By Kaitlyn M. Moore
At the start of each fall semester, the Department of Chemistry welcomes incoming graduate students with the responsibility of choosing a research group — and creative posters have become the quintessential tool for lab group recruiting.
According to Arrietta Clauss, graduate student services coordinator, this can be a demanding time for students and faculty, and what better to relieve tension than by making some chemistry puns?
During orientation, faculty members give 15-minute presentations about their research. Then students start rotations, which is a process that helps them gain exposure to different research groups and faculty.
“Each rotation is a three-week period that puts students in a faculty member’s lab,” says Clauss. “Some faculty have them endure a little wet chemistry, a little research, and some faculty just have them read articles, but they have a desk in that lab, and they kind of see how the lab is run. They get to feel the climate or the character of the lab.”
Because there are only three rotations, students must also attend at least two other group meetings or open houses. This process helps them narrow their choices down to three to five labs for group joining.
“As one faculty said ‘finding a group should be like a funnel, students start out broadly, and then, as they begin to understand more about the research and more about the groups, they start narrowing it down,’ so I hope students would look at maybe 10 labs,” says Clauss.
As first-year students search for a lab to join, current graduate students come together to cultivate these witty flyers that portray the personality in their lab to encourage new students to attend their open houses and group meetings.
The posters are lighthearted, creative, and full of chemistry puns that relate to each professor’s research.
“Students display a lot of creativity, and it’s really fun for them,” says professor Silvia Cavagnero, whose group took on the theme of protein folding for this year’s poster.
Although the main function is to promote participation in group meetings, these works of art also represent the labs’ personalities.
“I think the posters are a good way for the group to present to potential first-year recruits,” says William McDermott, a fourth-year graduate student in the Hermans group, “they show the kind of personalities we have in the group and the kind of jokes we like to make or how fun we are.”
It is important for students to find a group that matches their work style because each group operates differently.
Once placed in a lab, they typically remain there for the duration of their time as a graduate student.
“Do you remember that scene in the movie 101 Dalmatians toward the beginning where they have the ladies exploring town with their dogs, and the dogs look a little bit like the ladies?” Cavagnero asked. “It’s a little bit like this in a group. The faculty member’s personality sometimes extends to the students, who want some affinity, not just in their chemistry interests, but also in the way they view science and in how they interact with each other.”
This yearly event is fun for group members, and it brings the department together to enjoy the creativity and humor that goes into the posters. “I look at them because they’re so darn funny,” says Clauss, “I think all of us look forward to seeing those posters. They serve a function for the first-year students, but for the rest of the department it is a source of entertainment – they are funny and uplifting.”