Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Graduate School News and Events

Matriculation 2012: The Changing Face of Orientation

Orientation at the Graduate School was significantly enhanced this year, beginning even before students arrived in New Haven, with expanded web resources, chat sessions, and a Facebook page launched by the McDougal Graduate Student Center’s Office of Student Life that attracted hundreds of “friends.”

“We also created a comprehensive series of tours, social events, information sessions, and resource fairs to help incoming students in their transition to life at Yale,” says Lisa Brandes, assistant dean and director of Graduate Student Life. “A well-developed orientation builds social and academic community and introduces new students to Yale’s policies and resources, faculty and staff, all of which promotes student success.”

For the first time, all entering students participated in small-group training sessions on topics related to professional ethics in general, as well as those specific to members of a scholarly community. Graduate student leaders, academic deans, and other administrators facilitated these frank and cautionary discussions, which covered a wide range of topics under the broad headings of academic integrity and prevention of sexual misconduct.

The focus on professional ethics was designed to orient students to values central to their development as teachers, scholars, and researchers. “As much as graduate education is about attaining mastery and expertise in a particular discipline, it is also about becoming professionalized in that discipline,” says Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister. “As much as it is about learning how to make the transition from school work to independent research and scholarship, it is about learning how to participate responsibly in a community of researchers and scholars.”

The training on academic integrity emphasized its centrality to the very identity of scholars and researchers, as well as the reasons why students must understand what are and are not acceptable and best practices in the conduct of scholarship and research. “Academic integrity is a core institutional value at Yale. It includes honesty, fairness, and trustworthiness in our scholarship and research, respect for each other, and responsibility for our conduct. Indeed, these are the ethical values that govern us as a community working to advance knowledge and education,” notes Schirmeister.

The discussion of academic integrity included correct methods of citation in the internet age, accurate and honest data management, and the dangers of unauthorized collaboration. Students were also invited to think about the many reasons for which the University cares about academic integrity in the first place. Each session reviewed instances of plagiarism that have been in the news and then studied and discussed cases.

The discussion of preventing sexual misconduct provided definitions, case studies, and a detailed overview of the University’s resources for addressing instances of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment. “Sexual misconduct of any kind destroys collegial relations,” says Schirmeister. “To talk about the prevention of sexual misconduct in a professional context is to talk about our interactions and relationships with our colleagues, about how we treat others, and about respect for our community.”

In reviewing the evaluations of the sessions, administrators discovered that nearly half of the students who participated had never had any training in professional ethics of any kind.

This year, McDougal Student Life Fellows Gerald Goh (Genetics) and Edward “Ted” Schmid (Immunobiology) ran a Study Space & Coffee Shop Tour that drew “a huge turnout of new (and some returning) students,” says Ted. “We focused on bringing students to study spaces that were centrally located and/or underutilized by graduate students on campus,” such as the Bass Library, the Center for Science and Social Science Information (on the concourse level of the Kline Biology Tower), the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Chaplain’s Office, and coffee shops near campus.

“The University offers countless places of inspiration for diving into your reading, analyzing data, writing, or simply contemplating the universe,” says Ted.

For international students in particular, adjusting to life in New Haven and to the academic expectations at a large American university can be daunting, and so OISS hosted a “Yale Survivor” session to help students navigate in unfamiliar waters.

According to Jean Zheng (Mechanical Engineering), one of this year’s organizers, “In a span of two hours, we went from a bird’s-eye overview to the individual grains of sand on the ground, then back again.... The fact that we walk the students through the process instead of just talking about the process is primarily what distinguishes us from other orientation programs.” Topics ranged from optimizing course selection during Yale’s “shopping period” and navigating Classesv2, Yale’s Course Management System, to how to request inter-library loans, get discounted movie tickets, and get around campus via the Yale shuttle system.

“I also covered a section on U.S. university etiquette and norms, such as how to address your advisor (first name? last name?), how to approach a professor in class, request vacation time, collaborate on homework and projects, etc. The goal was to break stereotypes, dispel fear, and create a welcoming environment for students to ask their pressing cultural questions without embarrassment.”

Sarah Piazza (Spanish & Portuguese) and Ranran Wang (FES) created the “Yale Survivor” PowerPoint presentation and served on the panel with Jean.

“I wish I had attended something like Yale Survivor for me when I arrived at Yale,” said Jean. “Although I am not an international student (I grew up in Michigan), I still had a rough time adjusting in my first couple of weeks. Yale Survivor became a platform for me to share my experiences – both successes and pitfalls – and help new students make their transition to Yale as smooth as possible.”

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