Leadership Experience at Purdue: Go for it, Learn from it, Take Advantage of it

A leadership experience can benefit you in so many positive ways, both in the short and long term. I would like to highlight three of them. First, a leadership experience can give you a competitive edge over other candidates when you apply for a job. Employers now look for leadership experience as they know that a candidate with some sort of leadership exposure will be able to deal with a situation more effectively. Next, a leadership experience can help you build connections, which you can utilize throughout your professional career. Finally, it can develop your interpersonal skills. You will get to communicate with a lot of people through your role in a particular club or association, and you will acquire different skill sets in the process.

Purdue University will provide you with many opportunities to experience leadership. My leadership journey started with volunteering for the Bangladesh Students Association in my first year. In my second year, I was elected as the president of the association. My volunteering experience in the first year gave me an opportunity to observe the association and learn how events are organized at Purdue. During my presidency in my second year, I organized several events on behalf of the association. I would like to highlight two of them. The first event was the Bangladesh Artist Festival where we were able to invite two of our prominent musical groups from Bangladesh to perform at Purdue. The event was open to all Purdue students and the community to learn more about Bangladeshi music. We were awarded a Student Fee Advisory Board (SFAB) ($58,000) grant to organize two such concerts. This also represents Purdue’s strengths in financing big events led by student organizations. 

The second event that I would like to mention is the Celebration of International Mother Language Day. International mother language day is internationally observed on February 21, and the day originated from the language movement in Bangladesh. In this event, we also involved eleven other countries to showcase their culture through different performances. It was highly appreciated by the attendees for its diversity and inclusiveness. This was funded by a One Community grant from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Because my experience was so enriching with this student organization, I decided to lead another student organization, the Purdue Association of Learning Design & Technology (PALDT,) as the president in the current academic year.

The message that I wanted to convey through these examples is that you can also lead many such events at Purdue!  Student Activities and Organizations (SAO), the unit that oversees student organizations, will be happy to support you in every possible way. The first step would be to find a student organization that you like and join that organization in some capacity. After that, you can plan on taking an officer role and execute your events! The sky is the limit for Boilermakers!

Why Did I Choose Purdue for Grad School?

I believe graduate school is one of the most important decisions you can make for your life. When you are going to college, you may not have the freedom or the means to select the university you want. However, going to graduate school is your own choice, and I felt the pressure to choose wisely. I remember making my list of things that a graduate school should have to deserve my dedication to the application process. I applied to five different universities, but Purdue was always my first choice.

Before selecting the university list, you need to define your own professional goals. And remember, graduate school, especially a Ph.D. degree, will be demanding and time-consuming. So, it is better to put your effort into something you want. Here was my list of priorities:

1) International world rankings: If I spend money and time on a graduate degree, I want that degree to be internationally recognized. And civil engineering at Purdue fulfilled this requisite easily. As a prospective graduate student, here are a few sources to check out:

Purdue Graduate Program Rankings

Civil Engineering Program News

2) Living costs: Did you know that each state in the USA can have different living costs? As a graduate student, the budget is my responsibility. Even for visa purposes, you need to check how much money you will need to have. Depending on the location of the university, you may need much more. Purdue is located in the state of Indiana in a small city called West Lafayette. These characteristics showed me that I could have a better-quality of life on a student budget.

3) Funding sources: Purdue is a massive university with more than 45 thousand students. And to attend this enormous student population, a significant infrastructure is necessary. The university has many student employment options that are incredibly helpful during your academic life.

4) Laboratory infrastructure: To study far away from home, there needs to be a reason. The university needs to have something that I could not find in other places. The impressive Bowen Laboratory is a research facility beyond expectations. With more resources available to you, your research and your career can go further.

5) Purdue spirit: I confess that I didn´t know about it before I arrived at the university, but it ended up confirming my choice to attend Purdue. It is a place where everybody wants to do their best. The students do not wish for grades “enough to pass”; they want to be the best student in the class. Graduate students want to solve big problems in the world. Professors and employees want to help students in any way they can. Everybody is proud to wear Purdue gear and apparel. When you are surrounded by people trying to do their best, you also push yourself harder to achieve more.

One thing that I didn’t know existed, and now is my favorite thing to do in my free time, watch a Purdue game. I love the Purdue spirit! Go Boilers!

Finding the Best Graduate School for You

Graduate school was always something I considered but was not sure about. I graduated with a biotech engineering degree from Tec de Monterrey in Chihuahua, Mexico and immediately started working at a local company, where I learned a lot. But after three years, I realized that I needed a change. Then, an opportunity opened up with a series of positions available at Purdue as a partnership with the Mexican scholarship program CONACYT and my alma mater, so I jumped right in.

To begin the graduate school process, I reviewed the open positions for potential fits for my interests. I did additional research on the labs and professors. After that, I learned that it is important to schedule the professor interviews to discuss the project and talk about your goals. After 3 years in grad school, I can safely say that this is the most essential step in choosing the best fit for grad school.

It is vital that you feel “connected” to the research or the lab, or even the professor’s research. I was lucky enough to find an excellent fit for me in the laboratory of renewable resources in the Department of Agricultural Biological Engineering at Purdue. As an international candidate to grad school, there is an additional layer of requirements. Whatever your options are, always remember to follow both the school and the country guidelines. Every department has specifics to their process, but everyone is happy to help when you ask kindly.

If I were to start grad school again, I would consider 3 essential things in my checklist. First, the laboratory or professor’s presence in the research topic areas is easy to see from publications and citations and potential job or academic opportunities. Second: the current state of the project finances; some projects might be eligible for you to look for funding opportunities or be already funded for your degree. Third, the cost of living and pay for your research work and how this payment will cover your expenses because you are expected to commit to this research for 2 to 5 years. This will not guarantee your success, but it certainly allows peace of mind for you to carry your research successfully.

From In-Person to Online Learning

This semester appeared full of endless possibilities and new opportunities. Being a graduate student in my last semester, and a TA in Industrial Design, my life got busy as expected. Each day I would work on my thesis, teach sketching classes for products, and have meetings with my advisor, my committee, and the instructor in charge of the courses that I am teaching.

I managed my time well and kept everything under control in both my professional and personal life. In each of my classes, my students received assignments that helped them either learn or reinforce their drawing skills. I made sure there was a safe environment to create and share ideas between classmates and to get feedback on their creations and how to make them better. I knew the change to online classes was going to be hard. No one had any experience with online teaching, and less in my department of Arts & Design. The entire Spring Break was used by all of the staff and faculty to determine the best way of teaching online and the platforms to use, whereby we could most effectively reach the students.

The first two weeks of online classes were easy, for the most part, because they relied upon the instruction given inside the physical classroom and face-to-face, and that feeling of being “in class” was still there. But the way of creating and sharing content changed with the switch to online instruction. I found it necessary to develop detailed digital presentations to explain assignments and new subjects, using platforms that I have never used before and technology that is not always reliable. As a designer, I am creative, so I developed step-by-step videos and presentations for my students to help them understand the activities and better process the material, which they could revisit if they didn’t understand something. It has been challenging to use Purdue’s WebEx platform to share sketch ideas with the students, but it has helped maintain a beneficial interaction between classmates. And, of course, I took the additional step of making myself readily available and responsive to their emails, in the hope that the dependence on technology this semester will not interfere with the primary goal, which is making sure the students acquire the knowledge and skills they are taught.

It is nice to see that most of my students have made the transition in their minds (and work) from a “vacation” at home, to real distance learning. They have been working hard and applying themselves to their work, and that makes it worth all the effort. These times are difficult for all of us, but there are many good things to learn from this experience as well. This experience forced me to take an even more in-depth view from my students’ perspectives so I could be as flexible as they needed while they adapted to these changes that seemed so overwhelming. It has pushed me to do things that I never saw myself doing before and has helped me become a better teacher as a result. It takes heat and pressure to create a diamond, and I think we are all becoming gems.

Vina Lacerna’s final project for Class AD146, a product design and storyboard.
Janna Johns’ final project for Class AD146, a product design and storyboard.

Rock Climbing Image.

Want to Start a New Sport? Climb with Us!

One of Purdue’s greatest facilities is Cordova Recreational Sports Center (CoRec), where students and faculty engage in various types of sports activities. It was renovated in 2012 and is now recognized as one of the best college recreation centers in the US (ranked 12th according to the website I came across: https://www.collegeconsensus.com/rankings/best-college-rec-centers/). It’s huge, and you never run out of things to do. One of the best things to do in CoRec is climbing as there are a big bouldering wall and top rope wall where you can climb for free (free entrance to CoRec as a student and free rental climbing shoes and gears) and make a lot of friends. If you’re looking for a new sport to start, I hope this blog can guide you to choose climbing.

Personally, I have been a relatively athletic kid, and I was in the track-and-field club for six years during junior and senior high school. But the training was too hard, and I didn’t find enough interest in it to continue after graduation. I would also enjoy seasonal sports, thanks to the rich nature in Japan, like surfing, skiing, and snowboarding. But I never had a sport that I engaged on a daily basis.

A year after I came to Purdue, my friend took me to the bouldering wall in CoRec. It didn’t take me weeks to fall in love with climbing. It’s like solving a puzzle. You have to try so many movements to find the correct one while trying to be as energy-efficient as possible. If you were a type of student who enjoyed solving math problems in high school like me, you’ll love bouldering too. Ever since I started climbing, I have been climbing three times a week, without missing any sessions unless I’m sick.

Th bouldering wall at the CoRec.

Climbing is a hot sport. The climbing population is increasing worldwide, and new gyms are opening everywhere. It’s going to be in the Olympics this year (2020) for the first time, and we climbers are all so excited about it. In most cases, indoor climbing has three components: bouldering, top rope, and lead climbing. Bouldering is on a relatively low wall, and thus you don’t have to use a rope. Top rope and lead climbing are on a tall wall where you have to use a rope. The difference between top rope and lead climbing is how you, as a climber, are belayed through rope. Lead climbing involves more risky and tricky belaying technique, but more advanced than top tope. In general, bouldering requires more technical and dynamic movements (like a math problem, and thus I enjoy bouldering more than rope climbing), and rope climbing requires endurance (anaerobic vs. aerobic).

Let me give you interesting info here (from IFSC website):

National team ranking for bouldering and lead climbing 2019

  1. Japan, Japan (bouldering, lead)
  2. Slovenia, Slovenia
  3. France, South Korea
  4. Austria, USA
  5. Germany, Austria

Yes, I’m trying to show you how awesome Japan is for climbing, but also, some of you may be thinking “but I’ve watched Alex Honnold’s Free Solo, and I think there are many strong American climbers too”. Yes, that is true. That’s where outdoor climbing comes in. Places like the US, Europe (like Spain), and South America, are where many people climb rocks outdoors because of their beautiful nature (availability of “climbable” rocks). Therefore, there are so many strong famous rock climbers in the US, but not many of them participate in international climbing competitions, which is all about indoor climbing. In countries like Japan, meanwhile, there are not as many places to climb outside (because of nature, but sometimes also because of inaccessibility to rocks), and indoor climbing is more popular.

If you think you’re more of an outdoor person, there is a famous rock climbing spot in Kentucky called Red River Gorge. It’s about 5 hours driving from Purdue, and they often have international visitors too. It’s so much fun to make a weekend trip out there with climbing friends. In any case, if you want to start indoor climbing or outdoor climbing, I will always be happy to show you, or just talk to random people at the CoRec wall. The climbing community is full of nice people, and they are always happy to welcome new climbers.

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in Forestry at Purdue University.

Learn more about other graduate student organizations at Purdue here: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/student/organizations/index.html

Women in Engineering Department - Graduate Women in Engineering Network Leadership Team.

Funding – Where to Search for the Money

I believe, for most of the students who are looking for a graduate school, funding is one of the main concerns. At least it was my biggest fear. How am I going to pay for everything? I asked this question to myself a million times. Today after I got my master’s here at Purdue, and I am working towards my Ph.D. degree, I think I know a few things that could help other students like me.

  1. Start looking for funding inside your own country before you move to the USA. Since I arrived at Purdue, I have learned about the enormous list of countries that offer scholarships to their citizens. Check online and ask inside the universities. I never heard about those scholarships before I got mine, but if you search, you will find some help!
  2. Check other options. If the government of your country does not offer any scholarships, look for programs that help different countries. The first name that comes on top of my head is the Fulbright, but there are many others. Check all the possibilities! You truly need to spend some days in front of the computer searching for everything.
  3. Talk to your future professor. Professors here in the USA have the freedom to choose the student who will receive some type of funding, like the RA – Research Assistant or TA – Teacher Assistant. So, before you select your professor, check if he or she has any available funding.
  4. Next step, check your own department. If your professor does not have any funding available, it is not the end of the world. Sometimes the department itself is looking for graduate students to hire for TA or even GA – Graduate Assistant positions. Those GA positions can be inside the department office itself, like to help with statistics of the students and things like that.
  5. Look in other departments. For example,if you are an engineering student and the engineering department is not hiring anyone, for now, do not give up. Think about your own qualities and check where someone may need your help. The math department usually hires engineering students as well. If you speak another language, the language department may be looking to hire more TA´s.
  6. Check the Purdue jobs website. Purdue is incredibly organized. And the university has a website where you can look for positions available, including GA positions. I found my GA position on this website!  https://www.purdue.edu/studentemployment/site/
  7. Be open minded. Sometimes you can find great opportunities in different and unexpected departments. Did you know that the Women in Engineering is an official department and hires graduate students? The University Residences also hire GA´s for many different programs.

Do not give up on the first no! Keep searching. The difference between success and failure sometimes is just another try!

GA for University Residences.
My boss, my students, and me; working as GA for University Residences, supervising the University Residences Multicultural Connections club.

The writer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Civil Engineering at Purdue University.

Learn more about funding and other resources for graduate school here: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/fellowship/funding-resources-for-students/index.html

Students at Summer 2019 Commencement

Do You Want to “Survive” Graduate School?

Each year, many students across the world either join or apply for graduate school. But as we might have heard, graduate school can be stressful and the amount of demand it comes with can be inundating. As a Ph.D. Candidate myself, I have experienced some of the challenges of being in graduate school, and I am glad to share tips that can help current and/or prospective graduate students be successful.

It is okay not to be okay. Due to the pressure to do more in less time, and having little leisure time, it is common for students to experience burnout. When this happens, know that you are not alone and that you are not the only one facing such kind of pressure. Most universities in the US have health centers that handle mental health issues. Thus, it is important to accept how you feel and take steps to seek help. This might entail checking for wellness resources at your institution, sharing your concerns with professionals dealing with mental illnesses, or just knowing how to prioritize tasks so as to avoid being overloaded.

Avoid unnecessary comparison with others. As a graduate student, there are times when I have been tempted to compare my success with that of other people. But at the end of the day, I realized that we all have different aspirations and goals in life. So, instead of constantly comparing myself with others, I found it more fulfilling to measure my progress against my past and present achievements. As you start your degree, set your own goals and work towards achieving them!

Manage your time well: In graduate school each minute counts! Plan ahead for all the assignments and tasks and make sure you spend your time well. Do not wait till the last minute to do all your assignments. Instead, break assignments into smaller parts then work on these parts at a time. Each little progress will amount to one giant leap in the end!

Remain on schedule: One of the ways of ensuring you graduate on time is discussing all the milestones you need to accomplish with your graduate advisor. For instance, know how many courses you should take each semester, know if you will be required to write a thesis or take the non-thesis track, and know the requirements of each track. Having regular meetings with my advisor is also another way that has helped me to constantly review my progress and adjust accordingly to suit various situations.

Stay engaged: There are many ways in which you can remain active on campus. Find a club to join, or even the gym for some regular exercises. Having volunteered as a Global Ambassador for the past 2 years, I have seen the value of volunteering as I have been able to build a network of friendships that have always come in handy. For me, staying engaged has been a good way of breaking from the rigorous academic schedule, and taking time to have fun! Remember graduate school will be as interesting or as boring as you choose. So, have fun and be happy!!

The writer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Health Communication at Purdue University.

Learn more about graduate programs offered at Purdue: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/