GradFIRST, a one-credit seminar for incoming University of Georgia graduate students, has had a successful inaugural year. Launched in fall semester 2022, this new program helps students transition to graduate school and supports their professional development.
The program ensures that regardless of background or academic discipline, students have access to the resources and information to support their success at UGA and beyond. More than 1,300 newly enrolled graduate students attended more than 125 GradFIRST seminar courses offered in fall 2022 and spring 2023 semesters.
“I enjoyed my GradFIRST class so much! The class gave me a group that I could connect with every week and discuss my experience during grad school. The class also helped me acclimate to UGA by helping me understand all of the wonderful resources that the school has to offer,” said graduate student Jacob Smith.
GradFIRST is one aspect of the strong institutional commitment to graduate education at UGA. In his January 2022 State of the University address, President Jere W. Morehead announced his support of this innovative program. Campus leaders, faculty and students provided key consultation on the program’s creation.
“Students shared that their experiences in their GradFIRST seminars improved their awareness of and access to important resources and provided opportunities for networking with faculty and other graduate students across UGA’s campuses. These experiences will build a strong foundation for success for our graduate students,” said Ron Walcott, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School.
The GradFIRST program leverages national best practices and campus expertise on how to help students thrive in their graduate studies and careers. The seminars are taught in small classes by UGA graduate program faculty. Each seminar includes discussion of critical topics such as planning graduate education and career roadmaps, navigating mentoring relationships, managing conflicts and grievances, mental health and well-being, time management and balancing priorities, ethics of scholarship and research, promotion of mental health and well-being and understanding UGA resources for graduate students.
Faculty develop additional seminar content based on their expertise on topics such as academic writing, data visualization, science communication and more. Surveys of student learning outcomes demonstrated a more than 25 percent increase in knowledge and understanding of these topics with very high student ratings of overall course effectiveness.
“The University of Georgia is committed to creating a world-class experience for our graduate and professional students,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “GradFIRST is an excellent example of the steps we continue to take to elevate our graduate and professional programs, including additional funding, more robust support and expanded professional development opportunities.”
The response from instructors has also been positive.
“This seminar provided the incoming graduate students with information critical for the transition to graduate school,” said Christof Meile, professor in the Department of Marine Sciences. “I assume that other faculty will notice an increased awareness by their new graduate students of existing resources and of the importance of early planning in their educational and professional development.”
“Our goal with GradFIRST is twofold: to support graduate students directly, and to enrich faculty’s ability to support graduate students,” said Anne Shaffer, associate dean of the Graduate School.
Instructors of the seminars are also seeing their own benefits from GradFIRST.
“I loved learning from my students what they needed and how to make my own graduate program better,” said Jessica Muilenburg, professor and assistant dean in the College of Public Health. “Networking and meeting people outside of your department is important,” she said. GradFIRST helps students practice these interactions in a safer space, because being able to communicate the importance of what you do is crucial.”
As GradFIRST continues into its second year, the Graduate School looks forward to partnering with faculty to provide this seminar for the next cohort of first-year graduate students.
To learn more about GradFIRST seminar offerings, please visit gradfirst.uga.edu