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The Research Proposition and Professional Development: Update on First-Year Graduate Student Preparation

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Focus on Capstone Experiences in the Chemical Engineering Curriculum

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1494.1 - 22.1494.10



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Paper Authors


David F. Ollis North Carolina State University

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David Ollis is Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. He has taught professional development and technical writing courses at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

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The Research Proposition and Professional Development: Update on First Year Graduate Student Preparation In 1992, our department abandoned the use of written qualifying exams for ourfirst year students, and installed instead a new 3 unit spring course titled “The ResearchProposition” which provided a formal introduction to research, including problemselection, literature searching, outlining, drafting, revising and presenting a 15 pagewritten research proposal (Ollis, 1995). The course was well received by both graduatestudents and faculty, and has been a requirement ever since. Over time, the course has been modified to include professional developmenttopics, and is now expanded into a two semester fall-spring first year sequence. Itemscurrently covered in each 2 unit course are summarized below: Fall lecture topics: Introduction to research, research ethics, electronic literaturesearching, proposal structure and substance, writing style, research problemidentification, advisor expectations, intellectual property and patents, and laboratorynotebooks. Fall deliverables: The dominant activities here are those leading to construction,writing, and presentation of a short (10 pp) original research proposal. By the end of fall semester, the student will also have attended researchpresentations from departmental faculty and completed student-advisor assignments. Inthe second, spring semester, the student, in occasional consultation with the PhD advisor,constructs and defends an NSF-format proposal before a committee consisting of thecourse instructor and the PhD advisor, with two additional faculty, at least one of whomwill be on the PhD committee for the student. The motivation for the major changes, from a solo spring proposal, to a twosemester , two proposal format was the desire to accelerate engagement with researchrelated activity on behalf of the student. The fall provided opportunity for earlierconstruction of an original proposal. With experience in proposal construction anddefense accomplished, the student in the spring could focus on initiating the research,writing and defense of his/her PhD proposal. Spring lecture topics: Writing a research calendar, incorporation of engineeringorder-of-magnitudes analysis in proposals, ethics in proposal writing, critique andrevision of proposal and papers, conference presentations, and research publication. Spring activities are largely associated with proposal construction, now withsimultaneous engagement of the research advisor as well as members of the advisor’sresearch group. Student evaluations indicate strong satisfaction with this accelerated introductionto research and advisor conversations. Faculty assessment of the current format indicatesthe following favorable outcomes: earlier engagement of the first year student withresearch advisor, with research topic, earlier student integration into lab group, earlierPhD committee formation and student-committee engagement, and earlier advisorcounseling of the student. We have also added a research progress presentation (slides, no document) to thefull PhD committee in the middle of the second year. Faculty assessment indicatesearlier student engagement with the full PhD committee, as well as faster initial progressin research. D.F.Ollis, The Research Proposition, Chemical Engineering Education, 1995, pp 222.

Ollis, D. F. (2011, June), The Research Proposition and Professional Development: Update on First-Year Graduate Student Preparation Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18378

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