Introducing the new vice provost & dean
A conversation with the new vice provost & dean of graduate education: Scott Lanyon
A faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior since 1995, Scott Lanyon was named vice provost and dean of graduate education at the University of Minnesota, effective June 20, 2016.
Lanyon’s previous administrative experience at the University of Minnesota includes eight years as head of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior and 13 years as director of the Bell Museum of Natural History. He has also been actively involved in governance, having served as vice chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee and chair of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs.
Lanyon has demonstrated a commitment to graduate and postdoctoral training throughout his career - as an advisor to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, as an administrator advocating for increased support for graduate students, and as an educator training students to write competitive grant and fellowship proposals.
Learn more about Lanyon’s background and research
Q. What are your top priorities during the next 12 months?
A. My personal priority during my first year in this position is to develop an understanding of 1) the goals and aspirations of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows across the entire University of Minnesota system, 2) the things that we are doing well in helping them achieve those goals, and 3) the areas where there remains room for improvement. With that information, my colleagues and I can identify strategic priorities for the Graduate School.
Q. What is your long-term vision for graduate education?
A. Too many people still think of graduate education as the way in which faculty train the next generation of faculty. Indeed, many faculty today have this philosophy. But an increasing number of scholars with masters and Ph.D. degrees have made significant contributions to society through their careers in industry, government (local, state and federal), museums, K-12 education, military, etc.
Indeed, society’s need for people with advanced degrees (or more accurately, for people with the skills and creativity that advanced degrees signal) has never been greater. It is time for us to not only celebrate the full range of careers our graduates pursue, but to take active steps to help our students and postdocs prepare for the careers of their choice.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing graduate education today?
A. Limitations in funding to support graduate teaching and/or research assistantships force many graduate programs to turn away very deserving applicants and, many faculty are denied the opportunity to mentor scholars in their disciplines.
The debt loads carried by students these days will inevitably influence decisions whether or not to pursue an advanced degree. I’m particularly concerned about how increased student debt will influence our efforts to increase the diversity of students pursuing graduate degrees.
The career success of graduates depends increasingly on their appreciation of the value of diversity and their ability to work in diverse communities. Consequently, we need to increase the diversity in graduate education, build communities that welcome students from under-represented groups, provide training on how to work effectively as a member of a diverse team and help students communicate effectively with diverse audiences.
Q. What do you love most about what you do?
A. Helping scholars, especially those early in their careers, to develop professionally. My best days are those on which I’ve learned that a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow has been awarded a prestigious fellowship, landed an interview for their dream job, or is offered their dream position.
Q. What are you most excited about?
A. The opportunity to focus on graduate and postdoctoral education. As a museum director and then as a department head, I was actively involved in post-baccalaureate training but I also had many other responsibilities and was constantly balancing the needs of my various constituents. As vice provost and dean of graduate education, I will be able to concentrate on doing what is best for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Q. What are you most passionate about? What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work?
A. The quick answer is “graduate education”, hence my decision to apply for this position! The long answer is that I would like to help the University of Minnesota to improve its reputation as a great public research university. I believe that improving the quality of graduate and postdoctoral training is one of the surest ways to accomplish that goal.
Q. What do you wish other people knew about graduate education?
A. First, graduate education is not the same thing as professional education.
Second, although many people with graduate degrees are interested in becoming a faculty member, the range of career paths pursued by people with advanced degrees is incredibly broad.
Q. What might someone be surprised to know about you?
A. Both of my daughters were in competitive dance from elementary school through high school. Therefore, I was a “Dancing Dad” for twelve years … and I have the platinum trophies and ribbons to prove it!