LASER FAQ

“I have never really had a leadership experience and I am not sure I consider myself a leader, but I want to learn more. Is this an appropriate program for me?”

Yes, it is. Anyone who is motivated to learn more about themselves and their leadership potential are encouraged to apply. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone who applies will be accepted. Therefore, if you apply and are not accepted, there are other leadership opportunities through the Graduate School’s Professional Development program that you are encouraged to participate in.

What is “socially engaged research” and what does it have to do with leadership?

As an academic, you are a researcher first. Socially engaged research refers to research or researchers who make an effort to understand the social and ethical context of their work, and try to shape their work for positive impact in light of that context. We see this as an integral part of being a leader in the realm of research. Therefore, this program provides training and practice in both areas.

“Do I have to be nominated by a faculty member to apply?”

You do not need to be nominated to apply. However, you will need to have a letter of support from your advisor included in your application. I recommend that you have this conversation with your advisor early in the process so you can make sure to have the letter in hand by the time you intend to submit your application.

“What is required for an application?”

The application consists of a four-part cover letter, a letter of support from your advisor, and a CV. In-person interviews are also required for admission, but not for the initial application itself. You will be notified if you are selected for an interview.

“Do I have to have my leadership or social engagement project already lined up when I apply?”

The application will ask you to identify an activity that will allow to you practice both leadership and social engagement. However, you are not required to stick with what you propose. Some students refine or switch projects once the program starts.

“What will the interview cover?”

If you are selected for an interview, it will focus on your fit for the program in terms of your background and interests and a further discussion of your application materials.

“It says on the application that I should plan to devote around 3 hours a week for this program. What will I be doing during these 3 hours a week?”

There is a 3.5-hour weekday meeting scheduled every 3 weeks (see application for the proposed dates and times). In addition, throughout the year there are a few all-day weekend sessions to allow time for more in-depth workshops and presentations, often with guest speakers. On the weeks when there is no scheduled meeting, students are expected to be actively working on their project and preparing for the next scheduled meeting. Therefore, we believe that a student in this program will be using approximately 3 hours a week of their time to successfully navigate this program and its expectations.

“What do the seminars and day-long sessions involve? How will I be expected to prepare for them?”

The weekday seminars are comprised of guest speakers, student-led theory and praxis workshops, crucibles, roundtables, peer mentorship opportunities, and skills training. The all-day Saturday meetings are for ethics, social responsibility, emotional intelligence, and crucial conversations. All of these training opportunities have a focus on leadership and social responsibility. The group will meet face-to-face about 22 times during the program.
Previous guest speakers include:

  • Dr. Don Howard, Philosophy – Ethical Decision-making
  • John Geist, Pat Finneran, Laura Carlson, Bob Bernhard – Advisory Council Leadership Panel
  • Denny Faurote, The Faurote Group – Emotional Intelligence
  • Dr. Scott Sheehan, Senior Director, Molecular Design & Lead Generational Technologies, Eli Lilly – Leadership Insights
  • Dr. Joe Frontiera, Leadership and Organization Effectiveness, Electronic Arts – Crucial Conversations
  • Eric Love, ND HR – Diversity & Inclusion
  • Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, President, Amarillo College – Leadership Insights
  • Dr. Heidi Taylor, West Texas A&M – The Courage to Lead
  • Dr. Margaret Drugovich, Hartwick College – This is How I Lead

“What is a ‘practicum experience’? It seems to be an important part of the selection process and an integral part of the program.

Applicants need to identify an activity or project that they will undertake as their ‘practicum’ during the program. This project should involve some kind of leadership role for the student, and/or relate to the social or ethical implications of their research or field – preferably, both. A leadership role means that the student is undertaking some degree of responsibility for organizing a collective effort with others. Social and ethical implications of the field means how the research does or could relate to or impact communities of stakeholders in terms of the environment, the economy, technology, human health, policy formulation or in any other material way. Please see the next FAQ question for examples of possible projects.

The practicum project does not necessarily have to last the entire year of the program. If it is an intensive 3-month period of work or something shorter than the entire year of the program, it can still be appropriate. The project will be the primary active-learning opportunity for students in the program, so it is important that each participant has a meaningful project identified in which he or she can engage in during the program.

“What are some examples of an appropriate project that I can be engaged in during this program?”

Leadership, broadly defined is, the action of guiding or directing a group. Therefore, any role in which you have influence on the direction of a group may be used as a leadership role. Some examples include:

  • Starting a new outreach activity to the local community or general public within your department or lab
  • Engaging the public, policy makers or elected officials concerning an issue relevant to your research area
  • Leading a large lab group where you have increased responsibilities and oversee other grad students or undergrad students
  • Helping to raise relevant social or ethical issues for broader consideration within your field, for example through journal publications or starting special interest groups
  • Mentorship of a relevant undergrad student club
  • Serving as an officer of a disciplinary student organization
  • Leading a summer learning project through the Center for Social Concerns
  • Serving as the editor of a journal or industry publication
  • Volunteering at a community organization where you manage others
  • Organizing a conference or event related to your discipline or issues relevant to it

You will be asked to identify your leadership practicum experience in your application. Your proposed practicum will be discussed further during the interview. Even though it is recommended that you have a fully formed idea of what your practicum will be during the application process, you can change your idea between applying and starting the program. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of your identified leadership opportunity in relation to your application, please talk to the coordinators of the program, Dr. John Lubker or Dr. Mark Bourgeois.


“Do I need leadership/engagement experience?”

Although you will be asked to share your experiences with leadership in your application and during your interview, you do not need any prior formal leadership or engagement training to participate in this program.

“Can I be in the program if I have other funding already?”

Yes, you can be in program if I have other funding already as a graduate student. The stipend for this program will be in addition to whatever funding you already receive.

“Am I eligible as a non-citizen/international student?”

Yes, all 3rd and 4th year Ph.D. students are eligible for this program.

“A $1000 stipend, that’s great! Do I have to complete the entire program before I receive the money?”

The stipend will be distributed in three equal installments at the end of each academic semester – fall, spring, and summer.

“What if I cannot make some of the meeting dates/times as required? It seems like 100% attendance is expected?”

All participants are expected to attend all meetings. However, if there is a potential conflict with a conference, research trip, or something of that nature, missing a meeting will be allowed. If you know in advance that there will be meetings that you cannot attend, please mention this in your application.

“Who is eligible for this program?”

All 3rd and 4th year Ph.D. students are eligible for this program, regardless of discipline. Previous iterations of this program were only available to STEM students, but this one is open to every discipline at Notre Dame.

“How early in my program should I apply?”

This program is for students in their 3rd and 4th year of study. Therefore, you should apply in the spring of your 2nd or 3rd year.

“I am already beyond my 4th year, but I’m very interested in the program. Is there a way for me to participate?”

Unfortunately, no. However, there are other leadership training experiences that are offered through the Graduate School – Check out the Professional Development program page.

“What kinds of other leadership training opportunities are available through the Graduate School’s Professional Development program? Can I participate in those?”

Our Professional Development program offers a wide variety of workshops and there are other leadership workshops and opportunities throughout the year. As a Notre Dame graduate student, you are encouraged to attend other workshops.

“What kind of course credit will I receive? Will it count towards my degree?”

You will be enrolled in 1 credit hour each semester. It will count toward your degree but does not satisfy any course requirements your program may have.

“What will I be able to do with the skills/certificate/experience afterward?”

This training will develop a very broad range of skills beyond your disciplinary research skills. These skills should help you to exercise better leadership, refine your research plans for improved social impact, better understand the funding and policy dimensions of your research, improve your communication skills, and more. As such, the experience should serve to enhance your prospects on the job and grant markets while also helping you make better decisions about your career plans given your values and priorities. We hope it will also help make your work more impactful for society. At the same time, your project will help improve our community by providing positive social impacts.

“Can I put this on my CV?”

Absolutely. In addition, the course credit will appear on your transcript. In fact, it is something that may get you noticed!