Introduction to Research Program Development

Karen Viskupic, Geosciences

Boise State University


The goal of this course is to help new graduate students get started in their research research program, and to help them develop skills that will lead to their success in graduate school and beyond. Activities in this course are designed to develop and practice skills and habits that will help students to grow as scientists and prepare for their professional careers.

Course Size:


Course Format:

Small-group seminar

Institution Type:

University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

First-year courses for entering graduate students that seek to make transparent the tacit knowledge needed to succeed in our discipline are sometimes called the hidden curriculum of graduate school. This course helps students learn about resources they need to be successful in our discipline. For further contextualization of and justification for this course, see Cooke et al., (2021).

This 2-credit course is required for all first-year MS and PhD students in the Department of Geosciences. It is taught every Fall semester by a single instructor (with guest appearances from other members of the department including faculty, staff, and more senior graduate students). The course meets once per week for 75 minutes and is graded.

Course Content:

The course includes modules on program requirements and resources, time management and work/life balance, professional behavior, reading and managing scientific literature, career planning, research planning and proposal development.

Course Goals:

By the end of the course, students will be able to:
1. Identify key resources for completing their degree
2. Use the scientific literature to provide context for their research
3. Create a plan for managing their time and space to work and learn efficiently and effectively
4. Write a career development plan
5. Create a plan for how they will contribute to an inclusive, equitable, and collegial work environment
6. Develop a research proposal
7. Communicate with data

Course Features:

Activities about resources:
-Outline graduation and other program requirements
-Review department and campus resources including library, health services, writing center, wellness programs, gender equity center, etc.
-Meet department staff and key faculty (graduate program coordinators)

Communication activities:
-Demonstrate software for organizing papers
-Write a research proposal (use GSA graduate student research proposal as a template)
-Peer review of draft research proposals
-Write weekly summaries of journal articles
-Critical review of published figures

Professional development activities:
-Keep a log of activities (168 hours exercise)
-Reflect on study and time management habits
-Review tools and strategies for managing time and try a few
-Create a career development plan (assess strengths and weaknesses, identify skills needed for future career, set goals to help meet future career plans)
-Articulate a plan for communicating with research advisor

Professional behavior activities:
-Review society codes of conduct
-Discuss research articles about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the geosciences
-Discuss case studies of harassment and discrimination
-Create a personal plan for contributing to an equitably and inclusive work environment

Course Philosophy:

This course was designed to help students get started on their research through practical exercises such as reading, organizing, and summarizing the literature and completing a research proposal, while at the same time providing the space for discussion and reflection on key skills that will help support student success such as time management, professional behavior, communication, and wellness.


Students complete several summative assessments including reflective writing, plans for work productivity, attaining career goals, and contributing to a healthy work environment, and a research proposal that follows the GSA graduate student research grant guidelines.


GEOS 601 syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Dec3 21)

Teaching Materials:

Course Design Table for GEOS 601 (Acrobat (PDF) 86kB Dec3 21)

References and Notes:

Cooke, M., Breitbart, M., Cooperdock, E. Levin, N., Niemi, N., Bell, C., Stevens, L., Viskupic, K., . First-year graduate courses foster inclusion. Nat. Geosci. 14, 539–540 (2021).