Graduate Students Build Connections with GRIE

Graduate Students Build Connections with GRIE

Annual Event Invites Community to See Graduate Research

April 18, 2019

Every year, the Graduate Research Innovation Exchange (GRIE) gives graduate students a chance to get out of the lab and the library and talk about their work. Held in two poster presentation sessions that are evaluated by judges, GRIE’s first round was held in February and 83 finalists moved on to the final session held on April 9. GRIE helps students learn the necessary skills of helping virtually anyone understand why their work matters.

Terri Camesano, dean of graduate studies, says the event shows the students’ skill in explaining their projects' technical details and wider impact. “For me, what is striking about the GRIE finals, is that we really demonstrate the depth of expertise that WPI has in certain areas, including life sciences research, robotics, energy, materials, and data science,” she says. “Many of the finalists have been working on their projects for several years, and this also shows. So it is satisfying for us, because we get to see the culmination of many years of effort on the part of the students and their advisors.”

The second GRIE session also shows a high level of professional presentations that reveal innovative research, says Rory Flinn, director of graduate student professional development. “There is always a sense of palpable excitement at the GRIE finals,” he says. “It is a challenging task for the judges to select the best presentations at the GRIE finals due to the elevated level of competition.”

“This definitely makes you take a step back and look at the bigger picture,” says Kyle Gerlach, a master’s student in environmental engineering. “You see how it all fits in with everything else and you communicate that to others.” 

In addition to being an excellent professional development opportunity, GRIE helps remind researchers about why their work is exciting to the wider world. We talked with some of the finalists during GRIE to find out how the event helps them.


“I just spoke to someone who drove through the wildfires, and I was able to say we are trying to do something about that,” says Nadia Mofidi, a master’s student in fire protection engineering. “I like to get other people’s perspectives. Maybe I’ll find out they know something that can help my research.”

“Here, when the judges talk to me, they might have a science background or not,” says Zahara Noori, a mechanical engineering PhD student. “It makes me know my research better. A judge asked me a question and it made me think of how I can apply my research to that industry, too.”

“Everyone should practice talking to others about their research like this,” says Avery Brown, a chemical engineering PhD student who has participated in GRIE several times. “But the most important part isn’t the talking, it’s about the interruptions. You need to be able to recover and keep going when someone interrupts you.”

“In the first round of GRIE, the feedback was positive and one of the judges was in my field,” says Shima Azizi, a PhD candidate in the Foisie Business School. “They were from MIT and we connected through LinkedIn. Maybe I will see them at a conference.” 

“Part of this is building good connections,” says Lida Mehdizadegan Namin, a PhD student in chemical engineering. “In the first round of GRIE, I talked to someone in the industry about my research, and they might be a good connection for the future."

“One of the most important things in research is being able to explain it to people,” says Holly Nguyen, who will graduate in May with an MS in computer science. “But a huge part of research is contributing to the greater good. My research is in medical data, but it is also something that contributes to the greater good of people. As someone in computer science, that’s something I didn’t expect to get out of grad school.”

“As grad students we get to know people and gain skills, but we don’t always get to practice,” says Diego Vargas Blanco, a PhD candidate in biology and biotechnology. “This is especially good when you talk to someone who has an interest in what you are doing. You can share the excitement of your research.”

“This helps me boil down the essence of what I am researching,” says Michael Yereniuk, a PhD student in applied mathematics. “It sparks excitement. Sometimes people ask questions that come from left field, and I don’t know how to answer them. Then I can’t wait to go back and figure it out.”

“My next step is a PhD and this will help me in my role in academia as a professor,” says Heramb Nemlekar, a master’s degree student in robotics engineering. “It’s my responsibility if I am doing the research and training myself to teach students. What use is doing research if I can’t explain it?”

“I love talking to people one-on-one at GRIE,” says learning sciences & technologies postdoc researcher Jenny Yun-Chen Chan. “WPI is unique and not everyone knows this field. I get to see how I can better explain my research. I will be doing a similar presentation at another conference in a couple of months and this is good practice.”

Alexander Shoop worked on the semester-long Findability Sciences—sponsored data science GQP with project members Rosemarie Day, Xiao Du, Manasee Godsay, and Jack Zhang. “I loved the team emphasis,” he says. “WPI is all about the team. It helps to know the backgrounds of all your teammates and leverage that. But you have to show it. If you’ve done all this work and don’t know how to show it? All that is the other half of the story.”

Claire Danaher and Xinye Fan are part of a Kronos-sponsored data science GQP team with Satishraju Rajendran and Mihir Sawant. Fan says working out the expectations of the project was a learning experience. “In our first meeting, we didn’t know what to do or how to give them results,” he says. For Danaher, who came to the project with years of work experience, the GQP connected the dots. “For me, I got to tie everything together,” she says. “All of my classes.”

Winners for 2019 GRIE Announced

 This year, more than 80 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows share their research. Find out more about the event winners.