Graduate Students Impress Legislators with Latest in UC Research
Kristin Luciani | May 16, 2011
From left to right: Doctoral students Ramsin Khoshabeh and Katrina Petersen, Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-77, and Dean of Graduate Studies Kim Barrett.
Ramsin Khoshabeh is a UC San Diego doctoral student developing a system to enable surgeons to see laparoscopic surgeries in 3D, without the need for specialized glasses. In response to the 2007 San Diego wildfires, communications doctoral student Katrina Petersen began researching disaster mapping so that in the future, emergency responders will be better prepared to communicate information and coordinate relief efforts. On Wednesday, May 11, Khoshabeh, Petersen and other University of California graduate students took their stories to Sacramento as part of UC Graduate Research Advocacy Day.
“Graduate students are the ones who are seeking solutions to the state’s most pressing problems,” said Kim Barrett, dean of Graduate Studies at UC San Diego. “And UC is the only public segment of our state’s education system that awards doctorate degrees.”
Graduate students from all 10 UC campuses, as well as the deans of each university’s Office of Graduate Studies, participated in the second annual UC Graduate Research Advocacy Day to engage legislators in conversations about the importance of graduate research and its impact on the state. The event was coordinated by the Advocacy, State and Government Relations division of University Communications and Public Affairs, with Public Outreach Coordinator Steven Lei leading the UC San Diego delegation. UC representatives connected with nearly 60 members of the California State Legislature, sharing their innovative research and conveying the high return on investment these discoveries and innovations generate for the state. In addition, the advocates sought to remind legislators of the original master plan for higher education in California, in which the University of California was established as the research arm of the state.
The advocates explained how graduate students drive research, bringing new perspectives, energy and enthusiasm that lead to new discoveries and technologies. They also support the state’s skilled workforce by serving as teaching assistants to help educate undergraduates. Moreover, graduate students go on to become the next generation of scholars in academia, entrepreneurs and leaders in industry, government and a variety of other fields.
UC awards seven percent of the nation’s Ph.D.s and 60 percent of all Ph.D.s in California. Among educators, 25 percent of UC and California State University faculty received their Ph.D. from a UC. As the state’s demand for skilled workers continues to grow, funding for UC graduate programs will become increasing important. In the U.S., the number of jobs that require a graduate degree is expected to grow by 2.5 million by 2018, including an expected 17 percent increase in those requiring a doctorate degree.
To raise awareness of this critical need for graduate education, UC San Diego’s Khoshabeh, Petersen and Barrett met with state legislators and their staff, including state Senators Christine Kehoe, D-39 and Juan Vargas, D-40 and Assemblymembers Brian Jones, R-77; Steve Knight, R-36; Norma Torres, D-61; Martin Garrick, R-74; Nathan Fletcher, R-75; Toni Atkins, D-76; Marty Block, D-78 and Ben Hueso, D-79.
UC San Diego graduate students joined representatives from the other UC campuses in Sacramento to advocate for graduate education.
The student delegates captivated legislators with stories of their research and the potential applications. In addition, the UC San Diego delegation engaged legislators in conversations about the university’s collaborative relationship with the state. In a conversation with Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-79, the group discussed how legislators can draw upon the university’s cutting-edge research as a resource when creating policy. As an example, Hueso brought up the current talks around the budget and health care.
“We need economists who can provide a framework to help us as legislators achieve the outcomes that the public wants for the state,” he said.
The day was also an opportunity for students to share with legislators what it means to pursue graduate education, particularly at UC San Diego. Graduate school breaks the traditional education model that you experience in elementary school, middle school, high school and even as an undergraduate, said Khoshabeh. He explained that rather than completing required classes and assignments, graduate students must come up with their own research question and construct their own project.
“With graduate school you have time to think, to create, to innovate,” he said.
“UC San Diego is special because it is a uniquely interdisciplinary space,” added Petersen. “On this campus you meet people, make connections and explore, and it leads to innovative questions and solutions that you otherwise wouldn’t have come up with.”
For the students, the trip to Sacramento was an eye-opening and beneficial experience. The meetings with the legislators offered new insights into their research and lessons in the importance of communicating science and research to the public.
“It’s been really interesting to hear the legislators’ perspectives and concerns, and the questions they’ve been asking about my work have been really helpful,” said Petersen. Petersen also noted that she gained a greater understanding of why it’s important to raise public awareness of what graduate students do and why the research is important. “Especially in the social sciences, we need to explain why our research is a good investment and make the case for why we should be funded.”
In addition, both Khoshabeh and Petersen said that the experience gave them a renewed feeling of excitement for their research projects.
“As a Ph.D. student you are working on the same project for so long that it’s easy to lose enthusiasm for the research,” said Khoshabeh. “Being in Sacramento and being able to tell people about my work – and to see them get excited about it – it’s made me feel excited again.”