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Students laud research, collaboration, leadership opportunities

Download the PDF of the featured students' research, and the PDF of their biographical profiles.

Opportunities to conduct research, work in collaborative environments, work with some of the top scientists in their fields, and participate in a variety of outreach and leadership activities are some of the recurring themes that arise from the Department of Chemistry’s outstanding graduate students.

“In my experience, graduate school is designed to make you aware of how much you don’t know,” said Katherine “Katie” Hurley, a fourth-year graduate student working with Professor Christy Haynes. “I have definitely experienced this through learning by immersion, and although it is sometimes painful, I am academically much better prepared because of it. In five years, I may not remember much of what I learned in my first year classes, but I will remember how to approach problems efficiently and where to look for the specific knowledge I need.”

The graduate students laud the Department of Chemistry for the opportunities to participate in collaborative research in outstanding facilities. “My favorite part of the graduate school experience has been working together with colleagues in my research group and in other close collaborations,” said Hurley. “The people make my hard work worthwhile with the creativity, intellectual stimulation, and encouragement they provide.”

The collaborative environment that the department fosters, both within the department and outside of it, is truly invaluable, said Maria Miranda, a fifth-year graduate student, working under the tutelage of Professors Marc Hillmyer and William Tolman. It provides opportunities to interact with other researchers with varying skill sets as well as instills the importance of communication and networking for success,” she said.

Rudisill said that his research projects have been highly collaborative, enabling him to work with mechanical, electrical, and biomedical engineers. “It has been quite eye-opening to see how differences in expertise cause people to approach problems from completely different angles,” he said. “The number one lesson I’ll take away from graduate school is how important cross-disciplinary collaboration and effective team management is for solving problems efficiently.”

Graduate students also have access to state-of-the-art research equipment and technology. It is a dividend that they hope will pay off when searching for positions in industry or academia.

“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to learn the variety of materials characterization techniques we have available at the university,” said Rudisill. “Not only has this made me a more versatile researcher, but it has also allowed me to help out my fellow graduate students, whether by undertaking some characterization work for them, or simply suggesting methods to get particular information out of a sample. Having a broad background in characterization also means I’ve been able to learn about the many different research projects my colleagues work on. “

Not surprising, the graduate students appreciate the opportunities to share their research with others including as authors of papers published in prestigious scientific journals and to present their research at conferences or at poster sessions; to participate in outreach programs, and to be engaged in a variety of leadership activities.

Miranda is active with outreach activities through the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) group and through her research with the Center for Sustainable Polymers. She also is active with a number of outreach projects ranging from helping middle school girls perform science experiments to developing exhibits for the EcoExhibit at the Minnesota State Fair.

For Rebecca Lindsey, a fourth-year graduate student working with Professor Ilja Siepmann, outreach and volunteering is one of her priorities, including serving on the department’s new Diversity Committee.

“Outside of the typical graduate student activities, I have really enjoyed all of the opportunities for outreach through organizations like WISE and AMS (Association of Multicultural Scientists), just to name a few,” she said. “Volunteering at outreach events provides an excellent avenue to both share my excitement for science and to get involved in the local community.”

Hurley and Rudd have been active in leadership roles with the Joint Safety Team, a hard-working group of graduate students and post-doctorates dedicated to improving the department’s culture of safety.

“Probably the most formative experience I’ve had here was the start of the Joint Safety Team last year, after a personal, near-miss incident,” said Rudd. “It was really gratifying that people from two departments and incredibly diverse backgrounds were willing to spend the time and make the effort to make our labs a better place to work. Improving lab safety is a never-ending process that takes sustained effort, but I was impressed at how people immediately stepped up and devoted much of their scant free time toward the grueling process of developing a new system from scratch.“

Hurley has added to her leadership skills because of her experiences with the JST. “I have learned how to guide a group of very busy volunteers to make big cultural changes,” she said. “In particular, I have learned the importance of delegating tasks to raise up new leaders and of implementing change at a measured pace to avoid burnout.“

Do the graduate students think that the department has prepared them well for whatever the future holds? Yes, was the typical response. In a large part, this is due to the tutelage of their advisers, which goes beyond the ability to conduct meaningful research and convey that research in papers and poster sessions.

“Candid discussions with my adviser and other faculty in the department have been very helpful in deciding on a career path in addition to understanding what needs to be done in order to accomplish my goals,” said Lindsey. Other resources and opportunities that have been helpful to her are the career workshops conducted by organizations such as the Graduate Student Workshop Committee and AMS, and the frequent opportunities to meet with seminar speakers.

“While here, I have learned the specifics of my research project, but I have also been trained on grant writing, research publication, and mentoring,” said Hurley. “My adviser is particularly good at making sure that her students have these skills before they leave, ensuring that they will be able to enter the workforce with both scientific knowledge and leadership potential.”

This support, advice and tutelage are invaluable to those about to receive their doctorates. “I’ve received invaluable support from both my advisers as well as the department, which has boosted my confidence when entering the job market,” said Miranda. “The industrial recruiting effort in the department is unique and provides graduates from the department an ‘in’ that otherwise would be very difficult to obtain. I think the collaborative spirit and reputation of the department also is a huge help to finding jobs. Because of the collaborations I’ve participated in, I can clearly illustrate my ability to work on teams and work with others, which I hope to be helpful in landing a job in industry.”

Pictured on the home page is Paul "Alex" Rudd. Pictured below is Maria Miranda.