Research Training Program

Part of our educational offerings here at the Hydrogeology Lab is a three-semester long 1-credit per semester series of courses called the Research Training Program. We created this program based on feedback from past and current students, prospective employers, visiting faculty, and our own experiences that all pointed toward the need for more formal training in how to conduct graduate and professional level research. Beyond that, we wanted to create a more cohesive experience for our Lab’s graduate and undergraduate students, and offer them a skillset that puts them among the most competitive in whatever field they choose.

For incoming graduate students, the first semester focuses on practical methods of research communication: reading, writing, oral, and visual communication. Students are highly encouraged to write for relevant Graduate Research Fellowships, or can use this time to begin or refine their thesis proposal ideas. Students planning to present research at a conference also find this semester useful for focusing their efforts and getting constructive feedback from others in the class.

The second semester turns to computational methods: Excel, Access, ArcGIS, and MATLAB are currently the tools we are using. Instruction focuses on how to use the tools to accomplish scientific objectives, how to organize and structure data, and how to handle data in a responsible and ethical manner. The skills students learn in this class are introductory for each tool, but offer an overview in how the tools can be used so that students can seek greater depth of familiarity on their own or in follow-on courses elsewhere at MSU.

In the summer, the third semester introduces students to fieldwork methodology, not merely training on how to use an instrument or collect a certain data type, but how to effectively plan, organize, prep, and conduct fieldwork. These skills are essential for professional-level field data collection, and can be learned much more effectively in this structure than via more typical on-the-job training. The semester is split into an instructional half and then a self-directed fieldwork half where students plan and conduct their own field research.

Undergraduate researchers in the Hydrogeology Lab can also participate in the sequence; they start during the Spring (computational) semester, however. This allows the students to become more familiar with accomplishing more task-oriented research prior to the fall semester where they then begin to delve into more independently-guided research projects here in the Lab.