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Getting a jump on grad school, thanks to the Libraries

By August 19, 2022September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Summer Institute for Grad Students

Librarian Brian Vetruba leads a session in the 2022 Summer Institute for Grad Students.

The Summer Institute’s introduction to life in graduate school includes the importance of knowing one’s subject librarian, plus steps to starting a research project.

“Think of us as your research assistants,” Librarian Kat Nelsen told a group of 26 incoming graduate students at her workshop on literature reviews. These participants in the Summer Institute arrive at the University of Minnesota from a variety of undergraduate institutions (and in some cases, even other countries). Staff from the U of M Libraries, along with their colleagues in the Graduate School Diversity Office, are among those who give them tips, advice, and direction as they prepare to enter their various graduate school programs.

The Summer Institute, a seven-week program that focuses on BIPOC and Native American students, has been going on for several years.

A few years ago, “we glommed on to it,” says Brian Vetruba, Librarian for European Studies, Jewish Studies, and Linguistics. He and Kate Peterson, Undergraduate Services Librarian, planned the Libraries’ contributions to the 2022 Summer Institute.

The results may not be realized for several years, yet as the new graduate students hunkered down to draw mind maps the first day with Vetruba, the intense concentration — a silence only punctuated by scribbling or keystrokes — had the atmosphere of a pop quiz.

Vetruba interrupted the quiet.

“Definitely, talk among yourselves. Research does not have to be done in isolation.”

These mind maps will be just the beginning of their relationships with Libraries’ liaisons, as they begin to visualize their research journeys.

The Summer Institute grad students also have opportunities to build relationships with faculty mentors and with peers from previous Summer Institutes. Whomever they are, all are united with Vetruba and Libraries’ colleagues in a single goal.

“We’re all here to help,” Vetruba told the students the first time he met with them. “We want you to succeed.”

Delving deeper into library lore

“I think Librarians work at a skill that I really heavily prioritize — being able to communicate things in a way that is broadly understandable and broadly applicable.”

—Maya Rogers

Maya Rogers, whose hometown is Tulsa, Oklahoma brings a couple of advantages to this next, research-heavy phase of her studies in social psychology. Not only is her mother a reference librarian, and she herself growing up was a bit of a library mouse — always coming back to nibble more knowledge — she also was required to consult with reference librarians for class research regularly during her undergraduate years at Carleton College in Northfield.

Still, even though Rogers is well acquainted with Boolean operators — the search terms and, or, and not, by which “Vikings not football” yields 792 results in a U of M Libraries catalog search, while “Vikings and football,” 25, she has plenty to learn.

She appreciated Vetruba’s brief introduction to citation managers, like Zotero, which later was reinforced by an important tip from Nelsen.

“To make it easier for your future self,” Nelsen says, “it’s best to get organized now.”

Looking back at her undergrad experience and ahead to full-blown graduate-level study, Rogers heartily agrees. “It’s much easier said than done,” she says, “but it’s so worth it in the long run if you can get yourself organized from the get-go.”

Another valuable study trick — the SQ3R technique — was presented by Kristen Mastel, Outreach and Instruction Librarian, and Erin Reardon, Medical School Librarian. Rogers is very good at identifying sources — for her Summer Institute research project on the efficacy of financial incentives in promoting COVID vaccinations, she found 24 items. Getting through all of them and processing what she needs during a seven-week course packed with workshops and activities could be a challenge, however. So, she says SQ3R “really resonated with me: surveying, questions, reviewing. I found that to be really helpful.”

Coming from a variety of backgrounds, and enrolled in disciplines from Integrative Biology and Physiology (Medical School) to the MFA program in Creative Writing (CLA), the incoming grad students are variously prepared for the challenges ahead — which is exactly what the Summer Institute is designed to do: get them off on a strong start.

Valued partners

Librarians are just a few members of the Summer Institute team, which also includes four grad student mentors and their various faculty advisors. Rogers found the librarians she worked with to be worthy role models.

“I think Librarians work at a skill that I really heavily prioritize — being able to communicate things in a way that is broadly understandable and broadly applicable,” she says.

“I have several takeaways from each of the workshops” — on anti-racist research, Browzine journal projects, literature reviews, and reading effectively — “that I think will help me, as I continue into more research.

“I’ll definitely be using librarians,” Rogers adds. “I’m a big fan.”

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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