculty mentor is selected based on non-mathematical interests in order to encourage discussions that are not necessarily related to math. The counselor is also a faculty member, who advises the student on course selection and program requirements. Master’s students keep their counselor throughout the duration of their program, but Ph.D. students only meet with their assigned counselor regarding courses or program requirements until they have selected a thesis advisor. During the course of the first term, staff and the graduate chair host lunches with groups of first and second year students in order to develop the students’ sense of belonging. The graduate chair also hosts a set of luncheons with small groups of incoming students. The opportunity for students to join in the wider community is provided each weekday when the staff facilitate a “tea-time” from 3:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. in the common area of the department. This regular social event is scheduled in-between most course and seminar hours to maximize attendance. At the end of each academic year, the staff hosts an ice cream social for all faculty and graduate students, in order to celebrate the end of the year. During this event various departmental prizes and recognitions are presented to students.

Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Leadership training is central to the experience of graduate students in this program, as is evident for the many opportunities provided. These include: serving as graduate student representative to faculty meetings; taking part as student members of the Graduate Committee; hosting the keynote speaker of Research Forum; hosting visits of graduate student recruits; and participating in administration and policy setting within the MIP Graduate Program. These activities not only enhance professional development, they provide opportunities for recreation, informal social interaction, and intellectual engagement crucial to becoming a full member of the community.

Molecular and Cellular Pathology

Graduate students in the Molecular and Cellular Pathology program are actively engaged with incoming students in multiple ways. They are central to the recruiting efforts with both applicants and those who are offered admission. MCP students are invited to participate in recruitment weekends and are paired up with applicants to allow them to have a personal contact here at the University. After applicants enroll at the University they are invited to our monthly student council meetings. This year our student council organized both community services and social activities. We are also excited to offer a new course in translation pathology which will pair current biomedical science Ph.D. students with medical residents to help bridge the gap between basic science research and clinical practice.