“I’ve always loved working with students,” explained Liz Oxford, the program coordinator for the Chemistry Department Doctoral Program. She has held the job for four years, and in July, she she was honored with the Graduate Student Council’s “Staff Member of the Year” award for the second year in a row.

Oxford’s background mixes chemistry with student mentoring. “For my undergraduate education, I went to Western Washington University and I completed two degrees - chemistry and sociology. When I was an undergrad, I was an undergraduate adviser, a peer mentor, resident adviser, teaching assistant… I loved the chemistry but I also loved interacting with the students.”

Upon graduating from Western Washington, Oxford moved to Arizona. At first, she worked as a bench chemist, working on solar films. Upon a recommendation from a friend, she decided to apply for an academic advising position in the University of Arizona Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, where she advised undergraduates, held one-on-one advising meetings, and organized all student registration. About halfway through her seven years there, she took over the graduate program, as well. “I really liked working with graduate students,” she said. “I went to every single thesis defense. I loved feeling like I knew every student.”

Soon after Oxford moved to Michigan, the Graduate Program Coordinator position opened up and she was excited to apply given her chemistry background and her love of working with graduate students. She has enjoyed her last four years at Michigan, helping students on their doctoral program journeys.

“The students are the best part of my job, by far. Interaction-wise, I just like the variability. I love that students trust me, that you guys believe me when I say that I have your best interests at heart.”

In addition to advising current students, Oxford also runs recruitment events such as M|CORE, a fall visit to encourage underrepresented students to apply to Michigan Chemistry. In addition to planning individual visits for students to visit the department, she manages the nuts-and-bolts of the doctoral program application process.

She also coordinates prospective-student visit weekends during the Winter semester which involves organizing flights, meals, meetings and activities for hundreds of students. “It’s nice being in a position where people trust what you tell them, and know you care about their success, so they take what you tell them seriously,” she said when speaking about encouraging students to join the department.

Oxford has also launched a new program that will begin this fall—a graduate student mentoring program that matches first-year students with senior graduate students in order to give advice and support during the crucial beginning of the PhD program.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a PhD student, but I feel like I know you guys very well. And I get to know you better every year… People are able to know that there is someone here who they can go to, to not just fill out a form, but to stand by them, to listen to them, and to try to come up with a solution.”

--Taylor Soucy is a 2nd year graduate student in the McCrory Lab.