2017 Graduate School Goals

Happy New Year to the student and adviser.

First year students who started in Fall 2016 now have a semester under their belt. You probably took two to three courses and tried to figure out the differences between undergrad and graduate school. Hopefully your adviser started your research trajectory by providing some key journal papers to read. The first semester is usually a period of adjustment and most advisers do not except a whole lot of research productivity. Notice I used the words usually and most and not always and all. Some advisers are different in their expectations. You may have attended team meetings where other students in the group presented research results.

For those in the second semester the research portion of your life will and should intensify. This means you need to be making a different transition, one from focusing on courses alone with courses plus research. For those of you on research assistantships, remember that your adviser is depending on you to generate results and analysis from your research that will translate into peer reviewed papers. This is a major deliverable or a metric for your adviser. The funding agency needs to see progress in terms of research progress in quantifiable metrics – papers! As a student in the first year moving towards a stronger research portfolio do not shy away from learning the tools of the trade, whether it is computer programming, laboratory skills, statistics, specialized software, or whatever is needed, now is the time to get going!

As advisers learn to be patient with your student’s progress. Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your student. Spend quality time with your student on a consistent basis teaching them the skills necessary for them to succeed in the long run. Do not concentrate only on short term gains since it will hurt the students’ progress in the long run.

Whether you are a student or an adviser you need to set goals.

As a student, depending upon the stage of your graduate career set appropriate goals. Otherwise things never get done. For example, if you are a student who has been hesitant to set a schedule for your qualifying exam and if it long overdue, this is the year you must resolve to complete this exam. Whatever these goals are, you need to write it down, communicate it clearly with your adviser and finish that goal. Here are some goals that you need to be thinking about:

  1. Of course, on top of the list is ‘Write a journal paper’. This will help you focus your research and experience success.
  2. Attend a conference to present a paper and create networking opportunities.
  3. Take the qualifying exam. Evaluate where you are in your graduate career and set appropriate deadlines and complete the exam successfully.
  4. Improve you skills in programming.
  5. Take a course in Advanced Statistics. This is useful for all STEM disciplines.
  6. Give a seminar to improve communication skills.
  7. If you are a senior PhD student ask your advise if you can teach a few weeks of a course. There s nothing that helps solidify research material like teaching.
  8. Develop advanced laboratory skills.

Have a productive fun-filled New Year!


About Sundar Christopher

Dr. Christopher received his PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from Colorado State University in 1995. He also holds a Master's degree in Meteorology from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) and a Master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. After completing his PhD, Dr. Christopher joined the faculty at SDSMT in the Department of Meteorology. In 1997, he joined the Department of Atmospheric Science at UAH as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2001 and Professor in 2007. From 2007-2014, he served as Associate Director of the Earth System Science Center. He served as Chairman of the Department of Atmospheric Science from 2010-2014. He successfully designed a Master's level graduate program in Earth System Science that educates and trains graduate students in new paradigms involving research to decision making. In 2014 he was appointed as Dean of the College of Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Dr. Christopher's research interests include satellite remote sensing of clouds and aerosols and their impact on air quality, environment, health, and global and regional climate. He works with numerous satellite data sets from polar orbiting and geostationary satellites, ground-based instruments, and aircraft data to study the earth-atmosphere system. He has published more than 100 peer reviewed papers in national and international journals including several review papers related to aerosols, air quality and the climate impacts of aerosols. He has served on numerous national and international committees including the Climate Change Science Panel and the GEWEX. Dr. Christopher enjoys teaching and has designed and developed undergraduate and graduate level courses with special emphasis on hands-on training using satellite data. He also designed a professional development course for graduate students and maintains a blog to help students navigate graduate school. In 2011 AGU published his book titled Navigating Graduate School and Beyond : A Career Guide for Graduate Students and a Must Read for every Advisor. Dr. Christopher has published extensively in national and international peer-reviewed journals and has also presented his work at major scientific conferences. He has been invited to speak at major venues including the World Federation of Scientists (Erice, Sicily), the United Nations Symposium in 2007 (Graz, Austria), the American Association for Aerosol Research, Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS), the United Nations Symposium on Space Applications, 2008 (Graz, Austria), the Osher Institute of Higher Learning, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, and various national and international universities (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, Purdue University, Texas A&M, University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin, Goddard Space Flight Center, Colorado State University, and others). He has won several million dollars in numerous grants and contracts from NASA, NOAA, and other federal agencies for studying earth-atmosphere processes. He has won several awards including the University Award for Research and Creative Achievement in 2006 and NASA New Investigator Award. He has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has served as an expert reviewer for the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). He is a citizen of the United States of America.
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