Description of "Supergroups" at Wisconsin
(if not most) of the research groups in the Wisconsin Chemistry
Department participate in supergroups. These are weekly or monthly
occurrences in which several groups meet to discuss either research
results or topics in the chemical literature. The advantage of these
groups is that they provide graduate students with more opportunities
to present their research and to interact with professors other than
addition to the supergroups, there are two student-led seminar series
in the departments. Moreover, graduate students organize the McElvain
Seminars, in which academic and industrial speakers are invited to the
department to give a seminar and to meet with students.
supergroups meet in the evening, and the atmosphere is very causal.
Snacks and refreshments are often provided. One or more students (or
postdocs) from a participating group present their research, and
questions are asked by both students and professors. The students are
usually in at least their second year of grad school.
supergroups are organized by fields of research. Supergroups at
Wisconsin are organized around the following subjects: organometallics,
catalysis, organic synthesis, biophysics, and bioinorganic chemistry.
are two student-led seminar series in the department - one organized by
organic students (the Lincoln Seminars) and another by physical
chemistry students. The speakers at these talks are grad students in
the respective divisions. While professors often attend these talks,
the students take the lead in asking questions and setting the schedule.
the grad students are in charge of the McElvain Seminars, which exist
for all divisions within the department. Each year, students nominate
and invite one academic and one industrial speaker. If they accept, the
selected speaker visits the campus to deliver a seminar and to interact
with the grad students. Typically, this involves a lunch and dinner in
which the students freely ask questions of the guest. It is important
to note that the faculty are not involved in any aspect of the McElvain
Educational Goals of the Supergroups and Student Seminars
by providing forums in which students can present their research on
numerous occasions, we believe that these events create articulate
scientists that are adept at communicating their results. Moreover, the
McElvain and student-led seminars empower grad students to take an
active role in their education, and we hope this provides a sense of
"ownership" in the department.
but most importantly, these events foster an intellectual community
within the department, since they allow for interactions between
research groups that may not exist otherwise.
Does this work?
we have never performed a rigorous evaluation of our supergroups or
student seminars, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are very
effective. Indeed, many alumni of our program have indicated that they
were better prepared for their careers after graduate school because of
the many chances they had to present their research while at Wisconsin.
is little doubt that these events create a more collegial and cohesive
department. In particular, the supergroups allow students to be
mentored by professors other than their advisor. They also gain an
appreciation for the research performed in other groups, which broadens
their scientific horizons.
Reflection from a faculty member
From Professor Charles P. Casey
research group works in organometallic chemistry and has broad interest
in both organic and inorganic chemistry. We take part in two different
supergroups, one with three other organic chemistry research groups,
and the other with three inorganic chemistry groups. My students
benefit from explaining organometallic chemistry to people outside
their immediate research area. They have to explain the relevance and
details of their research to bio-inorganic chemists one week and to
physical organic chemists the following week. This is a skill that
serves them very well when applying for academic or industrial
chemistry positions. The supergroup meetings also stretch us to
understand other areas of science. The informal nature of the group
meetings and the fact that we're not all supposed to be experts in the
area being discussed combine to increase the willingness of graduate
students to ask questions and participate in the discussions. We all
feel that we benefit from the helpful suggestions that come out of the
interactions during supergroup meetings. There are always refreshments
after the meetings and students hang around and discuss the evening's
seminar and all sorts of things. The meetings clearly help to build a
sense of community beyond the individual research group. I find the
meetings very valuable in getting to know students in other groups well
enough that I can provide meaningful recommendations for job
applications. Try supergroup meetings, you'll like them!"
Reflection from a student
From Brad Steinhoff, fifth-year graduate student in the lab of Shannon Stahl:
supergroups are valuable because they give me a chance to present my
research to people outside of my group. You get good feedback from the
other professors, and the mood of the talks is non-threatening and
informal. It's also interesting to hear about research in other labs.
The talks prevent you from becoming too narrowly focused on your own