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A Novel Paradigm For Training Graduate Students In Soft Skills

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

New Trends in CHE Education II

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.79.1 - 14.79.8

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Paper Authors


Sundararajan Madihally Oklahoma State University

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Dr. Madihally is an Associate Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at Oklahoma State University. He received his BE in ChE from Bangalore University and his PhD from Wayne State University in Chemical Engineering. He held a research fellow position at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School/Shriners Hospital for Children. His research interests include bioreactor development for tissue regeneration and the development of therapies for traumatic conditions.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Novel Paradigm for Training Graduate Students in Soft Skills

ABSTRACT Most chemical engineering programs which offer masters and PhD degrees have a common seminar series for all the graduate students. Typical seminar series includes presenters with expertise in cutting edge topics are invited. Chemical engineering is expanding and many research topics could address only a portion of the students. Further, conducting seminars for the entire duration of the semester may be cost prohibitive, leading to reduction in number of seminars. Interestingly, there are very few seminars that introduce graduate students to non- technical content that could be paramount to their future success. For example, basics of grant writing, the importance of maintaining a laboratory notebook, writing a technical report, chemical safety demonstrations or academic integrity are not addressed. At our University, we have incorporated these topics into the seminar series in addition to presentations dealing with cultural aspects. Most of the speakers are from different departments within the University. Each seminar also included a critique (homework) submission to get the feedback on their like and dislike about the presentations. These responses have been very positive and encouraging. Students have also expressed interest in many other topics such as time management, educational research and interpersonal management. Thus, there are a number of different topics that could be useful to graduate students, which potentially minimizes redundancy for resident graduate students. In summary, the seminar series can be used as a possibility of incorporating some of the soft skills into the graduate program.

Key words: graduate program, soft skills, seminars, writing, culture

INTRODUCTION. Graduate programs in various institutions are developed to advance the technical competency of the graduate students. As a degree requirement, graduate students enroll in few mandatory classes dealing with advanced chemical engineering topics such as thermodynamics, transport phenomena and reaction engineering. In addition, they also enroll in elective courses relevant to their research topic. PhD students are accepted as doctoral candidates upon successful completion of the qualifying exam (or preliminary exams) and research proposal defense. Students spend significant amount of time on research work with some getting an opportunity to i) present in scientific conferences and ii) publish in peer-reviewed journals. Degrees are granted after students successfully defend the research work by oral presentation and technical report.

Interestingly, role of these students significantly changes upon successful completion of their graduate degree. They are required to deal with a number of non-technical issues in addition to technical issues. For example, if they work in a research and development in the industry, they need to interact, lead or manage a group of researchers and technicians. If they become faculty members, they mentor graduate students, teach classes and write proposals despite no formal training in any of these roles. Their success in these roles is measured by their productivity and ability to bring financial resources. For example, a faculty member is measured for tenure on the number of publications in peer-reviewed journals, student evaluation from different courses they teach and success in obtaining extramural funds. These outcomes depend on the ability of a faculty member i) in coaching graduate students to be productive, ii) in teaching courses effectively, and iii) writing successful proposals. To perform these duties, they

Madihally, S. (2009, June), A Novel Paradigm For Training Graduate Students In Soft Skills Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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