Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Art of Writing Good Research Proposals

After the Fall Break, we’ll have a seminar workshop on how to write good research proposals. This is in addition to the first few weeks of initiatives on how to do research, search literature and avoid plagiarism. The seminar will use the NSF Graduate Fellowship as the model to teach us the art and science of writing good proposals that people of diverse background can understand.

NSF Graduate fellowship program is one the most prestigious programs for graduate students in the nation. Like most fellowship programs, NSF pays a stipend and a travel and tuition allowance. Yet, the program requires only 2 pages as a proposal on research, 2 pages on ‘what do I want to become when I grow up and why?’ And another 2 pages on ‘what have I done so far and why?’ Two pages may seem like a relatively easy assignment. But you will all soon find out that clear communication in limited bandwidth can be quite a difficult task.

So our goal will be to clearly articulate fascinating research ideas succinctly and in a manner that retains the reviewer’s interest after the first few lines. In this workshop, our goal will be to understand the dos and don’t of writing a good and brief proposal on your research plan. This is something that we need to master as part of our graduate degree requirement. If you can write a good NSF graduate fellowship proposal, you should be able to write anything in a succinct, brilliant and convincing manner to convince your advisor and committee.

More importantly, this skill can impress your future employer and help you rise up professionally!

Welcome to Fall 2012 Season of CEE6910 Graduate Seminar

Welcome CEE Grad students to yet another semester full of many planned activities for our graduate seminar series!! In this series, we have lined up an outstanding group of speakers. This is the first time we have selected more than half of our seminar speakers from outside institutions such as Ohio State, Tufts University, University of Tennessee, University of Tokyo, Illinois Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

With support from CEE and the Water Center, we have arranged for some of the world’s best authorities in their field. We have Prof. CK Shum of Ohio State, an expert in the field of satellite detection of water bodies from space, particularly sea level and ice. He was part of the IPCC community that shared the Nobel Prize for Peace on Climate Change. He is also a distinguished member of the National Academy of Sciences. From Tufts University, we have Dr. Akanda, who is one of the few pioneers to have studied the interconnection between health epidemics and water using modern monitoring techniques. One of our very own BS alum (class of 2007), Dr. Brent Stephens, is planned as an outstanding seminar speaker on built environment and indoor air quality. From University of Tennessee, we have Dr. Rahbar to speak to us about new concepts of structural design. Lastly, Dr. Francis Turk from Jet Propulsion Laboratory will present emerging technology on monitoring the state of our planet’s rainfall patterns that engineers need to know for operations and design.

In addition to all the above, CEE Graduate Program is delighted to host Dr. Kumiko from University of Tokyo for a 2 day visit. Dr. Kumiko has selected Tennessee Tech’s Civil Engineering program as one of the three programs in the US relevant for his research on understanding the impact of infrastructure (dam) building on climate and extreme weather. The other universities he has selected to visit are University of Alabama-Huntsville and University of Colorado.

In short, we are indeed very privileged that our graduate program and the seminar series continue to be regarded and supported well by our peers. This is certainly a testament to CEE’s commitment to provide you all with a quality education at the graduate level.

I hope you will all make a conscious effort to get the best out of these world class experts that CEE is making available to you at your doorstep. Because you won’t get such a chance so easily once you graduate. Go TTU-CEE!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First Speaker of the Fall 2011 CEE seminar series captivates graduate students with exciting research on aviation!

This quote of our first seminar speaker to Fall 2011 seminar series still rings in my head. ‘We have a pilot friend who told us about how planes operate. I mean, all of us drive cars – but how many of us drive aeroplanes, huh?’ Thus said Dr. Megan Ryerson, Assistant Professor of University of Tennessee- Knoxville, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, as she made a compelling and mesmerizing introduction to the topic of aviation transport. As Dr. Ryerson spoke, students and faculty alike (myself included!) learned loads of insightful material that would have otherwise taken many years to learn in graduate school the conventional way (i.e., burning the midnight lamp reading books). It soon became clear, after listening to an hour of her talk where time flew very fast, that having eloquent speakers for gaining a broader view of Civil Engineering beyond the domain of individual research is an absolutely essential component to the graduate student experience.

During the Sept 13, 2011 seminar, we all learned, with an engineer’s curiosity, about the inside scoop on airline fare pricing in the US and why Southwest airlines has done so well. Or why charges for using the restroom while airborne may one day become a reality for American Airlines if Dr. Ryerson’s research is not heeded. We also got reinforced on the concept of ‘Occam’s razor’ –alternatively known as the ‘law of parsimony’. When faced with competing choices that are equal in other respects, Occam suggests selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions. While many of us may have been already taught about this, it is not until you experience the journey of dealing with complexity that you sometimes realize that ‘small and simple’ is indeed much more beautiful. Dr. Ryerson found out that a simple linear model like A=B+C worked out on the back of an envelope can sometimes actually achieve comparable levels of accuracy as a complex technique that takes years to set up and execute. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.”

So folks – please dwell on the Occam’s razor as you each perform your own research in a subject area. And please take inspiration from Dr Ryerson style of lucid introduction that was both persuasive and easy to understand (for anyone!). The complex topics were broken down to the simplest parables using the simplest of language. Most of all, please learn to enjoy what you do as research and share that joy unabashedly with your colleagues (it gets infectious in a good way to help others understand your point of view).

Lastly – on behalf of the CEE department, I want to thank Dr. Ryerson for visiting us and delivering an outstanding lecture to our graduate students. She did all this braving a 80 mile drive and remaining composed as ever as her eastern standard time wrist watch, unadjusted for the central time zone difference, warned that she had only a minute left for starting the seminar as lunch was being served. For an expectant mother of two who can stay calm against such stressful situations and still give a calm, composed and exciting presentation – we salute her!

[And to Megan personally – please become a pilot one day. I will feel much more relieved as a passenger with such calm company such as hers to steady a ship passing through turbulence that I would rather study only in my atmospheric models].

Friday, November 26, 2010

Graduate Seminar speaker dazzles and wows CEE students with a bi-cycle and a stimulating topic

It is not often that we get to see and hear a seminar where time just flies and our attention is captured with stimulating and easy to understand topics. However, this is exactly what happened on October 12th, when Dr. Chris Cherry, a transportation engineering faculty at University of Tennessee (Knoxville)'s Civil Engineering Department visited TTU campus.

Chris Cherry almost literally rode into the seminar hall on his state-of-the-art bi-cycle when he presented his seminar titled "Electric Scooters Market Potential and Environmental Impacts in Vietnam: Results of a Stated Preference Experiment." The bi-cycle that he brought to the room ran on electricity and could automatically shift modes (like a Prius) between analog and electric as needed (I verified it myself later that the ride was better than one offered by an overpriced Prius!).

The hands-on example of the bi-cycle, a stimulating topic on sustainability issues of public transportation and a presentation that effused with passion, self-belief and a savvy sartorial attire, were enough to have TTU CEE students 'wow'ed and eager to want to know more about graduate research in Dr. Cherry's area. Unlike most seminar presentations, Dr. Cherry started off in a captivating way showing the students the big picture of public transportation involving scooters in South and Southeast Asia. He then talked about his funded research outcomes in Vietnam and India where the difference in culture, perception and local infrastructure played an important role on research results. He ended with exciting details of an exciting bi-cycle rental plan that he plans on managing for UT campus this year.

The lesson for all CEE graduate students here is that we should not be afraid to be original in ideas when delivering a seminar. Rather than focusing on the nuts and bolts of the methodology, equations/formula, it is more important to infect the audience with the enthusiasm we have within us for the outcomes and big picture of our research (i.e., why should anyone care about our work?). And of course, if you have a hands-on example to display in class, bring that to the room.

So folks, the next time you deliver a seminar, unleash that genie that's been trapped in your bottle and let the audience see how passionate and enthusiastic you are about your research.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why did I pursue Graduate Studies in Civil Engineering? - A Student's Personal Perspective

Hello Graduate Clubbers!

Today we would like to feature an essay on the type 'why did I study Civil Engineering and what do I want to be when I grow up?' Thanks to Lindsay Bryant, we have an excellent personal example of 'Why Civil Engineering'. I think this essay will help us all reflect and articulate the long-term agenda for our professional life. This is also important if some of you try to apply for fellowships and research proposal competitions where you have to usually write a 2-3 page personal essay. A good example of this is the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship competition that will be overviewed during the third week of the CEE6910 Graduate Seminar Course.

Lindsay Bryant's Personal Statement (Pubished courtesy of Lindsay Bryant, class of 2011 MS)

As an undergraduate student, I have taken every opportunity to develop my engineering competencies through my involvement in extracurricular activities. I am currently starting my seventh semester at Tennessee Technological University (TTU) and have been heavily involved in many activities within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), including the ASCE concrete canoe team and steel bridge team. In 2008, I was captain of the concrete canoe team and the retention and recruitment chair for our ASCE chapter. Through this experience I learned to delegate tasks, to work as a team, and to be an inspiring leader. As retention and recruitment chair, I went to all the freshman engineering classes and gave a presentation about our ASCE chapter. Also, I am constantly trying to encourage my fellow classmates and undecided freshmen to get involved. During my sophomore year, I was elected secretary of ASCE. I have had extensive involvement with ASCE since my freshman year and plan to continue my involvement during graduate school.

In addition, since January 2007, I have been an undergraduate research assistant in the field of cement-based materials. In this role, I have studied many aspects of cement and concrete technology such as early strength high performance concrete, alkali-silica reaction, delayed ettringite formation, and external sulfate attack. Through this research, I have had the opportunity to travel and present my research. I have been a student member of ACI since 2007 and have attended two ACI Conventions (Atlanta in April 2007 and St. Louis in November 2008). Moreover, I have participated for the past two years in TTU’s Student Research Day, where I presented posters of my current research progress to faculty and my peers. Also, I represented the TTU CEE department at the 4th Annual Undergraduate Research Posters at the Capital in Nashville, TN, where I presented research results to several legislatures. Furthermore, I presented at Argonne National lab for the 19th Annual Argonne Symposium for Undergraduates in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics in Argonne, IL. Through these presentations, I have had the opportunity to advance my knowledge and that of others in engineering.

In addition to being involved in ASCE and undergraduate research, I am also active in other organizations as well. I am an officer in the Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society and a member of the Tennessee Technological University Honors Program. Through the Honors Program, I was engaged in extra coursework that provided me an opportunity to explore my academic interests while making contributions in my research and personal activities. For instance, I was able to participate in a directed study with a CEE professor to further enhance my research studies. This experience allowed me to work independently in developing a more in-depth knowledge of research.

Furthermore, I was an officer of the Engineering Joint Council my sophomore year. This council is a representative group of students that promotes engineering in the local middle and high schools, as well as on campus through engineering week. This experience provided me with the opportunity to share my passion for engineering with the younger generation. Since I have been able to take on a number of leadership positions throughout my undergraduate career, I have advanced in my personal and professional growth.

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have demonstrated an enthusiasm for promoting engineering and research through community outreach. Each year, I volunteer for the annual FIRST Lego League competition. This is a competition where middle school students from all around the state come to compete with autonomous robots. I am extremely passionate about this competition in that it promotes engineering to young students and shows them how fun and helpful engineering can be to others. Secondly, I have volunteered for “Engineering a Future” most every semester since my freshman year. This program is designed to inspire young females to become engineers. With this program, I have been able to teach these aspiring engineers and scientists principles of engineering through design and engineering related experiments. I feel it is very important to mentor these young girls so that they realize all the possibilities that are out there for them. I am devoted to helping others to benefit society while passing on my own enthusiasm for engineering and research to the next generation of students. Lastly, I have participated in community service through several Habitat for Humanity projects and through two ASCE cave-cleanup projects. Both of these have allowed me to branch outside of the university campus to help make the community a better place using my engineering background.

I plan to pursue my M.S. and Ph.D. immediately following completion of my B.S. I feel that graduate school will provide more in depth knowledge of civil engineering. Additionally, I know graduate school will provide me with unique opportunities to develop my critical thinking and reasoning skills. At this time, I am undecided whether, upon graduation, to pursue a career in industry or academia. While I have been passionate about promoting research and extracurricular activities, I want to explore my interest in teaching.

Upon completing my Master’s degree, I plan to continue in school to improve on the life of concrete structures and help the environment at the same time. In addition, as an engineer, one of my personal and professional goals is to apply the knowledge and skills learned from my education to advance the way people live and to preserve the environment. Thus, I hope to design new and improved methods for construction of eco-friendly buildings. I have developed these goals during my college career through my academic, extracurricular, and research experiences which have in turn motivated and developed my own personal and research interests.

I believe that I am a very ambitious and committed person. The NSF Graduate Fellowship would serve several roles in enabling me to achieve my goals. Most importantly, the fellowship would allow me to work on a research project in line with my career objective rather than a project that happens to have funding. By freeing up resources in both time and money, the fellowship would also provide more opportunities for undergraduates to be included in the research program and would be an incredible opportunity for me to gain experience in mentoring students and managing small teams.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Starting a Club for CEE graduate students

Hello all (old and new CEE grad students)!
Welcome to the TTU CEE Grad Club blog. This blog forum has been created this Fall 2010 for students, to give them a sense of community and closeness not just among their cohorts but also with the department and faculty.

As we begin our first official CEE6910 CEE Graduate Seminar Series this Fall 2010, the Graduate Club and its blog will hopefully play a useful role for both current, incoming and prospective students to our graduate program. Almost a year ago, the idea of a graduate club was floated as a forum for discussions and planning fun social events with faculty. Now, with CEE6910 being mandatory for all grad students at least once in their plan of study, is a good time to push this idea of a graduate club and the blog to reality.

The administration of this blog and the email CEEGradClub@gmail.com will soon be passed on to a senior graduate student when the seminar series begins in early Fall as soon as a 'Club President' is decided. That way, this blog and Club will be managed/moderated entirely by students.

The idea behind this blog is to encourage students to post their ideas, problems, questions and practically *anything* under the sun (subject to netiquette) that students may want to pursue or have a feedback on. In particular, this blog should be a place to help each other. Through this, I hope there will be greater interaction among graduate students and feel as a member of the graduate community. Students will hopefully get to know what the other(s) is(are) doing in their respective field of study rather than being a 'silo' or a disconnected entity. With that idea of what the other is doing, perhaps, students can help each other and prevent the reinvention of the wheel.

For example, a first year student may want to know what a 'plan of study' is, or 'how to form a committee?' or 'how to impress a faculty advisor as a graduate research assistant?' or 'how to learn more about plagiarism and its correction?' or 'what is a good book for shell programming?' A prospective student may find useful information in a past blog on the typical climate of Cookeville and average living expense. An international student may pose questions on getting a ride from or to the airport.

Many good ideas start with a lot of excitement, but progress and end with a whimper. I wouldn't want this 'Club' and blog idea to suffer a similar fate. Rather, to be realistic, I think it is better to keep activities of the Blog and Club to a level that is 'sustainable' or manageable within the time constraints.

As the Graduate Affairs Chair, I would however have one request for the Club. At least once a year (if not every semester), I would like to see the Club organize a faculty-student social event to get to know the breadth of student and faculty alike. I believe it is important for us faculty to know our graduate students (beyond those we advise or serve on committees) and vice versa. Similarly, at least once a semester (or may be a few times a semester) there should be some sort of a 'feature article' or an Op-Ed posted by a student on an interesting topic (why don't you start with 'The Top 10 Eccentric Traits of Dr. Hossain'?). Poke fun at faculty (albeit in a harmless and respectful way)!

Remember folks - this Graduate Club and Blog are for YOU, yes YOU - our students. We have a graduate program in CEE for YOU so that YOU get the best possible and quality advanced education and research experience that the department and University can give you. So it is my hope that as a student body, you will all use this 'Clubbing' opportunity well to serve your needs (knowledge, advice, seeking jobs, long-term career-planning, developing rapport, etc.).

Have fun folks!

Faisal Hossain
Graduate Affairs Chair
PH 332
931 372 3257 (email is preferred: fhossain@tntech.edu)