Univeristy of Minnesota, Graduate Program in Neuroscience

A critical function of a graduate program is to nurture a vibrant intellectual community. The Graduate Program in Neuroscience (GPN) fosters discussion of research of current faculty, students and postdocs by hosting a weekly seminar.

What is Colloquium?

Colloquium began in 1998 as a way to bring members of the neuroscience community together on a regular basis. A colloquium is held weekly during the fall and spring semesters. It begins with a buffet lunch (either deli sandwiches or pizza, dessert, and beverages) in a large reception area and moves in to a large lecture hall at the sound of a bell for platform presentations.

A coordinating committee composed of faculty and students organizes the schedule each academic year. The oral component of a student's thesis defense is scheduled during a colloquium meeting whenever possible to recognize and celebrate completion of the program.

Fall semester: faculty describe their current research in a 45 min platform presentation. Preference is given to newly hired faculty, postdocs who want to practice interview seminars, and faculty who have low visibility in the program.

Spring semester: graduate students in their 3rd and later years give a 20 min presentation; 2 students speak during a colloquium meeting.

What data or evidence tells us that this works?

  • Attendance: 90-100 people attend colloquium each week. In addition to students and faculty in the GPN, undergraduates and graduate students in other programs who work in the labs of training faculty in neuroscience also attend the seminars.
  • The faculty presentations will be increased next year to 2/colloquium to increase visibility of more faculty.

  • What are its educational roles?

  • Learning about ourselves. We are a large graduate faculty that is spread across two large campuses separated by 5 miles. Intellectual community is fostered by knowing the members of the community. Respect is fostered by understanding the diversity of investigation.
  • Learning oral communication. To be a steward of the discipline one needs to learn how to communicate information in multiple formats. In the fall semester of their 3rd year graduate students give a 15 min presentation about their research to a small group of faculty and students who give oral and written feedback. The presentation is also videotaped. Written feedback from the audience and videotaping also occur with the colloquium presentation in the spring semester.
  • Learning expectations for a thesis. By hearing stories of the process of research by faculty and senior students, new students in the GPN learn how research problems are constructed. New members of the graduate faculty learn the norm for a thesis in the GPN. Students are advised to meet with their thesis committee after their colloquium presentation to discuss their research plan.

  • Reflection from a faculty member

    Colloquium is an excellent source of ideas for collaboration and an invaluable forum for showcasing students' achievements. I recently presented my own research in the Colloquium and received welcome feedback on my ideas and approach. Moreover, I appreciated the opportunity to inform new students of recent work in my laboratory. I encourage my students to present their data as often as they can, particularly to diverse audiences that span the breadth of neuroscience. I think that neuroscience programs exist to encourage integrative thinking about a complex system that spans many levels of study. The seed of the Colloquium is a seminar that may be about molecules or behavior or something in between. This seed germinates when the diverse audience begins to raise questions and bridge the disciplines. Such a forum is essential for our interdisciplinary program. --Teresa Nick, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, joined the graduate faculty in 2003.

    Reflection from a student

    I have attended many colloquium presentations in the past four years. In addition to a free lunch, I feel that our colloquium is a valuable element of our graduate program. I have presented my own research twice and have benefited from feedback from the audience in the form of questions and written evaluations. The videotape of my presentation was a useful tool for self-evaluation. As a member of the audience, I have learned what our program, and the larger scientific community, expects a research presentation to look like and how it should be structured. Finally, colloquium has given me the opportunity to see the breadth of research that members in our program are pursuing, and the weekly gatherings have served to build community. --Neil Schmitzer-Torbert entered the graduate program in 2000.

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