WE11: Transitioning from Industry to Graduate School

Marcella Vaicik

Transitioning from being a full time engineer in industry to full-time or part-time graduate student can be challenging.  A panel of 5 women shared their experiences and offered candid advice about how to successfully transition as a Q&A forum.  Here are some of the questions asked with some of the answers shared by the panelists.

What were your Motivations for Going Back to School?

Diane Peters shared that her motivation for going back to graduate school was because she wants to be a professor in Mechanical Engineering.  Other panelists had different reasons.  Marcella Vaicik wanted to transition from chemical engineering into the field of biomedical engineering.

What was the transition back to school like?

“The first semester in my master’s program was very difficult” shared Marcella.  “I had been out of school for 3 years and had to spend time refreshing myself on basic concepts in addition to studying the advanced new material.  I found forming study groups with other students really helped me.”

Currently, a bioengineering doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Kimber Brenneman shared how she transitioned from working in the meat casing industry as a food process engineer to a master’s student in bioengineering.  She found that once she got into her first year of studies her desire to be a technical expert motivated her to switch from a master’s program to a Ph.D. program.  In her opinion another couple of years of school is not very long for the amount of in depth research experience she is getting by pursing her PhD.

What are the financial aspects for doing graduate work?

Anne Lucietto shared that she did master’s work part-time so she was able to take advantage of her company paying for her courses while she worked full-time.  Now she is back in school full-time for her PhD and while the salary discrepancy is large she has been able to prioritize and utilize her PhD graduate student stipend.  Kimber shared that most master’s degree students do not get stipends but PhD students in engineering do get stipends.

How do you balance school-life?

Chelsea Spier is currently working on her master’s degree part-time while working full -time as an environmental engineer.  When asked about work-life-school balance she explained that her weekends were committed to doing school work and between work and school work it reduced the amount of free time she currently has.   Kimber mentioned that she does NOT stop having her life just because she is in school.  She continues to travel and pursue her outside interests and treats her Ph.D. work like a job.

The following are some suggested website resources for more information related to graduate school.   The panelist encouraged people to contact them with further questions. Please email Marcella Vaicik at mschmid8@hawk.iit.edu with any additional questions.




Web Resources for Financial Assistance and Adult Students

Adult Student Sites

Graduate Program Information

Grad School Humor



One thought on “WE11: Transitioning from Industry to Graduate School

  1. Pingback: WE11 Session Summaries | Society of Women Engineers – Graduate Students Blog

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