Friday, December 4, 2009

Doris Duke Fellowship Q & A

On December 3, the Bren School hosted a Q & A session with current Doris Duke fellows that included a mini-workshop in responding to fellowship prompts. Please see our previous blog post for slides from the mini-workshop presentation.
Facilitator: Corlei Prieto
Communications Mini-Workshop: Monica Bulger
Panelists: Gavin Feiger, Dana Murray, Dan Ovando, Sara Solis

A few overarching tips:
Know your audience: Conservation group that emphasizes leadership. Applications are reviewed by Bren faculty, Corlei, and outside experts.
Have a clear message: Be confident in your plans for the fellowship. Draw connections between your work experience/coursework and environmental conservation. Emphasize your leadership experience with specific examples (review Communications Tip #6 for outcome-oriented phrasing).

Here are some of the insights shared by the fellows:
--Successful applicants are active in their community, demonstrate leadership, and cultivate relationships with faculty and staff.
--When completing the application, frame what you're doing in terms of environmental conservation
--Review the Doris Duke & Woodrow Wilson websites, paying close attention to past & current fellows and current projects.
--Stress personal experience. Tell a story. Show the reviewers why, for example, you're a good leader, rather than telling them.
--Whenever possible, cite examples.
--Think beyond the fellowship: make connections among your experience and coursework that shows a unified direction.
--Highlight participation within the Bren community and leadership outside of Bren.

--Prepare for the interview. Possible questions that will be asked:
  • Why do you want this fellowship?
  • What do you know about Doris Duke?
  • Why are you different from other applicants (e.g., what makes you special?)?
  • If you receive this fellowship, what contribution would you make?
  • Respond to scenarios involving specific policies: what do you think of it? what would you do differently?
    --You do not need to be an expert in the topics, reviewers are interested in how you think through challenging questions
    --Have your basic thoughts ready -- prepare for the parts you can so that when you get a tough question, you're not already frazzled.
    --Don't be afraid to say you don't know something -- admit that it's a complex topic. Since you'll understand some of the specifics of the topic, address those. You don't need to be an expert.
    --However, know your own stuff really well. For example, if you describe field work that you did over the summer, be prepared to discuss it at length with people who are more expert in the topic.
    --Anything you put in your application is going to be fair game.
Logistical notes about interviews (you are strongly encouraged to attend Dave's Interviewing 101 during Winter quarter):
--Respond thoroughly, but be succinct (example: one student spent so much time answering the first question that the interviewers couldn't ask follow-up questions)
--Don't fidget
--Maintain eye contact
--Listen and be responsive to interviewers
--Don't worry if you don't know the answer to a question. Admit that you are not completely familiar with the topic and then apply what you do know to answer the question
--Pause briefly to collect your thoughts before responding
--Be prepared: be ready to answer any questions related to your application
--Frame what you're doing in terms of environmental conservation
--Be on time
--Most people are nervous during interviews. Be confident in your skills/experience and the contribution you can make to the Doris Duke program. You would not be at Bren and you would not make it to the interview phase if you weren't completely capable of making a contribution.

Note: E-mail the Communications Center to schedule an appointment to brainstorm, outline, and/or review your application responses.

Best wishes with your application!

--Monica Bulger

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Communications Tip: Responding to Fellowship Prompts

Fellowship prompts can often be long and overwhelming, but we have prepared a few tips to help you respond to them effectively.

Presentation developed by Kathleen Kokosinski and Lara Polansky for the Bren Communications Center.


Group questions by topic, as some questions may overlap. To organize your thoughts, outline responses to each question and choose a cohesive theme that mirrors your career objectives. Once you have a theme for the response, create topic sentences that relate to that theme.

Additionally, think about how you want to tell your story. Group your responses in a way that makes sense. You do not necessarily have to answer questions in the order they are presented. For example, you may want to describe your experiences in chronological order. Alternatively, you may want to group answers based on phases of experience (e.g., academic, professional, research, etc.) Remember to keep your end goals in mind when responding to the prompt by relating each question to your overall objectives.

Give Examples:

Give detailed examples of activities and leadership in order to thoroughly describe why you are a good candidate. Being specific and supporting your claims allow you to “sell yourself” to the fellowship organization.

Unspecific Example:

I have excellent leadership skills.

Specific Example:

I organized a sustainability conference to improve the environmental performance of local firms. This conference targeted 100 environmental professionals and received considerable media attention.

The above example is effective, because it outlines what was done, provides a statistic or number to describe the magnitude of the event, and conveys the impact of the experience.

Do Your Homework:

Incorporating research into your response shows that you have put time and effort into the fellowship application. Before you begin writing, research the fellowship organization and its mission. This will help you know your audience as well as allow you to frame your response to parallel the organization’s objectives.

Additionally, when asked about your future career goals, be as specific as possible by relating your interests to real jobs and organizations. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a particular job, give an example of a company that has created a similar position.

Unspecific Example:

In the future, I would like to work for an NGO promoting conservation of critical habitat.

Specific Example:

I envision myself pursuing a position in an NGO similar to the Sierra Club, enacting change via local participation in habitat restoration projects like those undertaken in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Modeling your responses after the above example will show that you are updated on the literature and news. Researching your own goals, as well as the fellowship organization’s goals, tells the reader that you have carefully considered your response, and you are committed to fulfilling the fellowship’s mission if chosen.

Last Suggestions:

Remember to always use active verbs. They are usually stronger and more descriptive, allowing your writing to appear confident and assertive. Examples can be found on the Communications Center website.

Finally, do not automatically dismiss the fellowship if it is not in your specific field of study. You can align your response with the fellowship’s objectives by linking it to your experiences and goals indirectly in order to sell your point. For example, the Doris Duke Fellows Program offers funding to students, “committed to careers as practicing conservationists”. However, if you are studying corporate environmental management (CEM) at Bren, you can still make a strong case as to why you should be chosen (e.g., think about discussing how a career in CEM will change corporations so that they use resources more efficiently, etc.). Do not sell yourself short!

Remember that the Communications Center is here to help. Please make an appointment in advance to discuss popular fellowships, such as Doris Duke and Switzer, as appointments fill up fast. Drop-in hours are also available, so be sure to check the Communications Center website for details. Good luck!

--Created by Kate Kokosinski and Lara Polansky, Winter 2008

Data Visualization Workshop presented by Monica Bulger & Aaron Sobel

During the workshop, Monica and Aaron shared considerations and techniques for effective data visualization and showed examples of figures that could use improvement from last year's GP posters. Bren's resident visual design experts, Professor Jim Frew and Darren Hardy, also shared insights into effective visual design. The information imparted during the workshop will be useful for GP defenses, public presentations, reports, and posters, as well as other assignments and publications.


1. Who is your audience? What are their needs and level of understanding?
- Clients, advisors, students, members of the public

2. What is your purpose?
- Advocate, inform, convince

3. Figures should be able to stand alone; do not assume the readers will read all your text, they may just look at the figures.
ex) In an otherwise excellent GP poster, a group included a pie chart with relative proportions of survey results. However, they did not include who was surveyed, how many people were surveyed, what question(s) they were asked, and the context of the survey.
ex) Place a map in your description of a study area and include an inset with the larger state/regional context.
ex) When one figure was on the screen, we had to ask, "What do the black dots mean?" Avoid this problem by including everything in your legend.

4. Figures should convey not just the data itself, but the meaning of the data.

5. Decide what story you want to tell with your data. If you don't tell the audience your own data story, they'll make up their own!
ex) A figure of Earth at night shows which areas are lit at night. It tells the story of population, our preferred locations, electricity use, development, etc.

6. Find the best way to represent your data, and prioritize truth and clarity.
ex) Figure size and structure must be readable at a reasonable distance.
ex) When choosing the significance of colors, think of what stands out (light colors) and if colorblind people be able to understand your figure. In a map series from a GP poster, the most significant parts on the maps were black, which did not stand out against a blue background.

7. Sketch your visual design before you even touch Powerpoint or Keynote. Often your tool will dictate your design when clarity should be your first priority.

8. "Slides should be processed in 3 seconds or less. It's impossible for people to process your slides and your words simultaneously." ~Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology
[Takeaway message: Monica says the same is true for data graphs, charts, etc. -- they should stand alone, be compelling, and be quickly understood by your intended audience.]

Group Exercise:
We then conducted an exercise in which we suggested how to improve a figure on "The Pathway to Self-Funding" for the spiny lobster fishery. Here is a list of specific points that emerged:
- What is the significance of the colors?
- Is the funnel/bowl shape significant? It looks like a beer funnel.
- Things don't flow up, so the visual is illogical.
- The title doesn't match the image.
- Highlight the necessary components for the self-funding policy.
- The box labels don't mean anything to the reader.
- The direction and curves in the arrows add unintentional meaning--if it's a linear process, don't complicate it with curved arrows.
- Since the "next steps" take up more space than the steps the group completed, the figure minimizes the amount of work the group put into their project.
The exercise took 10 minutes, most of which was spent deciphering, which is too long to understand a figure.

Data Visualization Techniques:
- A cartogram is an effective and interesting way to show frequencies by location
- 3D graphs overlayed on maps
- Stacked graphs can show waxing/waning frequencies
- State/regional map insets provide context for the study location
- Draw the readers' attention by highlighting important cells in tables
- Decision trees and timelines make it easy to follow a course of events

Other Resources:
- slide:ology available in the Communications Center and the library server
- Professor Jim Frew recommends Tufte's texts on visual design and the following data visualization websites: and

Coming soon: discussion of tools for visual design....

--Sara Solis

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Working and Writing Together: Strategies for Effective Collaboration

Summary of panel discussion, November 10, 2009

Panelists: Professor Bruce Kendall, Sara Hughes (Ph.D. candidate), Bridget Dobrowski (MESM '09), Shannon Murray (MESM '09)

Facilitated by Monica Bulger

Group Writing Overview

  • What is the purpose of the group project?
  • It can be very helpful for the group to agree on one or two sentences to summarize the project. If the group has a clear, concise vision of the project, it will be easier to convey that message to others.

Prioritize the Process

  • Communication is key.
  • Establish group goals: How do you define “success,” “finished,” “finished well”? What do you hope to accomplish as a group?
  • Consider each member a contribution: Assume everyone is putting in their best effort. Assess strengths of the team, and empower everyone to have leadership roles.
  • It is necessary for there to be a “buck stops here” person in the group.
Panel Discussion

Note: Panel responses are paraphrased.

Q: Please tell us about your thoughts on group writing and provide any tips you might have.

You will have to get on the same page in every project. It is important that you all mean the same thing when you use a word. Even if you’ve done that, when it comes down to start writing, the same issues come up at a deeper level. Once we get past arguing over style, and how to write, we discover that we really have a different understanding.
Because you are forced to be concrete, group writing peels back the group ‘mish-mash.’ View it as an opportunity. We often end up with something much better and deeper than we started with.

A lot of what I learned or some of the difficult parts had to do with the attitude that you bring and how it affects the outcome, or the hurdles you have to overcome. It can be easy to develop a narrow vision of what your group members can contribute, but it is easy to adjust that. Once you have a negative outlook, the project isn’t fun anymore.
Think about, and encourage, the different ways your group can contribute. Facilitate open communication and positive relationships. Be conscious of use of the comment tool in Microsoft Word. Comments can be rephrased to be more constructive. There is a lot of value to face time during the writing phase to keep up communication and smooth out disagreements.

It is important to identify each other’s strengths and encourage those. However, you can get boxed in to your roles: “good writers,” “bad writers.” That’s ok if the group is on the same page about the process. Specifics can help in editing, such as, “can you help with the grammar?”
It’s a fine line between concern about voice consistency and making group members feel like they aren’t contributing. It’s important to keep the essence of what you are writing. It’s not just the meaning of the word, it’s discussing the tone in the writing and our group values. It changes things to assume that everyone is on board with what you are saying. It is helpful to decide early: are we going to write in an active voice, or more passive? This gets to the general tone of your whole project.

Working on the poster, we had to write one sentence that summarized the project. It can be very helpful to find one sentence that you all agree on and understand. If what you are researching or writing doesn’t fit with this, you can cut it. It’s helpful if every section relates to the purpose of the project. Ask yourself: am I really writing with the group project goal in mind? It is important to be adaptable.
We spent time reading and editing as a group and hearing the feedback. That’s where it came out who was good with word choice, grammar, tone, etc. It was time consuming and painful at times, but we afterwards we knew who to turn to with questions on different aspects of writing.
Only ask for feedback when you really want it. It puts pressure on others to have to read it. You should feel that it’s final before submitting it to others. Do your diligence and put in the time to finish your work, and be clear on what feedback you are looking for.
Instead of having the whole group read every section, assign editing for each section to two people.

Bruce: The editor should be someone who isn’t deeply involved in that topic.

Q: When do you think consensus is necessary versus a majority?

Bruce: Consensus is most important in developing that one sentence vision or central idea of what your project is about. Then, what is the supporting information? Then, what is the bottom line one-sentence vision for each section?

Monica: Priority should be on what the audience needs as far as background information and data.

Sara: A group I worked with wanted to be on the same page with what was considered “compelling evidence” to make our final point. We had to decide when we were going to be happy with it.

Shannon: When you are not the majority, it can feel like your points are not being taken into consideration. The group has to ask: is there a way we can be on the same page? Rather than just going with the majority, ask why you are not all on the same page.

Bridget: It is important to care about what is important to your group. If there is trust in the group, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on consensus. People may argue about minor points because they like that kind of discussion. Ask that person: does it really matter to you how we do this? If it really matters on a personal level, consider the need for consensus.

Q: What type of audience are we targeting with the paper versus the poster?

Monica: It is important to remember that different sections of the Group Project serve different functions for your audience(s). For example, consider that a majority of your audience will read your Executive Summary and Conclusion, yet likely your client and other specialized readers will read your methods. Knowing which sections will be important to your different audiences should help you set the tone and determine the type of information to include in these sections.

Bridget: In general, your client is the audience for your paper, but it depends on your project and how applicable you think it is to a broader audience. For the presentation and poster, your audience could be just about anybody. You should keep scientists interested but keep the layperson up to speed, so they have a good idea what you did. You can have some sections in the paper that are more technical than others.

Shannon: It is better to err on the side of making explicit what you are trying to say.

Q: How do you balance keeping someone’s voice without tearing it apart?

Monica: On a project where we could not reach consensus, we had two editors. When they made the same edit, that change was made.

Bruce: For an executive summary, a one page document, it really does need to be consistent, but with different sections can be stylistically distinct. It is most important to be consisting within sections.

Monica: Focus on the conclusion, executive summary, and introduction. Remember to write for the tired, busy person on a plane. Most people read like you do—they skim—so it is important to put signposts in your writing. Draw their attention to what's interesting and essential. Write with your audience in mind -- give them what they need in the introduction and executive summary to help them decide whether your topic/study is relevant to them. The goal is to make your writing interesting and clear.

Sara: Good transitions, introductory and concluding sentences and vocabulary can go a long way in blending multiple writers. A good test is whether the original writer can pick out their ideas in the document.

Bridget: It is important that you control yourself. Are you making this change because you would write it differently or could you really not understand the point? If at the end everyone agrees that it does not fit, then it will be changed.

Monica: If you have the time, wait a day before sending edits and reread it. After a break, you may feel more generous. If you absolutely feel compelled to nitpick it, do it, but don’t send it to them.

Sara: Think about what is most important after reading the whole thing.

Monica: Ask your co-writers what type of feedback they'd like from you. As a group, you can decide that for the first few passes, you'll focus on ideas and conceptual development and save the grammar/style edits for later reviews. In the absence of an agreed upon editing focus, a grad student I know makes three meaningful comments and stops, which I think is helpful.

Q: Ultimately, somebody is putting the document together. What should their role be?

Bridget: I think there should be two people. In our group, we agreed that track changes shouldn’t be used. We highlighted what we most wanted changed. Have one or two people edit for content, and another for formatting. Headings, subheadings, final pictures and captions, page numbers, etc. take a lot of time to do. Make sure there is enough time so that every content edit is complete and every format edit is complete.

Bruce: Often, editing takes just as long as, or longer than the writing process, so plan accordingly.

--Danica Schaffer-Smith & Monica Bulger