Professor William C. Sullivan gives the Rackham Centennial Alumni Lecture in the Dana Building Oct. 25.

Sullivan offers tips to graduate students in Rackham Centennial Lecture

SNRE alumnus William C. Sullivan provided today’s graduate students with tips on making their research and professional lives more meaningful.

Sullivan, who earned his doctoral degree in 1991 from SNRE, was invited to give the school’s Rackham Centennial Alumni Lecture. About 110 people attended the Oct. 25 talk in the Dana Building. He is a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (View the lecture)

Sullivan’s tips were founded on his belief that today’s graduate students face a tougher road than the one he encountered in the late 1980s. Culturally, more obstacles exist today to having research be understood and acted upon. To overcome those obstacles, he urged graduate students to alter their approach by:

  • focusing their work on neglected communities
  • building relationships and creating a sense of community, both among their peers and in the communities where their research is being conducted, and
  • building evidence, paying attention to the dependent and independent variables in their research, and becoming a storyteller to ensure results are shared widely. "It's this kind of work that will gather the attention of funding agencies, policy makers and the media," he said.

His lecture was titled "Rising Above the Tide" and it asked how, with shrinking resources and increasing demands, can we produce positive change?

Welcoming guests

The lecture was funded in part by the U-M Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, which is organizing the Rackham Centennial Alumni Lectures as part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 2012. The Rackham Centennial Alumni Lectures showcase the intellectual legacy of the university’s graduate community.

During this day-long stay on campus, he met with current master’s and doctoral students, talking with them about his own work and how his career was shaped by his experiences at SNRE. He also thanked his adviser, Professor Rachel Kaplan, for her role in guiding his professional development.