ChE GSA Provides Opportunities to Showcase Research and Expand Social Networks

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Fostering community and creating a friendly and engaging atmosphere are part of the mission of the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association (ChE GSA) at UC Santa Barbara. 

Open lines of communication are also enhanced between different class years and research groups, students, and faculty. These avenues are led by the efforts of a group of dedicated members. 

“The other officers of the ChE GSA, and their committees, are the key to the success of our organization,” said ChE GSA co-president Alex Chialastri, Dey Lab. “I cannot thank them enough for taking their time to help our community grow.”

As part of the GSA, Chialastri and fellow co-president, Julia Fisher, Squires Lab, are involved with facilitating communication between all ChE GSA officials, members, faculty, and staff.  

A new charter drawn last year states that the president assumes the responsibility to serve as a voice of ChE grad students for departmental and campus wide concerns, prepares and executes GSA and GSA executive board meetings, and ensures the continual operation of the GSA. 

“Having two presidents gives us more flexibility with the role, so we can split up tasks when necessary and we are freer to participate in other roles within the GSA,” Julia said. “For example, I’m on the committee for professional development events, and Alex is on the committee for social events.”

Typically, as new roles arise, Chialastri and Fisher will split tasks based on availability and interest.

“Graduate school can be a challenging experience. Experiments, conferences, and other obligations can become overwhelming,” Chialastri said. “Having a co-president allows us to quickly respond to the concerns of anyone involved in or with the ChE GSA.” 

ChE GSA provides opportunities for graduate students to showcase their research and expand their social network. The organization provides varied opportunities to present student work, volunteer in the community, and interact socially with peers in a safe environment.

“Recently, I presented a talk at our newly formed Chemical Engineering Seminar Series (ChESS),” Chialastri shared. “In a setting that was very inviting, I gained valuable experience in talking to a diverse group of researchers and received written feedback on how to improve my talk.”

Events are suggested and created by students, and regular surveys are conducted for interest and feedback to ensure GSA hosts events that ChE graduate students want to attend. 

“Our events provide opportunities for graduate students to connect socially and develop professionally outside of their own research,” Fisher said. “I get to meet and spend time with new students, or students that I don’t see regularly.”

Both students are on track to graduate in 2021, and eager to continue learning new techniques and advances in chemical engineering. 

“I am advised by Professor Squires, and currently focused on the mechanical properties and morphology of lung surfactant monolayers in response to an array of conditions hypothesized to play a role in lung surfactant inactivation,” said Fisher, who plans to work in industry after graduation.

Chialastri’s research work with the Dey Lab develops methods to quantify epigenetic marks from single-cells using DNA sequencing techniques.

“Through these novel approaches, I am studying how variability in the epigenome regulates gene expression heterogeneity and cell fate decisions,” he said. 

Fisher, who enjoys baking and making candy away from the lab, advises current and future students to avoid falling into a routine of focusing on negatives, failed experiments and plans gone awry, when reflecting on their work. 

“My advice is to always dedicate some time to reflect on positives, things that went well and what you’ve learned from the challenges you encountered,” said Fisher, who also enjoys playing softball outside of her research. 

Chialastri finds that video games, craft beer, and walks with his girlfriend, provide needed breaks from the challenging research discovery process that students face during the pursuit of a PhD. 

“This is true for all your peers as well – we are all in this together,” he said. “Take advantage of the resources that are available, including those offered by the ChE GSA.” ChE

– Melissa Walker is the Communications Coordinator for the Department of Chemical Engineering. Lab photography by Melissa Walker. Hiking photo supplied by ChE GSA.

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