In the spring of 2021, Truman Combs, a Ph.D. candidate in Biosystems Engineering, was in the process of applying for multiple government research positions with the Department of Defense through the Science Mathematics and Research Transformation scholarship.
"I interviewed for the scholarship 2 years prior, but was unsuccessful at the time," said Combs, one of 24 select graduate students to take part in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Impact Leader professional development program that semester.
Over the course of the program, Combs and his peers took part in five monthly workshops, which covered personality assessment, teamwork and conflict management, communicating and building a brand, innovation, and career management. The students practiced crafting their "elevator pitch" to better communicate their research and translate their unique skill sets to scientists within and outside of their disciplines, as well as participated in mock interviews with industry hiring committees and members of the media.
The skills he learned through the program couldn't have been more relevant, Combs said. "I navigated the interviews with a newfound sense of confidence and clarity. I am happy to report the tools and insights gained during the workshops paid off! I was awarded the scholarship and secured post-graduation employment in Virginia."
Initiated in January 2020 with sponsorship from Bayer Crop Sciences and facilitation support from Porterbay Insight and the CALS Career Center, the Impact Leader professional development program is designed to position CALS graduate students for early-career success, explained Kirsten Limesand, Assistant Dean of Graduate Education and a professor of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness.
Limesand created the program to help graduate students develop the so-called "soft skills" employers increasingly desire in prospective candidates, such as team building, communication, and an innovation and entrepreneurial mindset.
“Throughout the program students hone in on skills that are essential in a professional career, including communication, innovative thinking and leadership development. These skills are pillars of success within the Bayer organization," said Erin Jones, Head of Sustainability and Outreach for Bayer Life Sciences. "This partnership between the University of Arizona and Bayer allows us to help support the next generation of leaders in science and technology, preparing them to hit the ground running in their future careers.”
As part of the program, students are matched with industry coaches or mentors, who not only provide prospective career insights but help students grow their professional network. The program also emphasizes building connections across the cohort and the diverse scientific disciplines within CALS, Limesand explained. "We know solving the grand challenges we face today requires multi-disciplinary approaches and the ability to communicate across these diverse teams."
"The Impact Leaders program is a unique opportunity for graduate students to spend focused time reflecting on the skills and competencies they have developed as graduate researchers and to think about how they can apply them to any industry and sector throughout their career," said Bridget Radcliff, Director of Career Engagement for the CALS Career Center. "This model allows the students to experience firsthand the application of the skills they have developed inside and outside the classroom and provides them well developed assets they can utilize to showcase their skills to future employers."
The Impact Leader professional development program is currently accepting self-nominations for the Spring 2022 cohort. More information on training dates and the application form can be found on the Graduate Student resource website.
Applications are due by October 31, 2021.
Meet our recent Impact Leader Fellows
Truman Combs | Biosystems Engineering
"I research data processing workflow development and associated sensitivity analyses for multispectral imagery collected via unmanned aerial system technology.
One of the benefits of the program was a better understanding of the entrepreneurial process. Thanks to the shared experiences of Emre Toker, I was inspired to pursue a patent for a device I developed as part of my master’s thesis. The device is currently undergoing a commercialization assessment by Tech Launch Arizona. Participation in the Innovation workshops will no doubt assist me with matters of Intellectual Property in future projects as well. Each workshop also afforded me additional opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and speak in front of my peers, mentors, and skilled evaluators. I can be certain that the confidence I developed in the process will translate into better communication in the workplace.
I cannot think of a single person in my own life who wouldn’t benefit from the program."
Kristy Gilman | Nutritional Sciences
"I just completed by PhD in Nutritional Sciences and graduated in May 2021. For my doctoral studies, I was researching the signaling mechanisms behind radiation-induced salivary gland dysfunction, which is an unfortunate and often life-long side effect for head and neck cancer patients receiving radiotherapy. My project focused on delineating the role of the P2X7 receptor in the radiation damage response with the use of animal and cell culture models.
We had numerous opportunities to present throughout the fellowship training, which helped me improve my communication skills, especially with non-specialists in my field. I’ve also increased my network and made professional connections outside of the University, which can be hard to do when you’re submerged in an academic setting. Each of these training components is highly useful for scientists and can be applied to a wide range of opportunities to enhance my career development in the future."
Kari Hibbeler | Agricultural Education
"I am currently researching the effects of the political climate on transborder wildlife conservation, focusing on the U.S. and Mexico region. My future goals are to work in a field that focuses on conservation along with the restoration and rehabilitation of wildlife. I also would incorporate education of the public into my daily work/research schedule.
I believe the most impactful aspect of the Leadership program was meeting all of these professionals, not only my mentors but my peers who participated in this also, who were so accommodating and respectful. It just made it such an enjoyable experience. Three important benefits were understanding my strengths and the ways in which I work, understanding how my strengths work with other communication/personality styles, learning how to efficiently and effectively work with all styles, and creating my elevator pitch."
Jessica Dery | Environmental Science
"These Impact Leadership trainings were some of the best experiences I have had during graduate school. Learning not only about our own personality styles, values, perspectives, and motivators, but others as well, was invaluable in understanding and navigating work (and personal!) relationships, dynamics, and challenges with a fresh perspective.
I was able to put nearly everything we learned into practice right away. Some of the more 'difficult' sessions proved to be the most engaging and insightful - pushing us out of our comfort zones to come out the other side armed with knowledge, skills, and confidence to tackle a variety of challenges we may face throughout our journey. Conversations with my mentor led to new contacts, connections, industry insights, and resources I never would have made without him."
Roya AminiTabrizi | Environmental Science
"I am an environmental chemist studying carbon cycling in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, microbial and viral communities, and their interactions with organic matter. I use state-of-the-art analytical techniques such as high-resolution mass spectrometry and "omics" approaches to investigate the biochemical pathways underlying organic matter composition and degradation. I hope to become a research scientist in the agricultural and environmental areas.
The most impactful aspect of the program was learning effective communication skills based on your personality, understanding the conflicts, and positively solving them to turn them into an opportunity to grow."
Edwin Baldwin | Biosystems Analytics and Technology
"I am currently researching comorbidities (co-occurring diseases) using multipartite networks (multiple levels) that combine vast amounts of data to see how genetic mutations can have multiplicative effects. My future goals are to create efficient, socially responsible production systems for an array of products that reduce waste while generating profit.
My network has already expanded significantly and I feel as if I have gained at least one lifelong mentor through the program. Also, I am now more self-aware regarding my personality type and can adapt my behaviors in the future to the needs of my teams. The most important benefit is that my perspective has really expanded, so I am able to take a step back when needed and see things in a different light. For example, I now see how conflict can be constructive rather than destructive thanks to our workshops."
Victoria Bland | Nutritional Sciences
"I earned my PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in May 2021. My dissertation work focused on how fat distribution in the body influences bone development in adolescence and osteoporosis risk in older adulthood. My next step is a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado Anschutz with the overarching goal to stay in academia.
To me, the biggest benefits have been working on my communication skills, networking with industry professionals, and meeting fellow graduate students in CALS, outside of my own department. These aspects have opened me up to new areas of research, ways to collaborate with industry, how different departments within CALS have similar research goals, and how to form future collaborations. They also challenged me to communicate my research with those outside my own area of expertise, for example working with media, experts in other areas, and practice interviewing."
Isadora Bordini | Entomology
"I study conservation biological control, an ecologically-based practice that aims to conserve beneficial insects, while controlling insect pests in AZ cotton. Biological control is an ecological approach that takes advantage of beneficial insects that prey on insect pests. Biological control is made possible when selective chemicals that selectively kill target pest while conserving beneficial insects are deployed. I investigate several chemicals and determine their safety towards beneficial insects with goals of promoting biological control in cotton. These two tactics combined (biological control and selective chemicals) help growers to drastically reduce the number of sprays to control pests while also decreasing risks to pollinators, aquatic organisms, wildlife and human health.
There were several benefits in participating in the Impact Leader Training. I will apply this knowledge to effectively lead teams and promote an empowering work environment where all different personalities and strengths are valued. The advice on job interviewing, resume building, and salary negotiation will be especially important as I start applying for jobs upon graduation."
Selena Carbajal | Family Studies and Human Development
"I am currently researching how biculturalism, the ability to adapt to and move between two cultures, relates to better well-being and academic adjustment for Latinx youth and young adults.
The most impactful aspect of the Impact Leadership Fellowship Program was that I gained more confidence in exploring options outside of academia while also thinking of ways to be in academia and learn to communicate and engage with various communities. I would recommend the program to others given that there isn’t anything else, to my knowledge, that is fully dedicated to helping you transition or explore jobs outside of academia, and more importantly, developing and reflecting on your interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills."
Nicole Colón Carrión | Plant Sciences
"I research the impacts of climate change on host-microbe symbioses in tropical forests and agro-ecosystems. After completing my Ph.D., my ultimate aim is to return to Puerto Rico as an active plant scientist. My career goal is to become a specialist focused on the use of symbioses to develop microbe-microbe interactions and bio-control strategies to reduce pathogenicity and the use of chemical agents in the landscape.
I built a long-lasting mentorship. I also enhanced my network and connected with professionals in agricultural companies I aim to work with in the future. Most importantly, I learned how to open a start-up business and what to consider in making it successful. Learning about this process was vital in my plans to create a plant disease diagnostic clinic in Puerto Rico."
Cory Keith | Plant Sciences
"My dissertation work and focus are on plant virus interactions with their plant hosts, and how these interactions shape the population structure of viruses. I am particularly interested in how plant virus populations are shaped by the introduction of resistant plants in agricultural settings and am developing ways to predict these population shifts to introduce an early warning monitoring system for plant virus outbreaks.
The program utilizes a diverse group of panelists for each of the modules and begins by helping you understand yourself and how you relate to others in a team setting. The training topics range from mock interviews, communicating your research in a manner that is easily understood by people outside of your discipline, and how to leverage your ideas into funding opportunities.
A particularly useful component was the partnering of fellows with an industry mentor. My mentor was incredibly knowledgeable and shared valuable perspective on the industry side of plant science. The entire program increased my professional network by introducing me to panelists and industry leaders who were exceptionally willing to help in my career development."
JoRee LaFrance | Environmental Science
"My research takes places in the Little Bighorn River watershed, which is the river I grew up along on the Crow Reservation. I seek to characterize and partition major sources of contaminants to define the contaminant concentration-discharge relationship of the Little Bighorn River and on Apsáalooke tribal water uses on the Crow Reservation. Essentially, I am trying to understand how pollutants behave as the discharge of the Little Bighorn River changes throughout the seasons. Using various instruments in the Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants, I am searching for pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, PFAS, and wastewater treatment by-products.
The Impact Leader Fellowship program has been one of the most influential programs that I have ever been a part of. This program has challenged me in ways that have allowed me to grow into a better human, scholar, and collaborator. I appreciate the fact that this program focused on the root of who we are and helped us build upon our own strengths while learning how to transform our weaknesses. It was a little bittersweet because this was the first time I was asked to create a life map and think about how my past and upbringing has shaped me into the person I am today."
Amanda Leinberger | Natural Resources & the Environment
"My research focuses on climate change adaptation and the role adaptation networks play in building resilience to climate risks. My future goals are to work in a leadership role in either the government or nonprofit sector and to contribute to the advancement of climate adaptation solutions on the ground.
The most impactful aspect was getting to know the other Impact Leader Fellows who come from a wide range of backgrounds and interests as well as getting to work closely with and learn from all of the great experts and facilitators. One major benefit of the program is the chance to learn new, practical skills, such as how to put together an elevator pitch or how to work with the media, which will be useful now and in the future."
Hadiqa Maqsood | Biosystems Engineering
"I work on soil-water-crop nexus, where my research is to simulate the irrigation experiments and assess the water content for agricultural fields.
My future goals include working with international management consultancies on projects focusing on environmental management, climate change, water conservation, and sustainability. I also want to continue mentoring students for study abroad and scholarship opportunities.
The Impact Leader Fellowship Program has enriched my leadership and communication abilities. There were diverse sessions ranging from entrepreneurial skills to building a portfolio.I would highly recommend this program as this is a terrific source for not just professional but personal growth."
Lauren Meeks | Nutritional Sciences
"I research the metabolic effects of radiation damage in the salivary gland. The overarching goal of the research is to identify mechanisms underlying radiation damage so that druggable targets can be tested for restoring loss of salivary gland function observed following radiation treatment.
We participated in a workshop where we performed mock interviews for potential employers and journalists with a diverse panel of experts. This experience was valuable as it mimicked the stressors experienced in these different scenarios and the experts provided us with insight as to how to improve in these areas and decrease the stressors.
I’ve gained a network of colleagues in CALS that I can work with and support, I’ve identified my personal work style and how to utilize my strengths and develop my weaknesses for optimal work performance, and I’ve gained skills for navigating interviews that will help me obtain my future job."
Jennifer Mydosh | Microbiology
"I am currently researching the role of the RacRS two-component regulatory system in the pathogenesis of the food-borne pathogen Campylobacter jejuni.
I have gained a deeper understanding of how to work with different personality types. I have already applied these skills to my current job and have found that I am able to better communicate my concerns with my co-workers in a way that is tailored to their personality type. I loved getting to speak with graduate students from many different programs, many of whom I may never have met if it was not for the Impact Leader Fellowship Program!"
Gaby Pedroza | Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences
"Currently, I’m investigating how environmentally relevant levels of phthalates (compounds in plastics that make them flexible) affects the female reproductive system.
In the future, I aspire to be a well-rounded, knowledgeable scientist and also be an effective science communicator. That’s why for me, a few of the most impactful (and challenging) workshops were the Media Communication and Innovation Workshops. Both forced me to rethink the way I talk about my research and challenged me to keep it brief, and emphasize my research’s impact on everyone, which is a skill I will definitely use in the future. I think for me, the most impactful aspect of the program itself was getting to learn about research throughout the CALS college and interacting with my peers during a pandemic!"
Kelsey Pryze | Plant Science
"My research focuses on the impacts of heat stress on fruit and seed production. Being early in my graduate school career, I am exploring careers in both industry and academia. Through either avenue, my ultimate goal is to focus on engineering plants to support global food production through sustainable means.
This program was an incredible experience that allowed me to meet and network with fellow graduate students, which was important, as I began my graduate career during a pandemic. One of the most impactful aspects of this program was understanding the type of leader I am, and how to work with others with differing leadership tactics and ideologies. This is an important trait that I can implement at any stage of my career, whether in industry or academia."
Jorge Ramos | Biosystems Engineering
"My research focuses on the effects of spent-mushroom-substrate (SMS) on biomethane production and its quality. I have been offered a position in a start-up company. My job will be to grow algae to produce a variety of bioproducts such as Omega-3 fatty acids and terpenes.
The most impactful aspect of this program was learning how to navigate interpersonal relations to create effective and efficient teamwork environments where everyone is treated with the same level of respect. The connections I’ve made through this program are extremely valuable. There are opportunities for collaborations that I would not have been able to access if it wasn’t for this program."
Eliza Short | Nutritional Sciences
"My research focuses on developing behavioral interventions aimed to improve the management of chronic diet-related diseases in food insecure individuals, in collaboration with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and El Rio Community Health Center. I aspire to work in a research position within a non-profit organization, developing community-based behavioral interventions to impact diet-related disease risk and management for low-income individuals.
One benefit from this training is the understanding of my workplace personality style, and how I interact with other personality styles in the workplace. It was also insightful to see how my actions in a conflict scenario may be perceived by other personality styles, and has encouraged me to be more direct when I speak with people. I also benefited from the elevator speech exercise and feedback, this is useful for networking in-person in the future, and I've already used it when meeting with people this semester who are known in the food insecurity research field."
Xiaolin Zhou | Agricultural and Resource Economics
"My research includes finding how farmland tenure affect risk management practices adoption. I am also modeling and simulating negative crude oil price occurred last year.
The workshops taught us essential skills to dominant job hunting and perform in workplace. The career coach pairing connected me directly to a industry veteran who shared a lot of his own experience and understanding in farm business. My mentor also benefited my research by giving me insights of farmers’ decision-making process."
More information on training dates and the application form can be found on the Graduate Student resource website. Applications are due by October 31, 2021 and final decisions and notification will occur by November 19, 2021.