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  • CCGS sponsors a weekly run.
    11/29/16

    Improving mental, physical, and social health of graduate students three-fold mission for Community of Chemistry Graduate Students

Workshop, activities, and events designed to help students succeed in graduate school

Graduate students in the Department of Chemistry are empowered to create a learning environment and community that helps them thrive in graduate school. One of the department’s successful student-led groups is the Community of Chemistry Graduate Students (CCGS).

Formed in the fall of 2012, after a Boynton Health stress and mental health workshop specifically for the Department of Chemistry, the Community of Chemistry Graduate Students is a support network with a three-fold mission of improving the mental, physical, and social health of graduate students. It regularly hosts workshops in these areas and plans a variety of activities and events. 

One of CCGS’ largest undertakings was partnering with Boynton Health, University of Minnesota Counseling & Consulting Services, and Professor Philippe Buhlmann, chemistry’s director of Graduate Studies, to develop a survey for assessing mental health and to help understand the cause of stress and anxiety among chemistry graduate students. The first of these surveys, conducted in 2013, identified that among the main sources of stress for students were their relationships with advisers, oral and written exams, progress toward degree, and need to publish research articles.

One of the survey’s findings suggested that providing more specific feedback to students might help facilitate their progress toward their degrees. To address this issue, the graduate student annual review form was revised with the help of Professor Buhlmann and Professor Aaron Massari, director of Graduate Studies for Chemical Physics. The revised section in the form now asks students to evaluate themselves in 13 different categories, including writing and presentation skills, independent problem solving, and career planning. Faculty advisers evaluate the students against the same categories. Students and their advisers meet to discuss any discrepancies between the evaluations.

A second survey was distributed in the spring of 2016. The results of this survey and the past survey are being combined and prepared for publication. The second survey is expected to lead to a new plan of action on how to further promote the health and success of chemistry graduate students.

To clarify elements for success in graduate studies, the CCGS offers workshops called, “How to succeed in graduate school.” These workshops are panel discussions with faculty members and successful researchers from industry. They address the tips and tricks of surviving and thriving in graduate school and preparing for a successful career afterward. The Community of Chemistry Graduate Students has also partnered with chemistry professors to prepare short how-to videos. Some topics include how to write a paper, with advice from Professor Peter Carr, and how to give a good talk, with advice from Professor William Tolman.

To support students in their physical health, CCGS implemented a weekly riverside running and walking party, provided information on making good nutritional choices, offered free yoga sessions, and provided an information session on the opportunities available at the Recreation Center. In the mental health area, CCGS has worked with Center of Spirituality and Health to offer stress management information sessions, and worked with Paws for Learning to offer pet away stress relief during exam time. Graduate students also need opportunities to have fun and build community, and the CCGS offers biweekly coffee hours, movie nights, yogurt labs, and barbeques/picnics.

Buhlmann emphasizes how excited he is about the success of the CCGS: “We all seem to agree that some causes of stress in graduate school are unavoidable; the need to publish is the perfect example. However, avoidable causes of stress distract us and make all unhappy and less productive. The CCGS has done an outstanding job at helping us to identify how we can improve our department. With its involvement in the stress and mental health surveys and the systemic effort to identify and execute action items, the CCGS is helping the department to not only improve itself, but is setting an example for student involvement in addressing stress and mental health across campus and beyond.”

The current leader of the CCGS is Evan Anderson, and recent leaders were Maral Mousavi and Zahra Sohrabpour. Other members of the CCGS team are Fazel Zare Bidoky, Suyue Chen, Xin Sean Chen, Amanda Maxwell, Mammad Nasiri, Sadie Otte, Waqas Rasheed, and Yuanxian Wang. For additional information, visit the Community of Chemistry Graduate Students’ website or send an email to ccgs@umn.edu.

Members of the Community of Chemistry Graduate Students leadership team are, back row, from left Fazel Zare Bidoky, Yuanxian Wang, Waqas Rasheed, and Evan Anderson. Front row, from left are Xin "Sean" Chen, Mammad Nasiri, Sadie Otto, Amanda Maxwell, and Z
Members of the Community of Chemistry Graduate Students leadership team are, back row, from left Fazel Zare Bidoky, Yuanxian Wang, Waqas Rasheed, and Evan Anderson. Front row, from left, are Xin "Sean" Chen, Mammad Nasiri, Sadie Otto, Amanda Maxwell, and Zahra Sohrabpour. Not pictured: Suyue Chen.