Perspectives on Being GROUPER
A few weeks ago during a GROUPER lab meeting, a discussion occurred in the lab about how GROUPER, as well as Dr. Caldwell, treat research and academic advising differently than others. Some of the items mentioned included that Dr. Caldwell has weekly meetings with advisees, mentors lab members on group efforts of conference paper proceedings and journal publications, and, one of the most obvious if you’ve been following his blog, has all advisees meet, generally bi-weekly [that’s every other week–BC], to talk about their projects and receive feedback from the group. However, there was one additional item to mention that had to be experienced first before it could make the above list; Dr. Caldwell invites GROUPERs and Space Grant members to his house for dinner.
This event, whether it’s at Dr. Caldwell’s house or a local restaurant, is affectionately known as a “GROUPER group get-together gathering”, or a G4. It allows GROUPERs and Space Grant members to interact and talk about work but also their personal lives. One of the things I find about the G4 that makes the GROUPER lab so different than other labs is that I know when I’m with my fellow GROUPERs, it’s ok to talk about my personal life and not focus so heavily on the academic and research side of my life. The G4 demonstrates to me that Dr. Caldwell, and even the other GROUPERs and Space Grant members, acknowledge that I have a personal life and sometimes stepping away from work, eating some good food, and talking to people gets me to relax. Furthermore, something so simple as Dr. Caldwell letting the GROUPERs take home leftovers is an indication that he, my advisor, is not only concerned about helping me succeed academically but also ensuring in some way that I don’t go crazy (or hungry) trying to get there. The G4 gives us the chance to step away, even for a small amount of time, from our work and creates a sense of camaraderie among the GROUPERs and even Space Grant members.
There are different things I enjoyed during my first non-work gatherings, especially as a new student at Purdue. It is very motivating to meet former students, discuss what they are doing after they graduated, it gives real life examples of what I might be doing after I get my degree. Non-work gatherings is also an opportunity to meet with different members of the lab, get to know more about their personal life, …etc. This creates a healthy working environment back in the lab, when you are surrounded by friends that you can rely on or happily help them on their work; rather than just colleagues or lab mates that you know nothing about.
Also, having these regular gatherings makes me feel attached to the place, encourage me to do more for it, even after I graduate. Support newer students the same way I am receiving support now!
A number of students each year ask about opportunities to work in the GROUPER lab. Rather than simply describe my expectations on what sort of person is best suited for recruiting into the lab, I decided to ask those who have experienced it: current and former GROUPER students. Their perspectives on being GROUPER are consistent, and should be considered by students with an interest in our research. While this list does not cover all of the suggestions for what a student should be, and expect from Prof. Caldwell, it addresses several of the factors achieving greatest consensus in the responses.
To be successful in GROUPER, one should be:
“You need to be more than just a team player. To get the most out of the GROUPER experience you have to be generous in terms of sharing information and helping others.” –KSB
“The GROUPER experience is so valuable because it provides you with the opportunity to collaborate with others who have the same passion for HF, regardless of the specific domain they may be interested in. … I remember coming across an obstacle during my thesis research. During a regular GROUPER meeting, I shared my thoughts and asked for feedback on how to overcome this particular problem. It was extremely helpful to bounce ideas around and benchmark lessons learned from other domains people were researching.” –LIB
“I would recommend the GROUPER lab to anyone who is willing to work and receive constructive feedback on their efforts to complete their studies well. Additionally, being with a group of students who have the same pursuit and are willing to help each other out greatly contributes to an environment ripe for success.” SD
“What I think I needed to bring to get the most out of GROUPER are … able to provide help to other lab members, [and] willingness to help lab and not just self i.e., how do we make GROUPER look good and not just how do we make xxx look good” –AJB
“In the end, GROUPER teammates are able to manage projects and do their part of the detailed work. Communication with teammates is very important, since diversity in thought, projects, and experiences provides a huge supply of possibilities that no individual can have on his or her own.” –JDO
“I would highly recommend two learning strategies for new GROUPER: learning by doing and learning from peers.” – EW
Innovative and Persistent:
“A GROUPER teammate cannot succeed without a commitment to thinking about a problem not just in meetings, in classes, or during research, but constantly. The best out-of-the-box thinking comes when not working within the box but still thinking about the problem.” –JDO
“Working in the GROUPER lab is fun and educational. However, you need to be prepared for challenges as well. You will learn how to turn an ill-defined project into a successful project.” –EW
“Lab needs/expectations of a student to be successful in Grouper… [includes] interaction with lab members for innovative ideas and different perspectives” –RCP
Proactive / Self-Motivated:
“We aren’t all going to be inventors, but you can’t wait for someone to tell you how to make improvements. You’ve got to get out there and do them yourself!” –KSB
“In order to get the most out of the GROUPER experience, it’s important to be pro-active and take advantage of all the resources available to you—from your lab mates to Dr. C to the very books inside the lab, a wealth of information is waiting.” –LIB