UofSC Leads 2019: Jennifer Mandelbaum

Developing Your Leadership Skills as a TA

To be candid, I didn’t initially associate being a teaching assistant with leadership. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day responsibilities that you overlook the considerable leadership skills you’d building and demonstrating as a TA. If you think this way, though, I encourage you to reframe your teaching assistantship as a leadership role. While your focus may be on student learning, there is also enormous opportunity to develop your leadership skills while serving as a TA. Whether you’re planning a career in academia or industry, you’ll surely put the skills you’re honing as a TA to use in the future. After all, shouldn’t a good leader be able to communicate both basic and complex concepts, have strong organizational skills, and be adept at managing people?

A good first step when developing leadership skills as a TA is to take an inventory of what this role entails. Are you planning lectures? Then you’re building skills in communicating information to an audience with diverse backgrounds and expertise. Do you work with the course instructor or another TA? You’re collaborating, which shows that you know how to assist and support others working toward a shared goal. Are you balancing grading assignments with your own coursework or research? Then you know how to structure and prioritize tasks. Compare your list of TA responsibilities with the qualities you admire in an effective leader. Do you notice a lot of overlap?

If you’re looking to further develop your skills, you might think about how you can have a greater impact as a TA. Opportunities won’t necessarily be offered to you, so be proactive when you can. For instance, is there a topic you feel passionate about? Reach out to the course instructor and offer to give a guest lecture. Over the course of the semester, you’ll likely develop insight into what students are most interested in, and maybe there’s a fun spin you could put on your talk. One of my favorite TA experiences was giving a guest lecture on “The Epidemiology of the Zombie Apocalypse.” Public health and zombies? Yes, please!

You can also develop your leadership skills by mentoring students. Has an undergraduate student shown promising research skills and interest in your work? You might consider bringing them on as a research assistant in data collection for your thesis/dissertation or being a mentor for their own research project through Magellan funding. I’ve done the latter with students, and it’s been a valuable learning experience for both the students and me. Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal, though. Have any of your students expressed interest in pursuing graduate studies? Walk them through your day as a graduate student and share your research with them. Try hanging around a few minutes after class to let students ask you questions and get to know you better. They may start by asking about an assignment, but you might find yourself discussing your latest paper or presentation, too.

As previous Leadership Week blogs have pointed out, leadership is more about your contributions than your title. By thinking about the skills you use as a TA and how you can take more initiative in this role, you can further develop this important skill set.

Jennifer Mandelbaum, a recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, is a third-year Presidential Fellow and PhD student in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior. She also serves as president of the Graduate Student Association and encourages students to connect with the GSA on Twitter (@USCGSA), Facebook (facebook.com/uscgsa), and Instagram (@USC_GSA).

This blog is part of a joint effort between the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Association at the University of South Carolina to promote our graduate student leaders during Carolina Leadership Week 2019.

 Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu


UofSC Leads 2019: Michael Ponessa

What Leadership Breakfast Are You?

In the age of BuzzFeed and online personality quizzes, it is easier to find out what breakfast food you are than to actually make yourself breakfast. Unsurprisingly, the plethora of quizzes available online isn’t limited to breakfast foods. There is a multitude of “leadership style” online quizzes that provide slightly more practical quiz results. While employers may not particularly care if BuzzFeed says you’re a pancake or an omelet, they will be concerned with your leadership style. But which style is the “right” one? Is there even a “right” one?

Experts agree that there is not one best style of leadership, or at least that it varies from position to position. Therefore, the best type of leader you can be is an adaptable one. Just as it is inefficient to expect to make waffles in a blender, it is inefficient to try to apply the same leadership tactics to every situation. A “questioning” leader may be best when your team is creative and comfortable posing their own ideas, and a “motivating” leader works when your team possesses the skills to complete tasks by themselves. An “authoritarian” leader is well suited for a team of Machiavelli’s, but a “charismatic” leader may be better for those who prefer love to fear.

Leadership is all about recognizing the person your team needs you to be and then becoming that person. It doesn’t matter much that you’re a pancake or an omelet; it matters much more that you’re a buffet serving everything from cereal to French toast.

Michael Ponessa is an undergraduate student in the Honors College pursuing a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences. He is the President of Delta Alpha Pi Honor Fraternity. He also is an aspiring graduate student hoping to attend medical school.

This blog is part of a joint effort between the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Association at the University of South Carolina to promote our graduate student leaders during Carolina Leadership Week 2019.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu

UofSC Leads 2019: Megan O’Brien

Women in Leadership

One of my favorite quotes from Michelle Obama is, “I decided that I wasn’t bossy. I was strong. I wasn’t loud. I was a young woman with something important to say.”

This perfectly articulates how important it is for young women to become leaders. I know that I am a strong woman with something to say, so I’ve used every opportunity I can to pursue leadership opportunities. I can remember leadership being a prevalent aspect of my life as early as sixth grade when I was the Student Council President. This calling to lead others continued throughout my undergraduate career and beyond that into medical school.

I first got involved with leadership positions in college through my sorority. It was in my first semester of a major leadership position that I took a Women’s and Gender Studies course. I began to realize how important my role as a woman leader was to our campus community. When our campus culture surrounding unsafe drinking behaviors got increasingly more dangerous, university officials turned to student leaders to fix the problem. We took the problem, reviewed the risks and created a proposal to reduce the dangerous drinking culture on campus. It wasn’t a popular decision and it wasn’t one that was easy to make, but we knew that it would increase the safety of the women in our community. Being a part of the institution of this resolution was challenging, but it resulted in better outcomes for women. It’s important for women to have a seat at the table to represent our own best interests.

When I came to medical school, it became evident to me that it was a “boy’s club” that they were allowing women to join. So I sought out a space for women to come together and support each other and I found the American Medical Women’s Association. This was a space where we could hear from female physicians about standing up for yourself and proving to everyone that having a family doesn’t negatively impact your abilities as a doctor. It was a space where we could advocate for better representation in research and leadership positions. Being co-president of this organization has allowed me to lead my female peers into a more accepting and more encouraging medical school environment.

Being able to understand my role, as a woman leader, has been incredibly influential. It encourages me to raise my hand and jump up at every opportunity that’s presented. Whether I’m selected or not, I put myself out there because I know that female representation is important. It’s why I volunteer to sit on panels or do speaking engagements. When I was in high school or even college, seeing females on my desired career path or in positions I wanted was a huge encouragement. It helped me recognize my worth and see my potential. So my request to you is this: lift up the women around you, encourage them to shoot for the stars, and take every opportunity to inspire others.

Megan O’Brien is in the Doctor of Medicine program in the UofSC School of Medicine, Class of 2021. Megan is the  medical student liaison  to the Graduate Student Association. She also serves as the Co-President for the American Medical Women’s Association and President of the Pediatrics Interest group

This blog is part of a joint effort between the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Association at the University of South Carolina to promote our graduate student leaders during Carolina Leadership Week 2019.

 Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu

UofSC Leads 2019: Billy Quinlan

Developing Skills by Following Your Passion

Leadership has a multitude of definitions dependent upon your field of study, profession of choice, or personal goals. The leaders in our fields often have a vast array of experiences in their backgrounds, as it is uncommon for many careers to be truly linear in fashion. As a result, the path to leadership in some fields can be clouded by the wide range of options presented to graduate students by the professors and professionals they aspire to be.

In the best of scenarios, you will be able to work on a research project or accept an internship or an assistantship that will align directly with your goal of becoming a leader in your field. However, this is often not the case. I would encourage all graduate students to search for and explore all experiences of interest, large and small, when looking for opportunity to advance beyond their existing roles. The best measure through which to evaluate an opportunity is its alignment with your passions and interests.

If in your search you come across an organization, event, or initiative that is of interest to you, seek involvement within it. By following a passion, you are likely to have a meaningful and memorable experience while making an impact in an area you truly care for. When reflecting upon these experiences, you will be able to identify valuable takeaways that you can apply directly to your field of study or career.

Return to the roots of why you identified your program of study, why you identified this institution as the place to grow your knowledge and skills, and what causes in the community fire you up. Simple methods such as assisting your academic program’s student organization, being active as a volunteer, or pursuing roles with campus committees and events can put you in a position to fulfill your passions and develop skills that will be of great value to you in the future.

This process will place you in a position to be viewed as a leader amongst your peers. As an added bonus, your professors and fellow professionals will look to you when future opportunities arise.

It is difficult to discern the value you will gain from certain experiences if they are not backed by a prestigious organization or sponsored by a well-known leader in your professional or academic community. I would argue that there is significant value to be had through these experiences as you develop additional skills and abilities that can be transferred to your discipline. When searching for these opportunities on campus and in the community, you have the power to choose which of your passions you wish to pursue and fulfill.

In order to identify what can become impactful opportunities, one is best served by leaving no stone unturned. All opportunities we come across, large or small, can be valuable to us in the future. Using your passions as a guide, you will be able to identify experiences that will be truly meaningful to you, and through reflection on the process you will be able to develop new skills and abilities to apply within your discipline. By developing your skills in this interdisciplinary fashion, you will be well on the path to stand beside those leaders in your field.

Billy Quinlan is a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. He is the treasurer of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and works as a graduate Intern in the Office of Student Conduct & Academic Integrity.

This blog is part of a joint effort between the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Association at the University of South Carolina to promote our graduate student leaders during Carolina Leadership Week 2019.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu

UofSC Leads 2019: Omonefe Omofuma

Lessons Learned in Leadership

As the first born in a family of four children, I was automatically handed the mantle of leadership. I was responsible for my sibling’s general welfare when my parents were at work. By the age of twelve, I was making sure my siblings did their homework, made their beds, organized their toys, and came on dinner table on time. I have learned several valuable leadership skills, from this experience, skills that I have continued to leverage as an adult in my leadership roles at the University of South Carolina.

The skills are:

  • Conflict resolution: Human beings, even siblings, have different viewpoints. This difference provides opportunities for conflict. Conflict resolution is an essential leadership skill to master. The ability to quickly identify a strategy for resolving conflict reduces time spent in unproductive behavior and helps minimize interpersonal friction. If you are interested in learning more about conflict resolution, you can explore a course on conflict resolution skills here.
  • Vision setting: A good leader sets the agenda for her team. As a leader your ability to communicate your goals and vision will decide team success. Vision setting does not have to be an individual effort. Good leaders know how to engage and leverage their team’s insight and creativity to set the agenda for the whole group. Nonetheless, a leader is still responsible for setting the vision and is accountable for leading the team towards achieving that vision.
  • Decision making: A good leader needs to be able to make decisions quickly, sometimes with limited information. The ability to do this effectively depends on how well you have identified and communicated your goal and vision. Prioritization of goals and objectives is also essential; at any given time, a good leader knows what the number one priority is and is able to decide which actions are the most effective to achieve that priority.

Leadership takes time, attention, and focus. It also requires several skills including conflict resolution, vision setting and decision making. There are several avenues on campus to develop these leadership skills including involvement in campus student leadership, non-profit organizations in the city and hobby/affiliation groups.

Omonefe Omofuma is a doctoral candidate in the department of epidemiology in the Arnold School of Public Health and serves as the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) secretary of professional development. She also serves as the epidemiology and biostatistics doctoral student representative to the Dean’s Student Advisory Council (DSAC) of the Arnold School of Public Health.

This blog is part of a joint effort between the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Association at the University of South Carolina to promote our graduate student leaders during Carolina Leadership Week 2019.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu.


What do you want to work on this spring? We have many #GRADprofdev programs for you to achieve your goals.

Welcome to our new graduate students – and welcome back to all of our 6,500 graduate students at UofSC! We hope you had a chance to recharge over the winter break, and your spring semester is off to a great start.

Each Friday during the academic year, we will post content related to professional development. On “Professional Development Fridays,” we hope that you will check out our posts on Facebook and Instagram, tweets on Twitter, videos on our YouTube channel, Linked In, and our blog posts written by UofSC faculty, staff, and graduate students as well as alumni – like this one! (Shameless plug to take a look at the ones posted previously!)

As of today, our schedule for spring 2019 is – and includes several new offerings (indicated with ***):

  • Graduate Civic Scholars Program: Information Webinar on January 18 (recording available) and In-person Information Session on February 1. Applications are due on February 8.
  • Writing Your Teaching Philosophy: Part 1 is on February 8 and Part 2 is on March 4, organized with the Center for Teaching Excellence.
  • Carolina Leadership Week: January 28-February 2, check out Graduate School social media for perspectives on leadership from graduate students, organized with the Graduate Student Association. Don’t miss the Pathways to Leadership workshop organized by the Graduate Student Association on February 1.
  • Shut Up and Write!: We will have two dates for Shut Up and Write! in the spring – February 8 and March 22, organized with the Writing Center
  • ***Abstract Writing Workshop will be held on February 13. This will be an interactive workshop, and attendees are encouraged to bring along at least one draft of an abstract being prepared for submission.
  • Start Smart: The Start Smart financial literacy and salary negotiation workshops will be offered on February 19 and April 2, organized with the Student Success Center. *** In addition, we are adding an advanced Start Smart workshop focused on faculty negotiation on March 7. This workshop is restricted to those who have attended the basic Start Smart workshop previously.
  • ***Resume and CV Reviews: With the Career Center, we will offer resume and CV review for graduate students on February 22 and March 29.
  • ***Getting the Mentoring You Need will be offered on March 1. This is a new offering in spring 2019, and will focus on helping graduate students understand what constitutes quality mentoring and how to ensure you get the mentoring you need.
  • ***How to Effectively Communicate Scholarship to a Variety of Audiences will be on March 1. Drs. Andrea Tanner and Brooke McKeever will lead this workshop focused on effective communication across a variety of channels.
  • 7th Annual Graduate Career Consortium Master’s and Doctoral Virtual Career Fair: This online career fair is on March 20 and will link graduate students with prospective employers, organized with the Career Center.
  • Graduate Student Appreciation Week is April 1-5. Stay tuned for more details on a week full of events to celebrate our graduate students.
  • Discover USC is on April 26. Stay tuned for more details on being a part of the University’s research day. Abstracts for graduate students to present posters or participate in the Three Minute Thesis competition are due March 8.

Registration is required for all events. Check the Graduate School’s online calendar for registration links after next week. Space is limited for many in-person events. All #GRADprofdev webinars are recorded; register to receive the link to view the recording if you are unable to attend. Please remember to be a good neighbor. If you have registered for a #GRADprofdev event and are unable to attend, please change your RSVP to “no” to allow another graduate student the opportunity to participate.

In addition to our professional development programming, I want to share additional professional development resources available to you as a graduate student at UofSC. UofSC has institutional memberships to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity and National Postdoctoral Association. Both of these organizations feature professional development resources for graduate students, and you can capitalize on UofSC’s memberships by signing up using your UofSC email address. Imagine PhD, a free online career exploration and planning tool for PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the humanities and social sciences offers a wide-range of resources for graduate students. Lastly, through the Cornell Graduate School, the Productive Writer listserv is designed for graduate students who are writing their proposal, thesis, dissertation, fellowship applications, or other manuscripts. Subscribers receive email messages every other week with writing tips, strategies and encouragement to help you start, persist (and endure), and complete your academic writing projects.

Because it is important for us to hear from you, the week of February 11, you will receive a link to complete a brief survey on current professional development offerings as well as your professional development needs. Your participation will be very helpful as we plan for the future and to best meet the needs of our graduate students.

As always, I welcome your feedback on how we can improve professional development offerings for graduate students. And, I hope to see you this semester at one of our events!

Dr. Heather Brandt is associate dean in the Graduate School and professor of health promotion, education, and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Brandt received a PhD (public health), MSPH, and graduate certificates in gerontology and women’s studies from the University of South Carolina – a four-time alumna. However, she also is always a Hawkeye too, born and raised in Iowa and a graduate of the University of Iowa.


Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact us at GRADprofdev@sc.edu.

Professional Journeys: Harley T. Davis

Those in doctoral programs may find themselves with job opportunities both within or outside of academia. I have been lucky to have worked in both settings and can offer a few suggestions based on my experiences. These are not meant to be all encompassing or representative of all jobs, individuals, and degree programs.

  1. Government jobs may provide research opportunities.

The choice to pursue a doctoral degree often coincides with an interest in research, no matter what field of study. However, please do think that you have to be in academia to do research. There are many government jobs that deal with collection, analysis, and dissemination of both qualitative and quantitative data. While I know this may not be relevant to every degree program, all state and federal agencies collect data, and there is always the need for individuals to analyze the data and report on the findings. These data drive the decisions made and policies developed by governmental programs.

  1. Government jobs may offer more job security.

In academia, many positions for those with a PhD are tenure track, research, or clinical. While tenure track offers the most job security, that security is often dependent on your ability to apply for and obtain funding, as well as publish. Other positions are often funded by research grants, meaning the positions are time-limited and can end when funding ends.

While these differences may not be important to all job seekers, it was an issue for me. I had a research position for a grant that was up for renewal with a national funder. This meant there would be no money for staff from May-December. This also meant that I had to find another job in order to keep myself employed and with insurance benefits. Once I had a family, I felt strongly about not putting myself in a similar situation. A job in government offered me the benefits I needed, but also strong job security.

  1. Government jobs allow you to serve the public.

One of the biggest benefits of this is (potential) student loan forgiveness. However, I truly feel that I am a public servant. In my role, I help collect information that public health programs use to target health behaviors and health outcomes that affect the population of SC. It is both personally and professionally fulfilling.

  1. In summary, do not limit yourself.

In addition to academia and government, there are positions with private organizations, non-profits, etc. Where you envisioned yourself while in school should not limit your job search. Seek and apply for opportunities that you think will make you happy and grow professionally, no matter the organization.

Harley T. Davis is a two-time graduate alumna of the University of South Carolina. Dr. Davis received a master’s of science in public health in environmental health sciences in 2006 and a doctorate in epidemiology in 2015. She is currently the director of the Division of Surveillance in the Bureau of Health Improvement and Equity at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/27754265653869057.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu