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Not just an extra year or two

By Madison Maners
On April 17, 2014

The Office of Research and Graduate Studies at USU celebrated the successes of both faculty and students during Research Week April 7-11. Workshops and presentations highlighted the work of Aggie graduate students.

“The research component that graduate students fulfill is a great way to give a vibrancy and life to our teaching programs,” said Mark R. McLellan, vice president for Research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “A teaching program can become stale if one is not constantly replenishing yourself and looking for the latest developments and the newest edge of our science.”

He also referred to the seventh habit of Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”: “sharpen the saw.”

“Everyone needs to sharpen the saw,” McLellan said. “In a university, it is often those of us engaged in research that help us all sharpen the saw in our disciplines and thus become better teachers because of that. Our whole effort and activities in extension become that much more valuable because they’re partnered with research.”

McLellan is the first vice president for Research and the dean of the School of Graduate Studies at USU. He is directly involved in both the research and graduate components of the university. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies was organized three years ago to combine and facilitate additional research and graduate studies.

“You can’t help but get incredibly excited about the future when you see the quality of some of these things coming out,” McLellan said. “Truly, the world will be different thanks to (student and faculty) engagement.”

According to McLellan, there are hundreds of unfilled positions which require graduate training in Utah’s workforce. Of a 30,000-student base, USU graduates 100 doctoral students each year. McLellan said the state could easily absorb more high tech specialists by companies such as Adobe and Boeing.

“At the master’s level, it is often an ideal level by which to enter into the business sector, particularly in the sciences and engineering fields,” McLellan said. “The Ph.D. then is sort of the ultimate research degree. It is to train a person enough to literally become independent researchers and explorers in their field of choice and to do it in such a way where their work can be analyzed and appreciated and, quite frankly, become part of the bedrock of that science or field.”

Rachel Williams is working toward a masters degree in family, consumer and human development, or FCHD. Williams works and volunteers on two research projects at USU while completing a thesis which focuses on marital satisfaction through analyzing the way couples write about their relationships.

As her last full semester comes to a close, Williams will prepare for a new baby due in June, her thesis defense during early fall and graduation in December. Continuing to receive a doctorate degree is still a possibility as well.

What began as a bachelor’s degree at Weber State University quickly became a passion for Williams. After taking an introductory course about relationships and learning that her undergraduate could be completed in three years, Williams chose her major but found she didn’t want the learning to stop there.

“I originally chose my field because it was fast, don’t judge me,” she said. “But I found that I really enjoyed it enough that I really wanted to keep going. I found I was really passionate about it, and it fulfilled me, and so I started looking into graduate programs.”

Williams also said if a student finds their passion while doing undergraduate studies, they should go outside their comfort zone and seek out additional opportunities within their fields of study.

“Seek out those opportunities that may or may not be handed to you,” Williams said. “Talk to professors about pros and cons of different graduate programs. You kind of have to put yourself out there and look for advice. Seek out help. Don’t try to do it on your own.”

McLellan said the planning required for the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies should, and often does, mimic the experience of high school students preparing for college. As a sophomore or junior in high school, students are advised to begin considering which university they would like to attend, which field they would like to enter and sign up for the classes and extracurricular activities which will give them an advantage when the time comes for applications to be submitted during their senior year.

Williams said although her graduate studies demand a lot of work and her future may sometimes be unsure, she would definitely do it all over again.

“Sometimes I laugh about why I’m doing this when there are things that are really stressful or really overwhelming,” Williams said. “But when I have those moments, I think back to who I was before I started. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person … It will highlight all of your weaknesses, but it will also help you create and strengthen all of your strengths.”

USU offers 142 graduate programs which range from accounting to wildlife biology and theater arts to fitness promotion. Master’s and doctoral degrees are available as well as certificates. McLellan believes USU’s research and graduate programs sustain the university because of the work students and faculty accomplish.

“Today we attract about $200 million in new research grants every single year,” McLellan said. “That $200 million that we bring in constitutes about one-third of the operating budget for the entire university. Most people are not aware of that. Without that grant support … we’d be one-third smaller.”

When Research Week began 10 years ago, it was comprised of five events. It has since grown to feature 23 activities which feature faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.

“Research Week has been a tremendously engaging and fun week,” McLellan said. “This is a time to celebrate the innovation and creativity of our faculty, the excitement of our graduate students, the exploration of our undergraduate research fellows and everyone in the undergraduate programs. It’s truly a celebration time.”
Twitter: @miss_maddiesue


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