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Glossary of Academic Terms

Updated: May 2, 2023

Hidden Curriculum – the unofficial and unwritten, terms, rules, norms, and jargon of academia.

Here is a list H3S compiled about the most misunderstood words for new hydrology students.

Abstract – a short summary of your research, usually about a paragraph long that covers the reason for the research, the important results, and key conclusions. Abstracts are submitted to academic conferences if you want to be selected to present your work.

Academic Twitter – generally refers to people on Twitter networking with colleagues across the globe and staying informed and contributing to the current conversations happening within your field.

Advisor – known by many titles but this is usually a university faculty member who will guide you as a graduate student through your master’s or doctorate. They will help select coursework, research topic, and committee members and will most likely chair your thesis committee.

All But Dissertation (ABD) – term used to describe a doctoral student who has completed all coursework, preliminary exams and other graduation requirements, but has not completed or defended their dissertation

Assistantship – a position you hold with the university while you pursue your degree. This position typically pays tuition, some or all of your health insurance and other university fees, and a living stipend. These can vary greatly between programs even within the same university. The three most common positions you can hold at the university are:

  1. Teaching Assistant (TA) – provide support and instruction for courses and labs or administrative support for the university.

  2. Research Assistant (RA)  – work on research related work for a professor or research scientist or support specified grant projects. This research may be what you write your dissertation on or it may be tangential to your research.

  3. Graduate Assistant (GA) – work for another university unit (libraries, student affairs division, graduate school office, etc.) where you perform administrative or other tasks that may not include teaching and research.

Colloquium – a class or lecture series within a university that usually has a different lecturer each week talking about their latest research.

Committee – a thesis/dissertation committee consists on average of three and five members, respectively. Your thesis/dissertation advisor is usually the chair of the committee.

Comprehensive Exam (Comps) – there are many different names for this step in the dissertation process and the format varies depending on the school and on the program (e.g. qualifying exam). In general, these exams are given to doctoral students nearing the end of their last year in the program to allow the student to demonstrate their comprehensive knowledge of the discipline as well as defend their proposed research objectives for their dissertation. Once you have successfully passed this exam you move from being a doctoral student to a doctoral candidate.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) – a special type of resume traditionally used within the academic community. Earned degrees, teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, and related service activities are featured. Unlike a resume, a CV tends to be longer and more informational than promotional in tone.

Defense – the final examination on a graduate student’s dissertation or thesis. The graduate student explains and defends the accuracy and significance of the research and arguments in their dissertation or thesis. The committee will then question the student to test their full understanding of the topic.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) – programs and procedures that promote inclusive, multicultural, and equitable academic environments for people from different backgrounds. Can include accessibility and justice as well (e.g. AJEDI).

Fellowship – an option for funding graduate studies that does not involve a position in an assistantship (defined above).

  1. Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GFRP) – an NSF grant that “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend and cost of education allowance”

Funding Agency – the organization that provides money through grants for your research. Some common funding organizations within the United States are: National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy (DOE).

Graduate Certificate – an abbreviated graduate curriculum in which a student completes courses in a specific subject to acquire new/additional knowledge at the graduate level.

GRE – the common exam taken in order to attend graduate school. During the COVID pandemic and amid calls to end the use of the GRE in admissions because it is biased toward white, wealthy students, many programs no longer require this exam.

H-index – a metric used to assess the relative significance and broad impact a scientist has made to their field. This value is based on publications and citations. Academics with a higher h-index have a higher status than those with a lower h-index.

Impact Factor – a metric used to assess the relative importance of an academic journal within a field. This number is based on the yearly mean number of citations of articles published in the last two years in a given journal, as indexed by Web of Science. Journals with higher impact factor values are given the status of being more important, or carry more prestige in their respective fields, than those with lower values.

Learning Management System (LMS) – an online portal for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation, and delivery of classes

Mentor – someone who gives you advice and guidance. Ideally, you will want mentors that can assist you with the general topic of your research, the nitty-gritty details of your work, writing and communicating your results, strategic planning, and your career path.

Open access – journals that are free for the general public to read.

Pedagogy – the theory and practice of teaching students in a way to maximize learning.

Postdoctoral associate (Postdoc) – a type of position open to individuals who have just completed their Ph.D. Some “postdocs” require teaching, however, most are dedicated exclusively to research

Predatory journals – “entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices” according to Grudniewicz et al., 2019

Principal Investigator (PI) – a person within the university, usually a professor, who is responsible for the preparation, conduct, and administration of a research grant, cooperative agreement, or other sponsored project. As a graduate student, typically the PI will be your advisor and the chair of your committee.

Professional Organization – a group that brings together professionals of a discipline for the sharing of research and continual development of that field. Usually, graduate students, postdocs, and more senior professionals will present their research at a conference held by one of these organizations. Some common professional organizations for hydrologists are:

American Geophysical Union (AGU), Hydrology Section Student Subcommittee (H3S)

Young Hydrologic Society (YHS),

European Geophysical Union (EGU),

Geological Society of America (GSA),

American Water Resources Association (AWRA),

Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA),

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE),

International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS),

Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI).

Publishing – when an academic article gets accepted by an academic journal and is printed either online or in print.

  1. Submission fee – the cost associated with reviewing and publishing an article that is submitted to the journal. This is usually paid for the author of the paper with grant funds.

  2. Blinding – removing any names or references that would make it clear to the reviewer who the authors are.

  3. Single blind review – reviewers know the authors but the authors don’t know the reviewers.

  4. Double blind review – both reviews and authors are anonymous.

  5. Revise and Resubmit (R&R) – reviewers have looked over your manuscript and decided there needs to be some changes before the work is published. You need to revise the article taking into account the reviewer’s comments and resubmit it back to the same journal when you think it is ready. These revisions could be considered major (large substantive problems) or minor (wording or small errors).

R1 Institution – this denotes a doctoral university that has very high research activity according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Around 150 universities in the United States are designated R1. R2 denotes a doctoral university with high research activity.

Research/Thesis/Dissertation Credits – non-course related credits that are granted for work on your thesis or dissertation. A certain number of these credits are needed to obtain your graduate degree.

Science Communication (SciComm) – a discipline dedicated to understanding and promoting effective communication of science to diverse audiences.

Science Policy – a discipline dedicated to advocacy and communication of science to ensure policymakers are using the most up to date information to draft laws and regulations.

Service – volunteer work conducted for a department, college, university, or external organization.

Stipend – money paid to a graduate student for their work as a researcher to use toward expenses in addition to the money an assistantship will pay for tuition, fees, insurance, etc. Yes, you can get paid to go to grad school!

Tenure – an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause (ex. fraud, embezzlement, theft, violation of the code of conduct) or under extraordinary circumstances.

Tenure Track – the typical progression of a person who gets hired to a tenured track position is as follows with tenure being granted with the promotion from assistant professor to associate professor:

  1. Assistant Professor – typically entry-level for tenure track positions which lead to Associate Professor

  2. Associate Professor – a mid-level, usually tenured, faculty member

  3. Full Professor – the destination of the tenure track, upon exhausting all promotions other than those of special distinction

  4. Adjunct, Research Associate, Lecturer, Instructor, Visiting Professor – usually non-tenure-track positions, sometimes with their own respective ranking hierarchies

Thesis/Dissertation – the independent research project conducted by a graduate student that is novel and a significant contribution to the field. This results in a final paper that will vary in form and length depending on the discipline and nature of the research project. A thesis is usually undertaken by a master’s student while a dissertation is associated with a doctoral student.

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