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Leslie Ekpe, higher educational leadership doctoral student, saw an opportunity when she realized there were few networking opportunities with other Ph.D. students in her field. She approached Stephanie Knight, dean of the School of Collab Day participantsEducation at Southern Methodist University, about producing a collaboration day to connect DFW area doctoral students.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for students to get to know each other, discuss their journeys and hear from faculty and researchers that can pour into our experience,” Ekpe said.

Knight was enthusiastic about the idea and connected Ekpe with SMU doctoral student Marc Sager to coordinate the event, which took place in late September.

The agenda included sessions from TCU and SMU faculty and students, covering topics like research, presenting at conferences, life outside of graduate school, applying for jobs and mental health. Ekpe reflected on her personal experiences to develop the agenda, keeping in mind what new doctoral students might want to know.

“I thought about what I needed when I was a first and second-year doctoral student. These were all things that I wish someone would have informed me about at the time or even things that I still need more information on,” Ekpe explained.

Taryn Allen, associate professor in higher educational leadership at TCU, presented on developing a research agenda as an emerging scholar, which helped students think about streamlining their research interests.

“Often, beginning doctoral students are interested in a variety of topics. But as they progress through their doctoral program and career, I want them to consider how they can delineate their lines of inquiry and be able to articulate them clearly,” Allen said.

Denise Mugabe, doctoral student at TCU and Collab Day attendee, said the event provided resources for academic and support and success.

“Besides getting to network with our peers at SMU, our time together brought about insightful discussion on how to prepare research agendas, prepare for conferences and get hired, while also learning about the mental health practices that could take us along and through this arduous academic journey,” Mugabe said.

SMU’s Stephanie Knight also considered Collab Day a successful event. 

“It was one of the most exciting events I have attended since I became dean in 2017. The exchange of ideas was a great example of the power of collaboration and I hope this is the first of many more days like this,” Knight said.  

One of Ekpe’s biggest takeaways was how Collab Day gave doctoral students a venue to ask questions that have been on their minds and also to form meaningful relationships.

“Relationships influence everything we do. At the end of the day, these are our future colleagues that we rely on and can reach out to,” Ekpe said. “If this is what’s going to come of it, I would plan it any day.”

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