• What do we envision as the future of graduate education?
  • What does it take to be a successful graduate student?
  • Are our students prepared for the careers they want?
  • Are all our students getting the mentoring they need?
  • How do we engage students in these conversations?
Chemistry Team: Bartlett, Biteen, Hanosh & Stephenson


These thoughts shaped work in the Department of Chemistry aimed at equipping all our graduate students with the skills—scientific, social, and personal—to succeed in graduate school and beyond.

Depending on what sort of mentoring students have gotten, they may or may not have heard many of the expectations and strategies that educators refer to as the “hidden curriculum” on how to meet the challenges of graduate school and career.

The U-M Rackham Graduate School’s “Advancing New Directions” initiative provided preparation and funding for a team from the Department of Chemistry to develop a new course that addressed these concerns.

The team was comprised of professors Bart Bartlett, Julie Biteen, and Corey Stephenson, and student services manager Heather Hanosh. The team developed a professional development course that augments and complements the training in science that is part of the graduate curriculum and had the new course approved by the faculty as a requirement for a degree.

“One of our biggest concerns driving this course development was the fact that the PhD experience can be extremely lab-specific,” Julie Biteen explains. “Everyone is getting trained to do top-notch research, but our more senior graduate students told us that they didn’t all feel as comfortable with complementary skills like reading and writing. It was great to be given the opportunity to infuse these topics into the PhD curriculum right from the first year.”

In their first semester, all students have for many years taken a “research responsibility” course required of anyone conducting research at U-M. It is currently taught by the department chair on Monday nights. Between sessions of research content, the department has added other information that will help students succeed—sessions on time management, stress management, imposter syndrome and such.

Expanded Curriculum

In their second semester, graduate students are now required to take Chemistry 516 that delves deeper into the world of academia and work—topics such as how to read and assess science papers, proposal writing, peer review and the publication process, how to choose a lab, working across teams, getting feedback, and how to connect yourself to the department and its resources.

Graduate student Daisy Haas helped Biteen develop the curriculum and taught some writing skills.

“For this course, my interest really lies in the idea that professional writing in a PhD program is typically a skill that’s implicitly built by graduate students. Professional writing, while an important part of the PhD process (writing papers, proposals, and dissertations) and key for many STEM graduate student’s future careers (academic and industry), is not within most course learning objectives and is typically developed between the mentor and mentee, if it is developed.”

“Additionally, academic writing can be daunting for PhD students who come from a variety of backgrounds and may need more support engaging in professional writing. I felt that this course made that skill-building more explicit for first-year students within a community of peers,” Haas says.

“One part of this course that I felt was transformative was the way a lot of department community members helped first-year students develop these professional writing skills. Faculty members, older graduate students, and peers within the first-year cohort volunteered to give feedback on student writing, which allowed for a diverse and formative feedback-and-revision process. I developed rubrics to help scaffold feedback and make the process more streamlined.”

“Overall, as a graduate student and chemistry education researcher, I’m interested in making the STEM graduate school experience more equitable and one way of doing that is by making the hidden curriculum of graduate school (the unwritten knowledge, social norms, and behaviors that aren’t explicitly communicated) explicit to students. Some ways I think we tried to do that through this class is by creating a collaborative writing environment where students can receive structured feedback and support in various stages of the academic writing process. I’m really excited to see how this next iteration of the class grows and develops to be even more supportive,” adds Haas.

Extensive Support

In addition to the professional training course, the department’s student services teams offers other programing aimed at helping students connect and succeed. For example, Emma Houle, student services assistant who handles career services, arranges a series of workshops with industrial partners as presenters—preparing your CV, interviewing, leadership development. She is leveraging the department’s close relationships with Corteva, Dow, PPG, and Merck.

“Our goal is to make sure everyone is getting what they need,” Heather Hanosh emphasizes.◆

This article appeared in the 2023 Chemistry Newsletter.