WE12: Graduate Student Involvement in SWE Sections

What happens to my SWE membership when I go to graduate school? Are there separate graduate sections? How can I attract grad students to participate in my section? What if I want to start a graduate group at my university? These and many other questions concern current and future graduate students.

For the first part of the session, our panel of graduate students spoke on the SWE Graduate Program at their local universities; both structure and details. Following that we opened the floor to specific questions. Many questions were about getting a program started including coordinating with the undergraduate section, finding funding, grad student vs. undergraduate needs, etc. Our panelist’s sections are all in the Local Graduate Groups section of this blog.

This session was also held as a webinar in September 2012. It should be up on the SWE website soon.

Moderator: Tabitha Voytek (grad-coordinator@swe.org) – Carnegie Mellon University


  • Kayla Shaw – University of Notre Dame
  • Gwen Effgen   Columbia University
  • Katharine Brumbaugh – University of Texas at Austin
  • Sofie Leon – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Graduate Leadership Opportunity: Application for WE14 Graduate Programming Coordinator

We are currently seeking applicants for the WE14 Graduate Programming Coordinator (GPC) position. The GPC position is a two-year term filled by a SWE graduate student or recent graduate (one year as coordinator-elect and one year as coordinator). WE14 GPC will support WE13 GPC, Marcella Vaicik, for WE13 and then be the lead for WE14. The GPC lead and coordinate annual conference graduate programs (abstracts due March 2013), including abstract submissions, posters, rapid fire presentations, and update SWE grad blog . This person ideally will have attended WE12  and been involved in planning sessions for WE12. This person must attend WE13 and WE14 and will serve on the Conference Programming Board. WE14 GPC does not have to be current graduate students, but must have completed their graduate degree within the past 3 years. Applications are due by January 15th, 2013.

Application WE14 Grad Prog Coordinator

The leadership commitment timeline will look similar to this:

  • January 2013 — application submission and selection of WE14 GPC; Support WE13 GPC, Marcella Vaicik, with coordination of call for graduate program abstracts; help organize teleconference to discuss WE12 session successes and areas needing improvement and brainstorm new ideas; find session leaders
  • February 2013 — facilitate and work with session leaders to submit abstracts by March deadline
  • February – April 2013 — work with Conference Program Board to provide guidance on topic selection
  • April – August 2013 — Finalize conference schedule, communicate with session leaders about conference timelines, support session leaders by providing resources as needed, ad hoc roles and responsibilities
  • August – October 2013 — begin advertising campaigns for WE13 graduate programs; finalize conference schedule to reduce session conflicts; follow up on speaker registrations
  • WE13 — help your session leaders, connect with graduate students, advertise other sessions, and support Graduate Leadership team
  • after WE13 — tie up loose ends from WE13; Post session summaries to blog, transition into lead role and mentor WE15 GPC

WE12: Adjunct Faculty Postions

While many people pursue academic careers as full-time, tenure-track faculty, colleges and universities also employ significant numbers of adjunct faculty, either full time or part time. Some people use these adjunct positions as a pathway into a more permanent academic position, while for others they are a long-term second job or a temporary part of their career path. In this panel, three women who have held a variety of adjunct positions spoke about their experiences and gave advice to those interested in adjunct positions.
In the panel’s discussion, the speakers highlighted that someone who wants to be an adjunct needs to love teaching, since that is the primary role of adjunct faculty. Even at a research university, an adjunct position is not intended to be a research role, although it may allow someone to make contacts with those in research labs. Furthermore, adjuncts need to be flexible and able to respond quickly. All three of the women had, on several occasions, only learned of an opportunity to teach a few days before the class started. And finally, they emphasized that they pay scale typically was not very high, and that someone who expects to earn a large paycheck from teaching will be very disappointed. However, all three of the panelists found their experiences teaching as an adjunct to be personally rewarding.
Diane L. Peters, P.E., Ph.D. is currently a Senior Control Systems Engineer at LMS International. She has taught as an adjunct at both a community college and a regional university.
Anne M. Lucietto is currently a graduate student at Purdue University. She has extensive industry experience, and has taught as an adjunct for over 25 years at a variety of colleges and universities. Most recently, she has been developing and delivering on-line courses in the community college environment.
Cheryl Hanzlik, formerly employed by Xerox Corporation, is a confocal microscopy technician and adjunct faculty member at Rochester Institute of Technology.

WE12: Global Opportunities for Graduate Students and Post-Doctorates Panel Summary

Our three panelists were able to discuss doing research abroad on three different continents. Marcella Vaicik explained how being an NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute Fellowship awardee meant that she was listed as the PI on her proposal and it allowed her to spend 3 months in Taiwan doing research. Katherine Alfredo spent closer to a year working in Ghana doing drinking water research as a Fulbright Scholar. Our third panelist, Prinda Wanakule, Ph.D., was a research assistant in Europe at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. She obtained this position through her SWE network. International Member Coordinator, Jennifer Patterson, Ph.D. had done a postdoctoral fellowship there in the same field and connected Prinda with a PI there.

They all shared amusing and interesting stories about their adjustments to a different culture and the challenges involved in completing a research proposal in a set amount of time. While entertaining and informative about research in other countries, this panel was also a great resource to anyone interested in applying for fellowships. See the links below for more information on the fellowships that were discussed.

NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5284

Fulbright Fellowship: http://us.fulbrightonline.org/

Whitaker International Program: http://www.whitaker.org/

WE12: Tips for Mentoring and Teaching Undergrads

Whether you’re a young professor, TA, RA or auditing undergraduate classes, there are fundamental differences between the mindsets of undergraduate and graduate students. This Tips for Mentoring and Teaching Undergrads presentation gave some tips on how to successfully interact with undergraduate engineering students in order to do everything from help them learn the material to effectively manage a project and even to acting as a role model and mentor for them. Tips were offered from the experiences of Katharine Brumbaugh, who serves as a spacecraft program manager, Teaching Assistant, and Research Assistant in the Aerospace Engineering department at The University of Texas at Austin. 

WE12: Applying to Graduate School

Most universities have an excellent career resource center, but unfortunately, many of these facilities do not provide guidance for students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree.  This Applying For Graduate School Presentation provided students with tips for preparing to apply to graduate school, a step-by-step guide and timeline for choosing a graduate school and advisor, and an overview of the application process, including campus visits. The session utilized the experience of three graduate students as guides through the maze of grad school applications. Katharine Brumbaugh received her B.S. from Purdue University in May 2010 and is now a PhD at The University of Texas at Austin continuing her studies in Aerospace Engineering; Sofie Leon received her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Cal Poly and is now continuing with Civil Engineering in the PhD program at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Kayla Shaw studied Chemical & Biomedical Engineering at Tri-State University and is now a PhD at Notre Dame.

WE12: Entering Industry with a Graduate Degree

We organized a panel with successful industry-based engineers to provide insight into starting a career outside of academia with an advanced degree. Our panel consisting of John Kasab from Innovations at Ricardo, Mary Kinsella from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Britta Jost from Caterpillar, and Kim Groshek from GC-Strategies discussed with attendees their personal paths to their current positions. Britta Jost emphasized the importance of interning during graduate school to have a leg up when applying to industry positions. All the panelists agreed that attending and networking at large conferences, such as SWE, is a great way to receive more information on companies that interest you and to get your name out there. Kim Groshek stated to never hesitate in introducing yourself to someone new and was able to have lunch with a CEO of a successful, large company just by introducing herself! The process of transitioning from academics to industry appears tricky, but it is possible to parlay your research experience to an interesting and successful career outside academia.

Elly Sinkala and Courtney Shell

Panelist info:

John Kasab

Chief Engineer for Chemical Technology and Innovations at Ricardo, Inc


Mary Kinsella

Assistant Chief Scientist

Materials and Manufacturing Directorate

Air Force Research Laboratory


Kim Groshek

Coach @ GC-Strategies

Film Producer and Author @ Creatively Canny Productions


Britta Jost

Large Structures Design Engineer

Caterpillar, Inc