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Tag: congratulations

Excellence in April

After Madness, comes Anticipation. In the sports world, April is a period of eager awaiting: as baseball teams take to the field, and professional football and basketball leagues highlight their drafts of college athletes, while colleges engage in “signing day” expectations and celebrations. Winter sports crown their champions. Hopes are fulfilled, or dashed.   While academics are seen as a very different world than athletics, I really don’t see it that way. In fact, graduate research programs have their own version of “signing day,” when offers of graduate fellowships are committed, and prospective students choose their new institution, advisor, and advanced degree emphasis. I am the Chair of our Graduate Committee, and I am highly sensitive to this process, from multiple perspectives. Over 400 students applied to Purdue Industrial Engineering for the Fall 2014 semester. Just over 100 have received the “happy letter,” indicating an acceptance of the application and an invitation to become part of the Purdue Rethink IE experience. Even fewer receive a “happier letter,” which includes an offer of fellowship support. Those are extremely challenging and competitive, and represent some of our expectations of who can be an outstanding contributor—not simply within the School of IE, but at the level of the College of Engineering or the University as a whole (where many of these fellowships are decided and awarded).

 

Every Spring, we in the lab discuss the culture of the lab, and what we need to do and think and be to maintain a focus on excellence, innovation, and productivity. Several years ago, I initiated a model of “360 recruiting,” where existing members of the lab are involved with the visits of prospective students who are invited by the School of IE to spend time on the Purdue campus and explore their options at an outstanding “full-service” IE program. I don’t commit lab funds to anyone right away, for two reasons (both due to experience). Some students find, after arrival, that our projects and my advising style may not work for them. Others may be searching for a project, but in fact are searching for financial support. Neither one of those types of students can effectively contribute or be well suited to the lab, and that lack of effective matching can hurt the overall productivity of the lab. While that first reason is strategic and philosophical, the second reason is more practical. GROUPER supports student professional development, not just research output. The students are not just workers in a research machine. Thus, we might not have funding for the project that a particular student wants to do when s/he first arrives… or they may not know which project they want to pursue. As of Spring 2014, there are six PhD students in GROUPER—not one is working on the specific project they identified in their application, or thought about during their first semester on campus. Four are working over the summer at internships in industry and government. These internships, rather than “interfering” with the research, provide additional opportunities for students to explore areas of professional and research growth, and identify areas they may want to work after graduation (or not—finding out you don’t want to work somewhere is also a successful outcome of an internship).

 

Nonetheless, GROUPER feels like an elite team. We try to “draft” well, and we try to develop and promote and sustain excellence in our performance. I was very pleased to learn that two of our “hopefuls” were offered Purdue Doctoral Fellowships for Fall 2014. I’m ecstatic to have received acceptances of both offers, meaning that our next set of GROUPERs can continue a history of diversity and excellence in doctoral development. Current members of the lab are also recognized awardees. Today, I get to celebrate Omar Eldardiry’s Outstanding Service Scholarship, due in large part to his excellent work as a teaching assistant and instructor (including his support for me with the senior capstone design project course last fall). And of course, I cannot finish this entry without once again celebrating one of our “First Team All-Americans”: Michelle (Shelly) Jahn, who was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This makes two consecutive years that a member of GROUPER has been awarded a fellowship through the NSF GRFP. (Last year, the winner was undergraduate GROUPER Natalie Benda, who is working in Patient Safety and will be attending the University at Buffalo for her PhD.)

 

Excellence in research and student professional development. This is an ongoing source of tremendous pride, and the heart of a continuing commitment to improve how people get, share, and use information well.

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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.

Comings and Goings

It’s been highly eventful in GROUPER over the past month, since the beginning of Purdue’s Spring Break.  We’re really proud to announce that Natalie Benda, who had just submitted a blog entry to the site (“Bringing Sexy Back“), has won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This is one of the most prestigious awards for graduate students, and highlights both her unique development and her engagement with society to influence the impact of research.  Congratulations, Natalie!  We certainly hope you’re back here soon!

 

Members of the lab defined Prof. Caldwell’s travel schedule as “March Madness,” which almost exactly matched the length (and complexity) of the NCAA Tournament.  On March 1, when the women’s Big Ten and other tournaments were starting up, BSC was in Washington, DC.  Since then, he visited Irvine, CA; London, UK (for the Global Grand Challenges Summit); San Diego, CA; and Shanghai, Nanjing, and Suzhou, China, before arriving in Seattle on April 8 — the day that Louisville won the men’s championship.  You may hear from BSC more soon.

 

In addition, Prof. Caldwell was escorted through much of his China visit by LIU Linyan, who was a visiting scholar to Purdue and GROUPER from the Nanjing University of Science and Technology.  Returning to Shanghai only hours after Prof. Caldwell’s arrival, Linyan (and her husband) were invaluable and  gracious in hosting and translating in settings as varied as Nanjing restaurants and Tongli historical museums.  We’ll miss Linyan, who also provided us with this message summarizing her experience:

 

It was a wonderful time since I became a member of GROUPER. Before I came to Purdue, I imaged the guys in the GROUPER, now I still can remember the day I came to this lab for the first time. Liang was the first person I met; she helped me with the registration. Then I met two guys just out of lab (I spent six month in the lab, studying, meeting , etc.), Jeremi and Omar. They were so kind and helped me a lot. In that week we had a GROUPER gather, I met all of the GROUPERs. We had Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant. I felt so warm.

During the six months I was in lab, we had GROUPER meeting nearly every two weeks in the lab, and we had personal meeting in Prof’s office. Every personal meeting, when discussed with Prof. Caldwell, you could find something new and should think more. Thank you, prof. Caldwell, the meeting, the books and paper you recommended helped me learning and getting new knowledge and enlarge my research field.

Time goes so quickly, when I recall the memory in GROUPER. I am in China now. I can remember everything so clearly like it happened yesterday. Omar took me to ITAP to modify my password and showed me how to use the scanner. In the noon, I was having lunch and listening to  Jake’s music; the pin (GROUPER pin), Marissa’s birthday, G4 in Natalie’s apartment, G4 in Prof. Caldwell’s house, and the pink poster we were drawing…. I will never forget the nice experience and I will treasure the pin (GROUPER pin) forever, because I am a member of GROUPER.

Thanks, GROUPERs. Prof. Caldwell, Marissa, Liang, Jeremi, Jake, Omar, Natalie, Kelly, Mina, Siobhan.

 

We’re all pulling for Siobhan as she recovers from her accident last month.  Things were a bit scary for a while, and remain tough.  As I mentioned to her and her family, Siobhan’s caught a crab affecting her race plan.  We’ll be getting back up to speed, one stroke at a time.  The most important thing is that such events help us to recognize that there are more important elements to our individual and shared existence than p-values and the number of citations in a given research paper.  We still emphasize the quality of our work, but even now, we can see direct impacts of what we do on individual quality of life issues–including those of our own members.

 

Congratulations also to Jake and Marie Viraldo, who have added to their team; Marie gave birth to Jacob Osborn last Thursday.  Once again, life sometimes trumps lab.  I may not want to always admit it, but having been a grad student with various intrusions of critical life events (birth of a child, life-threatening illness of a significant other, drastic shifts in research, unexpected opportunities and setbacks), I am sensitive and aware of how this is not just school, but one’s developing professional life.  For those of you just embarking on it, I am sympathetic.  (Not always soft or fuzzy, but sympathetic.)

Next time, perhaps a bit more about lab turnover… Jeremi finished her thesis, and Marissa will be finishing soon.   There’s always more to mention, because we’re never done.