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Lauren Fine: Talking politics with family (and not losing your cool)

Lauren Fine“Listen, and listen more than you talk,” says Lauren Fine, a doctoral student studying political communication at the interpersonal level. It’s good advice, generally, but it’s especially prudent if you’re struggling to discuss politics with family or friends at holiday gatherings.

If you’re engaged in political discussion with close others in close spaces, “try to ask questions to understand not just what your family members think, but why they think that,” and understand the core values motivating their beliefs, Lauren says.

“We like to think we’re these very rational creatures, but we’re not,” she explains. “We have emotional, value-based reasons behind our beliefs. I’ve found if you can get someone to tell you about their values, it’s a lot easier to understand their beliefs.”

Another strategy for communicating with family in political discussion is to use “I” language instead of “you” language.

“In my research about political communication on Facebook, the conversations that are the most volatile are the ones where people say things like, ‘How could you think this?!’ And, ‘You’re so wrong!’,” Lauren says. Conversations tend to be more civil when people focus on telling their story, instead of telling the other person why they’re wrong. “It’s a less conflict-based approach, and more about having a conversation, because you’re family, or you’re friends, and you care about each other,” she says.

Finally, Lauren reminds you to keep some perspective. “Your family’s and friend’s political beliefs are not the only thing about them,” she says. “I think it’s easy for us to get caught up in the moment and let political disagreements ruin our holiday because we’re just so frustrated with someone.” This doesn’t mean to avoid politics all together — it can be constructive to engage in these discussions — but don’t let political conversation dominate your holiday.

Even if you don’t convince anyone to believe as you do, these conversations can still be constructive. That’s because “once your friends and family know you think differently than they do, chances are they’re going to be more open to seeing that somebody who believes differently from them is not necessarily a bad person,” Lauren says.

She relates this to the theory in political communication of “the spiral of silence,” which occurs when people think everyone else believes a certain way, so they don’t express their view, even if they think differently from the perceived-norm. There may be other people who hold the same dissenting view, but that view is never aired.

“I think this is a natural human tendency,” Lauren says, “but I think it’s something we should try to combat.” By expressing your political view — even if it may be unpopular among your family and friends — you can help break the spiral of silence, and that can make people more open to sharing and hearing different opinions in the future, she says.

What to do if you experience sexual harassment or assault

This article was written in consultation with Valery Richardson, interim Title IX coordinator, Compliance Services. 

We hope that you will never face sexual harassment or assault here on campus, but we understand the reality that you may. This week, the Guru will walk you through the steps you can take, and resources that are available to you at the UW, if you are a victim of sexual misconduct.   

Sexual harassment — including sexual violence or sexual assault — is prohibited by Title IX. The best source for UW information can be found on two websites: the Sexual Assault Resources website and the Title IX website.   

For email or phone support, SafeCampus is staffed 24–7 and is a good place to start if you have personally experienced harassment or assault or receive information that someone else experienced harassment or assault. SafeCampus can provide immediate safety planning, provide important information about your rights and resources, and connect you with a confidential advocate who can help you consider all of your options and how to make a plan for your situation.

For victims of sexual assault, SafeCampus loosely breaks down your options into steps — which you could choose to initiate in any order that makes sense to you.  

Anyone who has experienced harassment, assault, or another form of sexual misconduct is encouraged to contact an advocateAdvocates will confidentially provide support, information and resources. An advocate will allow you to share your experience in as much or as little detail as you would like, discuss your options for medical and mental health care, and help you make a plan for your safety and for reducing the impact of this experience at the UW. Meeting with an advocate does not trigger an investigation by the UW or the police.  

If you have been sexually assaulted, seeking medical care can help to treat or prevent illness and injury. It’s also important for preserving evidence. You may also seek a disability accommodation if you are experiencing the impacts of a medical condition.  

You have the right to report sexual misconduct to the University, to the police, to both or not at all. If you choose to report an instance of sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence to the UW, the University will conduct a prompt, fair and impartial investigation to determine whether a University policy or code — such as the Student Conduct Code or Executive Order No. 31 — has been violated.  

If you choose to file a police report, you have the right to have a support person or advocate with you. You may choose to file a report without pursuing an investigation or prosecution. For more information about criminal and civil proceedings that can result from a sexual assault report, please see the Sexual Assault Resources website 

If a friend has experienced sexual misconduct, there are ways you can provide support. Remember to be a good listener, avoid passing judgment, and provide your friend with options and resources for healing, emotional processing, and for learning the steps to file a complaint.  

If you wish to take action to reduce sexual violence on campus, you can learn about bystander awareness and join a group of Peer Health Educators through SafeCampus.  

Advice on an advisor

I am a second-year doctoral student, and have not been able to build a positive relationship with my advisor. My emails go unanswered and our meetings are infrequent, short, and brisk. I feel that this person is unhelpful and even detrimental to my progress. I have tried communicating my discomfort with this relationship to my advisor, yet nothing has changed. I am wondering, how do I know when it’s time to find a new advisor? And, if I decide to break up with my advisor, how can I do so amicably? – Sincerely, Unsupported   

This answer has been published after consultation with the Office of the Ombud. 

Hi Unsupported,

I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this. Having a strong advising relationship can play an important role in your success in grad school, so I hope you can find an advising situation that meets your needs.

For anyone starting off in an advising relationship or struggling to develop a constructive relationship with their advisor, I strongly recommend the Graduate School’s resources on “Managing Up.” Managing Up, in the context of an advising relationship, refers to actively and thoughtfully defining and shaping your relationship with your advisor. It may involve reflecting on your goals for the relationship, setting clear expectations about what you are looking for in the relationship, and setting the tone and agenda for your meetings with said person.

That being said, if you’ve already tried to address some of your concerns about feeling unsupported to your advisor and haven’t had any results, it may be time to seek a third-party intervention. The Office of the Ombud is a great place for you to explain your situation in full detail, and create a plan for how to proceed. This plan may or may not involve breaking up with your advisor. The Ombud service is confidential, so approaching this service will allow you discuss your situation in full detail, and to share the information with someone who has institutional knowledge and experience helping people navigate challenging situations.

No matter what happens with your current advisor, I strongly encourage you to start cultivating additional supports now. At the Graduate School, we advocate for students to develop “mentoring teams:” a network of support that may include advisors, PIs, professors from inside or outside your department, and more. A mentoring team can help you in personal, academic and professional goals, and can compensate for some of the deficiencies in your advising relationship.

Best of luck,

The Grad School Guru

From an Overworked TA

The class I am a TA for requires 12 hours of student interaction and about half a day of preparing materials. Every week. This is way more than the 20 hours/week that I am paid to do. The instructor knows this and had originally requested twice as many TAs as we have, but the department, being broke, only assigned two of us for this awful job. This particular class is known to be this way, as I have learned from talking to past sufferers. I have been TA-ing for two years now and have noticed a wild disparity in the workload for different classes. My question is: how is this fair? The department pays everyone the same amount, still how is it that some TAs get away with just 4 hours of work while others have to do upwards of 20? Since this is an issue of the department, I don’t know how to proceed. The officials in the department get very defensive when asked this. I don’t want to risk not being considered for future TA positions and am therefore not going to pursue the topic with them, but isn’t this just exploitation of us students by those in power? If the department has no money, they should figure out a better way to do this than exploit two students every 
quarter (yes, this class is taught every quarter). I am at a loss here and am losing my sanity not finding time to do anything else that actually matters for my Ph.D. Please help. –Anonymous 

This week’s answer is provided after consultation from the Labor Relation’s Office

Yikes. I’m sorry this TA-ship has been such a negative experience for you. Fortunately, you have resources at your disposal to help you resolve some of these issues.

You’ve said you do not wish to pursue these issues with your department. But you should know all academic staff employees are covered under a collective bargaining agreement by UAW Local Union 4121. If you do want to file a grievance against your department, the Union will help you do that. A Union representative urges Academic Student Employees to remember that addressing workplace concerns is time-sensitive under the Union contract.

Another resource available to you is the Office of the Ombud, which provides a space for members of the UW community to voice their concerns and develop plans for addressing difficult situations. The Ombud is easily accessible, with offices on all three campuses. Students contact the Ombud to discuss a range of issues including TA appointments. They are your go-to for addressing problems with the department’s culture. They’ll advise you on your situation without starting a formal complaint or grievance, and they won’t contact your department about the matter unless you ask them to do so.

Best of luck!

Ask the Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guide doesn’t know the answer, the guide will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Navigating Authorship Conflicts

There are clear guidelines outlining what “counts” as authorship. While all disciplines have their own nuances in culture, the International Committee of Journal Medical Editors (ICJME) provides a reasonable set of authorship criteria:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Note the “and” in those statements. Other contributions can warrant acknowledgments but not rise to the level of authorship. So much can be at stake with authorship – it is our currency in academia and how we establish our contributions in many sectors. The NIH Collaboration Guide recommends negotiating authorship well in advance of writing, and documenting decisions (e.g. who will be first author, who will be a contributing author) in email at least.

However, we know that things may not always go as planned. People move, experiments don’t work out, reviewers ask for additional work, projects stall out, contributions shift.

When these challenges arise, we heard suggestions from a panel of senior faculty and Chuck Sloane and Emma Williams from the UW Office of the Ombuds. These tips include:

  • Speak up. If something feels unfair or not right, get curious. Call a meeting with your PI (or whomever is making the authorship decisions) and ask about what change or decision has occurred. Seek to understand first.
  • If you have a different understanding of fair contributions in a given paper, request a meeting with all the relevant people involved. Using the authorship guidelines or your prior publication agreement as a starting point, ask about changes that have occurred and propose an alternative solution. Justify your position by referencing guidelines, journal practices, potential negative outcomes (if you think there are some) of certain choices. It can help to have an open conversation with everyone regarding what’s at stake with a given publication and authorship choice.
  • Prepare for these conversations by seeking a safe conversation partner first. You can talk through your position with a trusted peer or senior colleague (or the Ombuds or UW Office of Postdoctoral Affairs) first. It will help you let out some frustration and gain a calmer perspective before you approach your co-authors. This preparation can also help you map out the best approach to the discussion, including time, place, who is involved, and what rationale makes the most sense for your position.

Recommended Resource: Who’s on first? Nature (2012)


Originally posted on July 7, 2016.

Bad Teacher


Older graduate student who has had a career already so have a little life experience. I took a class with a teacher who was incredibly condescending both to the undergraduates and the graduate students — I pushed back a bit on this but got nowhere. Unorganized, due dates and test dates were “fluid” (as in they kept changing) and homework did not get graded in time for tests. We did learn a lot about this person’s history and background though… I feel like I owe future students some sort of action or at least a heads-up.  — What can I do?

Yikes, sounds horrible. I appreciate that you gave nothing away about the class or instructor. I trust that you filled out the class evaluation. This is probably the easiest yet most impactful  thing you can do. Future students can look up class ratings in the Course Evaluation Catalog. And in addition to the instructor, department coordinators and administrators also see the evaluations. 

You can also try a online rating site like Rate My Professor. Just be aware of the many biases of sites like this. I would also try taking your concerns to the GPA/GPC of your department. It’s important to create a written record of some type.

I reached out to the Office of Educational Assessment, which replied, “Students do have other places to turn; which is most effective probably depends on the type and severity of the unprofessionalism. Speaking with the department chair can get a note in the faculty personnel file, while talking with the UW Ombudsperson can address more significant breaches. The Ombud is also a great starting point to learn about other appropriate avenues of appeal.”

Hope that helps. Good luck!

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Managing Conflict: Strategies for Approaching Difficult Conversations

At an event in April 2016, sponsored by Hutch United and the Association for Women in Science, Emma Williams, Associate Ombud at UW, shared effective strategies for managing conflict.

First, we know that being a postdoc is highly stressful. You have many deadlines, demands, funding uncertainties and questions about your future. Research shows that people who make decisions from a stressed mental state tend to have a narrower perspective about their options. On the other hand, approaching a problem from a positive mindset – one of gratitude, generosity, and grace – can improve creative problem-solving and open up previously unseen options. In light of this, we offer a few tips the next time you experience even a minor conflict:

  1. Take a deep breath and a break. While it is important to address conflicts soon, before they fester, it is also critical to calm down before responding.  Taking a little time, even 24 hours, will often give you perspective and allow you to explore options for responding.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Ask yourself: what would you like to see happen? And, how can you make that most likely?
  3. Consider the ‘who, what, when, where, and why’.
    • Who: Is there someone who can help you have a better discussion? Bringing in another person – perhaps from your research group or from your mentoring team – can both offer support or another perspective on the conversation.
    • What: What should this conversation be about? If it is a seemingly small thing – or series of small things – in the research group, what does this pattern of behavior really signal to you? What’s really the overall concern?
    • When/where: When and where are the best place to have a productive conversation? Find a neutral territory and a time when you can both focus.
    • Why: What are your goals for the conversation? What are the results or outcomes you want to see?
  4. Practice. Ask a peer or another trusted colleague to have a mock discussion with you.  Practice the tough questions or responding to difficult scenarios, and practice remaining calm, respectful, and clear about your goals.
  5. Step away when you need to. If the conversation does go sideways, take a break.  Acknowledge the conversation isn’t productive now and you’ll come back to it. You can name a time/day when you want to pick it up again so it doesn’t linger further. You can also send an email follow up to clarify your goals for the conversation, and be descriptive about what is making it difficult to have this conversation (e.g. “the conversation broke down when…”), and then ask for what you need (e.g. “it would help me if…”).

While you are in it, here are a few additional strategies that can help the conversation go well.

  1. Save your reactions. Try not to respond in the moment from an emotional place.  Take time to digest what they are saying, and stick to your plan.
  2. Consider their perspective. Ask curious questions rather than defending, such as: “Can you tell me more about that?” You may get more data, more insight into their ultimate goals. Perhaps you can also find some alignment with your own goals.
  3. Educate, don’t escalate. It can help to be descriptive about the impact of their behavior on you or on the research group. Get them to see what is going on, and guide them to come to their own conclusions about what might need to happen.

If you need help thinking through a response to a difficult situation, you can also make an appointment with the Ombud Office to help you clarify your goals and work through a productive approach. You can reach the Ombud Office at 206.543.6028 or


Originally posted on May 5, 2016.

Hours and Hours of Office Hours

I am a TA for a graduate level class this quarter, and my professor is asking me to hold 4 hours of Office Hours. I feel this is too much. I had TA’d the same class last quarter, and I had five hours of Office Hours, way more than any other grad class in my department. It was incredibly stressful, and I grew to hate the work because of the long hours. I was hoping that this quarter I can have office hours similar what others in my department hold. How do I tell my professor? I want a good recommendation letter from him eventually and don’t want to piss him off, but there simply doesn’t seem to be an indirect way to tell him what I want to say. —Anonymous

This is exactly the type of situation to take to the Office of the Ombud. They specialize in handling conflicts with others at UW and will help you approach your professor with your concerns. Additionally, you can consult the Center for Teaching and Learning for tips on how to manage office hours and handle the stress that comes with teaching.

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Conflicts with Advisor

What do you do when it becomes clear your graduate advisor will never let you graduate due to personal conflicts?     —Anonymous

Yeesh. I am so, so sorry. It’s clear from the tone of your question that you are not being dramatic or flippant. This is one of the worst case scenarios for a graduate student. But please be assured that you are not the first nor the only, and there are protocols and strategies in place just for this. First, it’s essential that you document your interactions and conflicts with your advisor. The Graduate School has Guidelines for Good Practice in Graduate Education. You need to be able to be able to point to the specific responsibilities that your advisor is failing to fulfill, rather than just claim a vague “My advisor has it in for me.” The first step is usually to talk directly to your advisor. If that doesn’t help, then usually you should go to your Graduate School Representative (GSR) and other committee members. Of course, all this depends on your situation and your relationships with these individuals. It also sounds like you are past this point?

In that case, you should start following the Graduate School’s Academic Grievance Policy. You attempt an “informal conciliation,” where you invite the director/chair or dean to conciliate the grievance with your advisor. If this discussion with your advisor and the facilitator does not resolve the grievance, you then request the Graduate School to assist in an informal resolution. An associate dean of the Graduate School then acts as conciliator, either directly or with the involvement of the Office of the Ombudsman. If you’re still dissatisfied with the informal conciliation, you can then file a formal complaint with the Graduate School. This is an involved process, outlined here. Please note that there are certain time limitations. I hope this doesn’t sound daunting. Such a process is in place for your protection, really. I truly hope it works out!

Kelly Edwards, associate dean for student and postdoctoral affairs in the Graduate School, has these tips for additional strategies and self-care while you go through this process:

Facing conflicts with your advisor is one of the hardest things you do in your academic career. I know from talking to many students that it can take an emotional toll as well as a professional one. Knowing how to manage yourself (the one thing you can control in the situation) can help you get through it. These are a few strategies that have helped some students in the past, which may be helpful to you:

  • Stay calm (hard to do!). While it is understandably frustrating/upsetting/infuriating, do things (yoga, walking, breathing, venting conversations with allies) to help calm you. It will be easier to do what you need to do when you are thinking more clearly, and calming your stress response helps you think.
  • Put the roadblock in perspective. It might feel like the end of the world, or the end of your academic career, but is it really? Talk to others about your situation. When necessary, have someone from the outside (the department chair, my office in the Grad School, your GSR) explore the conflict or current barrier with your advisor. It may not be what it seems, and there may be a way past it.
  • Know when to move on. There are times when a personal conflict presents too large a barrier to work through with the usual channels, and the emotional cost to you may not be worth it (the professional cost too—as deep conflicts with your advisor will not often yield positive letters of reference, etc). Even though it feels like a set-back (and it often does involve taking some extra time in the program), changing advisors, finding a new research team, identifying a new project is sometimes the best way forward.
  • Find allies. This is tough, and you shouldn’t do it alone. Find safe people to talk to, including those you can vent with (family, peers) and those who you can strategize with (other faculty, staff, and leaders).


  • Be transparent and direct. It may not be safe to do this, in which case, take one of the other communication routes, but it can be helpful at times to just name what you perceive from your advisor. Stating this as descriptively and non-emotionally as possible is important. Something like: “Can I run something by you? I’ve been noticing a trend with my drafts and your feedback in that it seems you are really not happy with my work. Can we talk about what I can do differently that will help me move forward? I am really motivated to finish and I want to know what steps I can take to make that happen.” Document the conversation in an email to confirm what you have heard, and that becomes a learning contract of sorts for the two of you, which you can refer back to as needed.

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →