WE15 Rapid Fire Sessions – Call for Applications!

Applications have opened for the WE15 Rapid Fire Sessions in Nashville, TN! Rapid Fire allows SWE members to present their research to a panel of judges and audience of peers from a wide array of STEM disciplines. Emphasizing concision and clarity, these sessions contain a series of five-minute presentations followed by a brief Q&A session for each presenter. Presenters are given feedback immediately following the session.

This is a great way to receive feedback on your presenting skills. The audience is smaller, and presentation times are shorter than for traditional conference platform presentations. Rapid Fire also serves as a great way to justify your attendance at WE15 to your advisor and others!

If you are interested in participating in a Rapid Fire Session, please fill out the application here. The application will be closed at 11:59 PM CST on Monday, September 21. Applicants will be notified of their status by Monday, September 28, 2015. All graduate students are STRONGLY encouraged to apply!

For questions about the application, please email:

Richelle Thomas, Graduate Programming Coordinator (grad-programs-coordinator@swe.org)

Rachel Unruh, Graduate Programming Coordinator – Elect (grad-programs-coordinator-elect@swe.org)

Grad Member Spotlight: Heather Sauder

25 Aug 2015

Heather Sauder


PhD Student, expected graduation May 2016

Engineering Mechanics and Wind Energy Science, Engineering and Policy, Iowa State University

Heather has received the NSF IGERT and NSF EAPSI fellowships. She is also the Iowa State Grad SWE President.

Website: heathersauder.weebly.com




What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?
I am a PhD student in Engineering Mechanics and Wind Energy Science, Engineering and Policy. I have an NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT Fellowship) in Wind Energy Science, Engineering and Policy and for this summer I was awarded an NSF East Asia Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) Fellowship which is co-sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). I am hoping to finish in May 2016.

Give a brief explanation of your research.
Flexible structures, such as wind turbine blades or long-span bridges, are susceptible to wind-induced vibrations which can lead to catastrophic failures like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. The aerodynamic loads are typically divided into three categories: self-excited (motion-induced), buffeting (turbulence-induced), and vortex-induced. My PhD research focuses on experimentally extracting, through wind tunnel tests, aerodynamic derivatives for a wind turbine blade in order to predict the response of the blade in any given wind condition. Through the NSF EAPSI program and the collaboration with Professor Hiromichi Shirato, Bridge Engineering Laboratory at Kyoto University, I am expanding this research to include bluff cross-sections, like bridges.

What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?
After completing my degree, I am hoping to work at a National Lab with a strong wind energy group. I am also considering working at a company that does wind engineering research and wind tunnel work.

What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I love geeky TV shows, like Doctor Who and Supernatural, and I love working with horses. I am a fan of baking and love experimenting with new recipes. I am very involved in some student organizations on campus and that takes up the majority of my free time.

What’s a fun fact about you?
I grew up riding and showing in hunter jumper competitions in New Mexico and it is an addiction that you can’t give up. I still have my horse, Bounce, in New Mexico and plan to start riding again when I finish my degree.

Website: heathersauder.weebly.com

Grad Group Spotlight: Iowa State University Grad SWE

10 Aug 2015

GradSWEIowa State Grad SWE

Heather Sauder, Grad SWE President

Website: isugradswe.weebly.com
Email: isugradswe@gmail.com




Our first Grad Group spotlight shares the success of the Iowa State Grad SWE group. Read about their group through the Q&A below, or check out the website mentioned above.

When did your group start?
Our group began in Fall 2011 as a committee within the SWE section at Iowa State. In Spring 2014 we became an independent organization in the eyes of the university although we are still of committee within the SWE section in the eyes of the Society.

How is the group organized? i.e. how many core people are typically involved, do you have officers, how do you fit within the collegiate section, where do you get your budget (if you have one)?
Our organization has 6 officers: President (Heather Sauder), Vice-President (Katie Hinkle), Treasurer (Hannah Bgyd), Secretary (Helena Khazdozian), Director of Events (Radhika Rao), and Director of Outreach (Desmond Bonner). We also have a few people who help out on the events and outreach committees. We typically have around 20 to 30 people at each of our events. Our budget comes from support given by each of the engineering departments on campus who are more than willing to support our efforts. We are an independent organization in the eyes of the university from the SWE section at Iowa State in order to have events and activities that are catered to graduate students and to be able to obtain and manage our own funds. However, we still hold joint events with the undergraduate section like the Welcome Picnic and some other events throughout the year. Our organization is working to build up our relationship with our undergraduate section in order to provide more resources for the undergrads planning to go to grad school.

What type of events do you host? How often do you host them? How many people tend to come to these events?
We have three main types of events: General Meeting Lunches, Social Events and Discussion Groups/Book club. Our General Meeting Lunches are held 2-3 types a semester and consist of a speaker or TED Talk with a discussion. We also provide lunch at these events. We usually have around 20-30 people attend our lunches. We hold several social events throughout the semester, everything from Wine and Games at a local wine bar to Berry Picking during the summer. These events usually have between 5-10 people in attendance. Finally the discussion groups and book club are meant to focus on some of the more serious issues facing women. We began these events in Spring 2015 with 4-5 people at each of book club events. Attendance at these vary based on the interest in discussing these issues.

What tips do you have for a newly-started grad group?
Try to make a personal connection to new graduate students and then they will be more likely to attend your events. We hand out welcome packets at the beginning of each semester to new graduate students and we are also making an effort to attend every department’s orientation. People are more likely to get involved with your group if they already know or have met someone involved. Also, if you are having trouble getting funds from departments or your college of engineering offer something in return. We occasionally meet with prospective graduate students in engineering at the request of the department or because they contacted us. This can help the department get more female graduate students and gets you more involved members. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help from another GradSWE section. We are all more than happy to provide event ideas or suggestions!

How can someone contact your group if they’re interested in participating or have questions?
Website: isugradswe.weebly.com
Email: isugradswe@gmail.com

Transferable Skills and the Pursuit of PhD

The entrepreneurship bug is alive and well today. We hear about starts as pragmatic as Uber to frivolous games that waste hours on end. It seems that today’s economic environment is ripe for innovative ideas and disruptive technology. It’s all very exciting to hear about technology licensed out of graduate labs and someone else’s uncle’s friend who’s app was purchased for millions of dollars. For the academic, however, it begs the question:

Does graduate school provide any transferable skills that would be valueable in the marketplace?

Of course we can endlessly debate the utility (or lack thereof) of an advanced degree but the reality is that there are more MS and PhDs graduating every year than academia can employ. There are numerous articles that spell doom and gloom for the budding scientist about to enter the job market. Theoretically, we scientists have it better than English majors, yet the prospects are still not so optimistic for STEM majors.  Whether we choose to explore a non-traditonal career, a career in industry or start our own venture, it’s clear that academia cannot absorb us all.

With this is mind, I came across an interesting site this week where the blogger helps wayward academics find their way to starting their own education/teaching/consulting business. It may be worthwhile to explore the option of starting your own venture, either as a source of additional income or full time. The Scholarpreneur took and interesting view of the academic background and gave it a validity that I rarely see. Learn more about the site and their offerings here.

Upcoming Webinar for SWE Graduate Students and Academics

Managing Dual Careers in Academia

Thursday, August 13th, 2015
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm (EDT)

About the Webinar: 

This webinar focuses on the challenges and advantages of dual-career couples with one or more members in academia.  In the first half of the webinar, two couples will tell their personal stories as well as strategies they find helpful for managing dual-careers.  The second half of the webinar will focus on answering questions from the audience.

Speakers: Jacquelyn and Robert Nagel, Shannon and Jim Ciston

Click here to register for the webinar

7/28/15 newsletter

Hello Grad Community!


In this email:
(1) We want your opinion! FY16 Grad Community Needs Survey
(2) Get involved! Join a SWE Committee
(3) Grad member spotlight: Mary Phillips Dournaee
(4) Connect with us!


(1) FY16 Community survey
In an effort to cater to the needs of Grad Community members we created a survey: https://goo.gl/N0eZmL


Please take a few minutes to fill out this short survey and let us know what you would like the Grad Community leadership to focus on for FY16. Questions include participation in a Google Hangout introduction to the Community, what types of webinars you would like to see, as well as an opportunity for you to tell us what you would like to see in FY16.


(2) Join a Committee!
It’s not too late to join a committee for FY16. This is a great way to get involved at a Society-level. Many committees would absolutely love to have graduate student participation!

List of committees/descriptions: http://societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/images/about_swe/FY16_Committee_Descriptions.pdf

Volunteer: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/?sm=lmtzXBy4mKmcs%2b9yGcBeGXWfpqftDB9avZshKz7P5J0%3d


(3) Grad Member Spotlight: Mary Phillips Dournaee
Mary has done some amazing things for STEM outreach. Check out her spotlight on the blog: https://swegrad.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/grad-member-spotlight-mary-phillips-dournaee/


(4) Connect with us!


As always, please let me know if you have any questions/comments/concerns!


MS vs. PhD: Which should I choose?

The short answer is: whichever you think is best for you.

I know, that’s a cop-out answer. But, in truth, choosing whether to leave with an MS or continue on for the PhD is such a personal decision that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In an effort to help people think about both sides and make their informed decision, here’s a Pro-Con chart (modified from a WE12 presentation I co-presented) and some things to think about.

Master’s Ph.D.

  • Geared toward a career in industry in technical areas or management.
  • More $$ than earned by a Bachelor’s
  • More competitive resume; range of job opportunities.
  • Allows higher level entry than with BS.
  • Required for some positions.
  • Interested in research but don’t want to commit to PhD.
  • Usually only 1.5-2 years full-time.



  • Geared toward a career in research, think tanks, highly technical areas in industry, or consulting.
  • Often more $$ than MS or BS.
  • Overall curiosity and desire to learn.
  • Required for some positions (primarily R&D, academia).
  • More funding opportunities.
  • Love for the research.
  • You get to call yourself Dr. at the end.
  • Skill set gained is beyond just the specific research project, e.g. deep research, writing (grant and technical), mentoring (if you worked with undergrads), time and project management, etc.

  • Little funding for those who are only interested in Masters.
  • Usually only focused on coursework and minimal research.
  • Non-research skill set not as transferable as with PhD.

  • Exhausting, longer commitment than MS. Usually 5-7 years total (full-time).
  • Qualifying exams are scary.
  • If you don’t have a fellowship, you have to do research for another professor or teach. These things often interfere with making progress on your own research (and therefore graduation).
  • Sometimes companies pigeon-hole you into your research area. I suggest looking at R&D places, National labs, Federally Funded R&D Centers (FFRDCs) aka Think Tanks, and government. These places will put a premium on the PhD degree and the experience you obtained by getting it as well as allow you to work in as many areas as interest you.


Keep in mind, too, that some degree programs only offer certain paths. That is, some programs only offer PhDs, with no option for an MS along the way. Other programs don’t even offer PhDs. Make sure to research your program, or even similar programs not in your specific discipline, so that you know your options.

Think about your own situation: do you have a significant other or children? Do you really enjoy the city in which you’re going to grad school? These things often are the biggest influences in the MS/PhD decision.

For me, I had entered graduate school thinking I would get the MS and leave, heading to industry. When at my internships, I had seen a lot of Managers with MS degrees in positions I aspired to. This was my primary motivation. Once in graduate school, I fell in love — with my research, my lab, my now-husband, and my city – Austin. Complete with an amazing advisor and support system of friends, family, and SWE, I decided that a PhD would be no big deal. Additionally, I had another amazing internship which showed me the value of obtaining a PhD for the career I wanted. My primary motivations were: the career I wanted, my support system was intact, and I loved my research.

Overall, I think my biggest piece of advice is to have an idea of what you want to do after graduation. Take a look at the education level of the people holding positions you aspire to. What degree do a majority of these people hold? This can help you figure out what the company/position values. The PhD is a huge investment of a lot of time and energy. The biggest question of all is: will it get you where you want to go?


What are people’s thoughts? Are there pros/cons that I forgot to include?