Everyday Hero: Janet Holmes

Posted: June 17, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Editor’s note: this Daily Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”

Name: Janet Holmes

Years at Mason: 15

First Job at Mason: During her 15-year career at Mason, she has worked in three academic units, beginning at the Center for Artificial Intelligence in the School of Information Technology and Engineering, then moving to the School of Management, and finally landing in the dean’s office of the Graduate School of Education (GSE) (now the College of Education and Human Development). In 1999, she moved into her present position.

Current Position: Program manager of PhD in Education Program.

What She Does: With the help of a part-time work study student, Holmes handles all the inquiries coming into the program. “We get a fair number of international inquiries each year,” she says. In addition to handling the day-to-day administrative duties, she keeps track of all the doctoral candidates. She also organizes new student orientations, handles scheduling for doctoral applicant interviews, and coordinates the annual spring colloquium, which brings together students, alumni, and GSE faculty each year.

Number of Doctoral Candidates at This Moment: “Two-hundred thirty-eight,” says Holmes, without missing a beat—and she can show you all of them. Two bulletin boards in the PhD conference room hold the photos of the current students. She also tracks their progress throughout their program using an Access database.

Janet Holmes
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Time Permitted to Complete a PhD: “They are allowed 10 years,” she says. “Five years to complete the course work; five years to complete the dissertation.” A lot can happen over a decade. “I’ve seen some go through divorces, location moves, the loss of a parent. We have had a set of triplets and twins born to current students during my time in the program.”

Is There a Typical PhD Candidate?: They can be as young as their late 20s. The oldest so far as been 72. “Many of them are in their 40s,” she says. “So they have children at home and aging parents. Probably 99.9 percent work full time and are juggling families and dissertations.”

What She Enjoys Most About Her Job: “The wonderful friendships I have made” with the students. “Although, of course, I am happy when they graduate, I always hope they will keep in touch.”

The Most Unusual Thing that Has Happened to Her at Mason: “Within a 10-day period this year I had to call the paramedics twice,” she says. “Once to help a student who was having a severe asthma attack in my office. The second time was to assist an adjunct professor across the hall who had fainted. He had forgotten to take his insulin.”

On Keeping a Level Head During Stressful Times: Students who are defending their proposal and dissertation defenses are often very nervous prior to these meetings. “I try to take a little time to offer them encouragement.” There are three graduation deadlines throughout the year for PhD candidates. “Things get pretty tense each time one of those deadlines approaches. You are going to see some frantic people. I try to listen a lot and give support when needed.”

How She Is Able to Empathize with Them: Holmes is also an educator. She taught high school French and English for 14 years, mostly overseas in Department of State schools in Africa and Europe while her husband was in the foreign service.

On Being Mentioned in So Many Dissertations: Many of the brand-new PhDs thank Holmes in the acknowledgements section of the dissertation. “It’s fun. I love working at the university. Over the years I have seen so many changes, met so many interesting people. It is an honor to be part of the university community.”

What She Does for Fun: Holmes enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, traveling, tutoring French, and watching French and British movies. She also writes poetry in French and English and has had her work published in several anthologies.

What People Say About Her:

“I have relied on Ms. Holmes for numerous things. Bottom line is that she has always come through. She has consistently finessed many of the inevitable complications that arise from not being on campus on a regular basis. Although I was only a part-time student, Ms. Holmes provided me with full-time guidance and help. Her efforts made a meaningful difference in my studies. I’m fortunate to have had her on my side.”

—Nader Ayish, PhD, Class of 2004

“Janet Holmes is a very valuable resource for working graduate students. Since I work full time, I often had difficulty dropping off paperwork during office hours. Janet was always so flexible and accommodating, and helped me find a solution. There were times when I would get really down about my dissertation. Whether it was by e-mail or a phone conversation, Janet always encouraged me to stay on track and finish my dissertation. When adult students are in the final stages of writing and defending a dissertation, someone like Janet can make a great deal of difference.”

—Marilyn Rahilly, PhD, Class of 2004

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