Graduate Student Faculty Liaison Committee presents results of climate survey

By Margaret Lumley and Trisha Tucholski, 2017-18 GSFLC Co-Chairs

The 2017 Department of Chemistry Climate Survey was administered to the graduate student and postdoc population to evaluate department climate and identify factors related to stress and mental health in graduate school. The Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recognizes that positive climate and well-being of its members are cornerstones to the success of all research efforts. Graduate students and postdocs constitute the majority of the researchers in the department; hence, it is essential to foster an environment that supports the physical, mental, and emotional health of these individuals, providing a foundation to conduct meaningful and ground-breaking science.

The climate survey was developed by a team of graduate students with input from faculty and staff in the department as well as the Chemistry Board of Advisors and University Health Services. The survey was completed by 52% of the graduate student and postdoc population, totaling 187 respondents. From the survey results, the climate survey team identified key factors related to graduate student and postdoc experiences, including those that positively or negatively impact mental health and emotional well-being. The top factors with positive impact were found to be fellow lab members, fellow students, and advisor/PI. The top factors with negative impact were found to be work hours, unclear expectations, and being treated differently than others within the department.

Eight common themes emerged from the quantitative data and qualitative response sections of the survey, including relationship with advisor/PI, clarity of PI expectations, faculty involvement in department issues, mentorship, group dynamics, work-life balance, diversity and bias, and gender disparities. These major themes were used to guide the development of recommendations to begin addressing some of the issues highlighted by the survey results. Some examples include:

  1. Create research group expectations documents.
  2. Develop individual development plans.
  3. Implement regular climate discussions.
  4. Establish a town hall forum for open communication between faculty and graduate students/postdocs.

The results of the climate survey were shared at an open department forum on Friday, April 13th, 2018. The forum was attended by ~200 graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff. The presentation of the survey results was followed by a discussion that allowed for members of the department to share their perspectives on the climate survey results and provide feedback for future surveys. Everyone in the department is responsible for the department climate and overall well-being of its members. We hope that improving our department climate will be a continuous effort and that the survey will be administered biennially to assess progress and identify new issues that may arise.