Graduate Student in Purdue Homecoming Court

My Experiences in the Purdue Homecoming Court

 

This week is Purdue Homecoming week. What is homecoming? I looked up the dictionary and could not find a good translation since in Asia we don’t have this term. Homecoming is an annual tradition in the United States. People welcome back alumni and former residents with a series of activities such as a banquet, a football game played on a school’s home football field, and a parade featuring the school’s marching band. Besides these activities, the school also selects homecoming court. The homecoming court is a representative group of students who are completing their final years of study at their school and who have done a lot to contribute to their school. It is extremely honor to be selected in the court. The entire student body votes for the Queen and King.

In 2016, the Purdue Student Union Board was looking for involved and enthusiastic candidates for the 2016 Homecoming Court. Selection of the court was based on the candidate’s essay, resume, academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and community involvement. I told myself that I should give a try in my school life! I had a strong involvement at Purdue, doing tons of volunteering service, building leadership at many organizations, and receiving many scholarship and awards on campus. Therefore, I started to write the essay why I was proud to be Boilermaker and what my most rewarding Purdue experience was and why.

Ready for the parade
Ready for the parade. Queen’s wave~

In the end of May, I got an email from PSUB. Congratulations! You have been selected to be the 2016 Homecoming Court! I was selected!! The FIRST EVER international graduate student was selected in the homecoming court! I was over the moon, and I would be going to sit on the convertible car and do my queen’s wave in the homecoming parade!

After being selected, I was planning to make a fun and attractive button and a catchy slogan during the campaign. In 2016, people were crazy for Pokemon Go. Therefore, I decided to make a poke ball button so people could catch me all. Some of my friends helped me design as well. Where should I put my name in the ball? How big of my name should be in the button so everyone could see it clearly. What font should I use? What color of poke ball should I choose? Generally the ball was red, but the red color was a feud color. After long discussions and modifications in several weeks, I used Purdue gold for showing my loyalty. 

Poke Ball
One of the button designed: Poke Ball

For the slogan, since my number was five, I had give me five, pick I-Fan and high five I-Fan. But I was not satisfied with them until a teacher suggested me the catchy slogan: “I am a Fan of I-Fan.” Therefore, I also made a formal button and a banner for it.

banner1 banner 2

The official campaign started on Monday 6pm and lasted for ten days. If candidates did any advertisement before 6pm, they would lose points. At 8pm, I started to post my flyers and I saw some candidates’ posters at every store around Chauncey Hill. Only two hours! I could not believe that they did it so fast in only two hours. They must have had a campaign team! My friend and I only posted 5 flyers in the first evening. I had no experience of campaigning and got very frustrated. However, if I gave up now, the game was over ahead of time. I would not be easily defeated. The next day, I sank my teeth into the campaign. I carried my heavy posters to every restaurant and store off-campus for their permission to post my flyer in their places. Most of them were happy to support and were super proud that I was selected in the homecoming court. Finally, I distributed around 60 posters in the Greater Lafayette. I even distributed my poster to Silver Dipper located in Sagamore Parkway and in Exploration Acres, the largest corn maze in Northwest Indiana. People told me that they saw my posters everywhere. I made my goal.

corn maze corn maze 2
corn maze 3 silver dipper

On Thursday, I just realized that if I chalked on concrete sidewalks, I did not need to clean it after the campaign since the rain would wash it automatically. Therefore, I started to chalk. One of the reasons was I had given out all 300 buttons I made. But rather than generally chalking such as vote for I-Fan, my friend told me that we could chalk poke balls just like the button I designed. So, we chalked several fun poke balls on the ground. Unfortunately, this chalking disappeared the next day. There was no rain in the evening. I was very disappointed but I had not given up. During the weekend, I was on fire. I chalked a lot in the popular and important places on campus such as CoRec entrance, Engineering Mall, PMU, bus stop, and Elliot Hall. Take a look. The fun fact was other candidates mimicked my idea and started to chalk creatively. The PSUB Homecoming committee also told me I did a great job.

chalk ads
Chalking around campus for the campaign

During the campaign, I also showed my big banner when walking on campus or on bus. In the beginning, I was shy and embarrassed. I did not like people staring at me all the time, but it was also a good time to be brave. I would regret if I did not do my best. Therefore, in the last two days, I held my banner naturally and gracefully walking on campus.

The final selection was based on the interview (50%) and general body votes (50%). The formal interview was held by a panel of judges composed of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders. The interview was about 15 minutes with six questions.Banner and jumbo buttoncampaign stuff

Finally, I did not get crowned because I did not do very well on the interview part unfortunately. I did not prepare for the interview and did not present/advertise myself to the judges well.

But I was told by PSUB that I got the most popular vote! My hard work paid back. (That was also my main goal.)

I was honored to be selected in the homecoming court, and really glad to have this opportunity to be involved in the American’s tradition. I also thank my friends and many organizations with their fully support such as PGSG and Purdue Bands & Orchestras Department. My advisor also was excited and gave me some suggestions for the campaign. Some of my friends told me in the beginning that it was impossible to get votes and competed with undergraduate students. But, you never know until you try. Never give up and nothing is impossible!

assorted photos

union male court
Scoreboard podium

Country of Hope and Development: My Experience of Research in Pakistan!

As Boilermakers, we always stick to our great slogan “WE ARE PURDUE, WHAT WE MAKE MOVES THE WORLD FORWARD” meaning that we always try to actually move the world forward with our research. Sometimes, as part of our research, we get the chance to travel to different regions in the world to help communities in different scientific issues, which, in my opinion, is the whole idea of our slogan. Fortunately, I recently had the honor to be part of a research team representing Purdue University to travel to Pakistan to work on water quality of two major rivers in that region. This was a great experience for me that I decided to share with you in this post.

Let’s start with the very moment that I was told by my advisor that as part of my Ph.D. research, I have been assigned to be part of a scientific cooperation between the United States and Pakistan working on “Endocrine disrupting chemicals in Kabul and Swat rivers and their impact on fish populations and rural community livelihoods“, which was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by National Academy of Sciences (NAS). I remember that I was so excited to be part of this project as it was a great way to help the people of Pakistan to improve their water quality. I should say that I don’t believe in such concepts as border and nationality, meaning that we’re all from one beautiful planet no matter where we’re born, in what language we speak, or even what religion we practice; however, when I got the news, I had this feeling that now that I can’t help people of my own country who are really suffering from lots of environmental issues, I have been given the chance to play my role in that area of world. We started the preparation process for our upcoming trip to Pakistan in June in order to do water sampling in these two rivers.

River Kabul and its tributaries including River Swat are major freshwater sources in the KP province of Pakistan that serve the water needs of most of the Northern mountain and Northwestern plain areas of the province. These rivers also serve as a rich source of various fish species which local populations depend on for their livelihood as well as the tourism industry. Unfortunately, untreated effluent discharges from dozens of small and large-scale industrial units enter the Kabul and Swat rivers directly or indirectly. For more than a decade, there have been complaints about the declining water quality of these rivers and reduced crop production. There has also been a substantial decline in fish numbers as well as reports of mysterious fish kills, ultimately affecting the livelihoods of rural communities. Therefore, we were quite sure that we should do our best to make the situation better (which is actually ongoing).

Everything was ready and we were prepared for a long 23-hour flight to Islamabad and then Peshawar where the project was supposed to be started. As an Iranian student in the USA who was fully experienced about the huge differences between the reality and what media show about a region, I was completely aware of what I was reading in the media about Pakistan and what we were going to see there; however, it is a lie if I say I wasn’t worried at all, which later on, I realized that I shouldn’t be worried even a little as it was the best country in the world with the greatest people I have ever seen in my life.

First Days:

Finally, after a two-stop-24-hour flight! we arrived at Islamabad at around 5:00 am while our colleagues were waiting for us there, which was the first sign of knowing how hospitable Pakistani people are. We started another two hours driving from Islamabad to Peshawar where we’re supposed to stay. For me, except the cars that had the steering wheel on the right side! everything kind of looked familiar which was a great feeling. I was watching people driving in different and the most colorful cars reflecting the great Pakistani culture. I was so excited about this trip.

Fortunately, we had a great place to stay in the University of Peshawar that was much better than we expected. This was a great news for us as we knew that we’re going to have a big jet lag after that long flight. However, it turned out that my advisor’s suggestion of drinking a lot of water before, during, and after the flight actually worked, and yes, we concurred the jet lag!

Next day was the start of the journey. The meeting with our Pakistani colleagues was the second sign of knowing how great Pakistan is. Since almost all the colleagues could speak English very well (even better than me), we started hanging out and actually becoming friends beyond being colleagues. I had never expected to make friends there when we were planning to go there, but after getting to know them, I realized that this was going to be even a much greater trip for me.

In that day, we went to see some sampling points in the Kabul river, which was my first experience of actually living in the city of Peshawar that was under Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) construction at that time. For lunch, we went to a local restaurant to eat “Chapli Kebab“!  We started talking about lots of things there as we were preparing for hard sampling days! 

In the first couple of days, after seeing people in the streets with their nice traditional outfit and talking with my fellow friends, I literally became in love with Pakistan. Even though Pakistan has unfortunately had such disastrous experiences in past years, I could easily see in their lives and in their eyes that they are hopeful about the future and are trying to develop more and more. This was the main reason that I unintentionally felt as one of them especially when I saw the number of mutual concepts in my and their culture such as similarities between their national language “Urdu” and our “Persian“.

Anyways, we had two rivers as our target points. Everything was ready, and I had already practiced a lot to make sure everything works perfectly. We were all ready for the project.

Going to Swat district:

Before Kabul, our colleagues had managed to start the sampling process first with Swat river in Swat valley for 4 to 5 days, and then come back to Peshawar for the sampling of Kabul river. Therefore, we started our trip to Swat districts, which was almost 6 to 7 hours driving. On our way, we started talking about everything including politics, literature, science, etc., so I kind of missed the gorgeous road we’re driving (also because it got dark when we started the trip). Finally, at around 2:00 am, we arrived at “Trout Culture Training Centre Madyan Swat” where we supposed to stay for the next couple of days, which turned out to be absolutely amazing.

Swat was the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life. I don’t want to talk more about it, just watch this video:

See? It was like a dream. Even though we weren’t tourists and had the work to do, still, we could easily see how beautiful is this region. But besides its beauty, there was something else that made me be in love with the region, which I can generalize to the whole country: people!

It goes without saying that when you’re from another country with different looks and outfits and go to a less developed area of a country like Pakistan, it’s a fair assumption to at least not expect local people’s support, which was honestly my assumption at first too. However, it turned out that it was a completely wrong one. We received so much support and love in almost each sampling point that I couldn’t believe it. People were so kind and supportive that in some places, they even started helping us during the sampling process. This was, by far, the best thing I learned in this trip that Pakistan has one of the kindest and the most hospitable people in the world.

However, the sampling process was harder than we expected. Because of the road constructions and heavy traffics in some of the places, transportation was hard enough to make us not be able to get more than 4 samples in one day. As we were there in high flow season, measuring the river discharge was our another challenge that took us a lot of time to figure out.  We also got sick there a little but fortunately could handle it before getting worse. 

Meantime, we had the chance to meet new places and new people. We had been invited to some places and had the honor to meet local authorities discussing different aspects of the project. Speaking of meetings, in Pakistan, or at least in places I visited, Pakistani Chai, which is a combination of normal black tea and milk with a specific recipe, is the most popular drink that is being served in almost every meeting. At first, I remember I preferred just a normal tea (or as they call it “Sulaimani Chai”!), but after a couple of times that I drank the Pakistani chai, I became in love with it.

By the way, despite all the hardships, we successfully did all the sampling points alongside the Swat river and were ready to come back to Peshawar. We couldn’t do it there without the sincere help of local people and authorities there.

Coming back to Peshawar:

After 5 days of being in Swat district, We went back to Peshawar to continue the work on the Kabul river. We decided to rest for one day and be more diligent to finish the process in the next 2 days as we already had the experience of sampling in Swat. One huge difference between Swat and Peshawar regarding the sampling was the weather! In Swat, we had to be prepared for sudden rain and storm, but in Peshawar, the sun was the enemy! as it was so much hotter than Swat. 

We even decided to rent a small boat to move along the river to reach the points faster and easier than going there by car. This was a great decision even though the boat was much slower than we expected, meaning we had to be under direct hot sunlight for 7 to 8 hours. But we finally did the sampling process as excellent as what we did in Swat. I have already mentioned a difference between Swat and Kabul, and now is the time to talk about a similarity between these two regions: people, again! Same as Swat, we had the warmest and the most support available from people who were greeting us, trying to communicate with us, and especially, helping us. I was absolutely stunned by their amount of being kind and hospitable.

Last days of rest and shop:

We did the work! we did all the sampling points, measured all the needed parameters, and gathered all the data sooner than expected, so we could reward ourselves with resting and more importantly, being with people (also shopping for sure!)

Thanks to my friends, I had the chance to visit Qissa Khawani Bazaar for shopping and visiting cultural places, which for me, was reminding of the Grand Bazaar in my hometown, Tehran. There, I got the chance to buy different souvenirs. There, they invited me to eat the traditional Charsi Tikka, which was by far the most delicious food I had in Pakistan. It also reminded me of our Persian Shishlik kebab, which is also great. Just in case, did you know that in Pakistan, there is another platform like Uber called Careem?!

In that bazaar, I actually blend in with local people in a way that you couldn’t know that I’m not from Pakistan! How? see the picture:
Yes! my friend did me a great favor and brought me a traditional Pakistani dress that was absolutely beautiful. But on a serious note, those couple of days that we had the chance to meet people and talk about daily issues were a great experience for me to be more thoughtful in my future environmental activities.

Last words:

Humanity is beyond all the borders. People are not defined with their language, skin color, religion, nationality, etc. As an Iranian student, I can say that I have already suffered enough from different levels of misunderstandings and misjudgments. I also blame myself since I have also done such things that I don’t proud of. However, as an environmentalist, this trip to Pakistan was a great reminder for me to know that people are the same all over the world in spite of the politician’s struggles! In this trip, Pakistani people taught me to be humble and try for the betterment of your society, which was a great practical lesson that I won’t forget. I decided to not mention any names in this post just to write my experience, but my friends there know how much I respect and miss them. I hope I can see them soon. Even though Pakistan has had rough days in recent years, it’s now flourishing as ALL the people are trying to do their best to make their country a better place, and I want to speak to all of them that you are doing great. You have a great country to which I also feel belonged. You are the best and God Bless you all. It was a great honor for me to be there as a Purdue student and try to represent my university alongside with my other colleagues as it is what we do at Purdue University.

Regards,
Peyman

Keys

How Purdue Bands & Orchestras Impacts Me at Purdue

My photo is at downstairs of Elliott Hall. Come check it!

Purdue does not have music major, but Purdue Bands & Orchestras provides an opportunity for me to continue my lifelong journey with music as a performer. I played the piano when I was 4 years old. I did not go to music training classes but I had individual lessons nonstop all the time even when I was here. When I was in college, I also played the clarinet and tenor saxophone in National Taiwan University Wind Band (student organization). When I went to Purdue pursuing my Ph.D. degree, I never thought I could join any band or orchestra someday in the U.S even though I wanted to perform at Elliott Hall, Loeb Playhouse, Long Center of the Performing Arts and other fancy music halls. However, dreams came true!

I had chance to join Purdue Philharmonic Orchestra in Fall 2015. They had two regular concerts each semester. One was in the middle of the semester and the other was at the end of semester. The first music piece I performed is the Planets by Gustav Holst. I played the celesta. It was my debut at Loeb Playhouse. The concert was great, and I was excited about wearing tuxedo (my first time). At the second concert, I was much more excited because I was playing Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach. I loved Baroque music and this piece was quite challenge. There were many times using my ring finger crossing my pinkie on my right hand. But I was not afraid of it since I played a lot of pieces by Bach and I knew how to overcome it. That concert was perfect! I wish I had a video recording to catch that moment. Later on, I joined Purdue Wind Ensemble and Concert Band. There were many fun pieces with piano part. I also had a chance to play ragtime music that I never played before. I loved each piece that conductors chose. Sometimes, the piece was easy for me, and sometimes it was hard. But no matter what level it was, it always developed and cultivated my ensemble skills and technical skills.

Purdue Wind Ensemble
Purdue Wind Ensemble

Dress rehearsal
Dress rehearsal selfie

One of the amazing experiences for me through Purdue Bands & Orchestras was serving as blazer in Fall 2017. I knew much more about All American Marching Band (AAMB). I never participate marching band and always want to join and see how hard it is. However, as a graduate student, I really don’t have much time doing marching. They practice every afternoon and perform at home football game day. NO WAY!

Blazers distributing birds
Blazers distributing birds
Blazers!
Blazers!

Being a blazer is a good compensate. I helped AAMB in home football game, blocking fans when they parade to Stadium, learning the music they play, setting up the equipment they need, giving the water, and tearing down after the game. Blazers are like the backup support for AAMB. AAMB can focus on performing and do not worry about any other issues that blazers take care of.

with Prof. Jay S. Gephart Al G. Wright Chair, Director of Bands
with Prof. Jay S. Gephart, Al G. Wright Chair, Director of Bands

with AAMB Drum Major, Robert Steele
with AAMB Drum Major, Robert Steele

Gold & Black Sound
Gold & Black Sound

Last Fall semester, I also joined a pep band called Gold & Black Sound (GABS) for the Purdue Women’s Basketball team. I played the melodica. I also learned the cheers during the game and some music as AAMB played. Also, I just realized that our women basketball team was really good! They did a great job in the home game.

Thanks Prof. Bodony for bringing me to the Department to begin my amazing band trip. I like his style of conducting and he always gives strong support. Thanks Prof. Gephart for giving me many opportunities to show my talent. I had a great time playing Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 5 “Spring” with flute principal at Elliott Hall before the concert starts. It was a nice warm-up performance. Also, I played the melodica in SLAVA! That solo jointed with soprano saxophone was perfect. Thanks Prof. Nave to encourage me to join GABS. It was my great choice. I was glad to join GABS and I became a big FAN of Purdue basketball. I also thank Prof. Fletcher for inviting me to Concert Band. I love Shepherd’s Hey by Percy Aldridge Grainger and Where never Lark or Eagle Flew by James Curnow.

with Conductor, Adam M. Bodony
with Conductor, Adam M. Bodony
with Conductor, Douglas R. Fletcher
with Conductor, Douglas R. Fletcher

Joining Purdue Bands & Orchestras enlightens my school life! I can continue playing music when doing my research. I have opportunities to play music with other talented students together and give performances in public every semester. I enjoy the rehearsal atmosphere and performing on stage by giving the audiences beautiful and lovely melody. Even though Purdue does not have music department, these non-music major students still perform professionally. I am proud to play music with them. I could not image how my Ph.D. life would have been if I did not join Purdue Bands & Orchestras.

Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 5 “Spring” with flute principal at Elliott Hall
Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 5 “Spring” with flute principal at Elliott Hall

 

I played “River Flows in You” during the intermission of Concert Band in 2017

Ragtime music: (I was nervous about it in the beginning because it was very easy to make mistake and then could not follow the music. When I listened to several recording, they either played the wrong keys, or did not follow the tempo. In the dress rehearsal, I even still made some mistakes. But, in the concert, I made it! I was pretty happy and felt fully released. Now I made the bible version that people can watch! Check it out.)

The winnings!

Great Experience at the Rice Business Plan Competition

A visiting scholar from National Taiwan University came to Purdue in 2014. He was interested in participating Rice Business Plan Competition. After hanging out several times, he thought I was the right person and invited me to join his business team. Since I was also the alumnus of National Taiwan University (same major as well) and it would be a great opportunity and experience for me to do something new, I accepted the challenge and joined the team.

The Rice Business Plan Competition, hosted and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Rice University, is the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition. The competition is designed to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world experience to fine tune their business plans and elevator pitches to generate funding to successfully commercialize their product. Judges will evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms. The judges are asked to rank the presentations based on which company they would most likely invest. The goal of the RBPC is to provide the best overall educational and entrepreneurial experience of any business plan competition.

In 2014, there were more than 600 teams around the world submitting their applications and only 42 teams each year would be selected to the competition. The first day was practice round and elevator pitch competition. The second day was first round and feedback session. The last day was semi-finals and Finals. In first round, 42 teams were divided into seven flights. The first and second place teams of the First Round and the highest scoring third place team overall advanced to the Semi-Finals (which means 15 teams total). 15 teams are divided into 3 flights. The first and second place winners of the semi-finals advanced to the Finals.

Our team, EcoBreeze, a company based on researching and commercializing innovative, powerful and green cooling technology for customers in LED field, was selected to the competition.

When the competition came, I was excited and nervous. The elevator pitch kicked off the competition. In the elevator pitch competition, each team took turns and gave one-minute speech in front of around 300 people in the auditorium. Some teams were very experienced with their vocal variety and gestures. The presenter just two before my turn was too nervous to speak, so he stared into space and sadly stepped down from the lectern after a pin-drop silence one minute. This made me more nervous. I never did elevator pitch nor spoke in front of so many people on stage. Everyone looked at me seriously. When in my turn, I took a deep breath and then walked to the lectern. Let’s take a look my elevator pitch debut. I knew I could do better now but it was a great try, isn’t it?

 

Later on, we had the practice round. We received very important and great feedback from the judges and then modified our slides and talk. It helped a lot. Our first round went very well and we advanced to the semi-finals smoothly.

Advance to semi-final!
Advance to semi-final!

In other words, I was disqualified to visit Rice University and other attractions in Huston the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The semi-final was in the early morning and I almost stayed up for rehearsing. In the semi-final, the judges asked a lot of tuff questions and out team did not respond that well. Therefore, I did not expect to advance to the finals. At lunch time, the host announced the finalists. Our team’s name was on the board!!

In the Final
We are in Final!

We advanced to the finals and would be interviewed by Fortune magazine! My tears were rolling down my cheeks BUT I had to hold back my tears to give a professional speech in the finals in an hour. The finals were in the auditorium containing more than 500 audiences and judges. I told myself that it would be the last speech. Keep calm. I was the BEST! There would be nothing impossible.

Group photo
Interviewed by Fortune Magazine

 

Our team did a great job in the final presentation and Q&A including showing the real devices and the ideas. All the guests gave big applauses at the end of the presentation. After the presentation, I walked out of the auditorium. I cried again since I made it and all the pressures were released.

Presentation room 1 Presentation room 3 Presentation room 2

 

 

Photo with President of Rice University

At the awards banquet, our team won 3rd place with $7500 cash award! WOW! What an unforgettable experience!

Throughout this business plan competition, I met many elite students and venture capitalists. They shared their valuable experiences and stories. Also, I had some ideas and knowledge of business model and how to run the business. These great experiences are much more than $7500. I truly thanked for my teammates for inviting me to the business team.

Link
Attending the American Society of bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) annual meeting 2017 in Denver

What I learned from attending academic conferences

Me with my advisor and my lab mate at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017 in Chicago.
Me with my advisor and my labmate at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017 in Chicago.

Most of us who pursue a graduate level degree know that attending an academic conference is a worthwhile opportunity. Why? An obvious reason is we get to learn new knowledge in the field. From my experience, going to conferences benefits me far beyond this answer.

I do believe that attending a conference provides an excellent platform for professional development. First and for most, it allows us to put ourselves out there and present interesting findings from our research. This can lead to further thought-provoking discussion among us and other scientists in the field. Most of the time, we think and work on our own and it is always productive to have someone with fresh eyes critically share their thoughts on our work as well as what we could do to improve it. In some case, we might interact with someone who is working on a specific area that complements our work. In that case, the discussion can lead to potential future collaborations.

As a young scientist, I found both oral and poster presentation to be very challenging in different ways. An oral presentation is usually 12 minutes long. You have a 10-minute period to tell your story and another 2 minutes to answer questions from the audience.

Giving an oral presentation at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017
Giving an oral presentation in the Gene-Diet Interaction Research Interest Group session at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017

From my experience, you can excel the presentation part by practicing and putting a lot of thoughts on the flow of the presentation and limit the contents to where your target audience can follow easily in 10 minutes. Knowing your audience is always the most important key to success in a presentation. This is because you would cater the information, details to be included and words you use to suit your audience.

Presentation of my first research project on the impact of dietary calcium and genetics on 3D structure of femoral bone and lumbar spine.
Poster presentation of my first research project on the impact of dietary calcium and genetics on the 3D structure of femoral bone and lumbar spine.

The more difficult part for me is when you need to respond to questions from the audience. Given that I am already nervous to speak in public, I need to think on my feet in order to provide a sound answer to a question which I might not have thought about before. It is definitely challenging, yet helpful for developing my skills in communicating science. And remember, to master a skill, you need to keep practicing it. You might fail many times before you start to feel like you are getting better, BUT that’s a required step of growth 🙂

Apart from the opportunity to present your research, you would get to expand your circle of people who work in the same field and have similar research interests as you. As you can imagine, this is very useful and necessary especially when you are graduating and hoping to secure a job in the near future. Many people, myself included, dread the idea of networking. However, if you see it as an opportunity to getting better at networking (again practice makes perfect!) and you have nothing lose (since you might meet that person only that one time anyway lol). This helps put you in a productive mindset and might boost your confidence to go for it.

Attending Nutrigenomics Workshop at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2016.
Attending Nutrigenomics Workshop at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2016.

Also, networking can be very fruitful at times. Many times I heard stories of people who got their job because a friend of their colleague knew someone that can link that person to his or her future boss. Therefore, it is worth keeping your eyes opened and get to know new people. A couple of times I have met people who have become my good friends until now.

Another thing I appreciated from my experiences going to scientific meetings is I get to learn about a life story of thought leaders in my research area or their path to becoming a great scientist. I found this to be very inspiring and encouraging. Working in research requires a perseverance both mentally and physically. Therefore, it is very easy to fall for failures or failed experiments and feel bad for yourself in the course of Ph.D. study. Hearing how senior successful scientists overcome these challenges and thrive in this type of environment definitely help open my perspective and encourage me to keep working hard and determine to my goal rather than focusing on small setbacks that we inevitably cannot avoid.

Reunited with a friend from my Master's program.
Reunited with a friend from my Master’s program.

In addition to all the skills I earned from attending conferences, it is an opportunity for me to apply for financial support. Most research societies provide a travel grant for graduate students who have outstanding research work to present their work at the meeting. Applying for this type of sponsorship not only will you receive monetary support to attend a meeting, but also get a recognition for your research work which subsequently would enhance your profile in the long run. Besides an external support from meeting organization, I sometimes apply for a financial support from my college. Given that you presenting your work which has been conducted on campus, you help publicize the research quality at your university at the same time. Therefore, you are likely to get a fund from your university to go to a meeting.

Lastly, I enjoyed traveling to a new city as a way to broaden my horizons. Besides that, I get to meet new people as well as reunite with my old friends/colleagues. So I always have a wonderful experience attending a meeting both for my professional development and for my personal fulfillment.

 

 

Zucrow Student Association

Reflections on Purdue and the Zucrow Student Association

Hello folks visiting this super webpage! I’m not entirely sure how to start this blog, as this is my first time as a blogger, but well 😊 first time for everything. I’m writing this up as I am flying high in the air somewhere over the Atlantic to land in Warsaw and then following the smell of chocolates to my home country: Belgium. Going on a necessary break after a nice and exhausting semester here at Purdue!

Small introduction… I’m James and currently 3rd year PhD student at Purdue University. As many students here, I’m an engineer and enrolled in the mechanical engineering department. I started at the same time as Mario Tindaro (who made this awesome movie for the global ambassadors, as seen here) as well as Valeria Andreoli. I landed here after doing a research master in fluid dynamics at the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics. And now I’m performing research on the future gas turbines at the PETAL lab (Purdue Experimental Aerothermal lab, engineering.purdue.edu/PETAL). This research lab is located outside of West Lafayette, near the airport, in a place called Zucrow Labs. A place that most students don’t even know!

I’m of course not here to tell you about my research (for those kind of questions you can shoot me a private mail😊), however I’d like to share some parts of my life here. At Zucrow we have a student organization called the Zucrow Student Association, in which I am serving my 2nd year as president. Indeed, foreigners can become presidents here! ZSA consists of all kinds of cool people: Amelia and Monique (both from the west coast) and Timo and me (both from the North of Europe 😊. You see, a lot of fun!

Our goal is to try to get all the students together as much as we can, both during working hours, as outside. In September we hosted a tailgate for the students of our lab. Tailgate? Yep, before a football game, all of the purdue fans gather in front of their cars and have a BBQ on the fields of the Corec (our gigantic gym) which results in a huge party! (For the early birds: during game days, the true purdue student fans wake up at 5-6 AM to start ‘breakfast club’.. a very interesting activity that everyone should once do!).

 

We also host lunch and learns where we get the famous Papa Johns pizza (some say the best pizza from West Lafayette) and where students talk about their research while eating some thin crust pizza/ cheese bread / you name it and ZSA serves it! We also do coffee breaks where we serve premium Starbucks coffee and Marie Lou Donuts. These Marie Lou donuts are unique: 50 cents for a donut, but the best ones you will ever try! I guess that’s why these donuts run out so fast…

Zucrow Student Association Volleyball

In summer (it gets really sunny out here) we play beach volleyball and organize barbecues in the famous picket park, because after some intense game of volleyball: what’s better than enjoying some of the finest Indiana pork ribs?! During winter this should be switched to ice skating, although now there is still no ice.. this will probably come very soon.

 

 

This year, we also hosted an end-of-the-year dinner at the Lafayette brewing company: some Indiana beers and burgers, what else you need to make students happy?!

Additionally, many of the former grad students at Zucrow go to space: recently Scott Tingle! Guess what? He took our group photo and a banner from zucrow to space to sign it, so in a way… all of Zucrow goes to space 😊 !!!

Finally, ZSA also sells a lot of apparel: Zucrow t-shirts, Zucrow mugs, … all you can imagine: ZSA sells it. Don’t hesitate to shoot us an email if you’d like to buy some hehe 😊 (zsa@purdue.edu). The apparel is very useful and cool: imagine taking a flight wherever over the world… at least one person will stop you to tell you “BOILERMAKER!!” (and you with your jetlagged mind :”huhh??”). So you see, you’re never traveling alone, boilermakers all over the world. (PS Purdue students are called boilermakers…)

So, this student is going to lower the seat, relax and ready to dream about chocolates, fries and beer aka Belgium 😊, if at least the people behind me stop talking… good night!

Airplane view Vancouver

Purdue Will Allow You To Visit Amazing Places!

The Globe

There are very few cities in the world where vibrancy, greenery, innovation, and economic vitality are combined in such a way like in Vancouver. For these reasons this city ranks among the top 10 most livable cities in the world. This less-than-a-million-people city, located in the Province of British Columbia, western Canada, was the host of the 64th Annual meeting of the North American Regional Science Council (NARSC) last November, to which I had the pleasure of attending.

Two other students and I attended this conference to present our research being conducted as part of the Sustainable Transportation Systems Research Group at Purdue, which focuses on transportation planning, energy, and economic development. During my presentation, I got very insightful feedback about my research on regional economic resilience and transportation accessibility. This presentation was also accompanied with an incredible view 22 stories above Vancouver’s downtown streets on a Friday afternoon.

CANA sign

 

I had also the chance to attend other sessions highly relevant to my dissertation. For example, one presentation discussed the role of transportation on the specialization and diversification of cities. At the same time, I had the chance to meet and chat with renowned scholars in my field during coffee breaks or while waiting for the sessions to start.

My friends and I also had the chance to visit some famous landmarks of Vancouver, explore restaurants, and interact with locals. All I can say is that we were sad to leave a city that we came to love in just a few days. I did not leave, however, without getting some bottles of Maple syrup.

Dinner

In summary, this conference’s vibrant and encouraging environment inspired me to continue applying my best efforts towards research and future professional goals. I am also very thankful to the College of Engineering and Purdue University for their support, which allow me to attend this awesome conference. We learned that the Purdue’s reputation and quality of research will not only open doors to academic and technical worlds, but also to an amazing array of experiences around the world.

Purdue Ag Alumni’s Graduate Student Industry Tour: An Eye Opening Experience

During the semester Fall break, Purdue College of Agriculture and Purdue Ag Alumni offered the first Graduate Student Industry tour which highlights some of the great companies in and around Indianapolis and learned about their core businesses, laboratory facilities, and work environments. Fifty graduate students under the College of Agriculture participated on the tour along with some of the faculty members and staffs, including Dr. Barbara L. Golden from Department of Biochemistry and Dr. Shawn S. Donkin from Department of Animal Sciences. The tour was managed by Ag Alumni Program Manager, Danica C. Kirkpatrick.

As an international graduate student, I was very excited to be selected for this tour because just like many students who participated on this tour, I still have a little idea about career opportunities and the day-to-day rhythms of the workplace. Providing students to tour a company helps gain a firsthand knowledge of the technologies and skills apply especially in STEM-related jobs.

The two days tour started on October 9th includes a visit to Dow AgroSciences headquarter, Eli Lily and Company corporate campus, Roche Diagnostics and Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI). I also attended a poster session and a networking reception at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit. In the networking event, I met with the members of the Indy Science Connect networking organization and industry professionals from companies like Eli Lily, Dow AgroSciences, and Labcyte Inc. I had the opportunity to engage with them in STEM research and think about how I might connect to tech-related jobs post graduation or participate in an internship program. 

With some of the students at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit
With some of the students at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit

This tour has been an eye-opening experience because I was impressed by the diversity of life science ecosystems in Indiana, especially in and around Indianapolis. It was also inspiring to learn from the Purdue alumni and other industry professionals about their journey to building a successful career after leaving the school. On a fun note, I also had the chance to meet new friends and explore the city together. I hope Purdue will keep on supporting such accessible interactive event that will enrich students experience during their graduate studies.

A group picture in front of Dow AgroSciences headquarter (thank you, Jennifer Hale, from Dow AgroSciences for the picture).
A group picture in front of Dow AgroSciences headquarter (thank you, Jennifer Hale, from Dow AgroSciences for the picture).

Due to company policy, taking a picture is not allowed most of the times during the tour but here is some information about the companies to share a bit of excitement about the tour:

Founded in the 1950s, Dow AgroSciences has been a part of Indiana’s agriculture heritage and is one of the biggest companies that develop sustainable chemical and biotechnology solutions for increasing crop productivity. Ely Lily is an American global pharmaceutical company that was founded by Colonel Eli Lily in 1876. They have developed and delivered trusted medicines includes treatments in the areas of oncology, cardiovascular, diabetes, critical care, neuroscience, men’s health and musculoskeletal fields. Roche Diagnostics is a part of the Roche company businesses, one of the largest biotechnologies company in the world. Roche Diagnostics focus on delivering diagnostic solutions to provide sustainable healthcare and improve people’s lives. Meanwhile, IBRI is a relatively new institute founded in 2012 that has a mission to bring world-class research talents to Indiana to enable discovery science and innovation, working in collaboration with academic and industry researcher.

Experiences of the Purdue Study Abroad Program

I learned Spanish as my second language ten years ago. When I took the course, the instructor said that if you want to improve or even make a great progress of your Spanish, you must go to Spain or any other country speaking Spanish. Two years ago when I walked in the hallway in MSEE building, a professor asked me ”Are you interested in being TA in study abroad course next Maysemester? We will go to Spain for three weeks.” What? Going to Spain! Yes! Absolutely!

I went to Spain in May semester in the past two years. I have been to Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. I spent three weeks each year in Spain and learned a lot of fun Spanish culture. The class was in the whole morning everyday and students might do their homework in the afternoon or visit attractions around the city. As TA in this class, my job was to take care of all the students not only on their homework but on their safeties as well. Most of the time, I roamed in the city with the students, having the must-eat paella, must-watch flamenco dance, and must-visit Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. We also found a bistro serving almost unlimited tapas. You ordered any kind of drinks and the bistro gave you all tapas they made. The tapa is one of famous cuisine in Spain. You may think tapa as appetizer. It may be cold or hot. In fact, a tapa is a small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine.

Since it costs less (three or four euros depending on the alcohol people order), students went there for their dinner several times. I did not drink and I don’t drink. So, I ordered orange juice. When I ordered orange juice, the server thought I wanted orange juice with alcohol. After 5 –minute explanation with my poor Spanish, he understood with his weird smile. I was glad that I ordered my pure orange juice andhe was also surprised that someone did not drink alcohol in the bistro. After three days, I went to the bistro again. The server recognized me and gave me orange juice right away. I thought to myself that “I want apple juice or just water.”

In the first year, five students and I decided to visit Rome at the last minute on the three-day long weekend. I made an absolutely wise decision to visit another country. I never forget what a colossal coliseum it is. When I went out of the subway, I was not ready yet to see the amphitheater. But, this tremendous building, one of seven wonders of the world, was right in the front of me. I couldn’t wait to visit inside. To my surprise, in the arena, I ran into a college friend who we have not met for more than ten years after the graduation. What a small world! It reminds me that all roads lead to Rome. So, next time if you really want to meet someone, go to coliseum!

This year, we had a cooking class. We learned to cook one of the famous Spanish food: tortilla (Spanish potato omelette). The chief told us the procedure. We peeled potatoes and cut them as diced potatoes. Then, we deep-fried the diced potatoes. After that, we put the fried potatoes into the eggs and slice onions. Mix and smear evenly before we pan-fry them. The difficulty was to flip the thick omelette and pan-fry again. I love this dish. Students and I were glad that we had a great opportunity to cook Spanish food taught by real Spanish people. The fun fact is the day after I came back to the U.S., I went to the supermarket and bought the ingredients to make the tortilla again.

At Sevilla, we had pre-talk of bullfight.We learned the history of bull fight and why Spanish people had bullfight. The bull fighter, called the matador, also wore his custom and told us the function of each part he had. Some students and I also went on stage experiencing how to trick the bull with their big and heavy red rag. Some students refused to watch bullfight in the beginning because they thought it was really cruel. However, after the pre-talk, they learned the custom/reason why Spanish people continue to have this event each year and how they were going to treat the bulls after they were killed. Some students changed their minds and would like to watch the game in live because they wanted to be more involved in Spanish culture not just listening the presentation but also watching the real show. They wanted to see what was going on and tried to deal with the cultural difference. Not always thinking from their own side, students wanted to pretend they are Spanish and figure it out why the bullfight event continues. This is also the spirit of Boiler Abroad.

I was glad that I had the chance to visit Spain and practice my Spanish. I also immersed myself into the local culture. It was a great experience to learn professional and cultural knowledge at the same time. This program provides me to gain global perspective and intercultural experience. If you have this chance, don’t miss it!

Barcelona Purdue Flag Biking in Seville Bullfight in Madrid Seville
Paris Madrid Palace Bullfight in Seville Host Family in Seville

 

 

 

Waiting for the Show

An Ordinary Atypical Day as a Graduate Student

Hellooooo World!!! I am David and in this post I am going to talk about one of the (special) days that I have lived and enjoyed here at Purdue University.

First of all, you would say… “this guy made a mistake in the title.” Well, that may be true, but read it again slowly… As a graduate student, everyday is different, everyday is atypical because you have the power to organize yourself, to build each day as a different day and not stick to the routine (or stick to it if it is what you need). That is why I call this piece of enjoyable reading “an ordinary atypical day as graduate student.”

The day I am going to talk about was a Cold Day in the Sun and it was special because I went to one of the best concerts I have ever been. It was one of These Days that you wake up and you say: “David, today you have to give The Best of You ” and you get up with energy because you know what is coming. The good thing of being in grad school is that you do not have imposed everyday schedules and the bad thing is that you have deadlines and meetings.

At the Show
David waiting for the show!

Two of them were scheduled for that morning. I always complain about meeting, I think I have too many, that distract me from doing research that is what I want to do All my Life. But I have to recognize that meetings in graduate school teach you as much as the research itself if one is able to see the big picture. Being a researcher is not only to spend time in the lab, but built confidence on yourself and your work and share it with the research community. This last part, in which a lot of us (young researchers) miserably fail is the Generator of future research. In meetings you can learn how to interact with people, how to express your ideas to different kind of public and how to motivate young researchers (also, sometimes you learn how you should not behave, but let’s stick to the positive things).

The two morning meetings were exhausting for My Poor Brain, so we decided to go have lunch around Lafayette. There are amazing places to eat here in Lafayette-West Lafayette. I think the multicultural environment around the university has brought the best of each place around the world to this town in Indiana. The food is one of them and I especially enjoy Asiatic food so we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant here in West Lafayette (I will not write names to avoid advertising buuuut if you need info about good food around here you can reach me).

After lunch, time to do research. This is something important that I have learned during my time at Purdue: even when you are Exhausted, you have to progress everyday in your research. You choose your pace and the way you do it, since normally supervisors leave you Enough Space to be your own boss the most part of the time, but the progress needs to be there. So that special and cold day, I spent four hours in the lab before hitting the road for that concert I waited Everlong. The concert, unfortunately, was not in West Lafayette, but if you (or one of your friends) have a car it is normal to drive one or two hours to see one amazing spectacle that normally you are not able to enjoy in the place you are from. Lafayette is one hour drive from Indianapolis where I have been in several concerts of all kind of music and sports spectacles as NBA games, NFL games and motor races in the famous Motor Speedway of Indianapolis. If one drives North for two hours, one arrives to the Windy City: Chicago. Obviously if in Indianapolis you can enjoy all the aforementioned shows, you cannot imagine in Chicago, but this will be for another post.

Coming back to our special day, we drove west to Urbana, Illinois. It is a place similar to Lafayette, maybe a bit bigger, but one of the best groups of the world (and history) was playing there. The concert was amazing. It was a three hours concert with the top hits of this group, which name for the moment I have not mentioned. When you go to a concert like that, it is difficult to put in a paper how you and the people around you feel, so if you are curious, you know… come to Purdue.


A nice moment during the concert.

 The concert finished around midnight, and we had to come back home. Moreover, when you pass from Illinois to Indiana you have to add one hour more, so at the end of the day (or the beginning of the next day) we were pretty much dead, and you feel even worse thinking that the next day I had another meeting. But I know that Times Like These are unforgettable in all the senses, for work and for leisure so I always enjoy the ride to Purdue and at Purdue, and I am ready to Learn to Fly thanks to the Boilermaker spirit!!

I hope you enjoy the reading and for future posts… I’ll Stick Around so you should too!

Best wishes to everyone!
David Gonzalez Cuadrado

P.S.: I did not say the name of the band…. If you are fans you should have guessed it in the second paragraph!! For the ones not into rock music, go to Youtube, look for the bold and cursive titles in the text and enjoy the music!!