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New Fund to Expand Graduate Research Exposure

Teck-Kah Lim, PhD, professor of physics, serving as the Grand Marshal at Drexel's 2016 Commencement.

October 30, 2016

For a decade, select Drexel graduate students have been supported in presenting their research at prestigious conferences across the country through a graduate student travel award program. With the demand for these awards steadily increasing and the benefits that result being more important than ever, the newly created Teck-Kah Lim Travel Award Fund is aimed at expanding these valuable opportunities for graduate students.

It’s fitting that the fund is named in honor of Teck-Kah Lim, PhD, professor of physics and former associate vice provost of graduate studies. Since 2004, Lim was the inaugural leader of the Office of Graduate Studies, which recently transitioned into the Graduate College led by Dean James Herbert, PhD.

“Teck was a tireless advocate for graduate students, and the foundation he laid in the Office of Graduate Studies set the stage for the many initiatives we currently have underway in the Graduate College,” Herbert says of Lim. “Drexel’s graduate student community will forever owe a debt of gratitude to Teck.”

Among other signature graduate-focused initiatives, including establishing a healthcare insurance program, teaching assistant training, and doctoral fellowship program, Lim launched the conference travel subsidy program.

Describing his decision as “a no-brainer”, Lim credits conference experiences with adding to his academic development and enriching his professional network when he was a graduate student and post-doc. “I wanted that for our students as well,” he said.

Since then, hundreds of graduate students across Drexel’s schools and colleges have showcased their research in cities coast-to-coast, often returning with awards, praise, new ideas or connections. “That kind of news would warm my heart,” Lim reflected.

“The travel award program is among the most valuable professional development opportunities we sponsor,” Herbert said. “Delivering presentations of one’s work at scientific or professional meetings is a critical skill for all graduate students, regardless of their particular field of study.”

The benefits are both immediate and ongoing; while graduate students gain experience presenting their work and receive valuable feedback from leaders in their fields, they are increasing the awareness of the innovative and comprehensive research taking place at Drexel, too.

This was Lim’s vision all along.

“I wanted students to know that they are just as good, if not better than their peers at other research institutions,” he described. “I wanted them to show Drexel's flag, to be proud of themselves, and to let the world know that they were the products of great programs.” 

Encouraged by Lim to present at an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference, PhD candidate, Cem Sahin, was grateful for the expert advice he integrated into his research. With the conference being held in Cocoa Beach, Sahin also had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of witnessing the launch of a SpaceX rocket heading to the International Space Station.

He described, “Hearing the rocket boosters roar, feeling the sound waves and seeing the bright flames in person was simply amazing and it certainly made me proud to be an engineer, so that I can make a difference in this world.”

Networking has also proven to be invaluable for Drexel’s promising academics and professionals. PhD candidate, Andrew Abbate, utilized the travel subsidy to present his biomedical science research and network for his future career in academia, at an international meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES).

“Attending this conference was extremely important for my professional and academic development,” Abbate reflected. Having gained valuable connections with the president of HFES, NASA personnel, and top researchers in his field, Abbate said,These opportunities were beneficial in every way, and I’ve already built on the relationships.”

Likewise, alumna and now assistant professor of marketingMarina Puzakova, PhD ’12, received a travel award to present at an Advances in Consumer Research conference, which she said, “opened up opportunities to get exposed to top-notch research and participate in interactive discussions.” 

In fact, the conference experience sparked a new idea for her doctoral dissertation, which upon graduation earned her the outstanding dissertation award for social sciences across the entire University.

For other graduate students, conferences provide encouragement for careers outside academia. Following her experience at an American Public Health Association conference, Kiana Hardy, MPH ’16 said, “As a new public health professional it was an amazing opportunity to connect with leaders across the country.”

Now a health care analyst in Washington, D.C., Hardy added, “It inspired me to become an emergent leader in the fields of public health and health care. I had a few doubts about how my interests could align but I found I can connect the two with ease and be successful.” 

According to Lim, “Most students also said that they had a chance to visit a city, sample its culture and broaden their views. Attending a meeting gave them confidence in themselves and helped them grow.” 

The success of the program is undeniable and for many graduate students the support makes it possible to present at a conference they would otherwise miss. Yet, worthy applicants are turned down due to the high demand exceeding resources.

There is hope in the newly created fund. “Our goal is to be able to increase substantially the number of students we can assist through these awards,” Herbert said. 

Gifts to the Teck-Kah Lim Travel Fund directly offset conference travel costs for worthy graduate students. In celebration of Lim’s leadership and steadfast commitment to the graduate student community, a fundraising event was hosted by the Graduate College on Friday, Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. in the Graduate Student Lounge.