Going to graduate school is a commitment, and takes some significant consideration! Five key factors for me were: research topic, research group, facilities, financial support, and potential for additional opportunities. As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to conduct research at FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) for a summer investigating triboluminescence. During that summer, I learned the very basics of triboluminescence while collaborating with my future research group in the multi-purpose research space that is HPMI. An interest in how triboluminescence can be applied in functional materials and devices had me considering returning to FSU for graduate studies. A research assistantship & the potential to teach, get involved on campus, and even manage the internship program that originally brought me to FSU, solidified my choice to return.
Motivation to pursue a graduate degree
In short? I wanted more. As an undergraduate research assistant, I was able to follow someone else’s research plan and learn about capturing, analyzing, and presenting data. As a graduate student, your adviser guides and, well, advises, but it’s *your* research – you choose the research questions to try to answer, you determine the exact path you take, you design the experiments to run, and you are ultimately responsible for figuring out why the experiments did or did not work and what the results mean.
Importance of your research and work
My dissertation title is “Enhancing Polymer Composites with Triboluminescent Materials”. Polymer composites may be used in consumer vehicles, commercial aircraft, and even space habitats, but composite integrity can be difficult to predict: a composite can suffer extreme internal damage with no visible external change. My research investigates how triboluminescence (mechanically-induced light) might be used to monitor and even automatically repair damage in polymer composites. A sensing and repair system makes composite structures safer, a critical consideration for anyone who wants to drive, fly, or one day live on Mars.
My ideal position is a combination of research and education, with a secondary focus on organizational change and process optimization.
Advice for anyone considering graduate school
Graduate school is self-directed, so put some thought into what you want to get out of it – then make it happen the way you want it to happen. If you want to gain teaching experience, see if a teaching assistantship is available, hold office hours or informal tutoring sessions, and offer to teach a class. If you want to conduct research on a specific topic, find supporting materials, apply for funding, and reach out to potential collaborators. Look for opportunities to present your research, travel, and network. Be okay with failure: the feedback and self-reflection will push you farther. I submitted plenty of applications and manuscripts that were rejected over the years, and the result was a stronger application for the next thing.
Accomplishments during your graduate career
Margaret was selected as a U.S.A. Delegate to the 2017 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Also in 2017, she was awarded the P.E.O. Scholar Award, Phi Kappa Phi’s Love of Learning Award, and the Graduate Scholar Award by Phi Kappa Phi at Florida State University. Previously, Margaret was awarded the Amelia Earhart Fellowship, the Tony DiBenedetto Student Employee of the Year Award, and the E. Wayne Kay Graduate Scholarship. In 2013, Margaret was part of a team to found DreamOn at Florida State University; the team earned 3rd place in FSU’s Jim Moran Institute’s Ideas with Impact Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. … … Margaret recommends interested students look into opportunities at FSU like the GEM Consortium Grad Lab, Graduate School Boot Camp, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Workshop, the Preparing Future Faculty Certificate, the Preparing Future Professionals Certificate, Advanced Teaching Training Recognition, and the Global Partner Certificate. Engineers and other STEM majors may be interested in the Society of Women Engineers’ Collegiate Leadership Institute and Academic Leadership for Women in Engineering programs.
Where are you now?
I am currently an Educational Programs Manager with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, primarily for programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I’m based out of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Besides moving, my major life event in the last year was adopting a senior dachshund.