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Creating and Sustaining Productive Research Groups in Graduate Engineering Departments: Results from a Faculty and Future Faculty Workshop

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Research and Graduate Studies

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.356.1 - 25.356.26



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Paper Authors


John Andrew Janeski Virginia Tech

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John Andrew Janeski is a Dean's Teaching Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Department. His primary research interests center around spacecraft dynamics and control. However, the Dean's Teaching Fellowship has afforded him the opportunity to pursue research topics that span his experiences as a graduate student and instructor. He earned his bachelor's degree in physics from Rhodes College.

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Erin Crede Virginia Tech

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Erin D. Crede completed her Ph.D. in engineering education from Virginia Tech, where she also completed her B.S. and M.S. in aerospace engineering. Her research interests include international diversity and retention in graduate engineering programs and mixed methods research techniques. She is currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Engineering Education Department at Virginia Tech and teaching for the Aerospace Engineering Department.

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Maura J. Borrego Virginia Tech

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Maura Borrego is an Associate Professor and Former Director of the Graduate Program in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, currently serving as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. She recently held a 2010-2011 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship at the National Science Foundation. Borrego’s engineering education research awards include PECASE, CAREER, and two outstanding publication awards from the American Educational Research Association for her journal articles. Her research interests include engineering faculty development, specifically how faculty members decide to apply the results of educational research, and interdisciplinary graduate education in STEM. She is an editorial board member for Journal of Engineering Education and Chair of the American Society for Engineering Education’s Educational Research and Methods Division. Borrego has developed and taught graduate level courses in engineering education research methods and assessment from 2005-2010. All of Borrego’s degrees are in materials science and engineering. Her M.S. and Ph.D. are from Stanford University, and her B.S. is from University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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Chris Venters Virginia Tech

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Chris Venters is a Ph.D. candidate in engineering education at Virginia Tech. His primary research interests involve studying conceptual understanding among students in early undergraduate engineering courses. He received his B.S. in aerospace engineering from North Carolina State University and his M.S. in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech.

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Creating and Sustaining Productive Research Groups in Graduate Engineering Departments: Results from a Faculty and Future Faculty WorkshopIn July 2011, 45 engineering graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty members andadministrators from 33 universities across the country met to discuss how to foster successfulengineering graduate research groups. Research groups, in which two to twenty (or more)graduate students are advised by one professor, are the most typical mode of research training forengineering master’s and PhD students. Students in the same group often share equipment andlab, or office space. The close collaboration between graduate students often leads to themlearning as much from each other as they do from their advisor. As a result, students in asupportive and productive research group are more likely to persist in a challenging graduateprogram. Successful research groups help students become independent researchers who alsowork well on teams.In this paper, we provide an overview of the workshop organization and expand on the findingsfrom the workshop, presenting detailed examples and recommendations across a wide range ofdisciplines, types of universities, and levels of faculty experiences. We conclude with theimplications for the graduate engineering community and offer recommendations for facultymembers interested in continuing this discussion at their institution.Analysis of workshop discussions yielded four major themes: clarity of expectations, attendingto community, organization for group and peer learning, and structuring student developmenttowards independence. Specific findings centered on the idea that expectations should be madeclear to students as early as possible. As groups increase in size, it becomes less efficient for oneadvisor to individually mentor and develop expectations for each student. Postdoctoralresearchers or more advanced graduate students can contribute to mentoring while developingtheir skills for future positions. Faculty members should use scaffolding techniques with studentsto require increasing responsibility and creativity over time. Time should also be spentdeveloping community among research group members to increase the chances they willapproach each other for help and support. Finally, setting concrete and challenging butachievable goals can also help motivate students.

Janeski, J. A., & Crede, E., & Borrego, M. J., & Venters, C. (2012, June), Creating and Sustaining Productive Research Groups in Graduate Engineering Departments: Results from a Faculty and Future Faculty Workshop Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21114

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