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Setting the stage for success in graduate school

By September 16, 2021September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Incoming graduate students — many from underrepresented backgrounds in their fields — gained skills and built community this summer with the help of librarians, among others. Kate Peterson, Undergraduate Services Librarian, and Brian Vetruba, European Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian, devoted hours to planning and leading the 2021 Graduate School Diversity Office Summer Institute (GSI).

The Summer Institute included participants from a great variety of disciplines: anthropology, business administration, chemistry, creative writing, educational psychology, epidemiology, math, organizational leadership, social work, and more. They each received a fellowship from either the Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) Fellowship, or Creating Inclusive Cohorts (CIC) Training Program, or are nominated by their college or department’s Director of Graduate Studies.

Kat Nelsen

Kat Nelsen

“Moving online really enabled more people to participate who may not have been able to before,” says Maija Brown, Senior Coordinator for Retention & Success in the Graduate School Diversity Office. This year’s group numbered 49, compared with 25 in 2019, the last time it was held in person.

Whatever the size or format, University Librarians appreciate the opportunity to work with the Summer Institute participants.

“Meeting with the GSI students each summer is something that brings me so much joy,” says Kat Nelsen, who is the research liaison Librarian for American Studies, American Indian Studies, Anthropology, Asian American Studies, and Sociology.

Creating relationships

“The introduction to the Libraries session and the one-on-one meeting with my librarian were the most helpful for sure.”

—Incoming graduate student

The Summer Institute participants in the second week of the program first heard from Vetruba during his “crash course for graduate students,” a 90-minute introduction to the Libraries and how to research a topic.

Then Peterson, Vetruba, and other librarians offered three workshops:

  1. Increasing your reading efficiency
  2. Tips for researching a literature review, and
  3. Browzine, a virtual reading room

They were introduced to the Pomodoro writing technique by Peterson. They also were offered opportunities to set up one-on-one consultations with research librarians — an intensive matching process implemented by Vetruba and Peterson — that brought them into contact with other Librarians.

“The consultations are really a way for me to meet and start getting to know these amazing grad students,” says Nelsen. “I love hearing about their research interests and working together to find resources for their summer projects. Their ideas are so interesting and varied. It is like Christmas in July for a librarian!”

Once their programs begin, participants may easily be siloed, so community building is a goal of the Summer Institute, Brown says. It is a bit more challenging over Zoom. With the help of five peer mentors, the participants engaged in Speed Friending, cooking together, reflective journaling, and online games to build connections. They also had an in-person ice cream social at Como Park in St. Paul.

Positive feedback

In their evaluations of the Summer Institute, the participants often praised the Libraries contributions as among the most helpful.

One incoming graduate student wrote:

“The introduction to the Libraries session and the one-on-one meeting with my librarian were the most helpful for sure. Learning how to use citation management software like Zotero saved me so much time and stress in creating reference lists and annotated bibliographies. I also appreciated the examples of databases and how to use them for searches.”

Even participants who had been undergraduates at the University of Minnesota learned about resources that were new to them.

Nelsen appreciates the conversations as well. “One of the things I try to do during the meetings is to give them an idea of the reasons they might contact me. I can do so much more than find books,” she says. “These initial meetings are so important in establishing a relationship that will continue throughout their time at the university.”

Brown notes that, along with curriculum on creating a research proposal and making an oral presentation, Summer Institute seminars include such topics as: communicating with your advisor; thinking critically about your research; and navigating microaggression in graduate school. “All are important seminars for our students that really empower them and help them succeed in graduate school,” she says. As are the Libraries, Brown says. “We love the Libraries and we love Librarians.”


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