Welcome to the Spring Term from Nathan Urban

January 10, 2018

Dear Graduate and Professional Students,

Welcome to all new and returning students as we begin the spring semester; unfortunately, “spring” seems a rather optimistic name for this semester, given the recent weather.

As part of my continuing efforts to better communicate with graduate and professional students across the University, I am writing to provide you with updates on several topics below.

Graduate Student Advocacy – Tax Reform

As many of you know, the end of last semester was a rush of activity regarding the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that could have had serious consequences for many graduate students across the University and across the country. I met with many students in November and December to talk about the provisions that were in different versions of the bill, and I also discussed ways students and the University community could get involved.  The Chancellor and our government relations staff worked tirelessly to provide constant updates and to reinforce the importance of these issues to the University and or students. At the start of Winter Break, we received good news that the provisions that would have hurt graduate students were eliminated from the bill before it was signed into law on December 22, 2017.  In particular, for graduate students, we were very happy that graduate student tuition waivers would remain untaxed.

I want to thank the students who spoke out against the proposals. Hundreds of Pitt graduate students contacted their elected officials using the take-action tools on the websites that we put together. Many more called congressional offices and talked about the impact that provisions of the bill would have on their livelihood and education. Chancellor Gallagher summarized the outcome in a letter to the campus community.

Graduate student voices are vital elements in the University’s government advocacy efforts. In the coming semester, there may be more opportunities for graduate students to discuss important issues at the state and federal levels. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me.

Funding for Graduate-Student-Organized Interdisciplinary Workshops – Request for Applications (RFA)

In conversations with graduate students, I have been asked about ways students can develop connections across disciplines and explore areas of interdisciplinary research and scholarship. To support this type of collaboration, Provost Patty Beeson has agreed to support three or four  proposals for graduate-student-planned interdisciplinary workshops. These workshops must be organized by graduate students representing at least two or more schools and may feature talks, panel discussions, poster sessions or (one or two) external speakers. More details and a Request for Applications (RFA) are available at http://provost.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/InterdisciplinaryWorkshopsRFA.pdf

If you would like to learn more, please plan to attend an information session about the RFA on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 from 11:00 a.m. to noon in Room 114 of the O’Hara Student Center. Time will be allotted for students to pitch their ideas as an initial step in finding potential collaborators (especially outside their disciplines). Pizza will be served.

Graduate Student Unionization

At the end of the fall semester, the United Steelworkers submitted a petition seeking to unionize certain Pitt graduate students. This petition starts a legal process before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board which will determine whether there will be a vote on unionization. If you have questions, please see Pitt’s Graduate Student Unionization website at http://gradstudentunionization.pitt.edu or submit them via email to gradstudent@pitt.edu.

Professional Development Opportunities

Developing Your Teaching Experience. Teaching expertise can be an important part of the training of graduate students. A well-developed portfolio of teaching experience can be an important differentiator when students apply for jobs. 

The University Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a number of programs to help graduate student become outstanding teachers. The Graduate Student Teaching Initiative offers a wide range of workshops. Please note that registration is required. Two upcoming events are:

  1. Developing a Teaching Portfolio on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
  2. Teaching Inclusively on Friday, February 9, 2018 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Learn more about the Graduate Student Teaching Initiative—including the newly launched Achievement in Pedagogy badge—at http://www.gradstudents.pitt.edu/news/student-becomes-teacher.

Grant Writing. The National Research Mentoring Network recently hosted a Career Development Webinar entitled “What Graduate Students & Postdocs Writing NIH Grants Need to Know.” 

Specifically, it focused on the NIH’s individual fellowships, including key required application components and NIH’s fellowship grant review process, scoring system and review criteria. A recording of this informative webinar is available on the NRMN YouTube channel; as well as other webinars covering a range of topics. You can access these videos here.

Career Fair. Save the date for Pitt’s Spring Career and Internship Fair. On February 13, 2018, meet recruiters from Business, Humanities, and Social Sciences fields. A second session will follow on February 15 – 16 to meet recruiters from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields. Students can meet with 200+ local, regional, and national nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies. More information is available here

Office Hours

Finally, my next monthly office hour is on Monday, January 22 from 11:00 a.m. to noon in 801 Cathedral of Learning. I am available during this time to answer questions and discuss graduate studies at Pitt. For students who are new to Pitt, you can learn more about me and my thoughts on graduate studies in this Q&A

Nathan Urban
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies