4External Research Collaborations Enrich Graduate Education

Lynn W. Jelinski

Louisiana State University

To prepare for this talk, I had two choices. The first was to give you a somewhat pedantic and dry discussion of my view of the value to graduate education of external collaborations. Or, I could go out and interview students and their professors, hear what they had to say, and share that with you. I did the latter. I set out to visit chemistry graduate students in their labs at Louisiana State University (LSU) with my digital camera in tow, and with a notepad and pen in hand. Once I arrived in the chemistry building, I asked selected graduate students what they thought was beneficial and enriching about their education and their external collaborations. Then I spoke with their professors. I was surprised at what I learned, and I think you will be, too. You realize, of course, that this study is not very scientific, because I interviewed only a few students and they were the ones I could get to easily.

Before I share my findings with you, I would like to find out whether we have some preconceived notions about the benefits of external research collaborations. I want to hear what you think is beneficial to the students, and at the end of my talk we will compare our ideas with what the students had to say (see Box 4.1).

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BOX 4.1

What the Chemical Sciences Roundtable Participants Named as Benefits for Students Engaged in External Research Collaborations. Challenges Friendship

Now, I would like to share with you what I learned from the students. There are three case histories I want to tell you about—I've changed their names to protect the innocent—and then I want to talk about professors who are going beyond the usual. The first student is Amelia. She gained confidence by doing something she had never done before.

The second, Arby, learned to love hard work. In fact, when Arby signed on with his advisor, he said, “You'll need to kick me in the butt because I'm lazy.” Then there is Antonio, who learned how to give and take. Finally, I want to share with you the vision and dedication of some special faculty members who go beyond the usual.


Let's start with Amelia. She is a nontraditional student who didn't go directly to graduate school. She has a child to support, and she is now eking out a living as a student and making the best of her graduate education. It was obvious, both from talking with Amelia and with her advisor, that she lacked self-confidence. Fortunately, her advisor gave her the opportunity to collaborate with a chemical company, and it provided her with a chance to shine and gain tremendous self-esteem and self-confidence.

Amelia was tasked with delivering some high-quality nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra for a polymer company. The project sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, it wasn't. Somehow the spectra never turned out the same from day to day, and samples that should have nearly identical spectra afforded wildly different ones. The spectra were not reproducible. Amelia didn't trust herself to begin with, and now there was blame and subsequent squabbles among the folks in the lab who were in charge of the spectrometer, and even with the folks in industry, as they tried to figure out what was going on. Many issues had to be resolved, the least of which was obtaining sound and reproducible spectra. To make a long story short, Amelia discovered that the compounds were undergoing oxidation. If you have ever done NMR, you know that oxidation will definitely affect the reproducibility of spectra! Amelia independently figured out what was happening, and she became a hero in the lab and to the company.

But more to the point, this experience is a beautiful example of the ability to gain self-confidence. The experience of gaining self-esteem and self-confidence was echoed earlier today by someone in the audience who was talking about the value of a graduate education and said that part of it was “gee, look at me, I did it.”

I asked Amelia to tell me what else she gained by working with industry. She said that the most important thing she learned was how to communicate well. She said that she learned not to work through a liaison, if at all possible, but to work instead with the bench chemist. She also learned how to get along with co-workers. “This is a lesson for life,” she said, “as we love to blame everybody but ourselves.”


As I mentioned, Arby is the graduate student who warned his advisor: “I'm lazy.” According to his advisor, Arby is a very gifted synthetic chemist, with special expertise in organophosphorus chemistry. Arby's external collaboration project was well suited to him, as he was to perform an organometallic synthesis for a small, local chemical company. Over the summer, he was to alkylate some phosphines selectively for the company, alkylations that had never been performed before.

What is exciting about Arby's experience is that his summer project evolved into something more permanent. His industrial mentors recognized Arby's incredible talents, and his project quickly became a real job, and an important one at that. While working on his graduate education, Arby is simultaneously the lead chemist—these are his words, lead chemist—at the company. He was offered a senior position, and he is very happy with it.

Arby admits that he didn't work hard enough when he was a graduate student without an industrial job on the side. He produced no papers in his early years as a graduate student. In industry, however, he notices that there is a very different measure of productivity. Arby says, and this is a direct quote: “I am working harder now than I have in my entire life, and I am loving it.” Arby also admits that he is paid a lot, and is proud of that.

I asked Arby how well his graduate education had prepared him for his industrial job, and here is what he had to say (see Box 4.2). I must admit that I do not agree with the only entry in Arby's “yes” column. He said he was fortunate to be doing exactly the same work as a graduate student as in the company. I thought to myself that the last thing you want is to do the same thing over and over. Right now, though, he feels that in terms of education and technical skills, his graduate education did a great job preparing him.

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BOX 4.2

Arby: Did Your Graduate Education Prepare You for Your Industrial Career? Fortunate to be doing exactly the same work as in graduate school Learned that teamwork is absolutely essential

The answers in his “no” column are more interesting. It took his industrial experience to learn that teamwork is essential. We have heard from two students so far, and both emphasize the value of learning about teamwork. He also was not prepared for the industrial scale. The day I talked to him, he had just come back from a hazardous operations briefing about a reaction he is scaling up to 2,000 gallons. In industry he does not feel that he has the luxury of getting two extra data points. I suppose we all know what that is like. Finally, I think Arby understands what hard work is all about—and he loves it—and that is something that he did not appreciate at the start of his experience.


Antonio learned a tremendous amount about give-and-take. His project involved providing some bromine nuclear quadruple resonance (NQR) spectra for a large company. The project required looking at flame retardants in high-impact polystyrene.

This was a very tough project, as bromine NQR spectra are notoriously difficult to obtain. In fact, one of my colleagues at another university is quoted as saying, “If you have a death wish, try bromine NQR.” But the value to the company of the information to be learned was worth the difficulty, and Antonio eventually produced beautiful results.

Antonio learned new skills along the way, skills that we perhaps take for granted. For example, he learned to think about research, he said, in a logical and clear way. He says that learning this has helped him in research and has also carried over to his whole life. He said he learned to give and take, he learned teamwork—we have now heard this from all three students—and he learned how to listen. He recognized that this is also a lesson for life.

Finally—and Ed Chandross, this gets back to your comment on how industrial collaborations can lead to publications—Antonio learned that industrial people, too, go to meetings and publish. The industrial collaboration led to a joint publication in Macromolecules and to a joint poster presentation at the Experimental NMR Conference (ENC). In fact, when I was visiting Antonio in his lab, he was so proud of his collaborations that he gave me one of the reprints that just came out and showed me the poster on the wall.


The other thing I would like to point out is that the professors also learned from these external research interactions. They, too, learned about working with people and students and balancing both sides of the equation.

So far, I have discussed external collaborations via case histories. These were just snapshots taken through the eyes of students who were working, for the most part, on short projects with specific deliverables.

If we put our administrative hats on and think about students working at industrial sites, there are other issues that need to be addressed (see Box 4.3). There is, of course, the issue of intellectual property. Most universities have resolved this fairly well. There is also the issue of communication. For example, are we really on the same page? Who is running the show? Is it the professor and the research director, or is it the student and the bench chemist? Who is driving the research agenda? The last thing to think about is an issue that we think we have resolved at LSU, but it is important to address. How do we handle students who work on projects of professor-owned companies? Because more and more professors share in ownership of companies, we need to be careful that we do not exploit graduate students who might work on projects related to those companies. There are also some real ethical issues having to do with what you share in terms of information. I hope that some of these will come up in our discussion.

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BOX 4.3

Other Issues Pertaining to External Research Experiences for Graduate Students. Intellectual property Communication and who runs the show

Let's take a look at the expectations of what the audience thought, at the outset of my talk, about the value of external collaborations, and compare those thoughts with what we learned from the students. As Box 4.4 shows, we selected some of the attributes (the common ones are underlined) that the students also thought were important. But we, the roundtable discussants, missed several values that were echoed repeatedly by the students. We missed the value of learning teamwork and cooperation. And, to some extent, we underestimated the value of gaining self-esteem and self-confidence by successfully addressing challenging problems.

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BOX 4.4

What Three Graduate Students Identified as the Value of External Research Collaborations. Learning the value of teamwork and communication (all three students) Self-confidence through addressing challenges (all three students)


The last thing I want to discuss is what I call professors who go beyond the usual. The outside collaborations I shared with you had to do with industry, but there are many other kinds of outside collaborations.

Some of our professors, led by George Stanley, are dedicated to making K-12 outreach a part of the graduate experience at LSU. If we could get all of our graduate students—not just those in chemistry and chemical engineering—to spend a few hours a month working with local students in our K-12 schools, we would go a long way in bringing K-12 students to where they need to be. Could you imagine the impact if this were replicated across the nation? If we could have other universities like LSU take part in this teaching, work with the kids, and excite them about a favorite subject, we could make a tremendous difference.

Isiah Warner is another example of a professor who goes beyond the usual. Isiah has been legendary as a mentor. He won the Presidential Mentoring Award and a few weeks ago received the Lifetime Mentoring Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And, he has added yet another award to his list, this time from the Eastern Analytical Symposium.

Professors like George Stanley and Isiah Warner are why I truly do not believe that there will be an effective Internet university of the universe. In the end, everything boils down to people. The point is that there are magical people, and all of us know who they are in our universities. We know who those magical people are who work with the students, who encourage them, and who mold them into being the best that they can be.


Victor Vandell, Louisiana State University: One thing that you are pointing out, and I think it is something that we noticed when you came to LSU, was your concern about people and relationships. You value and obviously place importance on individuals, especially in a mentoring capacity, and the impact that they can have on the students. I think we see that in your presentation as well.

Ernest L. Eliel, University of North Carolina: You obviously have a cooperative program. We talked earlier about the time factor in graduate study. How does that work out? I mean, how much time does the student spend in the industry? Is that part of his or her thesis? How does that affect the total time spent in graduate study?

Lynn Jelinski: It varies. Much of what I showed you today is simple—running a spectrum here, running a spectrum there, but very short projects in general.

Anne Duffy, University of California, San Diego: I am a graduate student. If I had to say what the most important thing is for me, I would say it is mentoring. I went through an extensive interview process when I was looking at graduate schools, because I wanted to make sure that I would be able to work with a compatible faculty member. While doing that, I discovered that one of the most compatible people was at the place where I had obtained my undergraduate degree, so I stayed and worked with her a little bit before I went on. As far as industrial relationships are concerned, I also think they are important for people who want to go on to industry.

I worked before I went to graduate school. I guess I am what is called a nontraditional student because I have children and am married. I have been a supervisor, have hired and fired, and know what it is like to work on a team. I see many graduate students coming in right out of college because they don't know what else to do. So, they go to gradate school, and keep going, until they get spit out into the system and have to decide what to do then.

Jodi Wesemann, St. Mary's College of California: As a faculty member, I have been encouraging internships for undergraduates at St. Mary's as a way to expose them to what is beyond college and help them make an informed decision regarding whether to go to graduate school or not. One of the things we have run up against, which I am sure is common at graduate and undergraduate institutions, is the time that it takes for the faculty to support and put together a program like this. My question for you is, How much support exists outside the department, i.e., the infrastructure that is in place to arrange the internships, or do the faculty have to coordinate all of them?

Lynn Jelinski: I think the faculty must coordinate a lot of them.

Judson Haynes III, Procter & Gamble: Before coming to Procter & Gamble, I completed my Ph.D. at LSU with Dr. Isiah Warner. I want to share one of my experiences in graduate school that was really a turning point to me. It involved basically my first project. I began working on it and, after two years of struggling, I had some data to write up in a paper format and submitted it. It was returned by the reviewers with some not-so-nice comments. I went to Dr. Warner and said, “Dr. Warner, I don't like this, this is scary. This is two years of work.” But the most important thing, and what I call a turning point, was that Dr. Warner asked me what my grievances were. I wrote them down and we addressed the editor's comments and got the paper published. We were able to find literature references to previously published work. It was incredible. If he had just sat back and said, “you have to do what the editors say,” I don't think I would be in chemistry. I would have probably said, “No, this is 2 years of my life that I spent in a lab, and somebody is telling me that it is not good enough.” That is a very important part of graduate education, to reinforce to the students that you are there to support them and to help them grow.

John Schwab, National Institute of General Medical Sciences: Today we have been hearing all sorts of wonderful anecdotes about the importance of mentoring and about the impact that really effective mentoring can have. My question is this: How do we go about institutionalizing this within the entire field of chemistry? I would propose that what we have right here is a chosen group. We are essentially preaching to the converted. I think, and I believe almost everybody here would agree, that this is something for which we need to have disciplinewide standards, and we need to have some way of enforcing standards of mentoring. I would like to open the floor to responses to that challenge.

Lynn Jelinski: Good. As I said, I certainly don't have all the answers. So, I am going to ask the audience to respond through this rapid-fire question-and-answer session. Does anybody want to respond to the question?

Brent Koplitz, Tulane University: I interact with the Louisiana public school system. We have tried to address some of the issues associated with this problem through what we call outreach, a concept many of you also employ. One of the things I would like to put forth as a challenge to the national funding agencies is that over time we can create a new graduate category. We have TAs, teaching assistants; we have RAs, research assistants; and we should have OAs, outreach assistants. I put that to the people here as something that would help chemistry, not only with funding, but also with its exposure to elementary, middle, and high schools. A program like this is especially needed in urban areas; it is something whose time has come. It will do a lot of good public relations. I have put this in a proposal before, but unfortunately it was not funded. The proposal has, however, allowed me to coin that term. There are plenty of graduate students who are interested in a program such as this one, and they are the ones to do it.

Peter Eisenberger, Columbia University: I have a similar question on the external experience or industrial experience. It seems that it should be almost a necessary part of graduate education to have an alternative culture that you are exposed to besides the academic culture. The question I have is, How do you institutionalize that? Some people—I know that Bob Dynes [Chancellor of the University of California, San Diego] is one—have forced every one of their students to spend at least one summer in industry. You are asking students to make a life decision without anything to compare it to if they do not have exposure to another culture.

Lynn Jelinski: This comes back to your point about institutionalizing. Are there any other students that we haven't heard from?

Jonathan Bundy, University of Maryland, College Park: As a graduate student, I think it is important that this mentoring start at the undergraduate level. We need to get undergraduates in research groups, get them involved with chemistry in the raw, so to speak. I think in that way we might have more American students in our graduate programs.

Lynn Jelinski: That is a really good point.

Jonathan Bundy: Not just the best and the brightest.

David Budil, Northeastern University: I don't know how many people are aware of it, but Northeastern, at least, as an undergraduate institution has made its reputation as being a co-op school. Undergraduates spend a year of their 5-year undergraduate experience working in the field. Graduate programs have tried to emulate this. It hasn't been as successful as it should be in chemistry. I think part of the reason is that our internship program has been subject to the ravages of economic cycles. I am going to throw out a question I hope some people would address. How do you protect an arrangement like that, once it is in place, from falling victim to inevitable economic cycling?

Lynn Jelinski: Are there any financial gurus in the audience? It is a really good point.

Carolyn Ribes, The Dow Chemical Company: I want to emphasize that the things the students thought were important are the same things that we at Dow think are important. When I am evaluated on how I do my job, it is not just my technical knowledge and my problem-solving abilities that are considered, but it is also on how I do in areas of initiative, leadership (as mentioned by one of the students), teamwork, and interpersonal effectiveness. All of those skills are going to be measured in your career. All of those things are valuable. A lot of times we focus only on the technical issues when educating students.

Lynn Jelinski: Great, I wish all of our students could hear you.

Timothy A. Keiderling, University of Illinois at Chicago: I would like to make a quick comment. The NSF did support 31 outreach-oriented grants this year with graduate assistantships to go into schools. The University of Illinois at Chicago has one of them. If you send your education-oriented students to us, we will give them fellowships and send them into the schools of the city of Chicago to try to solve real education problems.

Second, I think we skipped over it, but it is becoming a real issue that Peter addressed earlier. Universities are becoming more entrepreneurial. The bottom line is dollars. In response, faculty are forming companies. We have research parks on both of our campuses at the University of Illinois. The idea is to put incubators there, to have faculty set up companies, to have these ideas develop into technology transfer, and the university gets a bigger share of potential profits. Students are involved with this, which is a real ethical issue with which we regularly contend. We have established oversight committees, but they do not work perfectly. I am interested in other people's methodology and thinking on this.

Lynn Jelinski: We have solved this by putting in place a local oversight committee. What you want are faculty colleagues in your backyard watching you. Maybe we could hear from others.

Isiah Warner, Louisiana State University: What I want to comment on is that much of industry tends to be like academics, i.e., elitists. For example, many of you know that in Louisiana we have 300 chemical companies along the Mississippi River. How many companies spend time interviewing our students at LSU? Not very many. Most of these companies have their headquarters somewhere else. Dow Chemical is one example. Dow rarely recruited from LSU until recently.

They interviewed a few of our students at the American Chemical Society meeting, which happened to be in New Orleans (our backyard). The head recruiter from Dow called down to Dow at Plaquemine, our next door neighbor, and said, “What are you guys doing? Why aren't you recruiting at LSU.” The local recruiters basically said, “Well, you guys have always told us where to recruit. We only interview at the top 10 schools.” All of this conversation transpired because headquarters interviewed Victor Vandell and three or four of our other students and found that we have talented students at LSU. Indeed, they were very impressed. Again, I think that part of the problem is that too often we in academics and industry tend to be too elitist.

We need to identify a broad spectrum of institutions that are training different kinds of students in a way that is compatible with the kinds of students you want to recruit to industry. I think that is the most important criterion, not that they come from the top 10 schools but that you are getting the kind of personnel that you need in your laboratories. Suddenly, Dow recognized this after they interviewed a few of our students. We are now on the recruiting list of Dow. How many other companies would do the same thing if they would recognize the talents of our students?

Ellen Fisher, Colorado State University: I am going to bring up a negative side of this, which is that I have had a couple of interactions with industry, including funding through one of these consortia that was spoken so highly of this morning. My experience and my students' experience have not been as positive as the students that you interviewed. We have had issues with members of this consortium bickering back and forth, being distrustful of our results, and questioning the validity of them. They then suggested, and in fact someone told me, that we had not done the definitive experiment. When I asked what the definitive experiment was so that we could do it and prove that these were accurate results, he was unable to come up with an experiment that would prove this. What my students have seen from interacting with industrial people has therefore not been quite as positive. Some of the positive things they have gotten, but they have also come away with a bad taste, because they have not had a really good experience. I didn't hear any negative comments from your students. I was wondering if they had any.

Lynn Jelinski: Mine was a completely nonscientific sampling. Although none of the students I spoke about today had a bad experience, I am sure some out there have difficult experiences.

P. Wyn Jennings, National Science Foundation: I want to tell you that, in fact, there is a program in place at NSF for taking graduate students and some undergraduates into K-12 education. That program was in its inaugural year last year and will continue as the budget is increasing. It is a traineeship, taking 10 to 20 students a year. The program is called GK-12, and it is on the NSF Web site at <http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/EHR/DGE/GK-12.htm>, if you are interested.

Ronald T. Borchardt, University of Kansas: I guess that I am an outsider here, since I represent the biological and pharmaceutical sciences. However, I wanted to follow up on what John Schwab mentioned. That is, many of the things that you have been talking about here today—interdisciplinary training, internships, mentoring—have been significantly influenced in the biological and pharmaceutical sciences over the last 25 years by the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) through its training grant programs.

These training grant programs have had a significant influence on the way many of us in the biological and pharmaceutical sciences are now educating graduate students. It was not the NIGMS administrators who dictated change to us. It was our peers who were reviewing our training grant applications who told us that we needed to change the way we trained graduate students. I think that somehow chemistry departments have to develop similar review mechanisms having significant external input and influences (i.e., funding).

Lynn Jelinski: One way we've addressed this issue, that goes to exactly what you are saying is, “No department can get institutional matching funds unless they have an external advisory board.”

Billy Joe Evans, University of Michigan: I would like to recall some of the things that Steve Berry mentioned, the idea of flexibility. In flexibility, there is a dominating concern for authenticity. If there is no authentic need in the student's work to go into industry, why must he or she do it? If there is a need, then it should be done. If there is no need, then we shouldn't encourage it, because you are liable to create something you did not intend.

Just as Steve Berry mentioned that Linus Pauling did in his research 36 years ago, when I did my course work in chemistry I did my thesis work with a geophysicist. I worked in low-temperature laboratories, and I used the CDC 3600 computer at Argonne, because the computer at the University of Chicago was not good enough to do the work we were doing. In the process, I also worked with nuclear physicists at Argonne Labs. I must have published four or five papers with them in addition to the work that I was doing at Chicago. I finished in 4 years, and I had seven or eight papers when I finished. But those were authentic connections. I needed those.

My advisor was fully in control of what was going on. I had one mentor. I was bound—if anyone knows what that means—I was bound with one person. Steve Berry was a good stimulus, and J. Willard Stout was a stimulus to me, as was Julian Goldsmith and Stan Ruby at Argonne. But I was bound with one person. Institutions do not mentor. Institutions can have environments that promote that, but institutions do not mentor. As your student mentioned, people mentor. One can't have too many mentors at one time.

Craig A. Merlic, University of California, Los Angeles: One of my concerns is that there are not always enough of these industrial internships to go around. Not every university is within the proximate vicinity of 300 chemical companies along the Mississippi River. So, there are other models that people can use. At UCLA, we have a chemistry and biology interface training grant. As one component of this training grant, graduate students are required to spend up to 6 months in another laboratory, working on different projects. I think a lot of the skills that they need, such as interpersonal skills and solving problems, can be learned in an academic lab. So, we can take care of the dearth of industrial internships by establishing these collaborations, which are not really collaborations, but are just internships in an academic lab.

Michael Doyle, Research Corporation and the University of Arizona: I was going to say about the same thing with regard to industry. There aren't enough industrial opportunities. What I would like to go back to is that the one individual that Dr. Jelinski said lacked confidence had an experience in which the results were brought into question and finally solved the problem in a marvelous way. Unfortunately, I think that the experience that we expect, both at the graduate level and, increasingly, at the undergraduate level is that you find your own way. You are not really a full participant until you have proven yourself. That is a concern. We are throwing a lot of money into research, and we are saying a lot about its role as education. But the process of how you develop an answer to a problem is still an issue that we have to confront.

Victor Vandell: I would like to address the issue of how we can institutionalize some of the ideologies that are coming through in meetings like this. One suggestion is that organizations that have the power of influence, such as the ACS, take fundamental concepts like mentoring, outreach, and teamwork and promulgate those ideologies to the individuals who are their members and to universities. If they devoted their time to promoting these ideas, these particular ideologies will eventually become a common theme in the institution and in the workplace.

Christopher J. Cramer, University of Minnesota: I have been a subcontractor on a National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Technology Program grant to Phillips Petroleum. I would like to point out that each October I waited around until Congress passed that program by about three votes, usually two months into the fiscal year, because it is “corporate welfare” and therefore not a good thing. For those policy makers in the audience, I would like to point out that there is a certain amount of dissonance at the highest levels about how good these industrial/academic collaborations are. It would be nice to have more harmony.

Thomas Edgar, University of Texas: In that light, I received a note from Steve Berry a while ago. He says that the National Academy of Sciences, through its Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, has published a report on mentoring called On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. It is available in full text on the Web via the National Academy Press <www.nap.edu>.