Professional News

UK Graduate School cohort builds professional pipeline with SEC

UK Emerging Scholars
UK Graduate School cohort attending the SEC Emerging Scholars Workshop at the University of Arkansas. Courtesy of The Graduate School.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 20, 2023) —The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has long been known for integrating higher education and intercollegiate athletic competition. But many people don’t know the SEC coordinates a number of academic programs to support and promote collaborative initiatives and activities. The programs are designed to highlight the teaching, research and service accomplishments of SEC students, faculty and staff.

Beginning in 2021, the SEC introduced the annual Emerging Scholars Career Preparation Workshop, designed to provide professional development and networking opportunities for a limited number of doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars who are considering careers in higher education.

A cohort representing the University of Kentucky’s Graduate School recently returned from this year’s workshop, hosted by the University of Arkansas.

“The SEC Emerging Scholars Career Preparation workshop reiterates the value of networking, academic excellence, and the importance of putting early academic job documents and to demystify the ambiguity involved in the process,” said Chukwudalu Great Umenweke, a Ph.D. student in the UK Department of Chemistry. “In addition, the program highlights the value of applying and remaining in the SEC institution during the academic job search.”

The workshop is meant to encourage top scholars to seek out employment and mentorship within SEC member universities. The workshop brings together future faculty members with a wide range of personal experiences and perspectives that they will bring to their disciplines and the classrooms of the future.

“Anyone who is thinking of getting a job in academia would benefit. I think it was very helpful for getting us thinking about long-term plans. I also think the panelists did a great job being realistic about the difficulty of the process while also expressing why they enjoy their jobs,” said Robyn Allen, of Brookeville, Maryland, a postdoctoral candidate in Biology.

This year’s 2023 University of Kentucky Scholars include:

  • Robyn Allen
    College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
  • Dayna Cueva Alegria
    College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • Angela Gutierrez
    College of Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering
  • Amy Jones Haug
    College of Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation
  • Great Umenweke
    College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Chemistry

“The information I received, and the invaluable connections I made during the workshop have made me a better new faculty applicant and provided me with additional knowledge to help guide others who are going or will go through this process in the near future,” said Gutiérrez, who at the time of the workshop was a postdoctoral student in civil engineering, but currently serves as UK’s director of the Sustainability and Analytical Equipment facility.

“The SEC has allowed me to expand my professional network to receive professional development and guidance from faculty and deans that participated in the workshop,” said Cueva Alegria, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Kentucky Department of Geography.

The cohort was also joined by Lisa Tannock, M.D., associate provost for faculty advancement and UK’s SEC liaison.

“As a senior faculty it was energizing to meet and interact with the scholars,” said Tannock. “Discussions about the challenges of the ‘trainee-to-faculty’ transition really inspired me to develop some processes to demystify the process and help build the academic pipeline here at UK.”

The University of Kentucky is expected to host the workshop for 2029-30.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.