National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Graduate School Forum

June 26, 2007

The graduate school forum consisted of four panelists, Dr. Quamrul Mazumder, Dr. Jacqueline Jordan, Dr. M. David Kankam, Dr. Felix Miranda, all of whom were NASA employees and had received doctorate degrees from major universities. Each speaker identified their history, personal experience, financial support, rewards from graduate degrees, and presented the audience with their personal advice in regards to school, careers, and life after education.

Dr. Kankam currently works as the University Affairs Officer here at GRC and started at this NASA location 17 years ago. He has received multiple degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto and graduated with a PhD from there before taking a post-doctoral research position. While he enjoyed his experience at the University of Toronto, Dr. Kankam would suggest attending a different university for graduate education in order to make new contacts and gain exposure to new professors and their respective areas of expertise.

Dr. Kankam received scholarships from Ghana, a fellowship from the Canadian government, and worked as a teaching assistant to finance part his education. He identified the biggest award that a graduate level education afforded him as flexibility. His work experience attests to that, as he spent time at G.E., a national lab, working for both provincial and national governments, and also as a professor.

Dr. Felix Miranda works in the Antenna Microwave and Optical Systems branch at GRC. He received a B.S. in physics from the University of Puerto Rico, a M.S. in physics from RPI in New York, and a PhD in physics at Case Western University in Ohio. He financed his education with the help of a NASA scholarship awarded after an interviewing process. He noted that despite his inhibitions about interviewing as well as his competition, his mentors encouraged him to pursue the scholarship, and he was glad they did so. The greatest reward that his post-baccalaureate education affords him is the ability to interact with students entering scientific research and industry. Dr. Miranda recommended to all the students at NASA that they should use their internship positions to decide on career paths. He also revealed that according to his experience, persistence and perseverance go farther than brilliance in the work place.

Dr. Jacqueline Jordan was originally from Nashville, TN and received a B.S. and Master’s level degrees from two Tennessee universities. Her PhD was awarded from the University of Kentucky, and after its completion she spent several years conducting respiratory toxicology studies at the University of Michigan. She researched respiratory toxicology further as an employee of Johnson Space Center.

Dr. Jordan was encouraged to move onto a graduate level education from her experience interning at Proctor and Gamble studying the effects of inhalation of several products. She learned that in order to advance in the fields of toxicology, health, and the environment she would need advanced degrees while working at P&G. To finance her education she worked as a teaching assistant during her pursuit of a M.S. teaching an anatomy and physiology lab.

She recommends pursuing a PhD from a university that has ample finances available to fund student research. Further education awarded her with the ability to put happiness first in her career choices, and she recommends that students should not get too caught up in their studies while in school. Dr. Jordan stressed the importance of making time for family, friends, and fun in between studying in order to help stay focused and to maintain a positive attitude. Dr. Jordan also advised that an individual’s attitude is far more important than their aptitude when in school or the workplace. She warned students about losing sight that the ultimate goal of getting these degrees should always be to move into a career.

Dr. Mazumder attended the University of Michigan where he received a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering as well as a PhD. He also received an MBA after working in industry for several years. He specialized in fluid mechanics of multi-phased flow. While attending graduate school, Dr. Mazumder realized that as he dug deeper into this specialized field, he actually knew less than he expected and so became driven to pursue a PhD in order to sate his desire to understand his area of interest. He suggested that students should identify their personal strengths and interesting subjects in order to select schools that align with their individual needs.

To finance his education, Dr. Mazumder worked as a research assistant to a professor and spoke of the merits of being able to work in research as opposed to teaching while pursuing education. He advised students to focus on what they are interested in, and to decide what they want to achieve. Once decided, goals should be set up with benchmarks after two to five years and a plan should be constructed to achieve those goals.

The graduate school forum concluded with several rounds of Q&A directed to all of the panelists and was a beneficial avenue of communication on a variety of issues including the fear of defending a thesis and dissertation, how to finance education, the importance of P.E. licensing compared to graduate level education, and several other topics.

–Adam Pfendt