Rutgers graduate students host first research symposium for engineers


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Photo by Nikhilesh De |

Zhumei Du, head of Cell Line Development at Merck & Co. spoke at the first annual Society of Women Engineers Graduate Research Symposium about her research and provided advice for students aiming to go into industry after graduate school.


The first annual Rutgers Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Graduate Research Symposium took three months to plan and execute, said Ashley Pennington, an engineering student in the Graduate School—New Brunswick.

Founded in September 2015, the graduate student version of SWE hopes to help both undergraduate and graduate students prepare for their careers in engineering.

“We need more graduate students in engineering, we need more engineers in general,” she said. “We need more people excited about research (and) doing research.”

The group boasts 14 members at present, she said. Of them, only six or seven can regularly attend meetings due to how busy the life of a graduate student is.

Like the undergraduate SWE, the graduate group has a mentoring program for undergraduate students in the School of Engineering. Unlike the undergraduate group, the latter focuses on helping prepare students for life after college.

“It’s graduate students mentoring undergrads who may or may not be considering graduate school, and graduate students from industry helping others,” she said. “The idea behind the mentors is not to find someone in your field, it’s to show students what life might be like after Rutgers.”

Mentors meet with their mentees every month, allowing the undergraduates to discuss whatever topics they need advice on.

“It’s helpful whether you’re going into academia or industry. In industry you’re going in at a higher level, so you’re probably going to be management. In academia you’re going to have students,” she said.

Beyond the mentorship program, running the symposium was the other main goal for the group this year, Pennington said. Planning formally began last semester, but many details were not finalized until February. The posters themselves were not printed until this past weekend.

It was intended to be multidisciplinary, although due to the organizers’ background in chemical and biochemical engineering, there was a slant towards that field, she said. They hope to have representatives from every career field for the second symposium.

Students should work with those in industry, said Zhimei Du, a senior principal scientist and the head of Cell Line Development at Merck & Co. She spoke about her work and provided advice to the guests at the symposium.

She spoke at the symposium as part of Merck’s push to expand their team, she said. She also hoped to begin a dialogue between the company and local universities, including Rutgers, to try and help graduate students with their post-academic careers.

“(We’re) extending our team, and we really want to bring fresh new blood from the University,” she said.

She said she hoped representatives from biologics companies like Merck will be able to help instruct or otherwise provide guidance to students to help better prepare them for working in industry. Right now, students have a large number of skills, but are not necessarily ready for working outside academia.

“What we’ve noticed is some people who graduate from a Ph.D. program have knowledge gaps between what they learn before they graduate and what the industry needs,” she said. “What we’re thinking is if we can fill the gaps between what the industry needs and what we have then we can streamline that process.”

SWE hopes to expand over the summer. If the mentorship program is successful, it should see more members in the fall, Pennington said.

“What we’re hoping to do is … in the summer they have an introductory graduate student orientation, and we want to try and be a part of that,” she said. “They do have some but not all of the organizations on campus, so if we can get that, it would help.”

While SWE may be named for women, the group is open to all engineering students, she said. They want to attract more engineers to graduate school, to solve issues the world will face in the future, including climate change, alternate energy and pharmaceuticals.

“Someone should be an engineer because they’re capable of being an engineer, not because of their gender,” Pennington said.

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Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor of The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.


Nikhilesh De

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