Roel Dobbe has a passion for working with people. Having been a student coach while earning his undergraduate and Master’s degrees as well as an organizational change consultant in industry, the Electrical Engineering PhD student is now one of the co-coordinators of EECS Peers, a network of upper level graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. EECS Peers aims to provide a confidential, independent, open-minded, and supportive ear and to serve as a resource to other students who are navigating issues with classes, advisors, exams, stress, and conflict.
“There are lots of different challenges in graduate school,” Dobbe says. “We want to be a listening ear for any kind of graduate life worries or struggles that our students cope with.”
Kristin Stephens-Martinez, a PhD student in Computer Science, founded the group in 2013 after noticing a need for additional mentorship among her fellow graduate students. She had previously struggled with figuring out her research and navigating switching advisors, and recalled “wanting to seek help from older graduate students in different groups — other people who had been in similar situations.”
She spoke with department faculty and administrators about getting web space and some initial funding, recruited the initial set of peers, and arranged for a group orientation on mental health resources with the campus’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS) staff. “Our ‘training’ is pretty informal,” Dobbe explains. “We’re not professionals, but we try to be a gateway to other resources on campus — whether they are for academic, emotional, or health-related issues.”
Currently, the network consists of twelve graduate students, who rotate to host office hours weekly, and can be identified by the EECS Peers postcard at their desk. They also have contact information listed on the EECS Peers website, and encourage students to drop by or email with any questions. Stephens-Martinez also leads a reading group, which is currently working its way through 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School.
“Mainly first-year students come and [the meeting] turns into them asking me questions — is this true? How does this apply to me? It’s been a great conduit to share all the knowledge that isn’t written down but you might not know to ask.”
For their part, Dobbe and the Computer Sciences co-coordinator, Aditya Devarakonda, hope to continue the work Stephens-Martinez has done, exploring and engaging with other resources on campus. “There are lots of different challenges in graduate school,” Dobbe says. “We want to be a listening ear for any kind of graduate life worries or struggles that our students cope with.”