Marine Science Faculty Publications

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Graduate school is a formative time in the life of a budding scientist – getting a chance to deeply explore and master a scientific field while creating new knowledge – it doesn’t get much better than that! Yet, the transition to graduate school can be difficult to navigate for even the most successful undergraduate students. During undergraduate studies, students learn by following a highly structured curriculum with clear expectations and goals, often measured through exams and grades. Thus, learners are dependent on a teacher for guidance, acquisition of content, and evaluation. In contrast, graduate students must embrace self-motivated learning as they take the initiative to independently investigate, critically assess, and create new knowledge. Graduate education, therefore, is centered in the principles of andragogy, whereby graduate student learning is self-driven. Graduate students learn by building upon their ever-increasing reservoir of experience to explore new topics, gain experience, solve problems, master content, and direct and evaluate their own progress.

Graduate students must navigate what is often referred to as a “hidden curriculum” (i.e., unwritten rules, expectations, and behavioral norms) in their degree programs and along their career path. To even the playing field and provide a solid foundation for every incoming marine science graduate student, we have developed a Professional Development course at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. Full-semester courses for first-year graduate students promote success and inclusion by building strong peer cohorts, helping students understand the hidden curriculum, facilitating important conversations between students and their advisors, jump-starting student research, and providing additional mentorship and perspectives. In our course, we also guide students in the preparation of application materials for external fellowships to financially support their graduate studies.

After over a decade of experience teaching this course, we created this workbook to better engage our graduate students in developing their educational path. There are many available textbooks on the market about how to succeed in graduate school, but we intend for this workbook to serve as a unique active learning tool for students to reflect upon course discussions and to build a tangible resource that they can refer to throughout their careers. We are making this resource freely available online to broadly support the success of marine science graduate students. We encourage its use in diverse cohorts, where students can benefit from the experiences of their peers and build communities; however, it can also be helpful to individuals as they navigate graduate school.

The workbook begins with an analogy that we have found especially powerful. Think of your graduate degree as if you were designing a cake. Your thesis or dissertation research is the cake itself, with each chapter or publication comprising a cake layer. Everything else that you accomplish or engage with during your graduate experience is the icing and decorations – these activities can range from field experiences to learning new programming languages to outreach. A delicious cake has a good balance between cake and icing, with flavors that complement each other and decorations that allow it to stand out from all the other cakes. Your research will ultimately serve as the foundation for future work- by this analogy, at a minimum, a good cake must have sturdy layers made from quality ingredients. The icing is your chance to personalize the cake and make it your own. Just as it would be risky to make a cake without a recipe, you will want to adhere to the scientific standards in your field and follow the guidance of your advisor and committee (i.e., experienced bakers). Making an outstanding cake is much easier when you build on prior experience and employ proper tools and cake supports. Our course and this workbook are intended to initiate the conversations, networking, and professional development that will facilitate your endeavor to make your best cake and ultimately become a master baker yourself. We can’t wait to see what you create!

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