Tips for starting a Grad SWE group

Are you looking to start a Grad SWE group at your local collegiate or professional section? First check out these resources to give you an idea of how to engage graduate students as either professionals or collegiates:

Graduate Students as Professionals

Graduate Students as Collegiates

Then check out an older webinar about starting a Grad Group: Grad Student Involvement in SWE Sections webinar presentation

And finally, take a look at these tips from successful Grad SWE groups across the country to help you build your membership and host events. Do you have suggestions or additional tips? Add them in the comments below, or send them to and she’ll post them on this page.

Membership tips:

-Draw on existing university resources such as an Office for Graduate Education. Build partnerships with them for financial resources and recruiting.

-Be sure to work closely with the local collegiate SWE section to define your group’s role and place in the section structure, since there cannot be more than one section at a college or university.

-Collaborate. Work with other graduate groups and women in science groups.

-Just go for it! It only takes a couple people.

-Find a common ground, find interests or events that will keep members grounded.

Event tips:

-Have fun! If there is a social event you want to attend but don’t want to go alone, make it a GradSWE social.

-We always hold a “How to apply to grad school” type session for the undergrads that are interested in grad school which is a good way to mix the regular SWE sections with our Grad SWE committee.

-Surveys are also helpful to find out what the female graduate students at your school are interested in doing with the group.

-Start small. Advertise. Free food.

-Students in general love free stuff, right? Always try to provide something at your meetings – crafts, coffee, tea, and fabulous discussions, of course. If you have a budget to work with, lunch is great too!

-Use resources in your town or at your university. There’s a lot of knowledge about various topics of interest right around the corner, and lots of people will help out for free. An outside perspective is very refreshing – if your university has visiting speakers, see if you can snag them for a presentation or panel.

-At a loss for what your events should be? Do some Googling –  look up previous SWE conferences or other SWE groups to see what they’ve done in the past!

Leadership tips:

-The group really needs to have a couple devoted people to get your Grad SWE sections off of the ground and work hard to fundraise and find ways to monetarily support your group.

General tips:

-Even if the group hasn’t done much yet, it’s nice to have a group of female graduate students who understand where you’re at, what you’re doing, your goals for the future and your passion to promote women in engineering.


FAQ: Being a Grad Community Coordinator

The deadline for FY16 Graduate Community Coordinators is only a few days away — April 1st! We’re looking to fill three positions: Graduate Member Coordinator Elect (GMC-Elect), Regional Conference Coordinator (RCC), and Webinar Coordinator (WC). See my previous post for a brief description of each position as well as the application information here. I also wrote a post about why I got involved with the Grad Community, and why you should too here.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several emails with a lot of the same questions, so I thought a FAQ post may help answer many of your questions about these positions. Even if you’re only slightly interested in these positions, I highly encourage you to apply! The application is super easy — only a few questions!

Question: What is the time commitment for the positions? What are the benefits of being a Coordinator?

Answer: For the time commitment. it really depends on you. As with many roles, organization and dedication go a long way in getting things done quickly and efficiently. The GMC-Elect position is primarily a support role, as you would be learning more about how the Grad Community works within the SWE big picture. You support the GMC on conference calls and in building our quarterly reports. With all that said, I would like to encourage the next GMC-elect to implement the ideas they have to make the Grad Community more awesome. So, the GMC-Elect role has, on average, an hour time commitment per week. However, you will transition into the GMC role after the first year, so this position is a 2-year commitment. The Regional Conference Coordinator (RCC) is more time intensive during the fall semester, when all region conferences are planning their sessions and have abstract deadlines. Over the past two years, though, we have created a detailed list of contacts and session topics, which will serve as an important resource for the next RCC. This position also has, on average, an hour time commitment per week with the fall semester being the most intense period. The Webinar Coordinator (WC) is heavy on email communication and involves reaching out to potential webinar speakers, and setting up the webinar with SWE. As with the other positions, the WC has, on average, an hour time commitment per week.

Yes, it is another commitment on top of your research and anything else you may have going on. But honestly, it’s well worth the (little) time. As a Grad Coordinator, you are introduced to SWE on a Society level. If you’ve only ever been involved in a collegiate or professional section, then this is a tremendous opportunity to see how SWE works, and how the various committees work together to achieve SWE’s mission. This is especially useful experience if you’re interested in other SWE leadership  positions. Additionally, you’re making a huge difference in the lives of your fellow grad students. The Grad Community, as many of you know, offers great networking and learning opportunities, as well as provides a community for all of us know we’re not alone. But, we can’t achieve all these great things without fantastic leaders like yourself.


Question: What requirements are there to be a Grad Coordinator?

Answer: You must be a SWE member in good standing. You can have either professional or collegiate membership. We prefer current, or recently graduated, graduate students to hold these roles, as they tend to have the best understanding of what graduate students need and want.


Question: Can I hold a Coordinator position if I’m going to be graduating soon?

Answer: YES! This seems to be a common misunderstanding. As I mentioned in the above response, we prefer that people have graduate school experience so they understand and are able to represent graduate student needs and wants. This does not mean, however, that you can be a Grad Coordinator only while you’re in grad school. E.g. I am graduating in May and transitioning to the workforce, so I’ll be serving as GMC after having graduated.


Question: Why are there two different applications?

Answer: The GMC-Elect role is a position which must follow SWE committee chair rules, so a separate application was necessary. In the past, the RCC and WC positions were not filled until early summer. This year, we thought it would be easier to ask people to apply for all three positions at the same time.


I’m sure I didn’t answer all of your questions, but I hope I hit the big ones. If you have additional or specific questions, please feel free to contact me (Katharine) at and don’t forget to submit your applications by this Wednesday, April 1st!

Financial Advice for Graduate Students Part 1: Income, Taxes and other Compensations

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 @ 9:30 AM CST


Compensation packages in the US can be confusing for new graduates.  This series of three webinars is designed to explain the three main elements of a compensation package: salary, retirement and insurance.  In the first talk we will discuss income and taxes in the US.  I will give a brief overview of the other non-monetary forms of compensation such as paid time off (vacation, sick leave), retirement and insurance.  In the second talk we will delve deeper into the various insurance products that will likely be offered – or that you may wish to purchase on your own.  These will include medical, vision, dental, disability, and life insurance.  In the third talk we will discuss retirement plans offered by US employers, how they work and the pros and cons of each.  The goal of the series is to acquaint you with the likely options you will encounter as you transition from university to paid compensation so as to empower you to make the correct choices for you and your family.


Karen Feigh is an Associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering. As a faculty member of the Georgia Tech Cognitive Engineering Center, she leads a research and education program focused on the computational cognitive modeling and design of cognitive work support systems and technologies to improve the performance of socio-technical systems with particular emphasis on aerospace systems.  She is responsible for undergraduate and graduate level instruction in the areas of flight dynamics, evaluation of human integrated systems, human factors, and cognitive engineering.  Dr. Feigh has over nine years of relevant research and design experience in fast-time air traffic simulation, ethnographic studies, airline and fractional ownership operation control centers, synthetic vision systems for helicopters, expert systems for air traffic control towers, and the impact of context on undersea warfighters.  Dr. Feigh serves on the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB), as the Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Helicopter Society, and as a guest editor for a special addition of the AIAA Journal of Aerospace Information Systems on Human Automation Interaction.

Registration Link:

Grad SWE Wants You!…to be an FY16 coordinator


Have you recently joined the SWE Graduate Community? Do you enjoy all the Blog and Facebook posts? Did you attend your region conference already this spring and were happy to find graduate student activities and workshops specifically developed for you? Have you participated in the graduate student webinars? Then you know what the Graduate Community does for all graduate students in SWE. Our mission is to foster an environment in which women graduate students in STEM, and those who support them, can find the resources they need to excel and graduate with their advanced degrees in order to help make the world a better place.

All of you have benefited from what the SWE Graduate Community offers, and so I strongly encourage you to apply for the FY16 Coordinator positions: Graduate Member Coordinator Elect, Regional Conference Coordinator, and Webinar Coordinator. You will be empowering and encouraging other women to continue their studies, and you’ll find you receive a tremendous amount of support as well. Applications are due April 1st (no joke). You can find more information about the positions as well as the applications on my previous blog post: Get more involved with SWE as a graduate student!

Before I go, I wanted to tell my own story of SWE involvement in the hopes that it may inspire you to apply for these positions. Since I was a freshman at Purdue, I have been involved in SWE. Almost every year since I joined SWE, I’ve held some sort of a leadership position. I truly believe that my involvement in SWE is what has helped me get all the way through to the PhD. I have always found the support I’ve needed from my fellow members, whether that was during the all-nighters of undergrad, or the fierce and overwhelming study sessions for the PhD qualifying exams. While holding a SWE Graduate Community leadership position is definitely extra work, it is well worth the time spent. From my SWE Grad leadership experiences, I have expanded my personal and professional networks and met remarkable people who serve as inspiration for me to finish my degree and make a difference in the world. Furthermore, I believe I make a difference in other peoples lives by helping them do the same through our SWE Graduate Community. In short, being a SWE Graduate Community leader has given me purpose outside of my research, introduced me to inspiring people, and helped me successfully navigate graduate school.

Now, I am about to defend and graduate…wow, how nine years of college has disappeared into so many fun experiences and adventures! I wish the same for all of you, and strongly encourage you to apply for the FY16 Graduate Coordinator positions! Please, please, let me know if you have any questions. I would be happy to talk with you via email, phone, Skype, Google Hangout…whatever you’d like! Contact me (Katharine) at if you’d like to chat!


Graduate Student Unions

Graduate Student Unions

While reading the comments in a particularly doom-y and gloomy NPR article about employment for PhDs after graduation I came across a discussion about graduate student unions.  I have attended a different university for each of my degrees and none of them have had graduate student unions so I can’t draw from any personal experience on the subject (although, if you have some insight please share in the comments!).

Anyone who has been a graduate student knows that grad school is hard and expensive.  This article quotes a professor telling graduate students that they must focus completely on studies to complete their degree and not worry about compensation.  That is all fine and good for a 22 year old with no debt, still on his or her parents’ health insurance,  and parents who can help out occasionally but it sounds very short sighted to a mother of two returning to graduate school after working for 10 years.  In a paper by researchers at Rutgers University they report that unionized graduate students fare better in pay.

As Engineering graduate students we are among the luckiest ones as we usually have at least partial funding and often full funding including a stipend.  However, I have spoken to graduate students with children who say it is impossible to support a family on a stipend.  Not to mention that poor health insurance options will result in excluding any potential student with an expensive health condition.

The topic has been in the news recently as graduate students at Columbia University attempt to be categorized as both students and workers in order to unionize.  The dual nature of graduate student assistantships adds another layer of complexity to a labor issues.

Beyond fair compensation could unions also provide protection against abuse and exploitation? Do Unions harm the professor student relationship?  The same article referenced above says no.  Conflicts that arise between graduate students and faculty are often not sufficiently resolved because of the imbalance of power.  Would a union help these situations?

There is a lot I don’t know about the subject and I would love to hear the opinions of our community.  Do you have a union?  If so, has it helped or hurt?  If not, did you ever wish you did?