“Engineers solve problems. We find solutions by distilling problems down to their essential components so we can figure out what is not working and fix it. I think this a great skill to have, and one that is certainly applicable outside of engineering.”
So says Kiri Kilpatrick, who earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Rice University in 2014. Her customary moves might have been to land a job in industry or academia, or enter a postdoctoral program. Instead, Kilpatrick chose to assist the graduate students whose ranks she had recently left.
“This is the other side of academic work, something a lot of students, including myself, don’t think about very much. I remember all the help I was given, and I’d like to be able to return the favor,” said Kilpatrick, now the associate director of graduate student development at Rice.
A Dallas native, Kilpatrick graduated from Texas A&M University in 2007 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and a minor in biochemistry. After an internship at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, she came to Rice and joined the lab of Laura Segatori, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
“I fell in love with the research Laura and her lab were working on. We published three articles together. She’s a skilled researcher and teacher, and she taught me a great deal,” said Kilpatrick, whose research focused generally on the links between protein folding and disease.
At the same time, Kilpatrick was involved in the Graduate Student Association, serving first as the internal vice president and later as the parliamentarian. For two years she organized the new graduate student orientation, coordinated Beer Bike, and managed a team of more than 30 volunteers. She chaired a committee to survey adviser/graduate student relations and organized professional development programs. In recognition of her contributions, the official gavel of the GSA has been renamed “Kiri’s Hammer.”
“It was a crazy time. I was a fulltime graduate student and a fulltime administrator, but I had a great time and learned a lot from both parts of my life at Rice. I slowly came to realize that I really like working with students,” she said.
Soon after graduation last May, Kilpatrick was hired as an interim assistant director in the Rice Student Center. In that capacity, she advised three student-run businesses and represented them to the university administration, managed payroll and finances, and mentored managers in leadership and team management.
In November, Kilpatrick moved to her new job in Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Much of her time is spent engaging the discipline-specific graduate student associations in prospective student outreach, recruiting initiatives, and orientation, as well as professional development and career mentoring.
“I work with graduate students, administrators and faculty from across campus, not just engineering, and that helps me see the bigger picture at Rice. I’m learning to think university-wide about graduate research,” she said.
Kilpatrick also works with departments and schools at the administrative level to develop university-wide initiatives to improve the overall graduate student experience, from academic and professional training to student well-being.
“I find serving students very rewarding,” she said, “whether undergraduate or graduate, in a coffee shop or in my office. I think it's important to cultivate a community of involvement and support within the student body."