Blog entry number 4. I think we’re halfway there. This week I get to talk about something that I’ve worked very hard on all year and finally had the opportunity to see implemented last week. I sit on our departments Graduate Student Association and was the chair of this year’s Symposium on Agricultural and Applied Economics Research (SAAER), a collaborative symposium where students have the opportunity to present original research and compete for prizes. You can think of it as a kind of mini-intradepartmental Student Research Week.
This year we were honored to have a highly distinguished speaker, Dr. Helen Jensen from Iowa State who discussed the use of data in health policy and the My Plate initiative by the federal government. In addition we had outstanding panelists who were all graduates of our department who were able to discuss the agricultural and energy sectors and their experiences in the job force outside of academia.
I bring up SAAER to present the idea of doing more than just research in graduate school. It is very easy for researchers to dial in and focus only on our subject matter. While this intense curiosity about one topic is what leads us to become ‘experts’ it can also cause myopia. I’ve found that over five years in graduate school some of my best periods of work and most insightful ideas have come while working on what I call extracurricular projects.
The additional projects allow your mind some breathing room from the intense focus on your research topic and for some reason, for me at least, it frees up the creativity I might have blocked up from hitting the same approach multiple times. In the case of our internal symposium, I also get to benefit from working on a team and managing a budget, which looks great on job applications. Finally, the symposium gives students in our department (myself included) the opportunity to see what others are doing and maybe spark that creativity I mentioned by seeing a new novel approach by another student.
Justin is a Ph.D. student in the Agricultural Economics department.