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Directors of Graduate Studies Reflect on the Role of Their Assistants

On June 24, the Graduate School hosted its annual appreciation luncheon for assistants to the directors of graduate studies (DGSAs). These dedicated administrators juggle many responsibilities that keep graduate students and departments on track. As a follow up to this luncheon, directors of graduate studies (DGSs) were asked to share their thoughts about the value and importance of their assistants.

Gay Trotter, DGSA in the Department of Religion, speaking with members of the Graduate School staff

“Olga Baranova, the DGSA of the Medical Physics Graduate Program, is the primary administrator for the program. Without her dedicated, caring support for administration and for the students, we truly could not be where we are right now. As such, I have always felt that “A” in “DGSA” standing for “assistant” is a gross understatement of the crucial role that DGSAs are playing in the running of our graduate programs.”
Ehsan Samei, DGS–Biomedical Engineering

“Perhaps the best way to emphasize the benefits of getting to know and staying in touch with your DGSA is to provide quotes from students about our DGSA in Business Administration, Bobbie Clinkscales:
‘You’ve been a huge help in my transition here.’
‘You are always there for us.’
‘Thank you for taking care of us.’
‘Thank you for all your hard work and kind support during my Ph.D. study.’
The DGSA plays a crucial role by providing help and support in dealing with the many issues that arise during a student’s program.”
Jim Bettman, DGS–Business Administration

“The Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) program’s DGSA, Carol Richardson, is our go-to person when students need to find out about nearly every aspect of graduate life at Duke, from what to do when they first get here to what to do when they are ready to graduate. She is a bottomless-pit of years of collective wisdom for everything that happens in-between: matching mentors with student’s personalities, highlighting students who have really excelled, and identifying students who could use some extra assistance to smooth transitions. She’s not just the glue that holds the program together, she’s the rubber cement—flexible yet strong and long-lasting!”
Meta Kuehn, DGS–Cell and Molecular Biology

“The DGSA for my program, Andrea Lanahan, is a VITAL source of all information and advice for me as DGS and for the students. She informs us on university policies, takes the initiative to identify what we need and to make sure we get the outcome we want, identifies practical solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems… sometimes I think she should wear a red cape and a shirt with a big ‘S’ on it.”
Mohamed Noor, DGS–University Program in Genetics and Genomics

“Certainly, without the DGSA our department would be in trouble. Kathy Parrish does a great job of being the point of contact whenever forms need to be filled out (graduation, committee, etc), and also in recruiting students, where Kathy handles most of the departmental communication and keeps tabs on our applicant pool. Kathy and I have developed a great working relationship and rely on each other for managing the graduate student affairs in our department.”
Stefan Zauscher, DGS–Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science

“I started as DGS in Music just a couple of months ago, so I feel keenly the value of a top-notch DGSA. Christy Reuss was thinking ahead right from our first meeting, for which she had made a check-list that brought me up to speed immediately. We quickly established an efficient working relationship. Having a rapport allows us to effectively delegate or collaborate on tasks, which makes both of our jobs go more smoothly.”
Philip Rupprecht, DGS–Music

“The DGSA–because he or she often posseses institutional knowledge both about best departmental practices and the history behind those practices, and about the appropriate people in the Graduate School for the management of different kinds of student concerns and problems–plays a vital role in the smooth, professional operation of a graduate program. The DGSA is also important as the first point-of-contact to new and returning students, and often provides a human, kind face to a department as students, new and old, navigate the often-stressful experience of graduate school.”
Joseph M. Grieco, DGS–Political Science

“Why should students stay in close touch with the DGSA? Gay Trotter’s work with graduate students in Religion over the years provides an easy answer: Because she knows everything about how the Graduate School runs and the staff who deal with various issues. She helps graduate students at every step of the way–from getting oriented at Duke to the final submission of their dissertations. A quick visit with a DGSA like Gay Trotter can save a student a lot of time, effort, and perplexity in unraveling the mysteries of the Graduate School.”
Elizabeth Clark, DGS–Religion

“Melanie Mitchell will anticipate your every need and is dogged in her ability to get answers to any and every question. She’s more than an administrator–she’s an advocate for graduate students and someone deeply invested in making their experience at Duke as effortless and productive as possible.”
Tina Campt, DGS–Women’s Studies