Saying yes strategically

Thursday and Friday of this week I spent at the Big 10 Academic Alliance training for Departmental Executive Officers (DEO). There are many things that I learned from my


Traveling from the DEO Workshop!

colleagues at this meeting. It was really useful to brainstorm with other departmental leaders about ways of moving our departments forward.

One thing we talked a lot about is how do we get things done when everyone begins to protect their time and say no. A recent blog post from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity talked about how to say no to requests. It is good to protect your time so that you can be successful and in a community there are chores that need to get done. Some of the chores are enjoyable while others are dreaded by most of us. Still we need to take turns doing them and saying no to these over and over again distance you from the rest of the community. The very next week the same blog had to comment about the emails and comments received explaining how it is a bad strategy to say no too often and can hurt early career professionals. At the DEO meeting we talked about the tension between being a participating member of a community (department) and protecting your time so that you can accomplish your goals.

Strategic service or thinking of service as one chapter in the book of your career is some of the advice given by the blog cited. I like both of those ideas. Can you use these tips to develop a significant role in our community without overwhelming yourself? I encourage students, postdocs, staff, and faculty to serve in ways that additively make a story that tells who they really are as a community member. The students in our department applying for the NSF-GRFP this year are really working on these narratives. These service opportunities directly lead to demonstration of your broader impacts. I have always been drawn to issues of mentorship, others to outreach, some want to encourage the more social aspects of departmental life. The key is to find something you authentically like and then do something significant within that realm. If you continually serve your passion, you will soon have a coherent story to tell about your service that may lead to other opportunities that could help multiply your efforts.

So the question of the week is, what will you build with your service?


Planning for the New Year

It is good that recycling is a positive thing because at the end of September I am always going to be talking about making New Year’s Resolutions and recycling my original late September post. October 1st is when I set my resolutions for the new year and decide what kind of shape I will be in on January 1. Usually I am talking about physical shape and I work to counteract the end of the year celebrations and effects of hibernation so that I feel the best I possibly can on New Year’s Day.

This year I am thinking that the next three months represent a quarter of the year and a quarter of everything that I hope to accomplish in 2016. I spent time this weekend penciling in time to accomplish some of my major goals. When you spell it out like that, there isn’t really that much time to get it all done. So this weekend was about prioritization and the realization that some things will just have to wait for next year.

So although it is early, I am wishing you a happy new year and suggesting that now is the time to do what you can to make it be just that.

Have an inspired week.

Thank you notes

I served as the minister at the wedding of the daughter of some of my dearest friends a few years ago. I wore a simple silver chain with an acorn charm around my neck that the mother of the bride had given me. I wore it that day to let her fullsizerenderknow that I appreciated her gift and recognized the effort she made in giving it to me and how it connected us. My conscious effort in choosing and wearing it was yet another way of saying thank you and was not lost on the mother of the bride.

As department head I say thank you a lot. What we do as a department is the sum of what we do as individuals. As the leader of the department I am now helping to steer our vision and efforts to a common success, but the success of the department is made up of our unique contributions. Although I would like to say thank you for each of these contributions, I realize that I am only aware of a small fraction of what you do to enhance the success of those around you. This year Jean-Philippe and I hosted an Autumn Open House specifically to thank faculty, staff, emeriti, and retirees for what they are doing and have done to make this department a success and a wonderful place to live and work. It is another way for me to recognize the larger impact of what you do daily and let you know that I consciously appreciate your efforts.

This year I would have many more thank you cards to write if I were to acknowledge the numerous times individuals with the best motives for the department, made significant efforts to steer me in the right direction as I learned the ropes. I hope that I have made you feel that I was listening to your comments even if broader departmental or university concerns kept me from acting on them in the way you might have liked.

One thing that Marianne has been helping me with this week is sending letters to those who took the time and invested their psychic energy in applying for the positions we recruited this year. Many qualified applicants put their skills forward with the desire to join our department. Although most searches don’t send acknowledgements of receipt of the applications and final thank you notes, we have done both because I truly hope our department is different and that we take the time to recognize and appreciate the efforts of others.

If you have the chance this week, let someone in the department know that you appreciate the work they do on the behalf of others. As we move into the heart of the semester it is a good time to note our thanks.


Stand for State

It is happening again. My phone was relatively quiet this summer but now as the semester starts my phone has become a megaphone shouting that another person’s human rights have been violated. The cheerful chime of a new text message is a strange counter point to the message received “Timely Warnings: A Forcible Sex Offense-“.

Penn State is not alone in this devastation. US universities are currently experience a what researchers conclude that ‘forcible sexual assaults and rape have reached epidemic levels among college women’ and freshman women are among the most vulnerable. It is tragic that for all the brain power we have on campus, we have not found a way to prevent sexual assault.

In January 2016 Penn State launched a bystander intervention initiative that I think has a real chance. I am feeling optimistic that the Stand for State initiative can make a difference and reduce sexual assault and prevent other types of brutality on campus. This program teaches people how to step in when they see something happening or someone that needs to be helped.

This week Stand for State calls on each of us to educate ourselves and others to shift our culture so that we are ready to step in when someone is in danger. A green dot is a moment in time when you can direct a person to stop doing something, distract (if you can’t standforstate_logo_color_largeaddress the issue directly), or delegate (ask someone else to step in when you are not able to) in times of crisis. “Green Dot is built on the premise that in order to measurably reduce harm in a community, a cultural shift is necessary – that each person feels empowered to play a role in creating a safe environment. A critical mass of people will need to engage in new behaviors that will make violence and harm (which are labeled as red dots) less likely in our community. These new behaviors are called green dots. “

Below is a list of individual actions that you can do this week to be a green dot shift in culture. The Faculty/Staff Toolkit provides additional materials to present to a group (class, organization, staff meeting, etc.). The powerpoints are organized by amount of time it takes to present the materials. The video embedded in the materials is a great first green dot.

It is important that you record your green dot with Stand for State.

Last week I direct you to my blog to read a longer piece, but I feel that this problem is pressing and the solution will require that we all do our part.


10 Green Dots Faculty/Staff/Students Can (Mostly) Do In Under 10 Minutes
1) Attend an event that week

  1. Call to Action: 3-4 pm on Monday, September 12that the Monumental Staircase, HUB
  2. Check out other events that week: 

2) Go to the Stand for State website and choose a green dot to do

3) Wear a Stand for State, anti-violence, or green shirt that week. Carry around other items with a similar message and let people know you support a safer campus.

4) Share about Action Week at a staff meeting or in a class

5) Have a conversation with a colleague about ways to create a safer campus for all 6) Like/Follow Stand for State on Facebook or Twitter and share and retweet others messages.

7) Share the Stand for State video on your social media channels

8) Encourage a student/mentee/advisee to attend a 3 hr Stand for State workshop on the 18th

9) Request a program for a class session you’ll be away this semester (please do this rather than offering extra credit for students to attend a workshop. There are limited seats in workshops: Stand for State programming: ii. Center for Women Students programming:
10) Change your signature line for the week and a link to the Stand for State website. Get creative! Possible prompts:


  1. How will you Stand for State?
  2. No one can do everything, but we can ALL do something. What’s your green dot?
  3. “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker”. Helen Keller
  4. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or some other time. WE ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for. WE ARE the change we seek”. President Barack Obama
  5. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Mohandas Gandhi

My Dance Around the Country with Sam Smith

The students I worked with from the Salinas Valley were talented undergraduates. Many of them were inspired to go on to graduate school. I had developed two main pipelines for those interested in plant pathology and one of those was to my alma Unknownmater, Washington State University. I got my MS degree in Plant Pathology from WSU in 1986. I thought it was cool that a plant pathologist signed my diploma. Sam Smith was the President of WSU at the time and although he had an academic home in our department, I never met him while I was a cougar. Even cooler was that he had worked in my home state, Pennsylvania, before coming out west.

After one of my students at WSU received notice that she would receive an NSF-GRFP I got an email from Sam Smith. He was delighted that I was sending talented students to WSU and he wanted me to know that in fact, he and his wife hand grown up in Salinas (his wife on Williams Road) and were huge fans of Hartnell College (his wife is an alumna), the community college where most of my students started. He was excited to see the students from his home town at WSU and doing well. We had an amicable exchange and I even tried to get him invited to give a speech and to meet the students from Hartnell College and CSUMB (still working on that).

Fast forward to last year (yes it has been one year) I find myself taking Sam’s old job. Sam Smith was Head of the Department of Plant Pathology at Penn State from 1976 to 1981 (I was just graduating with my BS from OU when he was moving up to the deans office here at Penn State). I thought about writing to Sam first to let him know, but I thought it would be more entertaining to let him find out about my next move in our dance around the country, on his own. He sent me an email in July or 2015, before I even arrived in State College. His email echoed my response: “I was chuckling at the overlapping’s in our lives.”

So with a year under my belt I headed to Seattle and finally got to meet Sam. We met in his downtown Seattle office because like a lot of my friends, he has failed retirement. He is now continuing to help WSU raise funds for their important programs. It was an amusing meeting and Sam shared a lot of stories about some of you… He also told me a little about himself. I was tickled to learn that Sam and Caroleehe was the only man invited and one of two who did write a chapter for the important book Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. This is a book I have recommended to several of my students from Salinas. It is a fascinating read. He carries with him a list of people he has mentored to success. Many university presidents’ careers were inspired from a conversation in Sam’s office. Just this week a previous alumnus told me about advice that Sam gave him that was essential to his success.

One important take away from the meeting for me is that there are lots of ways to fail at retirement. A beautiful downtown Seattle office with lots of alumni to talk to, sounds like a good choice, however, to make the story complete Sam may need to move to Corvallis and Lausanne.

Crucial Conversations

Unknown-3Last week we had the first of several trainings in Crucial Conversations(TM) in our department. Crucial conversations happen when stakes are high, there are opposing opinions, and emotions are running strong. Almost any conversation can go from just a conversation to a crucial conversation in the blink of an eye. Only 5% of the population is good at staying in dialog during a crucial conversation .

We will be holding the training again next semester. There are also copies of the books from which the training was developed around the front office for PPEM members to borrow. If you are stuck (unable to talk about the things you need to talk about) in relationships either at work or at home, these tools might be useful to getting you unstuck. Ask one of the new recruits about the event because they should be able to fill you in on the details of the workshop and whether they think the tools will be useful to them.

After the training was over, the prizes were given away, and the ice cream was eaten, a few Unknownparticipants shared with me the issues they were having and how they hoped to use these tools immediately. After two days of training, they, like all of us, may not be able to apply the tools perfectly, but my guess is that they will feel better about their role in the conversations they have as they employ these tools. I hope they will help to lead the department toward even healthier dialog when conversations get crucial.

May you have the tools you need for any crucial conversation that comes your way.


Teaching an old Bull (and others) new tricks

It is no surprise that along with diseases of potatoes, mushroom, chard and beet, AND microbiomes, I am thinking about mentoring mentors. This week we (faculty, staff, and graduate students that are mentoring Summer Research Opportunities Program students) had a mentorship discussion and another group I am involved with is working to prepare some university wide mentor training programs. In fact, over the years I have thought a lot about what makes a good mentor. Lucky for me many people in our department and around campus have been thinking about this over the years too. I am receiving a great deal of mentoring these days.

Pfund et al., 2016 take a data driven look at mentorship from both sides of the relationship. Both mentee and mentor have responsibilities in these relationships. Accurate assessment and self-assessment of knowledge and skills is the first of many characteristics of good mentoring relationships that I will write about. I think it is important to know where your mentee is (assessment) and where they think they are going (visioning) so that you can work with them to develop learning objectives and strategies to get them there. Because each mentee comes from a unique place and they are headed to singular careers, mentorship is best when it is crafted to the needs of the person. The faculty review process this spring helped to bring this home for me. Our faculty have unique talents and accomplishments. This year I learned that even the review process needs to be tailored to the individual because their contributions are varied and distinct. I hope adaptation from this learning will demonstrate that you can teach an old Bull new tricks.


I am describing three different types of assessment tools that I use when mentoring students and postdocs. These can be found on my mentorship page of the blog ( under benchmarking). Students/postdocs: these can be used for your own self-mentorship.

Over the past 10 years, I developed the student self-assessment by compiling the criteria I was asked by universities to assess for undergraduate students applying to graduate school. Thus, both graduate students and undergraduates should be demonstrating these skills. I give a copy of this assessment tool to undergraduate students on the first day they join the lab in order to align our expectations. I have other tools I use to align expectations more specifically but this tool helps them understand how they will be assessed. I use the tool by asking the students to assess themselves for how well they demonstrated these skills. I assess them and the we sit and talk about our responses. The conversation serves a dual purpose in that I use this to take note of examples they give to support their assessment for my letters of recommendation. But most importantly we choose skills for the mentee to improve in the coming semester and outline strategies to work on these either through training or practice. The important step is the reassessment that happens the next semester. How well did the mentee do in demonstrating the skills in the next evaluation period? Is more training or practice needed?

The attached student-intern-assessment is a tool that originated with the California State University at Monterey Bay Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center. I have altered it to fit my laboratory situation. It is more detailed and looks at particular skills and activities. It is useful to monitor progress for daily training. I have used this only with undergraduates that are working in a lab for a first time. If you decide to use, I would advise you to alter it for your research situation and evaluate its usefulness after using it a few times.

The competency check list was produced by the National Postdoctoral Association and is a great skill benchmarking tool for both postdocs and graduate students. It is easy to use either to mentor yourself or to use in a more formal mentorship process.

The faculty would also benefit from benchmarking tools. I am working on one which I hope will be ready for sharing by the end of the summer. I look forward to getting feedback from the faculty about its usefulness to them as a tool for helping to set their paths and prioritize strategies.

So what is left? Yes, there are tools for benchmarking leadership that could be adapted for department heads. My personal and the departmental annual report are great ways of checking in to see if I am hitting my targets. I know I learned a great deal this year especially about the land-grant system, curriculum and the education enterprise, and extension. I have a lot more to learn in all of those areas so I am developing strategies to get the information I need from something other than the firehose in the coming year.

So the seasons go: from assessment to planning to execution and back to assessment.

But mentorship is so much more than assessment. In the end it may be your enthusiasm for science and the projects of your mentees will make all the difference in the outcome. Nature’s mentorship guide, Lee et al., 2007, is the perfect antidote to all this assessment talk. It describes the long lasting satisfaction that both mentee and mentor get from a high quality mentorship relationship.

Happy Summer Solstice Everyone. Let’s get out there and enjoy the longest day of the year!