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Meet OP: Graduate Studies

(From left) Pamela Jennings, Lizette Lim, Sandra Wulff


They confess they’re “a little noisy” — especially for a three-person unit — but that noise reflects their passion.

Meet UCOP’s Graduate Studies (GS) unit (part of the Research and Graduate Studies or RGS department) and its nimble team of three – Executive Director Pamela D. Jennings, Coordinator Sandra Wulff and Administrative Officer Lizette Lim.

“We try to make a difference. It’s important to us personally and professionally to do work that matters,” says Jennings.

Created eight years ago, GS’s mission is to advance graduate education at UC through strategic planning, leadership, analysis, outreach and coordination. A prime example is its annual Graduate Research Advocacy Day, held just last week, when UC grad students, with their campus graduate deans, head to Sacramento to tell California legislators how UC research informs policy, impacts the economy and tackles the most challenging issues facing the state and the world.

But Grad Studies may be best known for UC Grad Slam. Now in its third year as a systemwide event, this dramatic and much-anticipated competition showcases UC grad students going head to head and boiling years of complex research into pithy three-minute talks. GS works closely with UC campuses, OP Marketing and Communications, and Alumni and Constituent Affairs to produce this annual event, which helps fulfill President Napolitano’s commitment to make UC research accessible to the general public. Students are offered professional development training and workshops that develop skills useful to Grad Slam and beyond–including life outside academia. UC wants to “empower, encourage and equip students for all kinds of careers,” Jennings explains, and this expanded focus on career pathways for PhDs was a direct “outgrowth of listening to our students.”

This year’s live-streamed Grad Slam final at 10:30 am on May 4, emceed by President Napolitano, brings each of the campus-level winners together for a systemwide competition at LinkedIn in downtown SF. A panel of judges will award prizes, and the audience will vote live online to choose the winner of an additional $1,000 “People’s Choice”  award.

While these public events get the attention, GS staff also help support UC’s graduate education enterprise behind the scenes. Partnering with Institutional Research and Academic Planning (IRAP) and campus graduate divisions, they create several key research reports: The UC Doctoral Alumni Survey, a satisfaction and outcomes survey; the Graduate Well-Being Survey, which collects information on students’ overall life satisfaction and depression; and the UC Doctoral Placement Survey, which tracks the jobs that recent UC doctoral graduates obtain.

GS also primes the grad school pipeline by facilitating outreach to prospective students. While UC campuses have a longstanding history of working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), the UC-HBCU Initiative has helped strengthen relationships between UC faculty and HBCUs on a systemwide level, increasing the number of students from HCBUs who pursue graduate study at UC. Another systemwide program, UC LEADS, prepares promising students for advanced education in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM). GS also collaborates “across the aisle” on the California State University Pre-Doctoral Scholars program and The California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education, hosted earlier this month at UC Merced. Both programs help underrepresented and underserved students to consider and prepare for graduate school.

Along with working with the Council of Graduate Deans and various committees, and helping to address legislative and policy matters, this portfolio keeps the small unit working hard while remaining enthusiastic about their mission. Jennings credits “the talent, thoughtfulness, energy and unwavering commitment that Sandra and Lizette bring to the work” for “making all the difference.” She concludes, “We’ve been really fortunate — we work with great folks, throughout UCOP and the campuses, who really are doing work that makes a difference. It is important to do work that has an impact… and we also think it is important to have some fun while you are doing it.”

You can count on RGS to keep making “a little noise” on behalf of UC’s grad students.


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Reporting for this profile was provided by Stefani Leto. Interested in doing some reporting for Link? Contact

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  1. Elizabeth Ellis April 25, 2017 Reply

    Love the Grad Slam. If you’re schedule permits I highly recommend watching!

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