Holmes Dissertation Retreat 2017: A Recap

This year’s Holmes Dissertation Symposium and Retreat was sponsored by the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Florida A&M University (FAMU). It was held October 27-28 on the beautiful campus of UCF, providing attendees with a plethora of information to advance their scholarship and practical knowledge.

The conference began with a welcome by Dean Pamela Carroll of the University of Central Florida, Dean Monika Shealey of Rowan University, and Tim Finklea of AACTE. Shealey challenged us to use the support provided through the Holmes network, to glean from each other and all of the presenters at the symposium, and to take this as an opportunity to learn from others before us.

In the opening session, Dean Andrew Daire of Virginia Commonwealth University discussed “Excellence Without Excuse: A Shared Responsibility.” Daire explained some of the challenges faced by new faculty of color and how we must not allow challenges, excuses, and barriers to keep us from a scholarship of excellence. He offered several recommendations, including that scholars should have impactful research that solves problems, the problem that you are working to solve should be significant, researchers should use evidence-based solutions, and your research should be aligned so that it is fundable through external sources. Daire also expressed that having fundable research interests is one of the most important aspects of advancing your work and getting hired, because many universities rely on outside funding streams to support the work of their institution.

In one of the breakout sessions that followed, Malcolm Butler from UCF offered strategies for grant writing. He suggested that we start a grant proposal by asking ourselves, “How will this work help with impacting or improving [a particular issue]?” and suggested that we include a new twist or an innovative idea. He gave the example of a grant that he was a part of that focused on food deserts by setting up elaborate school gardens to help to supply food to the community. They needed access to farming equipment, and the grant proposed using equipment that had been confiscated by ATF from marijuana growers. Butler believes that this innovative idea was one of the reasons that the grant was funded.

During Day 2, scholars were greeting in the opening session by President Falecia Williams of Valencia College West. She shared words of wisdom regarding how we can successfully matriculate through the academy. She stated that we needed to “disarm indifference” within higher education, that we must define our own ethic of work with purposeful work and find the “right” work that makes a difference—not just a job. She also challenged participants to consider how our work is capable of lowering hurdles or removing barriers for others. Finally, Williams challenged us to examine our own biases and personal lenses and to be aware of how they may influence and impact the work that we chose to do.

Two things from Williams’ session resonated particularly with me. First, she stated that we must consider other thoughts, approaches, and disciplines different from our own. Hearing different perspectives and exploring the counternarrative will help us to disarm indifference by working with unlikely peers. This will also allow our work to be received by a broader cross-section of scholars. Second, she challenged us to dare to be different. Williams cautioned us that processes can cause us to be conservative and hesitate when challenging assumptions. She also stated that we must not be afraid to ask why with humility and as a way to explore knowledge and advancing our understanding.

Later, a panel session with Holmes mentors and alumni provided tips and recommendations for successfully getting through the doctoral process and entering the career market. The panel was well-rounded and represented fields outside of higher education. UCF’s Carroll suggested that when interviewing we do our homework on the institution and ask questions, such as “What makes a faculty member successful at this institution?” She stated that interviewees who do not ask questions give the impression that they aren’t prepared.

We also had opportunities to present our research for feedback, attend a roundtable with our assigned mentors, participate in a chat facilitated by members of the Holmes Scholars Council, and attend other sessions. The retreat ended with a work session where we could get feedback on our current work and closing comments by conference hosts Carolyn Hopp of UCF and Sheila Moore of FAMU.

Visit the Holmes Program Facebook page for photos from the event!

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Benita Kluttz-Drye

Rowan University