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2010 Inter-IGERT Nanoscience and Professional Development Worshop


Under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, a team of graduate students in the Atomic and Molecular Imaging of Interfaces and Defects IGERT at The University of Texas at Austin proposed, planned, organized, and hosted a three-day workshop titled: The 2010 Inter-IGERT Nanoscience and Professional Development Workshop. This event brought to Austin 19 trainees from 11 IGERT programs across the country doing work across a broad scope of nanoscience and nanotechnology to join several of the local trainees in discussing science, public outreach, professional life after graduate school, and what improvements can be made to their IGERT programs. Two scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), one IGERT co-PI, and three industrial researchers also came to lead some of the discussions alongside several of the local staff and faculty.

The program of events included a series of lab tours, talks from three of the trainees about their home IGERT programs and their research, research talks from a local IGERT co-PI and a group leader at NIST, a research poster session (the annual Nano Night event which included the usual graduate student population from The University of Texas at Austin as well as all the invited trainees), panel discussions on entering academia and national labs, on entering industry, and on outreach, a guided discussion session on IGERT issues, and a seminar on the grant proposal submission and evaluation process. Much of the learning and useful trading of information even occurred during the breaks between events as the trainees made conversation about the topics that interested them. The workshop was described as “very useful”, “educational”, “organized”, “productive”, “empowering”, and “inspiring” by the invited trainees. All of the invited trainees reported their intention to share their experiences at the event with their home IGERT program, and most intended to introduce changes to their programs as a result of this workshop.

While the events of the workshop were no less educational for the local trainees than the invited ones, many received further benefits. These began with the experience of writing the proposal, an activity with which graduate students are seldom involved. A team of eight trainees were primarily responsible for organizing and running the event. One trainee, Alfred Lee, oversaw the development of the workshop and led the others in bringing all the components together. Another trainee, Micah Glaz, took charge of the Nano Night event which involved the entire Graduate Portfolio Program in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology of the Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology at The University of Texas at Austin. The leadership and management skills these two acquired will be highly valuable in their careers. For the whole team, realizing this event was a highly beneficial exercise in professionalism, teamwork under a deadline, effective communications, and identifying and acquiring necessary human and material resources.

The 2010 Inter-IGERT Nanoscience and Professional Development Workshop was highly successful in furthering the training and education of the attending and organizing IGERT trainees. The interactions with the professional guests were very valuable, and many of them were able to treat their visit as an opportunity to recruit some of the brightest young researchers in the nation. It was a unique, positive, and energizing experience for everyone involved.

Address Goals

The workshop primarily addressed the NSF’s strategic goal of Learning. One major intent of the organizers of the workshop was to bring together trainees from as many facets of nanoscience as possible. The represented IGERT programs ranged from specializing in nanophotonics to nanomedicine to a broad focus on research and education in the nanosciences. With a full day dedicated solely to sharing science and research, ample opportunity was provided to enhance the attendees’ breadth of knowledge. In fact, one could not have prevented this as the trainees were eager to learn about each other’s research during any chance they had to converse.

Another of the major intents of the organizers was to enhance the trainees’ awareness of what awaits them after graduation along three broad career paths. To this end, there was a panel discussion on academia and national lab careers including one new and one well-establish university professor, and one new and one well-established researcher at NIST. A seminar was also given on the grant writing process, which is normally invisible to graduate students. Another panel discussion included three industrial researchers of various backgrounds and experience from companies of various sizes and histories. The diversity of perspectives represented at the two panel discussions helped to give a fuller, more honest picture to the trainees. These three events were, in fact, rated the three most valuable portions of the workshop by the invited trainees.

Outreach is an important part of the Atomic and Molecular Imaging of Interfaces and Defects IGERT program and is an important part of the NSF’s strategic goal of Learning. Many of the invited trainees came to the workshop highly interested in initiating or expanding their home programs’ outreach activities. This was often the topic of informal conversations, and several of the trainees were directed to useful resources by our experienced outreach panelists. Trainees were all too happy to relate their experiences, successes, and perceived failures with outreach. Formal training is almost never given on properly conducting outreach, so this discussion was very valuable to those with less experience.

Finally, a good deal of time was spent, both formally and informally, on addressing the issues each IGERT program faced and how each could be made better. It was generally decided that IGERT is succeeding in training interdisciplinary researchers, but by the end of the event, most trainees could identify improvements to be made to their home programs. Improving these programs means improving the effectiveness of the graduate training regimen that each program provides, which means a broadly reaching gain in the quality of the scientists and engineers that IGERT produces. This benefits the nation as much as the trainees who will enter a highly competitive workforce.

The workshop secondarily addressed the NSF’s strategic goal of Discovery. The same science-specific events that fostered Learning also fostered Discovery. By allowing these young, eager minds to see a very broad range of research from across the nation, we hope to have expanded their potential for new, innovative research in the future. A few of the trainees have already reported finding potential collaborators and intended to explore that possibility. With any luck, the impacts of the event may be seen relatively soon.