On Scientific Integrity

Story written by Maggie Todaro, Alexa Stathis, and Lachlan Wright

For anyone who has spent time in academia, whether it be pursuing a degree or a career, scientific integrity is a subject you are sure to come face to face with. The suppression, censorship, distortion, and manipulation of scientific information is as commonplace as it is problematic. Using the 2016 article Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition by Edwards and Roy as an introduction to the issues, EMPOWER trainees engaged in a round table discussion about the systematic risks to scientific integrity. The dialogue emphasized quantitative metrics that measure success, hypercompetitive funding environments, and political pressure are a reality of modern day research. Through the completion of an anonymous survey that asked questions such as “Have you ever witnessed academic dishonesty?”, EMPOWER students were able to see through a more personal lens how much scientific integrity influences the academic experiences of themselves and their peers. More than half of survey participants answered “yes” to that question. Results can be seen in Figure 1.

From funding opportunities, through the peer-review process, to publication, opportunities for dishonesty are present at every step of the way. While the temptation to manipulate evidence for personal gain may be there, a legacy of unethical science will simply destroy public trust and support, stunting scientific progress. After exploring potential reforms to mitigate the effects of corruption, EMPOWER trainees affirm the importance of honesty and self-correction in academia as the primary approach for checks and balances.

EMPOWER trainee responses to survey on scientific integrity

EMPOWER Kicks Off Another Year!

Empower Orientation Event 2017

In its second academic year, EMPOWER has grown to a program of almost 30 M.S. and Ph.D. students who are interested in research and careers at the water-energy nexus. On Friday Sept. 1, EMPOWER welcomed the new group of trainees to the program. Drawing from the departments of Earth sciences, civil & environmental engineering, and political science, the ten new trainees gathered at orientation to learn more about EMPOWER and to meet all the other trainees.

The afternoon was filled with activities and information, including assignment of peer-mentor pairs, a discussion of the NSF’s Research Traineeship program, and a detailed description of each of EMPOWER’s training elements. Program Director Laura Lautz kicked off the orientation and current trainees contributed substantially by participating in panels focused on individual training elements.

Trainees David Zheng (mechanical & aerospace engineering) and Alex Johnson (civil & environmental engineering) gave an overview of EMPOWER’s science communication class. As David and Alex noted, the final project for the class was to create a multimedia website that featured stories, written and produced by students, about New York State’s ecological and environmental innovations. To see the class projects, go to http://www.scicom2017.org/.

EMPOWER trainees, Geoff Millard, Caitlin Eger, David Zheng, Emily Baker, and Alexa Stathis, participated in a panel to discuss the range of courses students might take to satisfy their Professional Development Specialization Area Requirement. Each panel participant had taken different classes based on their interests and goals, including sustainable enterprise, science teaching, data visualization and environmental economics. During the discussion, Alexa Stathis (Ph.D. student in chemistry) encouraged the trainees to “choose these classes intentionally: this is an opportunity to take classes that are going to help you prepare for your career.”

The last part of the orientation was a Career Pathway Experiences panel with Kristy Gutchess, Nathan Chien, J.R. Slosson, and Amanda (Schulz) Campbell. Each panelist described their internship experience, how they found their opportunity, and what was particularly valuable with their experience. Robin Glas, who interned with the USGS in Spring 2017, contributed to the panel remotely (thanks, Robin!). Additionally, Laura Lautz provided detailed information about funding opportunities that can help support students while completing internships.

The afternoon concluded with a well-attended reception with the trainees, EMPOWER’s Leadership Team, Affiliated Faculty, and staff.

Thanks to all who contributed their time and expertise to make the kick-off event a success!

Spotlight on Yige Yang

Yige Yang, a PhD student in Civil & Environmental Engineering, is in the “Spotlight” this month. Thanks to Yige for contributing to the second installment of this series!

PhD student Yige Yang with a Belfort Rain gauge.

Yige, what inspired you to become an engineer?

I am from an “engineering” family: my parents are electrical engineers, my uncle and aunt are civil engineers, and my grandparents are mechanical engineers. It is like a tradition in this kind of family to become an engineer. In addition, my hobby is doing DIY [do-it-yourself] and I make all kinds of interior decorations. I think the reason why I enjoy doing these projects is that I like to make my ideas become real. It is what engineers do! It is a fascinating process to sharpen your ideas, struggle with all kinds of challenges, and then see the final accomplishment. Last, but not least, I love Mother Earth, so I want to protect the environment. All of these reasons are why I became an environmental engineer.


What skills and knowledge have been of key importance to your success in graduate school?

Team work, planning ahead, and the ability to learn are keys to success in graduate school. Especially in an engineering major, we have all kinds of projects to finish each semester. It is very important to communicate with your team members efficiently to finish the project on time and get a high score.

In addition, having a planner is very helpful. I make a to-do list every morning during breakfast, listing items in order of importance. In graduate school, I take classes and do research. Sometimes I have five meetings a day and having a planner helps me schedule my time ahead and not miss any small things.

Furthermore, figure out the best way for you to learn. I learned R and MATLAB by myself. There are thousands of videos and resources online. When I realized I prefer to spend my time learning the software intensely rather than take a course in the whole semester, I did it online. Now they are crucial to making progress of my research.


Do you have any mentors who have helped guide you? What is some pivotal advice that they have given you?

Cliff Davidson is my mentor at Syracuse University. The field of sustainability captured my interest right after I took CIE 600 “Intro to Sustainability,” which was taught by him. After that class, I joined his research group. Cliff is not only my advisor of research, but also a mentor of communication. He is always very modest, even though he has so much knowledge. At conferences, he is always the most serious person, sitting in the front row and taking notes, even though he may be the wisest person in the room. He rarely gives me advice, but I learned so many life lessons from his actions.


What advice would you give new graduate students?

  • Figure out what your research interest is. It is very hard but the most important thing.
  • Always have your hobby other than research, so you can relax and enjoy life.
  • Speak out loud your own thoughts: never expect people know what you are thinking. Don’t bury all of your brilliant ideas!



About Yige:

Yige Yang graduated from Sun Yat-sen University, China, in 2013 with a major in environmental science and a minor in public relations. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in a variety of research experiences: she explored detoxification of metal ions by microbial siderophore, and assessed water quality of Loe Pool at Plymouth University, UK. Being the Vice President of Student Association, she organized and planned all variety of student events.

Yige enrolled in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Syracuse University in Fall 2013 as a Master’s student. She continued to the PhD program after completion of her master’s degree. She is active in the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) at SU, where she designs and manages light control for all CSSA-sponsored events.  She is also a member of orange pulse dance troupe. She has received the Water Fellowship and earned several other awards.

Her current research includes understanding the hydraulic and thermal performance of green roofs and the specific design of green roofs.


Answers, and more questions

EMPOWER’s mascot, Bolt, spends the day with the class

This past week was a busy one for students taking EMPOWER’s domestic field course. Most of the week was spent learning more about Green Lake, which is in Fayetteville, NY. Green Lake was formed by a glacial waterfall and is very deep (about 195 feet). What makes Green Lake unique is that it is meromictic, meaning that the layers of water do not mix. Its striking green color makes Green Lakes a popular destination for those in the Syracuse area and its unique biogeochemistry and geologic history make it of particular interest to researchers.

Students divided into teams based on their interests and backgrounds to address research questions at Green Lakes. After spending a full day at Green Lakes, students headed back to Heroy for two days of lab work and data analysis. Students found that the more they dug into the data, the more questions they had about the lake.

Their work culminated in an afternoon of presentations, where the students highlighted their major findings and proposed ideas for future study. Who knows, maybe one of the trainees will head back to Green Lakes sometime in the future to answer some of those questions!

Next up is a day trip to a quarry, a gas field, and Marcellus.

Updates from the field course

EMPOWER’s Water-Energy Field Course started just a few days ago and already the students have discussed articles, developed research questions, collected lake water samples and data, worked in the lab, and analyzed data. The graduate students enrolled in the class are from the chemistry, Earth sciences, and civil & environmental engineering departments. These ten students, with their varied backgrounds and expertise, are guided in the first portion of the field course by Drs. Laura Lautz and Chris Junium.

The first day of the field course was spent in the classroom, learning about the origin and chemistry of Green Lakes, discussing research articles and field techniques, and formulating research questions.

On the second day, the group travelled to Green Lakes to sample lake water and collect data. It was a long day, with students spending a lot of time on the lake collecting samples. Each student had the opportunity to try out the equipment on the lake. Samples were taken from many points to see how surface waters vary spatially across the lake. Students have found substantial differences in the chemistry at varying points throughout the lake. Water column data were also collected from three profiles that were over 45 m deep. One group of students is particularly interested in how isotopes vary at different depths. After the samples were collected, teams of students headed back to campus to process the samples in the lab. Some students stayed in the lab until 11 pm!

The third day has been spent analyzing the data and processing more samples. Students will be presenting their findings later this week and then heading out on Friday for a geology field trip.

The second week of the field course will be spent at Hubbard Brook Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in New Hampshire. Led by Drs. Charley Driscoll and Chris Johnson, EMPOWER trainees will have the opportunity to tour the forest, take samples and measurements on Mirror Lake, and conduct in-stream tracer addition experiments.

Reflections on the year

On October 25, 2016, EMPOWER, the Earth Sciences department, and Syracuse University administrators celebrated the opening of the new collaborative space in Suite 333 of the Heroy Geology Laboratory. This reception was also the formal kickoff of the “Education Model Program for Water-Energy Research” NSF Research Traineeship Program (EMPOWER NRT), marking an exciting new approach to graduate training in the sciences and an opportunity to build meaningful collaborations across Syracuse University’s renowned professional schools.

EMPOWER is a five-year, $3 million NSF-funded program that provides professional and technical training to prepare graduates for a range of career options in the water and energy fields. Led by principal investigator Laura Lautz (Earth sciences professor and department chair), EMPOWER students and faculty comprise a team of over 40 individuals drawn from four university colleges and ten academic departments.

EMPOWER welcomed its first cohort of graduate student trainees in 2016 and has grown to a program of over 25 MS and PhD students from a range of departments. Check out our “People” page to learn about the EMPOWER participants.

According to Lautz, EMPOWER “aims to be responsive to the changing needs of today’s graduate student, who is increasingly interested in careers outside of the traditional academy.” The NRT award provides one-year stipends for up to 46 graduate students across the Earth sciences, engineering, chemistry, and social sciences fields and provides individualized opportunities related to the student’s professional interests. For example, Earth sciences Ph.D. student Robin Glas completed an internship at the USGS New York State Water Science Center; Kristina Gutchess, another Ph.D. student in Earth sciences, developed an extensive portfolio through coursework in science teaching and serving as an adjunct instructor at SUNY Cortland. Other students have used EMPOWER resources to develop their technical skills and enhance their professional network: Sam Caldwell and Emily Baker participated in a thermal infrared imaging certification workshop; and several students attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Boston.

Additional programming for EMPOWER this year included the interdisciplinary Water-Energy Seminar, a visiting speaker series, a science communication class through the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, several professional development workshops, a summer field course, and many networking opportunities. Highlights of this year include:

The center of it all is on the third floor of Heroy. And, as one engineering student said “Having a physical space to meet on a regular basis provides a sense of community. Suite 333 is collaborative space where we network, eat lunch, and prepare for the Water-Energy Seminar.”

This upcoming academic year promises to be an exciting one! Please check back often to learn about our events, activities, and the many accomplishments of our trainees!

Read more about this year in our annual report: EMPOWER Annual Report 2016-17

Traveling in June yields great rewards!

Changcheng Pu, third from left, receives Stantec Student Travel Award


Changcheng Pu, a Ph.D. student in Civil and Environmental Engineering and EMPOWER trainee, spent many days away from Syracuse during the month of June. First, he traveled to Buffalo to participate in the 13th Annual LC-MS/MS Workshop on Environmental and Food Safety. With faculty advisor Teng Zeng, Changcheng presented a poster entitled “Characterization of N-nitrosamines in wastewater combining Orbitrap high resolution spectrometry and chemiluminescence detection.” Judged by a committee of professors and researchers, the poster earned the Best Student Poster Award!

Then, Changcheng traveled to Ann Arbor, MI, to attend the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Research and Education Conference. At that conference, he received the Stantec Student Travel Award! This is a big honor, given the tight competition for awards like this.

Congratulations, Changcheng!

Spotlight on Emily Baker

EMPOWER is a group of over 40 faculty, staff, and graduate students who are interested in research at the Water-Energy Nexus. Despite this shared interest, everyone comes to the program with their unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. In our new “Spotlight” series, we will learn more about the individuals who make EMPOWER a great community.

Emily Baker has been with EMPOWER since the our first kick-off event in January 2016. And, she is the first to contribute to our new “Spotlight” series!


Emily, what inspired you to become a geoscientist?

Emily Baker

I have always enjoyed spending time outside, exploring new places, and learning how things work. These interests were what attracted me to taking my first geology class, Environmental Geology. During this course, I distinctly remember my awe as we learned that earth’s magnetic field has experienced numerous reversals throughout time. Though I did not become a geology major until my junior year, I never forgot the interesting things I learned during that course, and my desire to learn about additional intriguing processes eventually drew me into the department.

What skills and knowledge have been of key importance to your success in graduate school?

Prior to starting graduate school, I used R in some of my math/statistics courses. My familiarity with R made it much easier to learn to write code in MATLAB. Additionally, many of my undergraduate classes made us write up full-length lab reports and give presentations on various topics, and this helped me have better scientific writing and presentation skills upon entering graduate school. Furthermore, the ability to find answers on the internet, in either scientific publications or MATLAB forums, has been crucial to making research progress.

Do you have any mentors who have helped guide you? What was some of the best advice that they gave you?

Two of my geology professors at Mount Holyoke, Steven Dunn and Michelle Markley, were very supportive in helping me gain research experience and allowing me to work for them in the field and in the lab, giving me the confidence to apply to graduate programs. They always had open door policies, where I could ask them for advice on any topic including what courses to choose, internship applications, and the graduate school search. They both encouraged me to go to graduate school, but also told me not to be afraid of not attending immediately; I would end up in graduate school regardless of which path I took to get there, if that ended up being what I really wanted. While I did end up going straight into graduate school, the idea that there is not a right and a wrong path to whatever career I desire really helped me relax and make the decision I felt was best for me.

What advice would you give new graduate students?

  • Read as many papers as you can, if you don’t know what to read, ask your adviser for some they would recommend and then read through those and the papers cited within.
  • Be productive when you are in the office/lab.
  • Sleep a healthy amount, not sleeping will only make it more difficult.
  • Maintain hobbies and interests that you have other than your research, otherwise you will burn out really quickly.
  • Continue hanging out with friends.


About Emily:

Emily Baker graduated from Mount Holyoke College in the spring of 2015 with a major in geology and a minor in statistics. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in a variety of research experiences: she examined mosquito larvae populations in ephemeral pools, the role of iron redox chemistry in isotopic fractionation, and calcite-graphite thermometry in marbles.

Emily enrolled at Syracuse University in Fall 2015 as a Master’s student in the Department of Earth Sciences. She switched into the PhD program after her first year of studies and recently passed her PhD candidacy exam. This past spring, she organized the department’s annual Central NY Earth Science Student Symposium. She has received the EMPOWER Fellowship and the Water Fellowship.

Her current research is on groundwater-surface water interactions in the Peruvian Andes. This work combines heat tracing and hydrochemical techniques to try to assess the relative contribution of glacial meltwater and groundwater to the stream during the dry season to estimate how water resources will be affected as the glaciers continue to retreat.



Science Communication Class Website is Live!

The development of oral and written communication skills is an integral part of EMPOWER. In Spring 2017, nine NRT trainees sat alongside journalism and other STEM graduate students in the class entitled “Multimedia Reporting on Climate Change and Sustainability.” This class explored the principles, practices, and processes of science storytelling, including documentary and journalism, in the context of public understanding. The goal of the course was to create a better understanding of how science and the media work, to teach pertinent skills, and to create a template for better relations between the two professions.

The course was taught by two faculty members in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Prof. Don Torrance, a member of EMPOWER’s Leadership Team, is an Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and producer. Prof. Erica Goode is a science writer for the New York Times.

The final project for the class was to create a multimedia website that featured stories, written and produced by students, about New York State’s ecological and environmental innovations. Check out all of the interesting stories! http://www.scicom2017.org/


EMPOWER trainees leverage expertise to secure research grant

EMPOWER trainees Alex Johnson, Yige Yang, and David Zheng, were recently awarded $14,000 for their project “Evaluating the Water and Energy Performance of the Center of Excellence (CoE) Green Roof” through the “Campus as a Laboratory for Sustainability” (CALS) grant program. This grant program, funded through the Syracuse University Climate Action Plan, is designed to support research that promotes reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and/or increase awareness about climate disruption and environmental sustainability (http://sustainability.syr.edu/vision/campus-as-laboratory-for-sustainability/cals-funding-2017-18/).

Through their research, the EMPOWER team aims to increase awareness of how green roofs can help the university reduce energy and water consumption. Each contributor will draw on their own expertise in this project: Johnson studies dry deposition on green roofs; Yang is interested in how green roofs reduce stormwater runoff and affect heat flux; and Zheng has extensive experience with computational fluid dynamics. Johnson says this was an “opportunity to do interdisciplinary work with three core research ideas.”

The CALS proposals must also have a campus communications component, so the research team assembled an advisory committee to help formulate an outreach and communication plan. This committee is comprised of 8 professionals from across Syracuse University’s campus. The research advisors include Cliff Davidson and Ben Akih, from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Tarek Rakha, from the School of Architecture, and Ed Bogucz, from the CoE. The communication advisors are Deanna McCay, from EMPOWER, Don Torrance, from the Newhouse School, Sharon Dotger, from the School of Education, and Todd Moss, from the Whitman School of Management.

According to Johnson, “It was actually pretty easy to get people involved. We joke that we have a large “squad” of advisors.” Zheng agrees: “All in all, we made some efforts in communicating with them, and they showed us great examples of how to do research and public communication.” The team plans to create a website, a informational brochure, and present their findings at a national conference.

Zheng says “I am very thankful for the EMPOWER program, it builds a powerful bond between professionals and students. We have the same vision – to mitigate the water and energy issue, and our missions might be different due to our backgrounds. However, it is the various backgrounds that bring us together.”



This is the second EMPOWER-related proposal funded through CALS. Kristy Gutchess received an award earlier this year. For more information about Kristy’s award, please see read our news story here.

For more information about CALS, please go to their website.