Unscripted: Science and Engineering Research

Guest Blog: Why Graduate Students Matter

By guest blogger Divya Kamath | Published

Let's face it, research is hard—and the most common way to learn it is to do it. Again and again. Day in and day out. So grad students do a lot of grunt work. Divya Kamath shares a guest blog on the value of that work.

A critical question that several undergraduate students ask themselves closer to their senior year is if they should go to graduate school. While people have their own reasons to go to graduate school (including not knowing what to do), my reason to attend grad school was to gain more knowledge and learn to be an independent thinker.

No matter where one goes for a career, whether it is academia or industry, the expectation from one who attended graduate school is to have done a good amount of research which has expanded their ability to think and solve problems independently.

It's a Process

For this reason, from the perspective of a university, graduate students are major contributors in academic research. Talented faculty members bring in grants to aid the students for cutting edge research, but mostly it’s the graduate students who get the research done.  Our research leads to a thesis that leads to interesting findings worth publishing and presenting.

These are a matter of pride. As well as wide publicity to the research teams and the university; it's therefore crucial for a university to provide resources and platforms for grad students to flourish. Here's what sets flourishing graduate students apart: hard work, persistence, overcoming frustration from failed experiments, support from an advisor who is a mentor as well (sometimes the two can be different), good writing skills and, most importantly, effective communication.

Let's Get Technical—But Not Too Much

Effective communication is critical for the scientific community to acknowledge the emphasis and applicability of our research. The best way to develop this is to practice.

I remember attending a professor’s seminar on delivering technical presentations in public. He recollected that as a grad student, he took every opportunity to speak in public, which improved his presentation skills that comes from confidence and ability to connect with the audience. This takes us back to the university’s responsibilities in providing such resources and platforms for students.

Graduate Research Colloquium

The Graduate Student Government at Michigan Tech recognizes the importance of such a platform and hosts the Graduate Research Colloquium (GRC) every spring semester. GRC is a platform for graduate students to deliver their research findings in an oral and/or a poster presentation and is one of Michigan Tech’s biggest and most popular technical events. The topics cover a wide range and span all the graduate programs offered by Michigan Tech. We invite students from arts and humanities, physics, mathematical sciences, chemistry, biology, forestry, all engineering majors and medical sciences to name a few. Judges are faculty members from different departments and are matched with the categories based on their research interests.

The GRC concludes with a grand banquet where winners are announced. Remember that research is a matter of pride?

The top three oral and poster presentations are awarded cash prizes. The audience's favorite poster and the most attended oral presentations have special mention and cash prizes as well. Apart from these, GSG have merit awards for student leader, graduate faculty mentor, and staff member. The Dean’s award for exceptional student scholar and exceptional graduate teaching assistants are also presented at the Banquet.

Support the GRC

This year, we have 49 graduate students participating as oral and poster presenters, and about 30 faculty members and postdoctoral fellows volunteer as judges. Every year, the number of presenters have increased and this encourages us to make GRC better every year.

To some, this may sound like a graduate pat-yourself-on-the-back showcase. It's not. To others, our posters and fields of study sound intimidating. We wish it wasn't. To many of us, the GRC is a chance is step out of the lab, take our noses from the research grindstone and connect with people to explain why our labs and hard work matter, even in the smallest way. 

So show up and read our posters. Talk to us about our work. We'd appreciate the support.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.