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Tag: Advising

Brand Loyalty

After two days at the IIE Annual Conference in Montréal, I was heading to Atlanta early Tuesday morning for the FAA PEGASAS Center of Excellence Annual Meeting. The FAA meeting is for briefing our program managers about our recent progress and technical results; the IIE meeting is about much more. It’s about catching up with old colleagues, prior students, and interesting ideas. I found myself presenting some of Liang’s work in a technical session chaired by one of my academic grandchildren (one of Sandra Garrett’s advisees at Clemson), and becoming an impromptu moderator at Siobhan’s presentation. But, in a dinner discussion with Siobhan and Jake, and two students from Clemson, we also discussed what seems to be another big element of the IIE Meeting: the polo shirts.

 

I have spoken and written before about GROUPER as brand, as an iconic representation and embodiment of the lab and our topics and style of applied human factors engineering and human-systems integration research / development. We have GROUPER pins, but sometimes I wonder if we need a GROUPER logo shirt. It’s always a good idea to talk to people when you get creative ideas, because I heard some interesting views over dinner. Let’s be clear: IIE Meetings are in part about branding, and presenting and highlighting particular brand is important for many of the attendees. Far from being immune, Purdue IE is one of the prime examples of blatant name recognition and placement. Since 2011, we have sponsored the badge holders for the conference, which means it looks like everyone at IIE is from Purdue. (The badge holders are actually quite nice for those of us who really are from Purdue, as they work well for carrying passports and travel documents. The name-themed, school-color holders are perhaps not quite so enjoyable for those from Ohio State or North Carolina State—whose logo has been emblazoned on hotel key cards longer than we’ve done the badge holders.) We are the home of “Rethink IE,” which is a call to consider the evolution of the profession. But there seems to be something else, and something that is not always seen as good, in pushing one’s brand too far.

 

Because I had to go directly to the FAA briefing after I get off the plane, I decided to wear my Purdue Industrial Engineering polo shirt this morning.   I also wore it at the Saturday night reception. Yes, I wore black and gold colors, and my GROUPER and Rethink IE pins (both pinned to the badge holder, on the other days of the conference. But a number of students at the IIE meeting do something I have never seen anywhere else in my conference experience. Several times I have found myself walking down the hall to a technical session, only to see a cluster of identically-clad students. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not going to fixate on particular rivalries or comparisons. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the scarlet shirts with the O and buckeye leaves (Ohio State), or the white shirts with the Puerto Rican flag (University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez), or white shirts with a red stylized boar (Arkansas).   They are proud and pleased to represent their “team” in a coherent and unitary manner. (And, as I have previously written, I get it when you talk about who’s your team.)

 

Several of the comments over dinner expressed wonder and potential worry over this form of team representation. Would it be seen as a positive sign of camaraderie to have all of the lab appear in identical shirts, or would it be considered a demonstration of excessive conformity? Both Siobhan and Liang are working in the area of healthcare (which we describe as PERCH), but even though they both have the same advisor, they’re not using the same approaches or even addressing the same types of methods. This summer, we’re also making progress on DOLPHIN and CORAL elements of information visualization and sonification (Jake’s presentation at the IIE meeting). What I didn’t expect to hear is that this is something of a recruiting advantage for a subset of people, especially those who have a set of diverse interests and unique perspectives on the changing world of humans, engineering systems, and coordinated / distributed information and expertise in teams. While the lab has grown to a size and capability that active recruiting is not a priority for us, several of our current students started out as interesting conference conversations. GROUPER is not just a recognized brand in our community, but one to which our current students and alumni/ae are very loyal. Ours is not just a university level brand highlighting Purdue, but a unique brand at the level of the individual laboratory. What increases the value of the brand is exciting and transformative research, with excellent and compelling presentations, and not just fancy polo shirts worn in unison. We do have the logos on the slides, and we do wear our GROUPER pins with pride. (However, if you really want a polo shirt anyway, do let me know.)

 

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Who’s Your Team?

(After a recent entry entitled, They Got Game, you might think that this is turning just into a sports blog.  I promise: neither that entry nor this one is only, or even primarily, about sports.)

 

After a glut of sporting festivity, the college football bowl season and first round of NFL playoffs are now history.  (Because of the winter storm and “polar vortex” that deposited 10 in / 25 cm of snow, followed by temperatures of -22F / -30C, my satellite receiver has been offline since midday Sunday.  Supposedly, there was a fairly entertaining football game on Monday evening.  I hope someone enjoyed it.)  People who know me know that I’m a fairly intense sports fan, and I have followed both college and professional football (and college women’s basketball) for most of my life.  I have also lived in a number of locations and developed attachments to quite a few teams.  (I’m going to assume that at least a few current or alumni GROUPERs were pretty pleased with the outcomes of the Rose and Orange Bowls.)  So, it’s not surprising when I’m asked, Who’s your team?

 

This was an interesting philosophical question put to me by a close friend while we were watching one or another of the various games.  It became a philosophical question when it was pointed out to me that I was getting more upset at the commentary by the announcers than who was actually winning on the field.  It’s understandable to be disappointed when the team you’re rooting for is losing.  However, my friend pointed out that I was annoyed even when I wasn’t cheering specifically for one of the two teams playing on the field.  Suddenly, I realized that this might not just be about sports.  Fortunately, my friend and I prefer very analytical discussions, so we started to analyze it.  When I have a team that I feel an affiliation to (I consider them a version of “us”), I want them to win.  (If I don’t have an affiliation to the other team, I am perfectly thrilled to have “us” win by a large margin, in what might otherwise be seen as a poor matching of teams.)  But more importantly, I want the game to be exciting and entertaining.  I want the officiating to be consistent, appropriate, and responsive to the rules as they are currently in place.  (Like many fans, I comment about the officiating.  However, I also will frequently observe the penalty and announce both the penalty and penalized player, before the referee does so.  Did I mention I’ve been an intense fan for a long time?)  I don’t like it when the official misses calls.  But I will frequently accept that “we” had a bad play instead of always assuming a “bad ref” when a penalty is called against “us”.  Why is this?  If I want the referees to do their job appropriately (without bias or favoritism), I feel obliged to acknowledge and “own” our errors as well.    I respect good announcers who point out important elements of the game play.  However, I found myself profoundly upset when an announcer would shift from one bias to another just based on the most recent event, using general references that they’ve heard as “it’s generally known” or “everybody thinks that”… (Using trite catchphrases, especially with wrong or mixed metaphors, will always draw specific ire from me.)

 

This suggests that there is another level of affiliation going on; this other affiliation applies both to the active participation in research at GROUPER and the spectator role for a football game.  It’s not just about sportsmanship, although that’s part of it.  Let’s call it the search for The Better Rule, Well Applied (BRWA).  As you know, academics have their rankings, the equivalent of the Coaches’ Top 25 poll.  The analogy is pretty strong: the rankings for the top US IE graduate programs are voted on by the department heads of those IE programs.  So, I can be excited or upset that Purdue is #10.  But wait.  Let’s look at MIT, ranked #3.  I have an affiliation with MIT, so I should see them as “us,” right?  They don’t have any degree program called Industrial Engineering.  How about Stanford or Cornell?  Great universities.  But there are more people in human factors in Purdue IE than at the corresponding programs (again, not all IE) in those three universities combined.  They don’t do IE human factors.  This issue challenges how we might use the rankings.  I’m actually less concerned about our actual ranking than the distortion.  Hence, this is an issue of BRWA, not just whether we’re better than the (logically nonexistent) competition at a specific other department.

 

Over the past several years, I’ve had a number of students trying to pick their dissertation topics.  Some of the topics were exotic; others were relatively mundane.  However, I am concerned at how often a topic is considered unworthy because there’s not enough funding in that area.  “Well, you need to compete for, and obtain, competitive grant funding.  You need to show your colleagues at the highly ranked programs how much money you’re bringing in, and place your students at those programs.”  But hold on, my BRWA affiliation screams.  The program at XYZ university doesn’t, and won’t, have an opening in human factors.  My student would rather work in (and is better suited towards) industry or government than a research academic position.  Isn’t graduate training about seeking out creative and innovative solutions that push the frontiers of knowledge and understanding?  Isn’t the PhD supposed to be about supporting the student’s career development, more than mine—in other words, preparing them for what suits them, and appropriately emphasizing their strengths towards their best fitting pathway?

 

Sometimes, it feels like it is playing a different sport.  Some football folks talk about “winning at all costs”; others talk about integrity and sportsmanship.  They’re supposedly playing the same game, but in reality, they’re not.  In sports, and in research, maybe I’m not just playing for “winning”.  It feels like I’m playing for Truth.  In the lab, what sport are we playing?  Which “Game” do we need to bring?  My sport seems to be University (knowledge, understanding, career preparation), and I want to be a starter—or even captain—on the special GROUPER squad on the BRWA team.  Our team colors include Consent and Connection. …

 

This may not even be recognizable to other people.  It could sound like I’m rooting for the Montana team in the NFL playoffs.  (Um, not only is there no professional football team in state of Montana, there is no NFL team in any US state that borders on Montana.  Alberta and Saskatchewan have Canadian Football League (CFL) teams.  The CFL championship was played last November.)  How do you recruit for a team in a sport that others might not even see as the right sport to be playing?  Again, this is an interesting philosophical point.  For instance, why is the team BRWA, instead of GROUPER?  GROUPER can’t answer all questions, about all subjects—we specialize in human factors and systems engineering, and you need more than that to do well in University.  These questions aren’t irrelevant to working at Purdue in IE, even if they seem to be ignoring “reality”.  If we don’t ask the question, or consider the options, we never make our team or our sport better.

 

(By the way, the 2013 CFL Grey Cup Most Valuable Player was Kory Sheets, who was a running back for Purdue.)

Who Do You Think You Are?

Well, sometimes you get stuck on a theme.  There have been several topics that have been at the forefront of my thinking over the past month, coming largely from the experience at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Annual Meeting in San Diego.  Although there were only two current GROUPERs there, I did get to interact with a number of former students, as well as others who sought me out and seemed truly eager to interact with me during the meeting.  In that light, I thought about naming this entry, “Back from Cali”.  However, after reading the song lyrics, I decided that maybe I didn’t want to reference the song by Slash (even though Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, is originally from Lafayette, IN).  How about “Back to Cali”?  No, the LL Cool J lyrics aren’t suitable either.  Even becoming snarky didn’t help.  “Title of the Entry” reminded me immediately of the song by DaVinci’s Notebook.  So, yes, I am aware of a song reference above.  Apparently, I can’t escape it.

So, what was so important that I now have all of this music in my head?  Well, it was a great room, with a wonderful view, but it wasn’t just about the view, or even the boat.

20131001_112626

One thing I noticed frequently is that the capacity for positive effect that one may have on others should not be trivialized.   I’m not always aware of this, and the meeting in San Diego was a great reminder of the power of the effect.  Three former GROUPERs (and one honorary GROUPER) are now involved with the Society in positions of leadership.  Sandra Garrett is on the HFES Executive Council with me; members of the Technical Program Committee for 2013 included Michelle Rogers (Workshops) and Erik Wakefield (Product Design) as well as Ron Boring (Interactive Sessions and Posters).  Let me mention Erik for a moment.  When I first started working with him, he was working in the College of Technology, with what seemed to be a bizarre idea—let’s have sports scores and updates that can be pushed, real time, to someone’s mobile device.  Except that this was 2005-06, before iPhone and Galaxy smartphones.  He got the project done, graduated, got a job, and… developed.  First in one company, then another, and then another, with HFES as his primary professional affiliation.  He’s a senior engineer now, and working on some cool projects.  When I saw him in San Diego, I noticed the difference, and mentioned it.  And I said that I was proud of how he’d developed.  Apparently, that had an effect—he went out of his way to mention it in one of his status updates (check on October 1, 2013).  And that’s what got me thinking.  We can have an effect that we don’t recognize, until someone points it out to us.

In my previous entry, “Eaten up with Curiosity,” I mentioned how much I was affected as an adolescent by the Rudyard Kipling story about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  Well, as it turns out, the Chuck Jones Gallery was just a few blocks away from the hotel, right in the midst of the Gaslamp District.  I passed the gallery nearly every day, and Thursday evening, decided that I simply had to stop by.  I confess that I took along a young colleague who had been expressing the desire and enjoyment of engaging in conversation and challenge; although it’s hard (and a bit arrogant) to simply wake up one morning to say, “I think I’m going to mentor that person today,” I did truly enjoy helping and encouraging them to consider their capability and career path from a variety of perspectives.  So, in any case, we stopped by the Gallery, just for me to explore what might be there.  And, behold, in one of the smaller rooms of the gallery, was a picture of Rikki.  Actually, a production cel.  A nice piece of animation history.  So, there was a bit of passion expressed, moderated by a sense that such things were still beyond me.

Rikki_detail

Detail of Rikki cel. Copyright, Chuck Jones Entertainment

Who was Rikki?  Just a pet?  Or the hero of an epic confrontation, sung into history?  Again, this is an entry about who we think we are. Sometimes we forget, or get stuck in a past version of who we might have been at some point in the past.  I tend to call that past version “the ramen-eating guy in my head”.  As an undergrad (and somewhat as a grad student), I was always watching every penny; once, when I found a $20 bill on the street in a puddle, I rejoiced—that was food for a month!  This was someone desperate to show he could belong, that he could do something of note in the academic environment.  Thirty years later, that ramen-eating guy still shows up sometimes.  I have to remind myself that’s not where I am now.  I have students eager to work with me.  Former students greet me, and are thrilled to show me their new business cards.  Others whom I never would have guessed knew about me seem honored to meet me; they’ve heard such wonderful stories about me.  How I treat them now may not seem like much, but it can have a tremendous effect on their life and future.  Who knows which young and eager student will become the next leader of our field?

These are lessons that I am very pleased to learn, with importance for my life both now and into the future.  I thank all those who helped me with these insights and learnings.

Excuse me.  I have to open a package from San Diego.   It’s a reminder never to underestimate who we are.  Rikki has arrived.

Eaten up with Curiosity

The motto of all of the mongoose family is “Run and find out,” and Rikki-Tikki was a true mongoose.

–Rudyard Kipling

We find ourselves in the midst of a new academic semester, with the variety of challenges that face us in terms of schedules, task demands, and burdens both voluntarily and involuntarily shouldered.  In one sense, it is as it always has been; but for each individual, it may be the very first time of an experience that defines and influences the remainder of one’s life.  I have been thinking about this with the current configuration of GROUPER, and the need to help students make progress on existing dissertation topics or create new ones.   This is not always an easy task, and though I have gone through this process over 50 times (with over 30 MS students and 14 PhD students advised, plus the students whom I have assisted in various less formal ways) on this side of the desk, there are always elements worth learning and improving.

Maybe it is simply the number of times that an issue presents itself within the period of a few weeks that it becomes more salient, and the gap between what is and what could be becomes more evident.  Let’s assume that it may be no more than that, although a friend of mine was just mentioning today how there can be periods when one becomes much more open to insight and jumps in one’s self-learning.  But there has been something about the question, “What should I do for my research?” that has struck me in very different ways this fall than in the past.  I am asking myself different questions about my own research and career pathways; I am reminded of writings and insights from when I first arrived at Purdue.  And of course, in the senior project design course, there is always the sense of importance to get the students—so used to textbook problem configurations and well-organized linkages between the information given and the equation to use—to start creating for themselves a system definition and sense of their own active participation in defining the problem to solve as a necessary part of being an engineer.    And as an engineer myself, such gaps between what is and what could be are always met in my head with, “What do we do about it?”

And yet, there was something that I couldn’t quite bridge on my own in the conversations with the members of the lab.  Where does one go to get ideas?  How does one start the organization of facts and methods and tasks that gets one from classroom student to nascent researcher?  Over the past month, I began to see that it was not just as simple as a statement in our “1:1 meetings” (as the nearly weekly individual meetings I have with all of members of the lab are known) to go figure out an interesting question.  Interestingly enough, this recognition for me comes from a couple of sources, as I am again reminded that I don’t seem to approach the world in a way that is like most of those around me.  Apparently, there are graduate seminars taking place in departments around the country (not just engineering departments, but bench sciences, literature, philosophy, sociology…) where students are encouraged and instructed to read through a bunch of journal papers or monographs or book chapters and determine which questions still required further study.  (For the record, I took such seminars myself: it’s how I first learned, in 1985 and 1986, of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s work on cognitive strategies or the cultural specificity of the fundamental attribution error.  I loved those papers.  I just didn’t define my dissertation that way.)

Benson Snyder, in the 1960s and 1970s, discussed a critical issue affecting higher education, one that has come to be known as “the hidden curriculum”.   (The “hidden curriculum” of the book’s title and premise is the informal sociological and socialization process of how and when to learn, not just what to learn.) This book seems to have had a very significant effect on me—not just because I have read through it multiple times (I still own a copy of the 1973 edition of the book), but because I can now see that much of the curriculum I experienced at MIT was shaped in part by the studies Snyder reports of students there 20 years prior.  As I am teaching undergraduate statistics again after several years away from teaching it (but never far away from using it), I am also freshly sensitized to the processes of how to learn, and not just what.  And this is how I started to recognize some of what I was finding vaguely concerning in the lab.

As an undergrad, one of the most telling philosophies of innovation and excellence I ever heard was one that was directly told to me as to why I had so much latitude in organizing my activities for my work-study job.  “I’ve found that it’s best to give good people resources, and then get out of their way.”  For me, that was an excellent and empowering approach, since I was never at a loss for ideas or novel approaches or unusual ways of thinking (at least ways deemed unusual by teachers or professors).  In fact, I recently came to think about this as something I found exceptionally compelling in a cartoon I saw as an adolescent: Chuck Jones’ animated version of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, narrated by Orson Welles.   Rikki is perpetually curious, and fiercely protective, and powerful in ways that are belied by his small size and friendly interactions.  But isn’t everyone curious in this way of mongooses?  Isn’t everyone driven to “run and find out”?  Isn’t that part of the essential “inside” of every researcher?

No, says the hidden curriculum.  Students are socialized to learn which questions are the “right” questions, and these questions are “best” defined in an outside-in way.  The existing corpus defines the way the field is configured, and thus how new questions should be approached.  But wait… 60 years ago, we didn’t have plate tectonics or the cognitive revolution—just working from existing papers published in 1953 wouldn’t have gotten you there, and certainly wouldn’t have gotten you accepted within the “standard” configuration.  The same is true with statistical process analysis or scientific project management 100 years ago, or pharmacy or aerodynamics 150 years ago, or electrical and thermodynamic processes 250 years ago.  And yet, my learning and research now derives from all of those innovations.  Someone has to move beyond the standard, outside-in framework, and be ready to do the new work and meet the new challenges (and face the inevitable questions and criticisms that such an approach will engender).

It’s obvious to me now that it takes a lot more than a brief instruction to a graduate student to think in terms of the problems in the world of task environments, and interacting with people who live in those task environments.  (Although an introvert, I find it natural and obvious to talk to someone about the challenges of their work.  It’s easier for me than making other types of small talk.)  I begin to wonder, though—have I been assuming that, just by osmosis or creating a supportive environment, anyone and everyone will be “eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity,” as Kipling put it?  Might they need more help than that?

If you were expecting an answer to these questions… sadly, you will have to wait with me for that.  I’ve asked the lab to help me understand what I’m doing that’s different, and how the hidden curriculum has affected and shaped them up to this point (although I didn’t ask it of them quite that way).  But at the very least, asking the question is an important part of the process, and an essential element of making progress.  There are cobras threatening the bungalow of higher education… bringing in and raising a mongoose is not a bad idea.

Finishing with the Start in Mind

Hmm, Caldwell, that’s not how the Stephen Covey Habit goes.  Yeah, I know…

 

It’s not that the summer has parboiled my brain — I’ve had several pleasant vacations and focused quite actively on the concept of taking time for myself and prioritizing my own relaxation and recovery.  And in fact, we talk a lot in the lab about the excitement of connections and possibilities that come from having a bold imagination.  However, the steps involved with getting from being a brand new grad student to a freshly minted PhD combine a bit of imagination (beginning with the end in mind) with a lot of perseverance (focusing on the next step).  It’s great to have a great goal and imagine all sorts of wonderful outcomes… but as the Taoist Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, with a focus on the ground immediately below one’s feet.

 

As a systems engineer, I also think of the world as a set of nested feedback control systems.  This weekend, I am getting ready to complete the graduation ceremony with placing the doctoral hood on my new PhD GROUPER alumna Marissa Vallette.  The joy of the weekend also has me thinking very intently about how Marissa arrived into the lab.  In our exit interview a few weeks ago, that initial meeting was the source of a very rich conversation.  Every student is different, with a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses (“opportunities for additional development”).  Marissa is one of the ones who, by all accounts, is likely to want to organize your files, keep track of the calendar, and ask several times exactly what is meant by that correction in paragraph 5 on page 73.  (This is by no means a complaint.  Sometimes, when you’re working on a dissertation, that’s exactly what you need to focus on.  And I am indebted to Marissa for taking on the role of organizing the GROUPER lab calendar and several of our lab documents for two years.)  And, please recall, GROUPER works on a somewhat unusual recruitment and selection model: existing members of the lab are strongly engaged in interviewing and providing feedback on potential new members.

 

I am amused when people ask Marissa how she started in GROUPER.  One version of the answer is that BSC passed the interview.  Yes, she started with a list of questions for me (reproduced with permission from MAV):

 

  • On average, how many years does it take to graduate an M.S. and/or Ph.D. student?
  • How many M.S. and/or Ph.D. students have you graduated?
  • How many M.S. and/or Ph.D. students do you currently advise?
  • Are you tenured?
  • How do you incorporate your background (e.g., research, industry experience) to industrial engineering?
  • What other commitments do you have both on- and off-campus?
  • What is your advising style? For instance, is it guided or un-guided?
  • What is your availability? For instance, how quickly do you respond to e-mails? How frequently would I be able to meet with you one-on-one?
  • Aside from departmental requirements, what is your philosophy on selecting a committee (for an M.S. and/or Ph.D. defense)?
  • How do you run your research lab?
  • What are your/the lab’s current research interests?
  • What are your/the lab’s current research projects?
  • What, if any, are the requirements/expectations of your graduate students? For instance, do you require them to publish journal papers and/or attend conferences? Are there lab meetings?
  • What funding opportunities are available both inside and outside your research lab?

 

Overall, not a bad set of questions, and if you are a student who considers themselves in need of a bit more “active involvement” from their advisor, you really want to get answers to these questions.   I admit that I would have had trouble answering these questions as a brand new faculty member—both because I wouldn’t have had positive answers to many of the questions, and because I wouldn’t have been able to articulate my philosophy as well then.  But, as Marissa said, it was good that a) I did have answers to these questions, and b) that I didn’t mind her asking them.  I certainly want to have a good fit and ongoing relationship with my students, and it is definitely not the case that my students are all reproductions of me.  I want that sort of interaction, and a mutual agreement on goals and priorities, because it is that sort of agreement that helps manage the rough patches of the graduate experience.

 

In retrospect, she’s not even the first (or last) member of GROUPER to have interviewed me with such questions.  For the new crops of students about to start their graduate careers in the next few weeks, I would recommend that they come up with their own list of questions, for themselves and for a potential advisor.  In the long run, my grad students can be seen as “colleagues displaced in time” (a phrase I adopted some years ago to reflect my desire to have a strong professional relationship with GROUPERs as they continue on in their careers).  In the short term, I have an exceptionally powerful and controlling role and responsibility for their progress and completion.  That’s not boastful egotism.  That is a recognition of the way academia works in a doctoral-granting research program.  In all of the research conferences I’ve attended, one of the most frequent questions asked (sometimes just after “Where’d you go to grad school?” but sometimes even before that) is “Who was your advisor?”  Those relationships are vital, and can easily make the difference in your life for decades after you leave that grad lab for the last time.  So, I am quite pleased that I was able to have this time, on this graduation weekend, to reflect on lessons I got to learn with a brand new doctoral student and her questions at the beginning of her GROUPER program.

Bringing Sexy Back (A Post from Natalie)

Instead of just hearing from me, we’re starting to add more posts from more members of the lab, and from more perspectives.  The first is from Natalie Benda, who is now a happy and proud GROUPER alumna.  Here’s an insight from her:

 

My journey to Purdue begins in Dubuque, IA, “the home of America’s river”. (Yes, that is what the sign says when you cross into my county). When I was younger, I always thought I would end up going into medicine. I come from a family where you were the odd one out if you did not work in the healthcare field. Knowledge of medicine was a pre-requisite for the majority of the conversations that when on at the “grown-ups” table when I was growing up. My parents even met in a hospital where they have worked for a combined total of about sixty years. So, naturally I chose to study engineering in college. That makes sense, right? No? Well, it will eventually.

 

In high school, when discussing my prospects for secondary education, many times I heard something along the lines of, “You’re good at math and science, you should be an engineer.” It must have stuck at some point, because I started to do my about it. I found the descriptions and coursework for computer, electrical, civil, mechanical and even biomedical engineering, were less than intriguing. I did not want to be in a lab or at a computer all day tinkering away with components.  In the words of my favorite mermaid, I wanted to be where the people were! So, when I came across material on industrial engineering, which emphasized the human aspect of engineering, it was a no-brainer.

 

With a newly found excitement for my presumed, I began the search for a school. My criteria – get out of Iowa but remain within driving distance, and find a large university with a strong reputation for industrial engineering. The three main schools I looked at were Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Urbana and Purdue. My junior year of high school, my mother and I trekked through a blizzard to visit Purdue on what was probably one of the coldest days of the year. I wish I could give a non-cliché account of all of the wonderful qualities that drew me to Purdue during this first visit, but I can’t. It just felt like the right fit, and I never looked back.

 

Fast-forward to my sophomore industrial engineering seminar. Although I was excited about getting out of freshman engineering classes and into my chosen discipline, I didn’t feel I had found that extra-curricular activity niche that many of my classmates had. Until one day, our seminar speaker gave a presentation regarding opportunities for industrial engineers in healthcare. Do you remember my rant about being destined to work in healthcare earlier? Is it starting to make a little more sense?

 

So, after their speech, I approached the speaker to learn more about how I could get involved in healthcare engineering at Purdue. It turned out she was a member of GROUPER. As many of you know, GROUPER works in many areas besides healthcare, however as Dr. C. says it is the new, sexy field for IE’s. This healthcare component was what initially drew me to the lab. What kept me there was breaking down the barriers of traditional engineering and finding ways to connect people and systems through communication. If you can’t tell by my quoting Disney movies and titling my entry after a Justin Timberlake song, I do not like to be subject to societal norms. And GROUPER is far from the norm.

 

In my two plus years as a GROUPER, I performed many tasks from managing the lab’s schedule to statistical analysis supporting Ph. D. research, and managed to stumble across some research of my own in the process. After organizing the lab’s document library, I found I had a special interest in chronic disease adherence. So, with the help of Dr. C. and the Medication Safety Network of Indiana, I designed a study that analyzed information flow between patients and pharmacists in pharmacy consultations for congestive heart failure medications. I could give you a dry, statistical run-down of the results, but for the sake of the blog I’ll get to the point: the results of the study evidenced the critical part that the pharmacist plays in patient medication safety by capturing potential adverse events the pharmacist was able to detect and prevent. The project is on hold for the moment, but now that we know these potential adverse events are there, couldn’t we find where they stem from? Could we in turn find the root cause of more adverse events that the pharmacist may not be able to prevent and discover ways to build a safer medication system?

 

Since my graduation from Purdue in December, I have begun a new job in Washington, D.C. as a research assistant for the National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare. In my first few weeks at NCHFH, I have worked on a number of projects that include validating the use of a serious game as an assessment tool (yes, I play video games at work), methods of reducing blood stream infections in dialysis patients and representing communication patterns through #socialnetwork mapping (okay, not that kind of social network, but you get my point).

 

The project that will be taking up the majority of my time is a classic information alignment problem. We will be working to help software vendors design electronic health record systems that facilitate providers’ ability to achieve “meaningful use” systems. The Office of the National Coordinator is strongly pushing the principles of user centered- and safety enhanced-design. To facilitate this, members of academia have developed a number of tools for the vendors to promote usability. As one could imagine, healthcare professionals, academic researchers and commercial software designers do not exactly speak the same language. Our goal is to help get to a place where these vastly different groups can understand one another and work towards the common goal of designing systems to deliver safer, more effective patient care. Thus far it is turning out to be a fascinating challenge, and my work with GROUPER has left me well prepared.

 

 

Inputs and Outputs

It’s not a great time to be a student–end of semester exams, project papers, and completing all of that work that seemed infinitely manageable back in October.  It’s not a great time to be a faculty member–thesis drafts to read, letters of recommendation and proofreading students’ research statements fall on top of grant proposal deadlines and all that grading.  So, it seems reasonable to be both a bit gentle, and a tad more explicit in clarifying the difference between “nice to have” and “required”.  Some extra data, or a couple more days to work on that draft of the term paper is nice to have.  What’s a challenge at the end of November is recognizing what is required, and how to get to all that is necessary in the too-little time available.

 

Most academics want to get grants to do their research.  That’s not an easy process, and the competition grows in complexity and sources of frustration.  Whether it be a development contract from a company, or a research grant from a governmental funding agency, the folks reading the proposal want to know “Who Cares” and “Why Should I Spend the Time to Read This?”  They don’t know about what you meant to say, and they probably aren’t in your field.  It’s your responsibility to communicate what’s so cool and new and shiny to you, to other people who may not even care until you show them why it’s valuable and critical and efficient to help them in what they do every day.  A challenge at the best of times; a burden worthy of Atlas if you’re trying to write five proposals in two weeks to different types of organizations.  Faculty usually talk about funding as an input measure (“Congratulations! You got the grant!  Now what are you going to publish, which students will graduate, and what new things will come out of that lab that other people also want to use?”) .  It’s also an output measure, of course: “I wrote nine proposals, and two of them got funded!  I’m a star!”  (Actually, that is kind of true.  Funding rates for proposals from the most competitive agencies are often described as being in the 6-12% range.  Hitting on 22% of your proposals would be good.  Like Ted Williams in baseball, hitting on 40% of your tries would make you a Hall-of-Famer.)  Either way, there is a big lag between the pain of creation and the success of the award.  (Maybe just long enough to forget how much it hurts.)

 

But faculty have another set of inputs and outputs: their students.   There was a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the evolution from being your professor’s advisee to being his or her peer.  I was able to send this to the current GROUPERs, and even to my five most recent PhDs.   I’ve even gotten a reply already–the start of a thread.  This helps me feel good about the students as outputs–but I can still gloss over the importance of inputs.  Not just the students as inputs (you need good material), but what we can do to get the student where they want to go.

 

Unfortunately, Natalie is leaving us in a few weeks: she’s graduating with her BS.  Although an undergrad, she’s been one of the more experienced members of the lab for the past two years, helping to keep us aligned and sequenced (she’s been the project management software goddess).  Student as input, student as person needing inputs, student as providing inputs… (that’s also modeling project we’re working on as well, within the SMELT stream).  The greatest reward though, was the news we’ve gotten over the past week or so.  At the HFES Annual Meeting back in October, I met a researcher from an organization doing research on human factors in healthcare.  Have I got a student for you, I said.  She’s already developed her own research study.  She is fantastic as part of my lab.  She wants to work in this area.  And now, Natalie gets to announce that she got a job!  And then she said that being part of GROUPER was a large part of how that happened… as well as my work that went into it.

GROUPER is an input into the students’ lives and professional evolution?  What I’m doing is a transformation that gives someone a better outcome, a stronger trajectory, a more favorable future?  OK, maybe that is worth it, and a great reward that turns into inputs for the next cycle.  That, and a few extra hours’ sleep.  And maybe some visits by the proposal writing muse.

 

Expert Blind Spot, Distributed Expertise, and Knowledge Sharing

Oftentimes the term “expert blind spot” is used to describe instances in which an expert’s understanding of a content area overshadows their knowledge of how to teach it. This isn’t exactly how it is being used in this context, but its usage is not much of a stretch here. Jeremi asked Dr. Caldwell, “How do you advise such a dynamic lab of students who all have varied interests and are at different stages in their programs? How do you do it?” Although a few ideas were faintly mentioned, what became apparent was that Dr. Caldwell was unaware of elements of his style that made him an expert-advisor. Jeremi didn’t stop at that answer; she probed other GROUPERs and found that the expertise on his advising style was distributed among his advisees. Now that we have begun to characterize it, we thought we would do some knowledge sharing. Our hope is that this information is not only beneficial to Dr. Caldwell, but also to others interested in advising (or mentoring, in general), and to those wondering what it’s like to have Dr. Caldwell as an advisor.

 

 

Kelly:

As an undergraduate coming into a graduate’s domain, the GROUPER lab, I felt very intimidated and insecure. Would I meet their expectations? Would they tell me I was the worst undergrad on the planet? All these worries and more swarmed my head, but that’s where Dr. Caldwell calmed my nerves. He assured me that I would fit right in and they wouldn’t expect me to perform at a graduate level. I could move at a pace that I wanted and was not going to be pressured to meet this deadline or that. That is what I love about being an undergrad advised by Dr. Caldwell: he is realistic about my abilities. Other advisers could have looked at me my first week being in the lab and said “You have to write this paper by this date and you better know how to write a fantastic research paper”. But, Dr. Caldwell had realistic expectations and in our 1-on-1 meetings, he has always been concerned about me, rather than a paper deadline. He has let me know that I am not required to find a topic right away, and he knows that I am busy with my coursework. He has guided me to finding a topic and was genuinely interested in what I wanted to get out of this experience and what I was going to enjoy writing about. There shouldn’t be pressure being an undergrad in a graduate lab, and Dr. Caldwell has definitely kept it that way. In the group setting, being in this research lab is my first group experience of the sort. I had been on teams before for projects, but this is by far the most positive one. Although we do get off task sometimes, the lab is very goal-oriented, and when we do get off task, it usually has a life lesson or reason attached to it. Everyone in the lab looks out for one another; there is no competition for papers, topics, or Dr. Caldwell’s attention. He treats everyone with the same level of respect and attentiveness and has never made the lab feel competitive in any nature. It is a very supportive environment and Dr. Caldwell, inside and outside the lab, is an extremely supportive adviser, especially to undergraduates.

 

 

MAV:

As explained in previous GROUPER blog entries and from browsing the GROUPER website, there are many ways in which Dr. Caldwell distinguishes the GROUPER lab from others. These include lab meetings that are filled with humor and light-hearted sarcasm and outside activities such as the G4s. Although Dr. Caldwell does a great job of advising his lab a whole, he does a superb job of advising his students as individuals. Let’s look at an example: me. Entering into a doctoral program, I knew that I had a specific style of advising that would work for me; any deviation from this style would be disastrous. Dr. Caldwell always e-mails me in a timely manner, follows through on tasks, allows for task-oriented discussions (as I do better with a list of tasks and deadlines instead of being let loose in the “forest”), and meets with me regularly. However, even though I believed that there were a certain set of standards I needed for myself, Dr. Caldwell added another guideline I wasn’t aware I needed in order to be a successful student: it’s ok for me to take a break, to step away from research, especially when I’m causing myself to become overly-stressed (and usually it’s for no apparent reason other than just me being a perfectionist). It almost seems to be counter-intuitive: why would my advisor ever want me to stop working on my research, even for a day, let alone several days? Causing me to spiral downwards on my research (again, for no good reason) would not do me any good and, thus, cause me to become less productive and maybe even have a grudge against my research. Ultimately, Dr. Caldwell wants all of his students to be successful (hence, the large list of GROUPER alumni). Dr. Caldwell has been advising students for years and he probably knows what’s best for me, even if I don’t know it myself. Having Dr. Caldwell as an advisor lets me know that both my research interests and personal sanity are being monitored for their well-being.

 

 

Omar:

As a new student, I was not sure on what topic to start working on for my doctoral thesis.  This was making me so nervous, especially since every time I pick a topic, I have a tendency to keep changing my mind.  I am amazed at how Dr Caldwell reacts to my changes.  A typical adviser would not like his student to discuss with him a certain idea over and over then simply drop it for another idea that looks more appealing to the student.  However, my professor always stresses how important it is to pick a topic that fits my interests and what I want to do in the future.  He discusses with me my future plans to be able to help decide what to do with my Ph.D. studies. 

The way he reacted to my hesitation over the 1st few months relieved all pressure that I might have had.  It added a lot to my self confidence and kept me focused to do more reading and exploring more ideas in order to be able to pick the research that suits me the best.  It is great if a student knows exactly what he wants to work on from day one.  But, trying to quickly settle is not the right thing to do. And that’s what I appreciate about my experience with Dr Caldwell on how he managed to help through the journey of picking the best fit for me.

Another very successful approach Dr Caldwell sticks to, that in my opinion helps all students in the lab, is weekly lab meeting.  In that meeting, I get a chance as well as my lab mates, to talk about my ideas whether I am still in beginning, middle or finalizing the research.  Feedback from academic students of the same interest with presence of a leading faculty member in the domain is found to be very helpful. 

 

 

Jeremi:

Mentoring and success drive Dr. Caldwell’s advising style. Dr. Caldwell places a very high premium on mentoring: he gives his time to meet with us individually and collectively on a weekly basis (with the exception of when he’s traveling, of course). Any outsider peeking into his life as a professor would say that hosting one-on-one meetings with five (or more) students every week –in addition to holding office hours for your class– is pretty remarkable! It is through our 1-1 meetings that it becomes apparent how deeply interested Dr. Caldwell is in exploring our ideas and discovering what topics interest us. In fact, he is beyond interested: he gets excited about exploring new ideas with us! Unbeknownst to us, somehow in the midst what seems like a pure exploration of ideas, he gathers information about what we are passionate about and our career goals. With these two pieces of information, he helps us settle on topics with which we will be satisfied. With this approach, his students excel. As we succeed, he succeeds.

His conception of mentoring extends to peer mentoring. Weekly lab meetings are designed in a way that we share updates on our respective projects; and through this exchange, we learn from one another about the milestones ahead. At times, Dr. Caldwell asks probing questions (that he already knows the answer to) such that others may benefit. Additionally, this informal exchange inevitably facilitates the development of our “elevator pitch” such that when we are away from the lab, we can respond succinctly and intelligently to questions people ask about what research we are working on. This is a specific example of how he transforms, what seems like, casual interactions into teachable moments.

I will quickly add a few others things that characterize his style. One, he is extremely well-read and as a result, is able to make fascinating connections because ideas that may seem unrelated on the surface. In Dr. C’s words, he’s able to “scan and connect.” Continuing with this idea, he also does what we call “management by wandering” which means emailing articles he comes across that may be interesting or relevant for us. Secondly, in meetings that involve committee members, he plays an interesting role, balancing between being coach and gatekeeper (through the milestone). At times, he uses an adaptation of the Socratic approach to get the student to share information/ explanations that he thinks would be helpful for the rest of the committee or to re-phrase committee members’ questions in a way that clarifies the question other members are asking. Third, he includes us in the strategic elements of his research enterprise. For example, our input is solicited when brainstorming ideas about the immediate goals and long-term visions for GROUPER, as well as some of the characteristics prospective GROUPERs should posses. Lastly, he’s real! He has a family, a home he invites us to once per semester, enjoys playing video games from time to time, thinks about next steps in his career… you know… facets of life that make people “real”- Dr. Caldwell has them. And this is not to say that other advisors don’t, but he’s personable enough to share elements of personality with us. As a student aspiring to make my mark on the world someday, I sometimes wonder about the possibility of work consuming life. It’s nice to see a model that demonstrates that you can have life outside of work, and those two ideas do not have to be in opposition to one another. Of course, Dr. Caldwell’s model is not perfect, but at least it shows that it is possible.