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USF Research BootCamp Convenes Third Class of Female Scholars

Members of USF's third Research BootCamp gathered May 7 to 12 for a program filled with workshops and individual sessions with mentors.

Now in its third year, USF’s Research BootCamp convened May 7 to 12, offering the 32 female participants a unique blend of skills, time and support to help them make tangible progress in their dissertations or post-doctoral studies toward tenure and promotion

“This is a very product-oriented program. Our goal is for participants to leave with a product — be it chapters of their dissertations or a clearer direction for their research agendas,” said Devona Foster Pierre, EdD, assistant director of equal opportunity affairs and diversity

Dr. Pierre coordinates the annual Research BootCamp along with Emelda Curry, PhD, an instructor in the Interdisciplinary Social Science program and a program development coordinator in the Sociology department.

“In addition, we aim to build a community, to connect the participants with a cohort of their peers and colleagues throughout the university — the people they will lean on as they move forward in their scholarly careers,” Dr. Pierre said.

USF’s Research BootCamp is offered annually through a collaboration with the Sisters of the Academy Institute, an organization founded to facilitate the success of black women in academia.

“Our goal is to demystify the process of pursuing a doctorate and to create a pipeline in the academy for women of color,” said Denise Davis-Maye, PhD, former SOTA president and a professor of social work at Alabama State University, who attended USF’s Research BootCamp as a facilitator.

The Research BootCamp, she said, is designed to address the issues female scholars frequently encounter, such as striking a balance between their families and their academic pursuits and presenting themselves in male-dominated departments.

“In the Research BootCamp, we teach the knowledge that isn’t taught anywhere else. We prepare participants to navigate new opportunities and the potential barriers to their success in the academy. We talk about the values of the academy, institutional values, and personal values, and how participants can start to create their pathways even if those aren’t all in line.”

Female doctoral students and junior faculty members may apply to participate in the Research BootCamp. This year, the program received 225 applications. Thirty-two participants were selected, in part, based on the availability and disciplines of senior scholars who volunteered to serve as mentors.

This year’s senior scholars include:

  • Professor of Sociology Elizabeth Aranda, PhD
  • Associate Professor of Social Work Iraida Carrion, PhD
  • Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine Tomar Ghansah, PhD
  • Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Lewis, PhD,
  • Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Maya Trotz, PhD
  • Professor of Special Education and Brenda Townsend Walker, PhD

They will lend their time, experience and expertise to develop a cohort that includes 13 doctoral students, six doctoral candidates, nine junior faculty members and four postdoctoral researchers.

During the six-day BootCamp, participants took part in workshops led by SOTA scholars and crafted for their particular professional stage, such as “Developing Research Questions & a Review of Literature” and “Approaching the Dissertation Proposal” for doctoral students, and “Designing a Research Agenda” and “Developing the Tenure Binder” for early-career faculty members.

In addition to Dr. Davis-Maye, SOTA scholars who facilitated this year’s Research BootCamp included:

  • Tamara Bertrand Jones, PhD, an associate professor of higher education and associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University
  • Tonya Evette Perry-Mitchell, PhD, professor and chairperson of the Department of Social Work, Psychology and Counseling at Alabama A&M University
  • Sandra Harris, PhD, director of assessment for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Walden University

Participants also had one-on-one meetings with their senior scholar mentor to discuss their goals for the BootCamp, as well as dedicated time for methodology development, writing, and data analysis.

Kawana Johnson, who works as director of internships and career services at Florida State University and is a doctoral candidate in Career and Workforce Education, lauded the schedule and resources that were made available during the BootCamp.

Midway through the BootCamp, with assistance from Dr. Bertrand Jones and her senior scholar mentor, Dr. Trotz, Johnson selected a qualitative research method for her dissertation, which will study the effects of experiential learning opportunities for business students.

“I’ve been torn between a case study or an evaluation, but working with Dr. Bertrand Jones and my mentor, I’ve decided it’s a case study,” Johnson said, adding that she appreciated the hours-long blocks of time that were set aside for writing, a logistical feat that is difficult to achieve during her typical workweek.

“The women leading this program all have doctorates. They are where I want to be,” Johnson said. “They’re giving us their advice, they’re telling us about some of the sacrifices they made. All these things are helpful and inspiring. They’re giving us one-one-one time when they listen just to us. It’s wonderful. I thank USF, the Sisters of the Academy and everyone involved.”

Johnson said she was on track to end the BootCamp with a revised introduction, literature review and methodology section, which she will soon defend to her dissertation committee.

Senior scholar Dr. Carrion said that while her role in the Research BootCamp was to mentor early-career academics, she derived plenty of benefits as well. In particular, she appreciated the chance to interact and explore new research avenues with scholars from disciplines as varied as neuropsychology and international affairs — just two of the areas represented by her six mentees.

“I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet individuals, apart from my professors, who have been published,” she said, recalling her own doctoral work. “It would have allowed me to gain skills, knowledge and answers to questions that I had to get in a more piecemeal manner through conferences.

“The participants are leaving here with a toolkit of resources as well as a social support system.”

A 2016 BootCamp participant, Tonisha Lane, PhD, assistant professor in USF’s College of Education, returned as an observer. Speaking from experience, she said the participants will be more than thankful for the deep dive into their research and the connections made with one another.

“Not knowing anyone when I came to the institution, the BootCamp helped me advance my research and grant activity,” said Dr. Lane, who came to USF shortly after completing her doctorate at Michigan State University.

“It helped me to think more strategically about how to integrate my research, teaching and service.”

Since its inception at USF in 2015, the Research BootCamp participants have: defended six dissertations, completed five dissertation proposals, passed four qualifying/comprehensive exams, attained three IRB approvals, published 12 articles and two book chapters and submitted five grants. Additionally, three participants have moved from post-doctorate into full-time positions.

Applications for USF’s Research BootCamp are accepted each spring. For more information, contact Dr. Pierre at

Story by Rachel Pleasant, University Communications & Marketing, photo provided by Dr. Devona Foster Pierre