Town Hall Meetings

A gathering of minds, young and old, to explore the finer aspects of the Chemistry PhD. Status and titles are left at the door as students, administrators and professors gather as colleagues to discuss and debate happenings in the department and the chemical world beyond.

What is a Town Hall Meeting?

Although there are many students in the department pursuing a PhD in Chemistry, many of them would be hard-pressed to define what exactly that term means. These Town Hall meetings are designed to help students better define that term and to make the most out of both their current and future experiences in the field.

Our meeting topics are chosen to address some of the deficiencies int he department. Many of the topics interest students, but many people don't know how to ask about them, or who to turn to as an authority on the subjects. Our first meeting dealt with the structure of the department and what changes are being made for the betterment of the PhD program in general. The second meeting focused on careers outside the typical academia or industry routes that many Chemistry PhD students pursue. Future topic suggestions include explorations of the tenure process, science and public policy, "Life as an Industrial Chemist," departmental governance, the common thread in the definition of PhDs across the University, and results of the departmental climate surveys.

Our Format

The Town Hall meeting format has been very specifically designed for what we aim to accomplish. The whole department is invited to the meetings and students and professors are encouraged to intermingle and to contribute their input. Additionally, the lunchtime presence of pizza and soda lend a sense of informality to the whole process that allows for the free-flow of dialogue on all sides.

Through this process, alternative careers have been explored, the definition of the PhD has been debated, the work due to the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate has been presented and alternate PhD routes have been discussed.

Our First Meeting

May 4, 2004

For our first meeting, we decided to present the work of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) to the department and to see what discussion would result from it.

To set the stage, the audience consisted of 32 graduate students and 6 faculty members, including the current Chair of the Department, Bill Roush. The presentation was done by CID team members Robyn Gdula and Gorka Peris and centered on defining the CID and the Department's contribution to the initiative.

This was done through a close examination of the current PhD requirements at the University of Michigan and a comparison to the other CID Chemistry departments. We looked at what made the University of Michigan unique in the process and at some of the attractive offerings at other schools. In the process, the Department's CID proposal and agenda were summarized and we concluded the talk with the Department's "Plan of Action."

A fruitful discussion followed the presentation concerning such aspects of the degree as "student-led research projects" and a PhD "Mission Statement." One of the most interesting exchanges to take place was that concerning the dichotomy of definitions of the Chemistry PhD from the points of view of the students and the professors.

See our Presentation!
This is the Powerpoint presentation that was used to present our information. Although it was used as a general outline for discussion, it should provide a good idea of what subjects were discussed.

Positive Outcomes

Although only two meetings have been held, some positive outcomes have already been observed.

The first meeting established a level of communication rarely seen between professors and students. Through this interaction, students have identified professors that are willing to consider new ideas and to give honest feed-back. A level of collegiality has also been established on which students can view professors on an intellectual level equivalent to their own, eliminating the typical sense of a "chasm" that exists between most students and well-established faculty members. Additionally, students were able to express what they expected out of a PhD program and to hear what the professors expected out of the students before the degree is conferred.

The second meeting was able to open many students' eyes to what alternative job oppurtunities lie beyond the post-baccalaureate degree. Students were not only told that these oppurtunities exist, but they were presented by current members of non-traditional fields. Students were able to take the exploration of these possibilities to the next level by asking their own questions and challenging the speakers with some of their own preconcieved notions. Many students were able to walk away from the meeting with a renewed sense of control over their own future careers.

Our Second Meeting

January 24, 2005

In our department, we currently have students that want to go into industry, teach in both large and small universities, become science-fiction writers, go into public policy, or write science information to be disseminated to the public. In order to lconsider ourselves a "comprehensive" PhD department, we need to cultivate these desires in all students in the department.

This meeting was focused on an exploration of alternative careers for Chemistry PhDs. When asking students what they plan to do after receiving their degree, the common answers tend to be either becoming a professor or going into industry. Although fine career choices, many incoming PhD students may become discouraged becuase their future plans do not fit into one of those two boxes. These are the students that this meeting was aimed at.

For this meeting, three speakers were invited from outside the typical chemical job market. Nancy Ross-Flanigan, from the University of Michigan News Service, spoke to the audience about a job in scientific journalism and what it takes to present science to a public that has a limited knowledge of what is going on in the field. Kristina Burow, from ARCH Venture Partners, spoke to the students about how she applies her PhD degree in a business-focused field. The final speaker was Jeffrey D. Hsi, from Edwards & Angell, LLP, who discussed the application of a Chemistry PhD in the law field.

Again the meeting was held over pizza and soda and approximately 40 or 50 students were in attendance.

Meeting Handout
Nancy handed out a summary of Science Writing Resources that interested students may find useful.

Kristina Burow Speaks to Students
Kristina Burow helps students understand how a Chemistry PhD can be applied in today's Business world.

Nancy Ross-Flanigan Speaks to Students
Nancy Ross-Flanigan explains to students how a PhD in Chemistry can help in writing science articles for the general public.

This electronic portfolio was created using the KML Snapshot Tool™, a part of the KEEP Toolkit™,
developed at the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
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