Lehigh University
Lehigh University


A lecture series for grad students on professional development

Markus Gnerlich, a Ph.D. candidate in elecrical engineering, conceived the idea for the professional development lecture series.

Last year, as he was finishing up his master’s degree in electrical engineering while also serving as vice president of the Graduate Student Senate, Markus Gnerlich ‘09G had an inspiration.

The idea didn’t warrant a call to the U.S. patent office, but was designed instead to help young researchers land their first patent.

“I thought it would be great to have an informal lecture titled ‘How I got my first patent,’” said Gnerlich.

His mind continued to race and, before he knew it, Gnerlich decided Lehigh should have a regular series of how-to talks aimed at professional development for graduate students.

“I thought we could have additional lectures on publishing a book or writing a grant,” said Gnerlich, now a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering whose research focuses on developing MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) devices that measure the stiffness of individual bone cells to determine if mechanical properties of the cell’s interior are related to osteoporosis.

“These are major events in a person’s professional development that graduate students should prepare for. I wanted to encourage a mental focus on results that provide tangible benefits to society and that can be capitalized on in the form of a book, a new widget or R&D funding.”

Gnerlich, now president of the Graduate Student Senate, mentioned his idea to Kathleen Hutnik, director of graduate student life, who teamed up with Lynn D’Angelo from the office of career services to make the speaker series into a reality. Hutnik was thrilled by the positive response of faculty and staff when she asked for help to get the program off the ground.

“Every single person I asked gave me a hearty ‘yes, I’d love to participate,’” said Hutnik.

Here’s the schedule of upcoming lectures in the new professional development series.

February 1: “Getting Started with Grant Writing” by Pam Wheat, senior research program development officer

February 8: “How to Get a Patent” by Yatin Karpe, associate director of the office of technology transfer, and Tom Meischeid, director of research and sponsored programs

February 15: “Making Interdisciplinary Projects Work” A panel discussion with Elizabeth Dolan, associate professor of English and director of the Health, Medicine and Society minor; Daniel Lopresti, department chair and professor of computer science and engineering; and Stefan Maas, assistant professor of biological sciences

February 22: “How to Find a Book Publisher” by Kate Crassons, associate professor of English

All four lectures are cosponsored by the offices of graduate student life and career services and will begin at 4:15 p.m. at the Packer House, Lehigh’s new Graduate Center. Refreshments will be served.

“One of the biggest concerns that I hear from recruiters and CTOs [chief technology officers] is that we need to do a better job with professional development, of training our students in areas outside their specific research projects,” said Bruce E. Koel, interim vice president for research and graduate studies. “These lectures are an important step in building skills that will make our students more marketable and more productive in their jobs.”

Hutnik hopes graduate students attend the lectures.

“Grad students should take advantage of this series because, depending on their field, some basic knowledge in these areas could significantly contribute to their professional success,” says Hutnik. “Obtaining grants can be an integral and necessary part of a successful research career.

“Our graduate students, of course, need to be experts in their field, but they also need to be savvy about figuring out the steps of these crucial professional activities. This new lecture series is a wonderful opportunity to learn from staff and faculty who’ve had a lot of experience. Students can benefit from hearing about the trials and errors and the successes of others who’ve been through it before.”

Gnerlich, who is planning to pursue an academic career at an institution where he can continue his research work with MEMS, will be in the audience for all four lectures.

“I think it will be extremely useful to be familiar with how people take a good idea and make an impact beyond the academic world,” says Gnerlich. “We should think of ourselves as inventors, not strictly researchers.

“Engineers, scientists and even philosophers should be thinking about how an idea can create value. Graduate research in academia sometimes progresses as a series of increasingly elaborate homework problems. We should work hard not simply to develop new ideas to fill in the blank, but also to develop skills to encourage broad adoption of those ideas. These talks are focused on that transformation from idea to publicly usable knowledge.”

If you have questions about the series, contact Hutnik at (610) 758-3648 or kaha@lehigh.edu.

Story by Bill Doherty

Posted on Friday, January 29, 2010

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