Welcome to FY20!

Hi, my name is Ceci Klauber and I am the new FY20 Graduate Member Coordinator (GMC)! In this role, I work with the rest of the Grad Leadership Team to foster a strong community and network for graduate students in SWE by supporting new and continuing programming, facilitating communication between graduate students in SWE and SWE graduate student groups, and representing the interests of graduate students to the Society. 

In serving as Graduate Member Coordinator Elect last year I truly enjoyed working with the amazing grad students and young professionals who choose to use their precious free time to embody the mission and values of SWE, both at the society and section level. Y’all are amazing! 

MissionAwardWE18

Carolyn Chlebek (FY19 GMC) and I receiving a SWE Mission Award – Silver on behalf of the SWE Graduate Community at WE18 in Minneapolis.

Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from the last year and look forward to what FY20 has in store!

Highlights from FY19

-The Mentoring Program expanded to include graduate student mentoring of undergraduate students! Many of you volunteered to share your grad experiences and the new program was a success – enrolling over 100 undergraduates!

-We rolled out a new format for sharing our learning content – YouTube videos! If you haven’t seen them yet, be sure to check out How to Create a Personal Website for Self-Promotion and Social Media for Self-Promotion today! We even shared tips on how to plan an event for your grad group around the videos- check out our Event Protocol Database for more details.

-We increased our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts with informative blog posts about inclusion in engineering education and gender expansive engineering and a reading group. Our FY19 D&I Liaison also had the opportunity to speak at a SWE Hawaiian Islands event on underrepresented genders. You can read more about the experience on the blog!

What to Look Forward to in FY20

-WE19 planning is in full force! Keep an eye out for details on the Graduate Member Meeting, Networking Reception and Social – we’d love to meet you in person in Anaheim, CA. We will also be promoting sessions presented by graduate students, on topics such as mentoring and resiliency, and an ASEE SafeZone diversity training workshop. Consider applying for the Collegiate Leadership Institute or ALWE also!

-Have you seen the fresh new look of our newsletter? The new platform allows us to use multimedia within our emails and provides us with neat analytics that will inform future improvements to how we communicate with the GradSWE community.

-We are excited to continue well-received programming such as professional and personal development through webinars, YouTube videos, and the Mentoring Program. We are also excited to continue growing our D&I, globalization, and professional student outreach efforts.  We’ve got a great team this year!

What were your highlights of FY19? What do you hope to see from the GradSWE Leadership Team in the upcoming year? Let us know in the comments!

 

Cecilia Klauber is a PhD student at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX and the FY20 SWE Graduate Member Coordinator.

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More than an Identity Crisis

“Are you a student?”

This question always makes me pause. As a “part-time” graduate student, I don’t hold my main identity in being a student. I am first and foremost a “full-time” engineer, and school is something to tackle in my free-time. 

It leaves me with a major identity crisis of who I am in academia. As I explain my educational status, I’m quick to point out, “Oh, but I’m a non-thesis student!”, lest someone thinks too highly of my academic standing. 

“I’m only there for classes.”

“I don’t do research.” 

“I only do one or two classes a semester. It’s not like I’m a full-time student.”

I’m always quick to point out to my fellow students how I’m the poser, the faker, the imposter. I ride their coat-tails, and my degree will never be equal to a research-based Master’s. I’m 70% through a combined Master’s degree and certificate, and I fail to even see myself as a “Graduate Student.”


Do you see a trend here? If you’ve been involved with SWE for any amount of time, you may have heard of Imposter Syndrom. Previous GradSWE Blogs have covered the topic, and you can find a course on it in SWE Advance (linked here). I’ll leave it to my SWE colleagues to explain the issue in-depth, but it comes down to believing you are an imposter who will eventually be discovered as a fraud.

Like a Ph.D. student believing her research is not worthy of her peers, my own experience as a part-time Master’s student makes me believe I’m not as deserving of a degree as my fellow students.

I know that isn’t true. 

And I hope all students out there understand that graduate school is always something to be proud of doing.  These are some techniques I’ve used to fight off my own Imposter Syndrom traits.

Plugging into Campus Life

I’ll admit it: this is the hardest thing for a part-time student to do, and it’s often impossible for online students.  However, I’ve found that just by hanging around campus, I feel like more of a “student” again. Many larger schools have recreation centers that can be visited after work, even replacing a part-timer’s usual gym. Schools may offer evening activities, low-cost health clinics, counseling services, or other resources to all students. 

My first few years on campus, I rarely strayed from the path between my car and my class. It took me 3.5 years to learn my way around campus; it’s only about a 15-minute walk square! Now I’m much prouder to say I’m a student there.

At least I can finally find my way to the library.

Built a Support Network

John Donne published one of my favorite poems in 1624, “No Man is an Island”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

My favorite line is not that classic “No man is an island”, but rather “if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” On our darkest days, any student can feel like a clod of dirt, insignificant on a continent-worth of much finer ground. No matter who we are in academia, leaving before our time (like dying in the poem) makes the system that much less whole. 

Since “No man is an island,” no one can accomplish any goal alone. We all need people in our lives to support us, and we benefit from supporting others. When I connect with my classmates, I feel more like I belong. It can be hard for full-time and part-time students to meet, but we usually figured out a mutual time. Everyone is busy in their own way, so don’t shy away from trying to connect with someone with a different schedule.

Don’t Compare. Contrast. 

When I make the negative comments from the opening of this post, it’s because I’m comparing myself to people with different goals than myself. I’m not in a career track that requires a research background. 

Research-heavy students often end up in academia or research jobs, or they at least may aspire for that path.  While it is generalizing, the average engineer in a fabrication shop, automotive plant, factory, etc. doesn’t necessarily need to have a research background. And that is okay. 

Rather than compare, contrast. What can a non-thesis student learn from a thesis student? A non-researcher from someone in love with their lab? Share your story and learn the stories of others. 

Parting Words

When I started writing this post, I was writing about what I thought was an “identity crisis.” I felt I was just disconnected in a system that assumes a full-time commitment. I didn’t realize my “identity crisis” was actually hidden imposter syndrome.

If you start hearing your mind tell you the same things, you aren’t alone. No matter where we may be on our journey, from certificate seeker to post-doc, we are all worthy of being “Graduate Students.”

May your learnings be infinite, your research plentiful, and your degrees someday be complete!

Success and Happiness

What does it mean to be successful? That is a question every person must answer for themselves. Is it publishing 10 papers a year, and surpassing the most cited researcher in your field? Is it going from post-doc to PI to department head? Maybe it’s doing the most good that your career can do, or influencing even just one person’s life for the better.

Defining success is a personal decision that may evolve over time. Every person is unique, and as such, no two pathways through life (or even grad school) are the same. While it is important to seek input and insights from those you trust and aspire to follow, and those who care about you, ultimately YOU are the only person who can define what success is for your career and your life.

Success is a long term goal. It isn’t just what makes you happy in the moment, or what you ‘feel like’ doing. It is that achievement you can look back on years later and be proud that you endured and grew from the experience, something you accomplish that no one else can because they don’t have your unique set of skills and passions.

Success and happiness are linked. They are both dictated by your values. My dad used to always say that if you choose a job you enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life. He also used to say that if you do what you love, the money will follow. After working a number of years, I do agree with his first statement. Choose something that is meaningful for you and that you enjoy, and you will likely be successful and perhaps even regard your job as more of a hobby, something you do simply BECAUSE you enjoy it. There is much to be said for enjoying your work: several studies have shown that employees want meaningful work, that they’re willing to be paid less to do work they enjoy rather than more for a job they don’t like, and that there is also an average income at which people prefer life-balance perks such as additional vacation days or flexibility to an increased salary (the study reported this was around $75k – much less than one might expect!). Dad’s second statement also has some truth to it, though depending on your chosen field you may need to add a little business acumen. The reason is that if you do what you love, you will likely work harder at it, become an expert, and enjoy sharing it with others. There is always a hunt for the best and brightest in any niche, and usually a business to sustain them.

So don’t be discouraged if you are less than thrilled with the path that someone else laid out for you in grad school. This is your story to write, and only you can define what you enjoy and find worthwhile. You may become the next household name in research in 20 years, or you may become the greatest professor your students have ever had. Or maybe, you lead others through STEM and influence their success, or play an important role in bringing useful medications or products to market. Everyone has their place, and every career has its trade-offs. Choose what matters to you, and enjoy your career and life!

 

Tag: work life balance

The Habit of Learning Deeply

Recently, I completed a course on Coursera called Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. It covers the psychology of learning and how to deepen understanding of potential difficult subjects, such as in math and sciences. The course (with a free option!) closely follows the companion book, A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science, written by one of the course’s professors, Barbara Oakley. While the book and class are targeted mainly towards students struggling in math and sciences, anyone – in or out of school – can benefit from the idea of how to deeply ingrain any material into their brains.

Since completing the book and course, I have been reflecting on the idea of how learning relates to the field of engineering. Research will stop if engineers use only the existing formulas, ideas, and methodologies. Competition will disappear, markets will stay stagnant, and potentially dangerous ideas will go undetected. This cannot happen in an area like engineering or any technical field. There is far too much at stake.

Graduate School and Learning

Graduate school presents the first major divergence in learning paths for engineers. Most engineers need at least an undergraduate degree (or comparable experience) to enter the field. This alone is a commendable scholastic achievement. Beyond a Bachelor’s lie careers and aspirations built on a foundation of going above the minimum standard.

In undergraduate education, the emphasis is on learning the fundamentals. It may be possible to memorize the subject matter two days before the exam, cramming until the wee hours with a coffee pot in hand. Some students constantly ask “is this on the test?”, often neglecting to learn anything with a “no”. These students may or may not earn the highest GPAs, but they miss the opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of this material.

Graduate school brings an entirely new shift of focus. Instead of taking 40 courses in a variety of topics, the focus often narrows to a smaller area of study and research. This is an amazing opportunity to see what it is like to truly learn. We are in an age of constant discovery on the workings of the human brain, continually unlocking new techniques for how to optimize every neuron.

The Lifelong Learning Habit

I believe people who take steps to attend graduate school, either part-time or full-time, have a new and exciting chance to establish a habit of learning that will benefit the entire engineering profession. As explored in an often recommended book The Power of Habit, a habit shapes our lives and our futures. We form habits and brain “chuncks” (the main idea in A Mind For Numbers, where random information is packaged into easily stored and accessed chunks of information) every day. This isn’t some niche or new-age idea: this is that idea that either we own our habits, or our habits own us.

Speaking from my own experience, the more I study the science of learning, habits, motivation, and general brain power, the more unlocked potential I know I have. I have not learned deeply enough in my past, but every remaining graduate course and project I have left is a time to practice and develop myself as an engineer. Hopefully, I can take those skills and desire for knowledge into every day of my career.

Just Do It!

For all those reading out there already in graduate school, I commend your efforts in improving your field. You are raising the bar for education, not only by learning old ideas but by synthesizing those “chuncks” into new research. For those on the fence about graduate school, I encourage you to find a way to make it happen. There are a countless number of ways to fund full-time study, and more and more doors are opening for part-time study (see my last blog post for tips on full-time employment and part-time study!).

Learning is something the engineering profession can never neglect if we want to improve our future. While we at GradSWE are a bit biased towards promoting graduate school, find any way you can to always learn and to learn deeply. You never know what you could discover or what doors may open along the way.

How to choose a school?

Deciding to go to graduate school is often a tough decision. Once you’ve made a decision, the next step is to research programs that match your interest and fit your needs. While applying for undergrad, oftentimes university rankings are useful to figure out where to apply. However, for grad school each specialization often has its own rankings. The quality and reputation of the program is often tied to the faculty within your field. This sort of information is hard to find, particularly if you are looking at universities abroad. This post is about what factors you can use to evaluate graduate programs:

  1. Reputation and Quality of the program: Look at the academic credentials of the program and the research interests of the faculty. The student-faculty ratio is often a good indication of how much time and attention you receive from the faculty. For masters programs, this is a good indication of the ease of building personal relationships with the professors that many benefit you during and after grad school. However, if you want to explore options, a larger department with more faculty and course offerings might be more beneficial. The perceived reputation of the program or brand recognition is also useful to build your brand. Often, talking to alums from the school can help you assess the reputation of the program and the expected career after graduation.
  2. Admission requirements: The course specific admission criteria can be used to shortlist your schools. These include GPA, GRE scores, undergraduate coursework or essays/statement of purpose. Often, graduate schools require you to submit a statement of purpose (SOP) indicating why you want to join their school and what you expect to gain from the program (this may depend on the program to which you are applying). Some programs have short essay requirements where you are asked to describe your career goals. For me, coming from India where graduate school applications are usually based on exams testing your skills, it took time to frame my SOP. Therefore,  I suggest starting 2-3 months before the deadline so that you have enough time to refine your answers.
  3. Student Life/Location/Facilities: Consider the location of the university and evaluate whether studying there will help you meet your personal or professional goals. If you like a particular sport, look up the quality of the facilities that the university offer and factor that into your decision, particularly if you are applying for longer programs like a Ph.D. If you have the opportunity for a campus visit, this can be very useful in getting a good feel of the campus before you make the decision. If you’re applying from outside the country, this can be a little challenging. I’d talked to students studying at the university to understand what living in that city would look like.

Ultimately, you are going to graduate school to further advance your professional goals so the most important factor would be to evaluate how the school is going to help you to do that and what you can leverage (brand reputation) 10 years later in your career. All the best!

 

Overlooked Diversity – Religion, Faith, & Spirituality

When we discuss the many identities we carry in our lives, the most commonly listed are often race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and disability status. When we discuss diversity and inclusion, our efforts often center on one of, if not the intersection of, these identities. However, one core identity for many of us has seemed to slip through our collective radar – religion and spirituality. “In an era when colleges are expanding their engagement of diversity issues, and at a time when religion plays a central role in public life and global affairs, religion continues to be the dimension of diversity that many institutions leave out.” This is a central claim in Eboo Patel’s article “Faith Is The Diversity Issue Ignored by College Campuses” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in October 2018. In the article, she discusses the possibilities and needs on campuses to recognize this difference. Additionally, she asserts that efforts for religious inclusivity on campus are underfunded, if funded at all. She writes about the transformative possibilities of having interfaith dialogues and unpacking stereotypes and prejudices. As soon as I read this it seemed to immediately ‘click’ – and I’ve become pretty passionate about the subject. Eboo Patel is right – religious diversity is often left out. Why should we start paying attention to this?

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I Don’t Want to Choose! Balancing a Career and Graduate School

Hello! My name is Danielle, and I’m the newly appointed Professional Graduate Team Leader! I’ll be publishing blog posts on life as a part-time or professional student. You can learn more about me in my Graduate Student Spotlight. While most of the Grad SWE community is made of full-time students, I know you non-traditional students are out there! I’m always open to learning the stories of part-time, MBA, MD, or other students that might be juggling just a bit too much with graduate school. And here’s to my first post…


The Non-Traditional Graduate Student

When preparing to graduate from their undergraduate education, young engineers are tasked with the first major hurdle into their careers: jump right into their field or continue to graduate school? Certain career paths require a graduate degree at a minimum, giving a clear answer. Other people may never want to sit in a classroom again.

My Journey to Graduate School

There remains a group of people in the middle- wanting to enter the professional world yet still yearning for a graduate degree. I found myself in that group in 2015. I had a goal of obtaining a Master’s degree; yet, I was anxious to start my career and start raking in that early experience. I began my job and learned my company had a tuition reimbursement program. A fellow coworker pointed me towards a local university with an evening, non-thesis graduate program. I resisted at first. Degrees at any level are a large commitment, and I was about to devote 3 to 5 years of life to this. Positive peer pressure won, and I entered graduate school in Fall 2016, funded by my employer.

The Professional Student

Universities are starting to give more notice to non-traditional students, providing additional programs, adjusted schedules, and support services. It’s no longer unheard of to be pursuing a Master’s degree without a research focus.  These programs are designed for working engineers without research goals, looking to further their education while still working full or part-time. Other students may be interested in these programs due to the time constraints of childcare or other life circumstances keeping them from the “traditional” graduate school model.

Students looking for a classroom-based school can now find flexible work schedules or evening-based programs. With the increase in online Master’s programs, it is becoming more accessible for any engineer to attend graduate school.  Engineers may also be interested in the expanding number of online MBA degrees.


Picking the Right Job

Not every job is a good fit for aspiring professional students. If an engineer’s goals include a part-time Master’s program, here are potential things to look for in a job:

Tuition Reimbursement Program

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to assist employees with further education related to their jobs. As of 2019, the United States IRS allows employers to provide up to $5,250 in tax-free fringe benefits for qualifying educational expenses (including tuition and fees). Many companies cap the yearly benefit at the same $5,250 level. Tuition reimbursement in non-US based jobs may vary.

Ask these questions to potential or current employers:

  • What is the requirement for receiving the benefits (e.g. full-time employee, minimum time with the company, etc.)?
  • Will I be required to work for the company a period of time to avoid repayment of the money? (Many employers require one or more years of continuing employment with the company, or the employee may be required to repay the tuition.)
  • How closely related does the program need to be to my current position? (e.g. Can I use the program to gain experience for another department?)
  • Do I have to be in full degree program, or can I take individual courses? (Employees may be interested in only one class and not a full degree.)
  • What specific fees and expenses are reimbursable? (Some employers may not reimburse things like books and parking passes.)
  • What grade is required for full reimbursement? (Some employers require above a certain grade, such as a “C.” Other employers give a laddered decrease in full reimbursement for anything less than an “A.”)

Flexible Schedule

Unfortunately, some jobs are too time-intensive for even online school. If your future employer will require 80 plus hours a week in the office, you might not have time for school. Some managers may also be upset if you have to leave the office every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:00 PM sharp to make your class.  If your program is only offered during traditional school hours, a standard 9 to 5 schedule will be difficult.

Ask these questions to potential employers:

  • Is flextime offered? (You may be able to work non-standard hours or work on the weekend to reach your weekly hourly quota.)
  • How stable is the work schedule? (A stable work schedule is vital for classroom or scheduled online classes. Overtime projects can interfere with making it to school on time or at all.)
  • Is there any option for a 9-80 or 8-80 schedule? (A 9-80 schedule gives every other Friday off, and an 8-80 schedule gives every Friday off – beneficial for homework time and meeting with professors.)

Manager Support

Having your future or current manager as a supporter of your education will make your educational goals much more obtainable. A supportive boss will understand that you need to make it to your 5:30 class on Tuesday, so you will work on that big overtime project on Monday and Wednesday evening.

Ask these questions to potential employers:

  • Are there any members of the team or others in the company that obtained degrees part-time? (This is a good indication of if the company culture supports part-time students.)
  • Have a general discussion with your future or current boss on your educational goals. Most managers will view this as a desire to learn, which is vital for any engineer.

You Can Do This!

If you have a dream of earning a Master’s degree, it is never too late. Graduate school is not only for the freshly graduated 22-year old with full research funding. New programs and employer support are allowing non-traditional students to obtain higher level degrees. Whether your goal is a technical or business degree, there is a combination of jobs and education programs that will allow you to reach your next degree.