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Two UCSB Ph.D. Students Shed Light on Research During Graduate Research Advocacy Day

By Patricia Marroquin for the UCSB Graduate Division |

From Media to Materials, the important graduate research being conducted across UC campuses topped state legislators’ agendas March 12 during the fifth annual Graduate Research Advocacy Day in Sacramento.

Two UCSB doctoral students, Cyrus Dreyer of Materials and John Vanderhoef of Film and Media Studies, were among a contingent of more than 20 grad students, administrators and deans from all 10 UC campuses who came to the Capitol with a strong message: UC graduate students are critical to the research that improves quality of life and brings millions of dollars of investment to California.

Vanderhoef said the “fast-paced and whirlwind day” began at 8:30 a.m. in the Governor’s Council Room, where the UC group gathered for breakfast. They were welcomed by Sen. Bill Monning, who represents the 17th Senate District. Others who offered remarks included Graduate Research Advocacy Day co-chairs Dean Kim Barrett (UC San Diego) and Dean Chris Kello (UC Merced); and Steve Juarez, associate vice president and director of UCOP State Government Relations.

After a hot breakfast and warm welcomes, Vanderhoef and Dreyer, who were joined on this trip by UCSB Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti and UCSB Director of Governmental Relations Kirsten Deshler, attended a series of meetings with local lawmakers or their representatives “to stress the important work graduate students at UCSB do,” Vanderhoef said.

For Vanderhoef, a third-year Film and Media Studies Ph.D. student, that research work focuses on “attempts to map alternative video game production networks and their relationship to the dominant networks of the transnational gaming industry in order to examine the many and variable ways once-‘marginal’ game development communities have actually come to occupy the robust ‘center’ of gaming cultures and industry.”

The day’s meetings included conversations with senior policy analyst Daniel Rounds, who stood in for Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson; a representative of Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (35th District); UCSB grad alum and Assemblyman Das Williams (37th District); and Douglas Lorenz, communications director for the Office of Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (44th District).

This year, lunch was followed by a question-and-answer session with UC’s new president, Janet Napolitano, and Nobel Laureate Dr. Randy Schekman of UC Berkeley. Read the Sacramento Bee's interview with President Napolitano by clicking here.

Vanderhoef said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss with legislative representatives a Carsey-Wolf Center initiative he has worked on for two years. The Media Industries Project, he said, includes “our dynamic work with the Connected Viewing Initiative, a research collaboration with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, and our new Creative Labor Initiative, where we address concerns that range from conglomeration and globalization to working conditions, compensation, and benefits for creative labor. I also spent time talking about my dissertation work that focuses more on the changing dynamics of the global video game industry, an industry that contributes over $2.16 billion to California’s economy annually, according to a 2009 study conducted by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association).”

Graduate Day
From left, UCSB Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti, UCSB Film and Media Studies Ph.D. student John Vanderhoef, Assemblyman Das Williams and UCSB Materials Ph.D. student Cyrus Dreyer. (Pamela Jennings photo / UC Office of President)

For Vanderhoef, who would like to find a post-doc or tenure-track faculty position after he graduates, the day provided “an opportunity to show how humanities graduate research can and does matter as much as more instrumental research in the hard sciences and engineering schools.”

Representing that science and engineering side of UCSB research was Dreyer, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in Materials. His research “involves using computational techniques to explore the materials properties of group III nitride materials, which have applications as light-emitting diodes for efficient general lighting, laser diodes for displays and optical storage, and power electronics used to convert electricity between alternating and direct current without loss of power.”

In his meetings with legislative representatives, Dreyer stressed two issues: “First, I discussed (in the context of my own research) how grad student research is driving innovation in important areas like energy efficiency, alternative energy, and sustainability. Second, I pointed out how the UC system nurtures entrepreneurship and allows these technological advances to be taken out of the lab and into industry, both by professors and graduate students.”

“Our concerns,” he said, “were general ones that mostly dealt with raising awareness for graduate students, so when decisions are made about funding the UCs, the legislators do not only think about it in terms of the benefits of undergraduate education. We wanted them to understand that the graduate programs make significant contributions that are distinct and should be kept in mind when considering the impact of the UCs.”

The highlight of the day for Dreyer was meeting Assemblyman Williams.

“He was very engaged and interested in my research," Dreyer said. "Also, it was refreshing to meet a legislator who seemed to have wide knowledge and interest in science and academics.”

Dreyer found his conversations with representatives to be positive.

“The legislators or their staff members were very interested in hearing about our research and excited about the implications, in the context of general scientific advancement as well as the economic benefit to the state from high-tech start-ups and the scientific training of grad students in general,” he said. “Attending Graduate Research Advocacy Day was an interesting window into the legislative process. I never realized that direct interaction with legislators and their staff was possible. It provided an option for involvement if/when I have a more specific concern about the way an issue has been legislated.

"After graduation, I hope to remain in academia and become a professor at a research university. The interaction that the advocacy day provided presented a model for how to constructively influence policy decisions that will influence my career, such as funding for universities and research in general.”

Vanderhoef thanked Film and Media Studies professor Michael Curtin for recommending him and called UCSB Graduate Division Dean Genetti and Deshler "some of the best evangelists for UC graduate student research."

It was the second year Dr. Genetti participated in the event as dean of the Graduate Division.

“UC Graduate Advocacy Day is a great opportunity to remind lawmakers of the importance of our graduate programs," she said. "This year the presence of President Napolitano and Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman significantly amplified this message. I was so impressed by our students, who were effective and articulate advocates, and beautifully demonstrated the impact of their research for the state of California.”

— Patricia Marroquin is the communications director for the UCSB Graduate Division and writes for The Graduate Post.

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