When your department has 67 PhD candidates, it can be a challenge to meet everybody and learn about their research. This is one of the many reasons why a committee of PhD candidates at the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Applied Geophysics (IPT) organize a “PhD Seminar” every semester. The event has been ongoing for 3 years, with the fifth seminar held earlier this week.
The objectives of the seminar are to highlight the diverse PhD research at the department and foster networking. It encourages communication amongst the PhD candidates while providing a forum for master students to get involved with research.
The day-long seminar begins with the latest news from the department administration. Then, new PhD candidates give 4 minute presentations about who they are and what problems they hope to solve with their research. This exposes them to the rest of the department, and many of them have their first experience presenting on a stage with a large audience.
The meat of the seminar is the technical presentation component. Candidates who are nearing the end of their PhD give 15 minute talks about their research. The petroleum engineering department has three unique disciplines: geophysics, drilling engineering and reservoir engineering. The technical talks are divided between these specializations. Therefore, the presenters need to do extra work to make their technical presentations clearly understandable for a wider audience than just their research group. This is especially important because over 60% of the PhD candidates at the department have a background in a subject outside of petroleum engineering, such as geology or mechanical engineering. The technical presenters are offered a workshop on presentation skills prior to the event.
After each technical presentation, and subsequent question session, the presenter receives oral feedback from an evaluation panel composed of a professor from each of the three disciplines. The panel provides comments about scientific merit and presentation style. Other PhD candidates can hear this feedback and take that into consideration for their own future presentations. There is also voting for best and second-best presentation at the end of the day.
The seminar is organized at the Scandic-Lerkendal conference center next to the department. This gives it an official conference vibe. It provides realistic training for conference presentations so that the PhD candidates are better prepared for research dissemination.
There is a master student poster session competition during the event. This is to encourage master students to get involved with research and meet PhD candidates.
The event ends with a keynote speaker who has a PhD degree. In the autumn semesters, the speaker is from academia. The spring semesters focus on people who have gone on to work in industry with a PhD degree.
A detailed survey sent to participants afterwards gives the planning committee direction for improvement after each event. This keeps the event from becoming stagnant and allows it to morph with shifts in research and industry.
The idea for the first PhD seminar came when I started my PhD at NTNU. I did my other degrees in the USA, and I missed the focus on networking and presenting that I experienced there. With so many PhD candidates at the department, many of whom sat at other companies, we lacked a setting for research collaboration.
I approached the department about organizing an event to increase communication amongst the graduate students. Together with former PhD candidates Torbjørn Pedersen and Alena Ayzenberg and current leader Yuriy Ivanov, we began planning the first seminar.
Now we have a large planning committee with members serving on a rotating basis. A new person is in charge each year to ensure that the event will not fizzle out when somebody graduates. We also engage master students in the planning so we can effectively cater to their expectations.
It has been rewarding to participate in the event and see how it has evolved. If you are interested in establishing a similar event at your department, feel free to contact me to hear what we have learned through multiple planning phases.
This post was written by Katie Aurand, PhD candidate at the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Applied Geophysics at NTNU