Course provides inside scoop on graduate school experience

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By Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS
December 9, 2009

  • ECE 498 course exposes students to a variety of research experiences.
  • The course was designed by ECE Prof. Lynford Goddard.
  • The course includes a poster session where students present research findings to the public.

ECE Assistant Professor Lynford Goddard (left) listens as ECE graduate student Christyn Collum explains her project during a poster session for students in ECE 498LG: Principles of Experimental Research.
ECE Assistant Professor Lynford Goddard (left) listens as ECE graduate student Christyn Collum explains her project during a poster session for students in ECE 498LG: Principles of Experimental Research.

When ECE Assistant Professor Lynford L. Goddard attended his first conference in graduate school, he didn’t know he had to first submit an abstract. So he put up his poster “unofficially” on an empty board.

“I figured that everyone just attends conferences,” Goddard said. “I didn’t realize that advisers typically don’t let their students travel unless they’re presenting.”

That experience is one of the reasons Goddard created ECE 498LG: Principles of Experimental Research, which aims to expose students to graduate school.

“My idea behind creating the class was it took me six and a half years to get through grad school,” Goddard said. “Over that time, there are certain skills I picked up that if I had at the very beginning, would have been very useful in compressing the amount of time.”

Undergraduates who have taken ECE 313: Probability with Engineering Applications or graduate students in science or engineering can register for the class.

“If students know more about what grad school is about, they’ll be able to more easily get into the mode of doing research and being able to present their ideas to the public,” Goddard said.  

In the beginning of the semester, students write a brief abstract about what they would like to do for their independent project. Students then write a proposal with a detailed statement of work and a budget. They have about five weeks to carry out their experiment.

Students choose their own project, and it can relate to their research group work if they are part of one. They construct an experiment where they study at least three different factors and figure out which factors are important in a minimal amount of runs.

The students then present their research at a poster session, which was held this semester in early November in the first-floor atrium of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. Each student made a 24x36 poster and wrote a two-page IEEE formatted paper. Conference proceedings are available online at https://wiki.engr.illinois.edu/display/ece498LGFA09/.

“The posters were really good,” Goddard said. “The students put together posters that I would say are conference-level quality.”

Christyn Collum, a first-year graduate student, decided to do introductory laser calculations to find the quality of a Fabry-Perot cavity. She sent a helium-neon laser into the cavity that tests its quality. She changed the mirror, the index-refraction in the cavity, and the intensity of the incoming beam for the changing factors in the experiment’s design.

“I’m taking the ECE 455 [Optical Electronics] class with Professor Eden, and it’s my first time ever doing anything with lasers,” Collum said. “It was pretty interesting, and it was something I could do since I don’t have a research project yet. It helped better cement what we learned in that class, so it was useful.”

Although Collum felt a little nervous at the session, she said it was nice to present the information and talk to people about it.

“It was my first poster session ever, and I didn’t really know what was supposed to be on a poster,” Collum said. “It was nice to get the experience without having the pressure of being with colleagues in industry.” 

In addition to preparing students for graduate school, “the class is good preparation for senior design,” Goddard said. It is also an ECE lab elective course. And although the coursework can be heavy at times, the results can be very beneficial.

“Once they get through the first assignment and the first lab, the students who stick with it really enjoy it,” Goddard said.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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