Summer/Fall 2008 Newsletter
IN THIS EDITION
• Recognizing Outstanding Mentorship at UAB
• 14th Annual Graduate Student Research Days
• Chris Null and Scott Keith: Barker Awardees
• Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and Commencement: May 3
• Michelle D. Amaral: Outstanding Student in Joint Health Sciences
• Graduate Student Spotlight
• Do You Have the Writing Skills to Avoid Plagiarism?
• English Pronunciation Open Doors
• Welcome Alan Corbin, New Instructor
• Welcome Charlie Prince in the Central Office
Recognizing Outstanding Mentorship at UAB
“For the moments when the mentor is in the act of mentoring, the mentee feels as if he or she is alone in their mentor’s thoughts and concerns.” Travis Lewis, MD/Ph.D. student, writing about his mentor, Robin Lorenz. Read more.
14th Annual Graduate Student Research Days
A record number of students, 182, participated in UAB’s 14th Annual Graduate Student Research Days on Feb. 28 and 29. The 45 winners were honored March 7 at the UAB Graduate School’s Annual Awards Luncheon with remarks by UAB Provost Dr. Eli Capilouto, Dr. Bryan Noe, dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Steve Watts, faculty co-chair, and Dr. Jeff Engler, associate dean. Read more.
Chris Null and Scott Keith: Barker Awardees
The 2008 recipients of the most prestigious student award given by the UAB Graduate School are Christopher Null, who is studying at the master’s level in history, and Scott Keith, a doctoral student in biostatistics. Read more.
Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and Commencement: May 3
Ready to graduate? Mark Saturday, May 3, for the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and Commencement for Spring graduates. (UAB holds two Doctoral Hooding and Commencement Ceremonies each year; one in the Spring and one in December for Summer and Fall graduates.) Read more.
Michelle D. Amaral: Outstanding Student in Joint Health Sciences
Michelle D. Amaral, in her fifth year in the Neurobiology Graduate Program, is the recipient of the 2008 Joint Health Sciences Dean’s Award. She was selected as the “most outstanding student” from a group that constitutes more than one third of all doctoral students at UAB, says Dr. Bryan Noe, dean of the Graduate School. Read more.
Graduate Student Spotlight
Yue Cao hails from China, where he earned an MA in Journalism and Communication from Nanjing University in 2004. Cullen Clark has studied the gamut of doctors who treat the sick. Read more.
Do You Have the Writing Skills to Avoid Plagiarism?
Studies show that at least 40 percent of college students admit to using unattributed material from the Internet in their course papers. Read more.
English Pronunciation Open Doors
For international residents, nothing is more frustrating than the inability to communicate in English in everyday situations, such as ordering a meal at a restaurant, or attracting attention at a conference for their unusual accents instead of their rare intellect, says Jonghee Shadix, MA-TESOL, instructor in the Professional Development Program at the Graduate School. Read more.
Assigned time registration for the 2008 summer terms begins Monday, March 17. Graduate students may register in person on the second floor of the Hill University Center or online by signing onto BlazerNET located at https://blazernet.uab.edu/cp/home/displaylogin. Read more.
Welcome Alan Corbin, New Instructor
Alan Corbin, a veteran linguist and language teacher, has joined the Graduate School’s Professional Development Program as an Instructor in oral academic English and presentation skills. Read more.
Welcome Charlie Prince in the Central Office
The new point man in the central office at the Graduate School is Charlie Prince. Charlie regularly fields phone calls, answers admissions questions, and directs students to administrative and instructional staff who can help them. Read more.
|“For the moments when the mentor is in the act of mentoring, the mentee feels as if he or she is alone in their mentor’s thoughts and concerns.” Travis Lewis, MD/Ph.D. student, writing about his mentor, Robin Lorenz.|
When Bryan Noe, dean of the UAB Graduate School, was starting his Ph.D. program, he got lucky with his choice of a mentor. “I didn’t really know what to look for, but my choice was fortuitous. My advisor was a scientist who consistently worked in the lab, which was exactly what I needed because my previous lab experience had been minimal. And he was interested in my professional development as well as in helping me to reach my career objectives. That combination of mentoring characteristics made all the difference in the world.”
Today, the choice of a mentor is “one of the most important decisions a student makes,” Noe adds. Yet too often, the hard work, quality teaching, and generous time commitment of faculty who are excellent mentors go unrecognized. Last fall, the Graduate School decided to change that when it invited trainees to nominate UAB faculty who were considered to be outstanding mentors. Faculty members were selected if they received at least three letters of nomination from current students, past students, or current or past postdocs.
This Spring, to honor those who were nominated, the UAB Graduate School recognized 16 exemplary faculty by awarding them the first annual Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship. Recipients are from the schools of Education, Nursing, Medicine, Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Social & Behavioral Sciences and the Joint Health Science departments. Honorees were recognized at an awards ceremony March 7, when they received a bound volume containing the nomination letters written on their behalf and an engraved plaque.
Among the honorees is Robin Lorenz, M.D., Ph.D., in the Department of Pathology. “I was extremely honored and surprised to hear that my students had nominated me for the Dean’s Mentoring Award,” says Lorenz. “Very early in my training I was lucky enough to have mentors who believed in me and pushed me to do my very best (like family), kindly watching over my development from afar and guiding in a non-interferring way. I have tried to pass along that feeling of family to my lab and students.
“I also try to instill in them appropriate values and respect for other researchers ideas and experiments,” she adds. “I have learned a lot from my students, but probably the most important is that each one is unique – none of them are little ‘Robin Lorenz’s’, and it is important that I learn what is unique about each and try to encourage that part of their development.”
Other 2008 Dean’s Award recipients are: Gypsy Abbott, Ph.D., Susan Appel, Ph.D., Susan Bellis, Ph.D., Jeffrey Clair, Ph.D., Christine Curcio, Ph.D., Retta Evans, Ph.D., John Hablitz, Ph.D., James Hagood, M.D., Gary Hunter, Ph.D., Raymond Ideker, M.D., , John Mountz, M.D., Peter Prevelige, Ph.D., Robert Thacker, Ph.D., Dan Welch, Ph.D., and Dale Williams, Ph.D. To see excerpts from nominating letters, visit the UAB Reporter at http://main.uab.edu/show.asp?durki=116634.
Noe adds that being an outstanding mentor can pay many dividends in terms of personal and professional satisfaction. Trainees often move on to have successful research careers while maintaining life-long friendships and collaborations. One of the most gratifying personal rewards for any mentor is the satisfaction derived from following the successful career trajectories of previous trainees.
A successful mentoring relationship calls for mutual agreement in five key areas, according to Nicholas H. Steneck of the Office of Research Integrity within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
- Mentor and trainee must completely understand each other’s responsibilities in the mentorship;
- Both must commit to creating and maintaining a productive and supportive research environment;
- Mentors must provide adequate supervision and review; trainees must know the criteria for evaluation of their performance;
- Both must understand that the goal of mentoring is to prepare trainees for successful research careers;
- Mentors and trainees must commit to and nurture the relationship, taking immediate steps if it begins to break down.
For more information about mentoring, read “Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research” by Steneck at the Office of Research Integrity within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at http://ori.dhhs.gov/documents/rcrintro.pdf.
A record number of students, 182, participated in UAB’s 14th Annual Graduate Student Research Days on Feb. 28 and 29. The 45 winners were honored March 7 at the UAB Graduate School’s Annual Awards Luncheon with remarks by UAB Provost Dr. Eli Capilouto, Dr. Bryan Noe, dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Steve Watts, faculty co-chair, and Dr. Jeff Engler, associate dean.
Research Days “provide a forum for aspiring scholars to present their project or research to an audience of their peers,” says Dr. Watts, who along with Dr. Colin Davis, served as a faculty co-chair for the university-wide event. “Job interviews for professional positions often require a presentation of graduate project or research because excellent presentation skills are one of the important metrics used to determine who gets the job."
Students won cash awards of $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place awards. Event sponsors included the Graduate School, the Graduate Student Association, and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society.
Taking First Place awards were: Session 1 Lin Yang in Mathematics and Computer & Information Sciences; Session 2Ping-Cheung Chen in Life Sciences; Session 3 Christina Richey in Physical Science and Engineering; Session 4 Stephen Jordan in Life Sciences; Session 5 Emma Fox in Arts and Humanities; Session 6 Carrie Anne Longin Social and Behavioral Sciences; Session 7 Deborah Mai in Life Sciences; Session 8 Mariya Sweetwyne in Life Sciences; Session 9 Mark Lisanby in Life Sciences; Session 10 Lynne Gauthier in Social and Behavioral Sciences; Session 11 Dina Halwani in Physical Science and Engineering; Session 12 Adrienne King in Life Sciences; Session 13 Pamela Binns-Turner in Social and Behavioral Sciences; Session 14 Brian Dizon in Life Sciences; Session 15 Parthasarathy Raghava in Physical Science and Engineering. For a complete list of student winners, visit:
The event would not be possible without generous sponsors and hardworking UAB faculty and employees who come together every year to plan, prepare, judge, and keep time, explains Kellie Carter, who coordinated the event along with Laura Burchfiel of the Graduate School. Most importantly, she adds, increasing student participation defines success. “It’s exciting to see student support for this event grow stronger every year. I hope everybody marks their 2009 calendars for Feb. 26 & 27, next year’s Research Days.”
Ms. Carter recognized the planning committee as Drs. Noe and Engler, Dr. Susan Rich, Dr. Julia Austin, Jan Baird and Susan Noblitt Banks of the Graduate School. Timekeepers included: Gin Chuang, Rachel Gill, Girish Ramaswamy, Charles Slater, Julia Schmitz, Marci Smith, Warren T. Jones, Mich Edmonds, Malynda Miller, Libby Yost, Brian Dranka, Gwen Hudson, Jana Wallace, Martinique Perkins and Amanda Plain.
Judges included: Gypsy Abbott, Shastry Akella, Aruna Badiga, David Bedwell, Barrett Bryant, Jeff Burkhardt, David Chaplin, Nikolai Chernov, Herbert Cheung, Mathivanan Chinnarag, Jim Collawn, Cathleen Cummings, Jami Dashdorj, Jessy Deshane, Jeanette Doeller, Terje Dokland, Alan Druschitz, Alan Eberhardt, Ada Elgavish, Chad Epps, Paul George, Janice Gilliland, Joan Grant, Pat Greenup, Kyle Grimes, Laurie Harrington, Michael Howell-Moroney, Doug Hurst, Nataliya Ivankova, Patricia Jackson, Gregg Janowski, John Johnstone, Guolian Kang, John Kearney, Phillip Kendrick, Piotr Kulesza, Ashwani Kumar, Tom Lowder, Dmitri Martyshkin, John Mayer, Sally Anne McInerny, David Merryman, Stephen Miller, Sylvie Mrug, Dragos Olteanu, Burton Patterson, Robert W. Peters, Andrew Peterson, Charles Prince, Erica Pryor, Firoz Rahemtulla, Talat Salama, Rose Scripa, John Shacka, Neeraj Sharma, Sadeep Shrestha, Florentina Simionescu, Peter Smith, Robert Thacker, Mary Grace Umlauf, John Van Sant, Doug Weigent, Rex Wright, Yang Yang, Steve Yoder, Chengcui Zhang, and Kui Zhang.
The 2008 recipients of the most prestigious student award given by the UAB Graduate School are Christopher Null, who is studying at the master’s level in history, and Scott Keith, a doctoral student in biostatistics. Because the honor draws from nominees in all 12 schools, the Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies showcases the “best and brightest,” says Dean Bryan Noe, who recognized the two students at the Graduate School Awards Luncheon March 7.
Chris, who also earned his B.A. in history at UAB, has previously won numerous honors, including the Ireland Tuition Scholarship, the Ireland Research Travel Scholarship, the David Hart White Prize in History, and First Place in the 2007 Graduate School Research Day Competition. He holds a graduate assistantship in the UAB History Department and has written on a wide variety of topics ranging from the Barbary Wars and the letters of Florence Nightingale to a paper entitled “Comparing the Textual Interpretations of Justices Black and Scalia.” One nominator wrote about him: “Chris Null stands out as an exceptional graduate student not only because he has maintained a 4.0 GPA, but also because he demonstrates exceptional research in different fields.” In addition, the writer said Null’s list of previous awards “is quite extraordinary for an MA student.”
Doctoral student Scott, who earned his MS in Mathematics from the University of New Orleans, is currently an NIH T32 Predoctoral Biostatistics Trainee and Graduate Research Assistant in the UAB School of Public Health. He is a previous winner of the Ireland Research Travel Scholarship; last fall, he won an NIH-sponsored trip to present his poster, “Body Fat, Body Mass Index, and Mortality: A Comparative Survival Analysis of NHANES III”. Of Scott, nominators wrote: “Scott’s publication record is extraordinary for a graduate student. He has three peer-reviewed publications, and he is first author on two of these… Perhaps more impressive, these articles appeared in Obesity and the International Journal of Obesity – both are highly competitive and prestigious journals.” In addition to his already “remarkable record as a researcher,” one nominator said, “Scott has been a model ‘academic citizen’ here, in our department, and in the broader scientific community.”
Named for UAB’s first graduate dean, Dr. Samuel Booth Barker, the Barker Award was introduced in 1995. Each Spring, two students (one at the master's level and one at the doctoral level) who will graduate in that calendar year may be nominated for the award by their department's graduate program director, by their advisor, or by both. A selection committee led by the Dean of the Graduate School chooses the final recipients from the group of nominees. The names of each year’s winners appear on plaques outside the Graduate School office as continuing evidence of their accomplishments.
Additional information regarding the Barker Award, along with a list of past winners, may be found at the URL below: http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/students/current/groups/researchday/barkeraward/
Ready to graduate? Mark Saturday, May 3, for the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and Commencement for Spring graduates. (UAB holds two Doctoral Hooding and Commencement Ceremonies each year; one in the Spring and one in December for Summer and Fall graduates.)
The Doctoral Hooding Ceremony is the graduation ceremony for doctoral candidates receiving PhD, DrPH, EdD, and DScTP degrees. If you are a doctoral candidate who will be graduating in May 2008, you must fill out the commencement form by April 4 located at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/students/current/graduation/7329/ in order to participate in this ceremony. Simply showing up for the ceremony is not an option. This ceremony will be held in the Alys Stephens Centre at 10:30 a.m. Students should arrive two hours earlier at 8:30 a.m.
The Commencement ceremony for master's and undergraduate students will be held in Bartow Arena at 2:00 p.m. Students should arrive at the Bell/Wallace Gymnasium (on the corner of 6th Avenue South and 13th Street, no later than 1:15 p.m.) All master's graduates who would like to attend commencement should look at the graduation information online at http://students.uab.edu/academics/show.asp?durki=49764&site=3048&return=5303.
Full regalia (caps, gowns, hoods) are required for both events. For information, contact the UAB Barnes and Noble Bookstore.
When a candidate is near graduation, she or he must pay close attention to Graduate School deadlines, which are posted online at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/students/current/deadlines/. Important dates include the following Spring and Summer semester deadlines:
Summer 2008 deadlines
- Application for Degree June 6
- Defense Deadline July 7
- Admission to Candidacy May 6/May 30
- Change of Residency May 6/May/30
Fall 2008 deadlines
- Application for Degree September 5
- Defense Deadline November 7
- Admission to Candidacy August 15
- Change of Residency August 15
Detailed information regarding Completing a Graduate Degree is also available at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/students/current/7287/. Completing all paper work and final payments by the posted deadlines will ensure that a candidate will graduate by the expected date.
Michelle D. Amaral, in her fifth year in the Neurobiology Graduate Program, is the recipient of the 2008 Joint Health Sciences Dean’s Award. She was selected as the “most outstanding student” from a group that constitutes more than one third of all doctoral students at UAB, says Dr. Bryan Noe, dean of the Graduate School.
An award-winning chemistry graduate from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Michelle excels in data analysis and is on track to earn her Ph.D. from UAB this year. She is described as being the best senior graduate in the program, and “one of the two best students since the program was established a decade ago.” Nominators praised her for “her academic and research performance, together with her level of motivation and thoughtfulness, collegiality with other students and faculty, as well as for her service to the Department and the University.”
As a result of her 4.0 GPA, nominators wrote, “Michelle was awarded funding support from the NIH Training Grant of the UAB CMB Program for two consecutive years.” Additionally, as a rotation student in Dr. Sontheimer’s lab, her work was included in a peer-review research paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience, one of the leading journals in the neuroscience field. Michelle possesses the “ability to master a variety of sophisticated, experimental techniques.” In addition, she has a strong record of professional science presentations (12), including an oral presentation at the 2007 Society of Neuroscience annual meeting. She is also the first author of four papers and one book chapter.
Yue Cao hails from China, where he earned an MA in Journalism and Communication from Nanjing University in 2004. He has been studying at UAB for three years, and hopes to graduate with his Ph.D. in Medical Sociology in 2009.
Currently, Yue is working with Dr. Sean-Shong Hwang to study China’s Three Gorges Dam, the largest project of its kind in history. They are using panel data to examine the mental and physical impact of the project on the estimated 1.3 million persons being displaced.
Yue says he chose UAB based on the reputation of the Medical Sociology program here. “I learned about UAB six years ago in China through a book, Medical Sociology. It was the only one in this field translated into Chinese at that time. It is written by William C. Cockerham, a distinguished professor in the Department of Sociology at UAB.”
When asked about his experiences at UAB, Yue says he finds the interdisciplinary environment most rewarding. “I took classes in the fields of epidemiology, biostatistics, and gerontology, which are all beneficial to my research. I can gain access to many useful resources through the cooperation between these disciplines.”
Several different professors have influenced him at UAB, especially his advisor, Dr. Hwang. “He not only spends a lot of time and effort to provide me with invaluable knowledge and research skills, but also helps me develop as a scholar, encouraging me to try my best to make everything as perfect as possible in the research. Meanwhile, I am fortunate to study in the Sociology department, where I receive a lot of help and inspiration through interaction with knowledgeable professors and intelligent graduate students and where interdisciplinary research and cooperation are encouraged.”
Yue says he is motivated to work hard and conduct research by a “sense of mission and aspiration for knowledge.” Asked if he has any advice/wisdom for other graduate students, he answers: “Try to learn as much as possible through the different disciplines. Some knowledge may not seem useful currently, but you will find it is very helpful sooner or later.”
Upon graduation, Yue plans to dedicate himself to academia, specifically research and teaching. “I also want to use my skills and knowledge to diminish systemic health gaps through identifying their structural underpinnings.”
From traditional healers to state-of-the-science practitioners of Western medicine, Cullen Clark has studied the gamut of doctors who treat the sick. At UAB for four years, he is currently researching complementary and alternative medicine, the sociology of medical knowledge, and the ways culture influences medical care. He will complete a Ph.D. in Medical Sociology in 2008 with dissertation research that focuses on the cultural worldview of conventional and alternative medical physicians.
“This is an exploratory project comparing the worldview of naturopathic physicians (a type of alternative doctor licensed to practice primary care in about a dozen states) and conventional primary care physicians (allopaths),” he explains. “Working with Dr. Jeffrey Michael Clair and other members of my dissertation committee, I developed a survey to measure attitudes about topics ranging from health and illness to spirituality and ecology. I then mailed the survey to a randomly selected group of naturopaths and allopaths in the states where naturopaths are licensed to practice medicine.”
To date, 961 physicians – including 399 naturopaths – have completed the survey, says Cullen, adding that the results reveal a fascinating pattern of differences across several dimensions of worldview. “There is also a wealth of information in this data for future studies. It is really exciting to work on something that will be useful both for researchers interested in this field and health administrators seeking to build systems that truly integrate conventional and alternative medicine.”
Originally from Liberty, Mississippi, Cullen has lived in Birmingham for the last 20 years. This will be his second degree from UAB. Fifteen years ago, while working full time, he completed a Master of Science in Health Administration. He speaks highly of UAB, crediting the doctoral program in Medical Sociology with having an excellent international reputation.
“The program is also very supportive of nontraditional candidates like me. Before I became acquainted with the program, I was a mid-career healthcare marketing professional with a strong interest in complementary and alternative medicine, unsure about leaving a job to return to school. I was encouraged to take a course as a non-degree seeking student. I studied Medical Sociology with Dr. William Cockerham, and I was hooked. The course was great; both faculty and fellow students were very welcoming. By the end of the course, I knew I wanted to apply for the program.”
Coming back to school, after working as a professional for some time, was “simultaneously exciting and challenging,” he adds.
“I knew I would be called upon to master a large body of knowledge very quickly. That said, nothing could have prepared me for the transformative experience pursuing this doctorate has been. Developing a repertoire of analytical techniques and social theory is just the beginning of the process. It seems to me that the real metamorphosis is one of vision; students in this program learn to see things once familiar in an entirely new light.”
As a result, based on his own positive experience, he would advise people who are considering returning to school in mid-life to pursue some course of study that excites them. “Actually, [this advice] comes from the person whose counsel I value most. When I fretted that if I went back to school, I would be in my early 50s when I finished my Ph.D., my wife pointed out that if I did not go back, I would still reach my 50s. I just would not have my degree. Ultimately, I came to see that life is too short not to pursue your dreams.”
He quickly learned that the sociology department sets high standards for its graduate student, but Cullen prefers it that way.
“The work load can be intense, but the faculty is always very supportive. Indeed, one of the traditions of the department is the remarkably collegial atmosphere between faculty and graduate students. It is a tradition that seems to have been carefully crafted over time, and one that Department Chair Mark E. LaGory and Graduate Director Patricia Drentea successfully build upon. The net effect for graduate students is a community of learning where faculty mentors share their knowledge and help students navigate their transition into academia and research.”
Many people at UAB have influenced his development, he adds. “My dissertation chair, Jeffrey Clair, has been a great mentor. My other committee members Ann Clark, Mike Flannery, Ferris Ritchey, Chris Taylor, and Ken Wilson have all gone out of their way to support me. So has everyone in my department – faculty and fellow students alike.”
As for staying motivated as he finishes his Ph.D., that’s not a problem. “I am incredibly lucky. Every day I get to do something I love. What could be more motivating than that?”
Cullen wants to continue researching and working on complementary and alternative medicine, the sociology of medical knowledge and the ways in which culture influences people. “And I want to share that work with the broadest audience possible, through both traditional and nontraditional venues. Sociology offers tremendous insight into the forces that shape our world; as sociologists, we have an obligation to share that insight with people in a way that helps them improve their everyday life.”
Studies show that at least 40 percent of college students admit to using unattributed material from the Internet in their course papers. However, a closer look reveals that many accidentally plagiarize because they do not fully understand the rules regarding the use of source work or how to correctly paraphrase, says Dr. Jeffrey Engler, associate dean of the UAB Graduate School. This spring, Engler, Dr. Julia Austin, and instructional team members Kellie Carter and Jennifer Greer began a series of informal workshops for graduate students, post-docs, and faculty to increase awareness of ethical practices in science writing.
“We start by showing a new video, Amanda’s Dilemma, which was produced by the Graduate School and the Center for Ethics and Values in the Sciences. Based on a 2005 plagiarism scandal at a U.S. university, the video raises student awareness", explains Engler. “Thirty nine graduate students were alleged to have plagiarized large sections of their theses and, as a result, faced severe consequences, such as the revocation of their degrees. This is an extreme case, but we discuss it because we believe we have an important responsibility to help students understand the risks of plagiarizing and train them in how to avoid it.”
Many students get into trouble when writing literature reviews or long theory sections because they don’t have not had enough training or practice in the craft of reading, synthesizing and summarizing large amounts of source work, adds Austin, director of the school’s Professional Development Program. “We try to answer students’ questions and offer practical writing and citation strategies. Once they see what is required and how it’s done, they reduce their risk of plagiarizing and grow more confident in their own writing and citation abilities.”
For additional online information, visit:
- The UAB Honor Code http://main.uab.edu/show.asp?durki=97350
- Empire State College Plagiarism Quiz at LINK TO COME
- UAB MERIT http://peir2.path.uab.edu/merit/
- The Owl at Purdue http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/01/
- Turnitin.com http://www.uab.edu/it/instructional/technology/docs/tii_process.pdf
- Glatt Plagiarism Services http://plagiarism.com/
For international residents, nothing is more frustrating than the inability to communicate in English in everyday situations, such as ordering a meal at a restaurant, or attracting attention at a conference for their unusual accents instead of their rare intellect, says Jonghee Shadix, MA-TESOL, instructor in the Professional Development Program at the Graduate School.
Yet many UAB students, employees and post-doctoral fellows still struggle with issues of intelligibility in their speaking skills.
“They may have learned English as a library or textbook language and read very well in their specialized fields. Yet they have never benefited from a professional diagnostic, or systematic instruction and practice in pronunciation,” explains Ms. Shadix, who teaches a variety of courses at the Graduate School and shares some of student’s most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below.
Question: Why don’t people understand me at the local fast food restaurant?
Answer: Well, a variety of reasons. You might not have spoken loudly enough or projected your voice. You might have problems with intonation, or you might not open your mouth correctly for clear vowel sounds and pronounce your consonants at the end of words. Many students never learn certain English sounds because they either do not exist in their native languages, or they are not the same. Worse yet, they often do not realize a problem exists.”
Question: I don’t have a good ear or a talent for languages. Can I still improve my pronunciation?
Answer: Yes. We work with proven methods, and many students see results in as little as one semester. For example, I use a fairly unique technique, LessacWorks, from the professional acting community, to simplify one of the most difficult pronunciation tasks – mastering the more than 15 English vowel sounds. By practicing six progressive openings of the mouth, students can notice, model and feel these sounds, and their intelligibility increases quickly.”
Question: I plan to return to my home country when I finish studying, why should I master American English pronunciation?
Answer: English has become a global language, and my goal is for students to achieve a universal standard of intelligibility so they can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. Our students study at the graduate level or beyond, and most of them aspire to high level positions as scientists, researchers, teachers or academicians. They view our courses as a professional investment in new opportunities and career paths, not a cosmetic attempt to sound like an American.”
Question: I live and work with other students and post-docs who speak my native language. How can I get more English pronunciation practice?
Answer: That is a common problem. Because reading in English reinforces listening and speaking, one excellent idea is to get a library card, read non-academic books that interest you, and join a book club that discusses the topic. I offer an informal book club once a month, which also includes movies and audio books of the film. This promotes critical thinking in English, which helps build fluency in writing, listening and speaking.
Assigned time registration for the 2008 summer terms begins Monday, March 17. Graduate students may register in person on the second floor of the Hill University Center or online by signing onto BlazerNET located at https://blazernet.uab.edu/cp/home/displaylogin. You will also find the class schedule and other important information at the previous link. Open Registration I begins March 24 and Open Registration II begins April 7.
Early assigned time registration for the 2008 fall semester begins March 31. Check out the Student Resources tab in BlazerNET or http://students.uab.edu/to-do-list/show.asp?durki=5306 for more details.
Interested in upgrading your professional skills through the Graduate School? Visit the Graduate School's Professional Development Website for summer course offerings at http://main.uab.edu/sites/gradschool/7677/.
The new point man in the central office at the Graduate School is Charlie Prince. Charlie regularly fields phone calls, answers admissions questions, and directs students to administrative and instructional staff who can help them. A 2007 graduate (magna cum laude) of UAB, Charlie majored in philosophy and says he appreciates the analytical skills and “outside-the-box” thinking that his studies provided. He worked for the Graduate School in the summer of 2007 and recently returned to the same position. Previously, he was employed by TRIO Academic Services at UAB, tutoring other students in a variety of subjects. “I’ll probably go back to school, but right now, I want to take work for a while. I enjoy being at the Graduate School. There’s always something going on at the front desk. It’s like directing traffic. I also like being on campus.”