Dr. Paul H. Holloway
UF Department of Materials Science and Engineering
2004-2005 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
The greatest satisfaction that a university professor can experience is the successful completion of the degree requirements of a student with which they are associated. This results in part from the fact that the most important output from a university is students, at the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy levels. It has been my pleasure to be associated with many students who have received an education in the fundamentals of the area of their degree, and as a result have qualified for employment at the best companies, laboratories, and universities. To prepare for life after the university, the students require training in safety, laboratory practices and data reduction/analysis procedures. They require mentoring to develop their analytical and reasoning skills, as well as their continuing education and communication skills. Guidance in the education of a graduate student is the prime responsibility of the graduate faculty, especially the chairperson of the graduate supervisory committee.
For graduate education, information exchange and learning from fellow students and staff is accomplished at weekly group seminars attended by all of the students in my group. All aspects of research are discussed, along with safety, laboratory housekeeping and laboratory manners. However, the most critical aspect of a graduate student’s education is the development of an ability to think and plan critically. To develop their analytical and experimental capabilities, the student begins in the lab with a well-defined, short duration project. Besides interacting with myself, new students frequently work with older students to achieve rapid learning and develop personal interaction skills. The students meet with me weekly in small research groups to ensure that questions are answered, problems are discussed, and progress is continuing. In addition, the students also use my “open door policy” to discuss results and problems. Upon compiling a set of data, the student is encouraged to present a paper at a professional society meeting. This teaches the students a number of important lessons, including how to plan experiments, meet a deadline, organize and interpret data, and develop their writing and presentation skills. In a preview for our research group, the student learns to respond to questions, ask questions, and practice verbally summarizing the results of their research. Attendance at professional society meetings is critical to the student since this is the primary mechanism for both the student’s continuing education after graduation, and establishment of a network of peers.
With maturation, the student is asked to prioritize possible subjects for the dissertation, to develop and defend a hypothesis, and to develop a plan for testing the hypothesis. It is important to teach the students to do real time analysis and reduction of their data. This allows the student to continually test their hypothesis and revise their experimental plan in order to prove, disprove, and reformulate the hypothesis for their research. In addition, doctoral students are encouraged to spend at least one semester of their studies in an industrial or national laboratory. The students invariably return to the university with renewed dedication and motivation. Publications are encouraged throughout the research studies, not just after completion of the dissertation. Writing papers and the dissertation teaches the student to organize their results, decide upon the critical results to include, detailed analysis of the data, and development of predictive models to explain the conclusions from the research.
These are some of the elements in the guidance of a student to graduate degrees. It has been my pleasure to be associated with many outstanding students who have completed this process.