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Linda Dykstra began her career at Carolina as a post-doctoral researcher 50 years ago in the Department of Pharmacology. As the first-ever female dean of The Graduate School, we spoke with her in honor of Women’s History Month.

Linda Dykstra wearing a blue shirt and glasses
Linda Dykstra

Dykstra spent her career focused on the behavioral effects of drugs as an expert in both pharmacology and psychology. She served as dean of The Graduate School from 1996 until 2008.

Her work with graduate students began shortly after coming to Carolina from the University of Chicago. She trained many of them in her lab in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, housed in the College of Arts & Sciences. In time, she began serving on The Graduate School’s administrative board under Dean Henry Dearman.

“I became interested in what The Graduate School was doing, and since I was training a lot of graduate students, it was close to my heart,” she said. “It just seemed to marry so much with what I was doing on an everyday basis.”

During her tenure as dean, Dykstra recalled leading the first attempts to secure health insurance for graduate students and to support tuition remission efforts for graduate student recruitment. An early initiative Dykstra supported included increasing diversity among graduate students, including American Indian students, which launched a center in 2006.

“Some of our efforts in graduate education included how to make Carolina more of a welcoming environment and to recruit a more diverse group of students,” Dykstra said. “Your efforts become more directed at making sure that anybody who would not feel immediately welcome in the community does feel welcome and there is a place for them.” Following Dykstra’s time as dean, The Graduate School launched its Diversity and Student Success program under the leadership of Kathy Wood ’92.

Dykstra said when she joined her department, few women served on the faculty. She credited their chair with supporting women, especially as Dykstra became a mother.

“I really do credit the people who came before me,” Dykstra said. “Being in that supportive atmosphere is something we want to extend to other people: to students, to faculty, and throughout the University.”

Dykstra said she hopes her legacy at Carolina is multi-pronged. First, she is proud of establishing and overseeing external funding for a research program that continued for decades. Secondly, she is proud of the ways in which she supported graduate education, raising funds for graduate fellowships, and in recognizing graduate students’ contributions to the University. Lastly, she is proud of her work to help establish the Royster Society of Fellows, the University’s premier doctoral recruitment fellowship.

“You could see how the departments were really committed to their training,” Dykstra said, “And at articulating how central graduate education is to the entire university mission.”

Dykstra holds an adjunct appointment in the department and is in her final year as co-director of the SPIRE postdoctoral fellowship program. 

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