Attend the seminar series in the Chemical Engineering Department. In all chemical engineering graduate programs, the weekly seminar series is an important element. Speakers visit the department from all over the country and the world and present their work. Graduate students are usually required to attend, since learning about the wide nature of chemical engineering research is one of the reasons for your studies. Seminar announcements are posted on the department’s web page and across from the main office in Chem Sci.
Students may hesitate to attend seminars that they fear they will not understand. Although the material may at times go over your head, will the situation be any different in a year or two when you start graduate school? You can learn from attending seminars, even if they go over your head. You can learn about effective presentation techniques (and ineffective techniques) and you can learn about research areas that you would never have had a chance to explore otherwise. And you can learn what you need to study in order to understand. If the visitor is a faculty member, he/she is probably interested in talking to juniors and seniors who are considering graduate school in the hopes that they can recruit you to their program. If you are particularly interested in a speaker’s talk, you can ask to meet with him/her later in the day.
Participate in undergraduate research. Click here for more on undergraduate research.
Improve your writing and presenting skills. Writing and presenting well are really reflections of how logically you think. If you can explain a topic well in writing or orally, you are displaying an important thinking skill you will need in graduate school.
Engineers sometimes distain writing as a soft skill that is less important than analytical skills. It is not. Writing well is an important skill that can make or break your graduate school experience. That last task of writing your thesis or dissertation and writing up the publications from your work is critical – you will not graduate without your final thesis/dissertation being written and approved, and usually these documents are held to a very high standard of organization and grammar. Do what you can now to improve your writing by taking writing-intensive courses, writing in your extracurricular activities, and availing yourself of the help provided by the Department of Humanities’ Writing Center. I also recommend reading as an activity that promotes writing. Read for pleasure – novels, literature, plays, quality magazines, and quality newspapers. Reading is an excellent way to improve your recognition of good writing and of good grammar.
Oral communication is equally important. Learn to make effective presentations and practice what you have learned. Attend seminars and note down techniques that you find effective at getting the point across to you and then use those techniques in your own presentations. Solicit feedback on your presentations so that you can improve. Also, take the time to learn to present yourself well in day-to-day situations. When you call someone on the phone, always identify yourself and find out right away if they have time for the discussion you would like to have with them. The same goes for when you come to someone’s office door – identify yourself and make sure that they have time to see you. In email, always start your messages with a greeting of some sort (Dear xxx or Good Morning or something equivalent) and state your point and sign off politely with your name and contact information. These little habits can also be important in your graduate studies (as well as in life) since you will need to interact with many people to complete your graduate research, and if you do not interact well, your road will be very rough.
Don’t sell back your books. You will be buying new books in graduate school, but you will often find that you need to refresh your memory of your undergraduate studies.