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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2021)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author
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Avoiding legal and other liabilities in ETDR consultations

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University

“ETDRs” (Electronic Theses, Dissertations, and Reports) are the written culmination of graduate studies, whether for the master’s or the doctorate. These works showcase original research that may have value for professionals in the target domains or even cross-domain.  They show something of the capabilities of the supervising advisory professors and committees, the respective labs, and the institution of higher education.  Most importantly, the work goes out in the voice of the individual who has conducted the work and earned the degree.  The ETDR should have their signature imprint, their vision, their learning, and maybe even something of their personality.  Ideally, an ETDR is the start of the individual student’s contribution to the research stream over a lifetime. 

ITS has a role in supporting the technological side of these documents, which are often built off of templates. A typical consultation goes as follows (over one or several sessions): 


Support consultations for ETDRs

ETDR consultation sequence: 

This begins with a basic check-in. 
  1. Where are you in the process?  ETDR template usage?  Defending? Graduating?  What are your important deadlines? 
  2. What should we focus on today? 
  3. What are your needs currently?
  4. What source citation method are you using (based on your domain / discipline)?  What version are you using?  Can you show me to a manual that documents how the captions are represented for figures?  For citations?  Is this the process you want to follow? 

Setup for the ETDR consultation: 

Then, I make sure that their file is set up for the review.  (This is in Word. In LaTeX, this is not necessary.) 
  • Turning on the image resolution (or checking for lossiness settings for visuals)
  • Turning on the field code to “always” show(for code visibility)
  • Viewing the navigation pane
  • Viewing the styles pane

The review process:  

The review process involves going through the file from the top.  (Students sometimes just want an answer to one question, and if so, I'll go with that. Everyone is busy, and time is scarce.  However, I've never seen a perfect ETDR.  It is wiser to have another set of eyes for a work.) 

Title page
  • descending case for the title?
  • name in KSIS? (make sure, or put in a name change to the Registrar’s Office with the proper form) 

Pagination and navigability

  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables (and updating field code)

  • Figures
  • Tables

Pages that need to be in landscape (vs. portrait) to accommodate wide figures and tables

Image resolution

Table formatting

Online bibliography tool
References list

Special needs: 

List of Equations
List of Terms / Nomenclature

Appendix formatting
Appendix figures
Appendix tables

PDF file: 

Outputting the PDF file
Checking for the functionality of the PDF file (navigation, resolution, content formatting, etc.)  

File submittal (after approval by chair and committee): 

Submittal to K-REx (including key words, including supplementary files)
Submittal to ProQuest after approval in K-REx

Occasionally, there are additional issues after an initial (rare) rejection by the Graduate School. Those are troubleshot, and the student is on their way. 


Walking fine lines

Students have a lot riding on their ETDRs.  Many may be focused on their defense of their work and other tasks leading up to graduation. They may  be focused on moving households. They may be focused on interviewing for jobs.  And as a result, they may not pay sufficient attention to this important document.  They come up against some hard deadlines and realize that their template may not be functioning (no navigation, poor image resolution, missing sections, incorrect pagination, and other challenges).  Or their faculty advisor may be pressuring them to make changes to their ETDR file.  The various deadline and other pressures can make for a volatile mix. 

Some students get to the very end of the graduate studies process and submit their files to the K-REx (K-State Research Exchange) system and are shocked that their broken file was not accepted.  A few will have assumed that their files will just “work” because they sort of look right.  Many get blindsided when their work is rejected by the Graduate School, and then, they have to rush to get the final work corrected and re-submitted.  Often, many will not even have realized that the file they submitted is not even functioning as a template with the requisite capabilities.  They will just ask people in ITS to just “fix” their file as if there were a button one could just push and get a working template file.  They assume that one can just apply a little scripting to fix the non-template.  They don’t understand that the templating is inherent to the template, and if they just had a file that they created, that the functionality would not be automatically somehow magically built-in.  Recently, a student asked where the documentation was for turning a normal file to a template.  Another student thought she could copy pieces and parts of a template into her file to make it function as a file and not understanding that the template has deep internal dependencies to function. 

As technical support to students working their ETDRs for the past year and a half, I realized that I would be walking a fine line.  I was taking on a responsibility that used to be a full-time 100% FTE position (plus multiple part-time positions).  The students would be from all over campus from all different fields.  I would have to learn not only the Word template but the LaTeX one.  I made it a point to learn the technologies as solidly as possible.  After all, either one knows the answer to a problem and can fix it on-the-spot, or one cannot and has to provide a “raincheck” for a later time.

Figure 1.  Fine Lines

Fundamentals:  Offering neutral and comprehensive ETDR documentation

Early on, I realized that while there was a website with some ETDR documentation, much was missing.  I rewrote the help manual, the ETDR checklist, the FAQs, and other aspects of the site.  I added a section on auto-numbering an ETDR in Word.  I remade the templates for the reports, theses, and dissertations.  (Initially, the master’s reports and theses were treated of a piece instead of two separate files.)  Another team member provided some light editing oversight.  A series of videos were just finalized and published out to benefit students who prefer different modalities of learning.  These range from 1 - 11 minutes or so.  These are to further develop the site. 

The thinking here is that if the information is made as widely available as possible, in multimodal forms (text, visuals, audio, video), then people can essentially provide their own self-service.  Of course, it is helpful if students would actually read the documentation.  Many just go straight to the templates and breeze by the README and just assume that an online session a long time ago would be sufficient.  They assume that the template is plug-and-play.  If one reads the directions and understands them, the template is essentially simple to use.  However, given the complexities of Microsoft Word, there are also lots of potential rabbit holes to go in, and if students are too adventuresome in making changes to the file, they can end up with a permanently non-functioning file.  The challenge is that people's mental models of how the tool works do not align with the actual conceptual model. Many will riff off of assumptions, and then, this misread how the file functions.  (Most students have had many years of experience with Microsoft Word, but the template involves additional new knowledge.  I had to make a conscious effort to learn about the Word template...and how it is built...and ditto for LaTeX.)  One doctoral student managed to break his template twice, the second time after being warned about how such templates break. 

Figure 2.  Mental and Conceptual Models of ETDR Templates

Another outreach is an ETDR training that runs 1.5 hours once every month.  It is open to all comers.  The various resources are introduced, and the templates are also shown.  This way, all can have a walk-through so that there are not serious mysteries about the template.  During the session, which is run as a conversation, anyone can bring up any questions, and we’ll take them on issue-by-issue.  None are recorded, so all can feel comfortable asking anything.  [For my other trainings, sometimes a large friendly and fun and smart "flash mob" of students will join.  I wish that would happen here, too, for the ETDR trainings.] 

Some students do not read documentation.  Some assiduously avoid the trainings.  Or somehow, the trainings do not fit their schedules. 

That said, a majority of graduates never reach out for IT support for their ETDRs. They figure out the technologies themselves.  Or they work things out with their colleagues and friends. Perhaps some find consultants off-campus. Some likely go to YouTube for their videos in this space. In many cases, the public-facing documentation suffices. 

Learning from each consultation case

In the past year and a bit, I have made it a point to learn from each case.  To be clear, most cases go swimmingly…and students graduate and move on with their lives.  In a few cases, some contacts have not turned out as constructively as possible. 

The various consultations may be at various stages of the student's uses of the ETDR.  For those few who want to consult early on just as they are starting to use the templates, one important point is to reassure them of the usability of the template.  These are individuals often put off by the length of the user manual (which should be read and used in pieces and parts, in many cases) and other documentation.  They benefit from knowing the general work sequence, how to manage deadlines, and how to work through the bureaucracy.  It helps to empathize with them and the complexities of the process.  These students prefer seeing how the template works and to be reassured that it is okay to delete the README and the other built-in annotations and notes in the template. They benefit from knowing that third-party source citation tools work well in Word...and how to input such bibliography or reference lists. They appreciate being told how *not* to break the template but also to know that even if the template breaks, there are ways to move contents into a new template...  They benefit from knowing that if all contents are in a working template that most students only require an hour or an hour-and-a-half to have a final ETDR.  Students benefit from understanding how the TOC and List of Figures and List of Tables work...and how to set captions.  And they benefit from learning how to consider image resolution.  If students are amenable, they also benefit from knowing the importance of identifying the source citation method needed in their field. 

For those students who already have an ETDR drafted, these students usually have a hurdle or two that they cannot get over themselves.  It helps to first help them solve those issues, to earn some of their confidence. Then, one can invite them for a full review to catch any other potential issues (in every case, there is always something that needs to be fixed). 

Lesson #1:  Student (non)maintenance of computer systems

I learned that people do not often manage their computer systems well.  Many have malware riding in their systems. In one case, in the middle of a two-hour session, the student’s file locked up, and she could not get the file to accept any changes. She had a version of the file saved early on in our session as a version she could return to if anything happened during our session.  (That is a security approach that I take with all students.)  The file had never left her machine, fortunately for the health of my machine and for my reputation.  During this drama, I asked the student if I had edited her file at all.  She had to think a few minutes before she said no.  

Many students do not regularly shut down and restart their machines.  Many save up software updates and operating system updates for later (or never).  Many try to have ETDR sessions with older versions of Word.  [All K-Staters have access to the Microsoft Office 365 Suite that they can put on up to five of their own devices while they are officially connected to the university.]  One student had an especially memorable system, with what looked to be endless recursions of file folders within file folders within file folders on the cloud.  He didn’t really quite know where his master file was…and it was a struggle getting him to save anything on the desktop since he had automated savings of various files in various locations.  He graduated with what looked to be a very elegant dissertation, but the technology on which the main file and the supporting files resided was a mess.

In another case, a student, in 2021, had a computer system so dated that the OS could not be updated, and the up-to-date version of O365 could not be installed.  His MS Word version was more than a dozen years old...  And he thought a consultation session for ETDRs were really Help Desk sessions to update his machines.  He had a template file that did not function, and he tried to blame ITS for his state-of-affairs.  He even said that ITS was trying to force him to buy more technology when the O365 download was free (for staff, students, and admin of the university).
Many also keep hundreds of versions of their ETDRs as “records.”  Having one or two saved as potential backup is smart, but hundreds just take up room…  There is a point of diminishing returns to having so many copies.  They start to gum up the works.  And those who need to have high-resolution imagery and videos and other such files take up that much more room on their devices, causing very slow functioning and time spent searching through layers and layers of folders. 

Updating a system to where it is possible to ensure that figures are ingested at sufficiently high resolution can easily consume an hour or two of time.  Optimally, students will have taken care of all such updates before we start.  (And needless to say, if they have malware on their machines, they should have already cleaned off the malware and have fully working files.) 

When recommending technologies, I try to be judicious.  I ask students to do their own due diligence about the technologies and to read the fine print.  I am careful not to be mis-perceived as "vouching" for something.  I also try to assess to see if the student might be comfortable with a particular change or not.  If they take on a new technology that they cannot wield, that may cause more problems (and solve fewer ones).  Also, I try to see how loaded their machines are because if their machines do not have the capacity to take on new applications, that may be a limiting factor. 

Lesson #2:  Research source citations / web bibliography tools

I learned how research source citation / web bibliography tools work and the importance of synchronizing them across devices.  I’ve learned that such tools can be sensitive to the type of device used to access them, and the types of settings applied.  I've learned that students need to review the citations and especially the References / Bibliography lists from such tools because these can introduces errors in author names, alphabetizing, and other issues.  [I only recently found out how auto-alphabetizing works in Microsoft Word, and I regret that I showed a student how to fix their list...ummm...manually...a few times prior to my increased awareness.]

How much commenting I should do on source citations, no matter how students come by these (manually or in automated ways), varies depending on how open the student is to such feedback.  Some can be highly open to revising the works; others would rather focus on other topics.  A few get offended.  (The truth is that if one were to look deeply that one would find mistakes in a References / Bibliography list...because there are so many moving parts...and because the cloud services and people are error-prone.  There is noise in publishing data.  This is not about putting down anyone. This is just about observations.  And this is about the benefit of review and re-review and re-review.) 

Some think that there is an adjustment in MS Word for automatically fixing their References / Bibliography lists.  Not so. The setting for style just sets the input form for a source.  It does nothing else.  There is no magic automation of sources in Word.  Yet. 

Lesson #3:  Muddled source citation methods

Many graduate students are hard-pressed to tell me what their research source citation method is for their ETDR.  Perhaps it is because many current students use automated means to output their source citations.  They leave it to the technology, and they do not develop the skills to vet the References or Bibliography, the in-text parenthetical source
citation, the styles for the subheadings, and the styles for the captions (for figures and tables, and others).  In a few rare cases, many publish in multiple journals with different source citation methods.  Regardless, many students are surprised to realize that the research source citation method informs the following:  

  • The citation of each source by type in the References or Bibliography list
  • The in-text parenthetical citation
  • The styles for the subheadings (seriation)
  • The styles for the captions (of figures)
  • The styles for the captions (of tables)

Once they are asked what the citation method is, together, we work to find authoritative manuals and published papers as exemplars.  

One recent incident involved a student who was confused about why she had to list the names of her figure and table captions twice, once in a hidden way (so that the names of the figures and tables would appear in the List of Figures and the List of Tables) and once in a visible way, so people could read the names of the figures and tables at their  respective locations. This was a work-around required for the ETDR template to function in the way required by both the research source citation method and the Graduate School.  The student’s advisor was not satisfied with the student’s explanation, and was pressuring her to find another option.  (If there is another option, I am not aware of it.)   Anyway, this issue ultimately resolved, but this kerfuffle left some hurt feelings and led to some soul-searching about the service and how to best support students in a way that they understand that meets their needs without causing undue cost on the IT side. 

Lesson #4:  About using broken templates

I also saw how students could “inherit” broken templates from their friends and end up with a non-functioning ETDR.  I learned how to salvage partially broken templates. 

I learned how people can break Word templates irretrievably (by editing field code directly, by manually re-editing large swaths of body text, and others).  I know that even if I warn students that these are actions to avoid, people can break their templates multiple times. 

Lesson #5:  About insufficient spatial resolution in raster images

I learned that most people’s digital imagery have insufficient spatial resolution (72, 96, 144 vs. the requisite 350
dpi/ppi).  I found a workaround for people who do not have a digital image editing tool by upping the image resolution of slides from PowerPoint on Windows

Lesson #6:  Making their own rules (which is fine up to a point)  

Graduate students often put a lot of value to their ETDR masterpiece.  Many have spent years and a lot of money to study.  They are highly invested in the effort.  Their ETDR is an extension of them and their work.  For many, it is a core part of their identity. 

Many have a clear sense of what they want the ETDR to look like. They have preferences for font faces and font sizes, for their headings to their body text.  One recent graduate really wanted her figures to be the size of thumbnails.  Another had a table of images that she collected over the years.  Some prefer auto-numbering of each of the headings and subheadings.  In different fields, they have particular strictures for citations.  We accommodate where we can.  However, where these innovations become problematic is when the template is broken along the way.  

The upside to the high investment into ETDRs is that most students will invest the heavy amounts of time to make sure that every part is correct and that errors are removed.  Many take serious initiative to achieve their work.  This is especially so with the doctoral students I’ve worked with who are willing to invest the time and effort to make sure that everything is correct. 

Lesson #7:  About (un)important details

The core details that matter in the template are any that will disqualify the work from acceptance.  It is fairly easy for students to introduce errors without noticing.  Just recently, a ticket came in where the student had copied text from one title page into another and triggered a dissertation rejection.  There are known weak points to check for errors but also lesser known ones. 

That said, there are many other details that are relevant, just not at the level of deal breakers. 

One effective approach during a consultation is to identify inconsistencies.  For example, in various levels of headings, if there is inconsistent capitalization, it is helpful to point that out gently, so the student can decide on how they want to handle capitalization and go from there. 

A quick scroll-through of a work is useful because one can just sort of look for particular anomalies...  This became clear when a student around the world was just doing a pro forma scroll-through, and I saw a font change from the body text to the bibliography (the formatting should change, but not the font).  We caught an error, and that was fixed before the student submitted the work. 

It may be helpful to observe some typos and misspellings.  (Some students never conduct an automated spell- and grammar-check.)  Some students even have typos in their ETDR paper title!  I usually make one or two observations and leave it there.  The challenge is not to end up in the weeds. The student is responsible... 

Besides, where the real work counts--think data, think research, think the discipline and domain--the student is the world's expert on that particular topic if they did their work right.  And in many cases, if there are multiple languages used, the ITS staff may not have background in that language. 

Lesson #8:  About unanswerables

Then, too, there are issues that are befuddling.  Some fields allow graduate students to republish group-published papers in their dissertations as chapters. These include prior-published works where the graduate student is first author, and the others are all co-authors.  That was new to me.  While it is clear that there has to be release from the publisher, there would seem to also need to be legal releases from the co-authors. 

And then, there are questions about how much students can use of commercial photographs under "fair use" in their ETDRs.  Here, it seems best to mention the issue lightly and let the student handle the particulars with their faculty advisor and committee. 

Only once has a student asked my opinion directly.  I clarified that I did not have standing to address the IP issue for his work, and the policies he was pointing me to did not apply to his circumstance (which was one of co-authorship, not single authorship).  I had to document what my advice was...and leave it at that.  It can be difficult to encourage a student to listen if that is not their inclination...and if all they apparently want is a rubber-stamp. 

Handling challenges

So given the lessons from the various cases, what are some ways to handle the challenges?  In the main, there are a few helpful approaches. 

About contemporaneous notetaking

Our ticketing system on campus enables us to take notes about each contact, and that documentation is valuable.  It helps to have institutional memory:  the dates of contacts, the student’s field of study, the particular requested support, and how the support was provided.  In addition, I kept an internal set of contemporaneous notes gleaned from each contact.  This was to serve as a good reminder to me and my colleagues about what was covered…and would benefit learners if others have to take up one of my tickets.  This actually also served as a protection against the fallible memories of students.  

Writing out a ticket also helps us reflect on how each case went and to learn to provide better service next time.  If I had to give a “raincheck” to a student to troubleshoot an issue, I could put the solution in the ticket as well. 

If an issue arises, it is important to be able to call "nonsense" on untruths and mis-rememberings. 

No thanks to “favors” (and no thanks to freelancing)

Graduate students are not shy about going off the straight and narrow. Students will reach for help during evenings, weekends, and other off-hours.  Others will ask if I could just do the work for them.  One wanted me to format all her tables in LaTeX.  She insisted multiple times even after she’d been pointed off to several resources that could help with this work.  It wasn’t that she didn’t know how to make a LaTeX table but that it was tedious. This may involve emailing or uploading files into the ticketing system and asking for changes to their file.  This is never a good idea because a template is sufficiently complex that students will add errors as they edit further and attribute it to the staff member.  Besides, this is the student's responsibility, not that of staff. 

Students will ask if I “know anyone” who can format their work for them for a fee.  One of the askers had broken his template twice, once after I had told him how not to break it.  Not only is it unethical to skim off the student traffic from the work, but this does not serve the student.  Basically, the idea is to give them help where it’s proper and support them in their learning.  The skills they gain from working a template, whether Word of LaTeX, can be highly beneficial to their work.  I do no special favors.  

Sometimes, there are outsized expectations.  Some students open one ticket after another after another as if no one else needed the service but them.  Some just parachute into my Zoom office at any time and just assume I will be there and available.  (Some faculty stay in their Zoom rooms for "office hours," so this may be where that assumption comes from.)  Another student emailed to see if she could have a weekly meeting with anyone on the ETDR team.  In the academic economy, she seemed to think that opening a lot of tickets would benefit us instead of put a strain of human resources.  Another student went on a major rant when the person she was working with tried to get her to focus on the ETDR and not on her many complaints against other staff in the College where she was trying to earn a doctorate.  Still another tried to suggest that the staff who worked with her had advised her to use a particular citation method (which is not what the ETDR staff ever do)…and so was liable and needed to fix her dissertation to the satisfaction of her faculty advisor in the day or two before the ETDR submittal deadline.  

This is not to say that we do not sometimes go above and beyond. Sometimes, students have to meet in the off hours because of their work schedules or because they live in different time zones around the world.  Sometimes students break the appointment very close to the scheduled moment and think that it is simple to reschedule.  In busy seasons, once students lose their places, it is hard to fit them into a regular day slot, and I often end up working off-hours to accommodate them. Some simply lose their place and end up figuring out their ETDR issues themselves, which is fine, too.  Some students cannot output the .pdf and so need quick transcoding.  Recently, one student in a time zone some 12 hours away from CST sent a 100 GB file for transcoding and had to use Google Drive to do so.  A dozen students who had no other easy option for jumping the resolution on some of their diagrams asked if I would help them re-output the visuals, and in those cases, I did.  (This is after we explored available options in either Windows or Mac.)  These are all reasonable asks, in my book.  Then, too, graduate students will gossip, and ultimately, it does not help if one has a reputation for doing too much…because then students will in turn expect a lot of support.  [When handling student images or their ETDRs when I am transcoding, I always make a point to delete all versions of their imagery and work from the downloads folder, the desktop, and the OneDrive / SharePoint where the email attachments are…so they know that no other versions of their work is floating around.  Some students embargo their research for “hard intellectual property” / hard IP…such as patenting and trade secrets.  Others do so for publishing reasons. A few do so for only ego reasons and / or a misunderstanding of the embargoing mechanism.]

To keep things simple, I know if I step out of line, I own the liability.  There is no logical incentive to take on others’ work.  Opportunists will always ask for special favors.  They will always have favorite ITS staff on their mental speed dial for all things ETDR, including simple things that they can look up on Google or figure out themselves.  The constant being "online" during the pandemic gives people the sense of one's constant availability, as if one were some digital genie.  Several have made long lists of edits that they want made to their file, as if their work somehow is my direct responsibility.  For people who are nuisances (think emails every day or two), think "learned helplessness" about their own capabilities, think trying-to-delegate all their work to others, it is easy enough to block or to "ghost" them.  Such people do not take your word for it when you ask them to be responsible after one or two consultations.  They listen better if there is crickets.  With thin staffing, everyone has to protect themselves against burnout; it does hurt the team to let students assume that the staff are on call 24/7 for very simple questions that students themselves need to troubleshoot and address. That's the nature of the space and of people. 

And some rare students, even in normal circumstances, can get accusatory and negative.  

  • In one case, with a dissertation with literally tens of thousands of “moving parts,” one student was annoyed when she had copied her second title page as her first and had her dissertation file rejected.  It is her responsibility to check for adherence to the standards.  No ETDR person does a final walk-through after all changes are made. No ETDR staff “validates” a dissertation particularly since they only review a file for basic functionality and do not see a version that has been finally edited after the meeting.  That is the responsibility of the student. 
  • In another case, a graduate who had finished her degree and moved on contacted the ETDR staff to have them render digital images for her work, as if staff are on call forever after one or two consultations for the ETDR.  She made the request by email and never asked again once her request was put into the ticketing system.  Several students will have ETDR consultations. They will make a show of taking notes. Then, suddenly, they’ll not remember how to work a particular sequence. When pointed off to documentation materials and videos on YouTube, they insist on meeting via Zoom or in person (during a pandemic).  Sometimes students will undo the work that was done in an ETDR session. They’ll have deleted the corrections that they had put into place during the session.  Perhaps they are going back to their original mental track about the problem.  And they will ask to meet again.  And again.  In most cases, especially during the lead-up to the ETDR deadline, one meeting is all each student can schedule since there are others ahead of them who had not received any consultation at all.  
    • Some students are already very stressed due to their studies and perhaps due to their relationship with technologies.  A number of students will try to shift blame to staff even if staff never touched their file and may not have even seen the file in the past half-year.  Students sometimes just assume that the staff should know what their time zone is (how would a person reasonably guess?) and respond accordingly.  Those kinds of irrationalities make the work more complex.  
    • Some students will invite their friends to join a scheduled session without telling ETDR staff.
    • Some students will record the session by having another log-in to the Zoom…and recording from there.  (Kansas is one-party consent, so these are not students who are breaking the law per se…but the premise is an untrusting one.) 
    • During a session, one student went on a racialized rant as if that would motivate anyone on the staff to help her…and she has continuing putting in one ticket after another even after two support web conferencing meetings with two separate staff.  (In this case, she might do better going outside to hire someone to help her if she really has insufficient focus to learn the technology.)  Perhaps her unreasonable expectations for the amount of help available to her might be partially fueling her frustrations. Perhaps the personal attack was partially a product of the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic in combination with a lot of other pressures. Regardless, the student continued the harassment over a number of messages and only stopped when the associate dean of her college was notified. 

There is no benefit in having staff be any sort of “chokepoint” for those who want to finish their ETDRs.  The goal is to disintermediate this, to work myself out of having to do live consultations with students.  To achieve this, I have made a number of accessible videos to augment the print documentation.  This is why the informational content is broadly shared and the documentation for their usage is widely available.  We can give an assist where possible, but with staff focused on so many endeavors, people are not available for 24/7 help.  

Always respect (and candor) for the graduate students

Respect is important in all directions. 

Another important part to an ETDR consultation is to avoid overstepping bounds and respecting professional roles.  The quality of their work is up to their faculty advisor and the advisory committee. 

There is respect for the student as a professional-in-the-making.  If there are small typos, it may be possible to finesse a light observation, but one should leave it if the student is not interested.  Once students successfully defend their dissertations, the light use of “Dr.” to address them is meaningful to many.  

Acknowledging upsides to student sharing of knowledge

Students, of course, benefit the work by the questions they have. How should digital images be emplaced in Excel tables in an effective way with proper layout?  How can tables be coded into LaTeX as efficiently as possible?  How can left-right text justification be set up in the Body Text setting?  Why is it some dissertations are too large to process into a PDF format on one machine but not another? 

Recently, one student had his work declined by the Graduate School because of a wrong heading between one title page in the dissertation and the second title page.  The difference was so nuanced or subtle that I had never noticed that. 

During ETDR sessions, students can provide insight that help other students.  For example, I had just consulted with one student who had taken a number of images of classic artworks.  He had used flash, and so he had light reflectance off the protective glass shielding the artworks.  Because he was shooting up (instead of straight on) given how the paintings were hung, there were angle problems with the visual.  He wanted to use the visuals in his dissertation.  He had issues of IP to address, of course. But technically, he had no real valuable images to use given the angle.  I advised that he write to the owners of the paintings (the U.S. military, in this case) acquire both release and the high quality digitized versions.  I never did hear what happened with his endeavors, except that he said that he was able to have a person rework the visuals so that the reflectance and skew were addressed.  (Technically, I know how to remove the skew...but the reflectance challenge is less clear to me.)  Anyway, the student that I consulted with next had helpful insights about how he could shoot the visuals if he ever had access another time. 


Ideally, graduate students will focus mostly on their studies and research and careers, and the ETDR templates will not take up much of their attention.  When used properly, these are just a basic tool that enables them to present their research to the world. If used properly, these really do not demand much in terms of cognitive load.  

On the whole, students take responsibility for their work. They will "Google" their way to solutions and / or reach out to those they know.  Most are deeply polite.  Most sign into the web conferencing sessions in good time.  Most are considerate enough to calculate their local time around the world to CST to accommodate my schedule.  Most have superb follow-through on the work they say they will do.  One met me via Zoom from a doctor's office where she had taken her mother for a checkup.  One group of students conducted fieldwork even though they could not social distance in shared vehicles, early on in the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic.  Many were considerate enough to reach out to let me know once their ETDRs were accepted. 

All who support them really do want their best and highest.  We do not want to ruin their glorious moments of achievement.  We want all deadlines to be met.  We want students to acquire the skills needed to achieve their goals.  We work hard to empathize and understand and support.  Generally, it would help if students would reason through what proper expectations are for ETDR support and work with us; it would make the work less fraught.  In these challenging times, social niceties matter that much more as does the underlying mutual respect for all involved. 


About the Author

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer / researcher at Kansas State University.  In May 2021, she presented at the CHECK conference on "Editing Digital Imagery in Research:  Exploring the Fidelity-to-Artificiality Continuum."  The early draft slideshow for this presentation is available on SlideShare.  The video of her presentation, which opens with a "shallow fake" is available on YouTube.  Her email is  
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