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.


What is Slack? Embracing new organizational tools and engaging with new communities

What is Slack? Embracing new organizational tools and engaging with new communities

By Cecilia Klauber

Have you heard colleagues talk about using Slack to stay organized? Or maybe a team member for a group project suggested Slack instead of GroupMe or Google Hangouts for team collaboration? SlackAppMaybe you joined the GradSWE WE18 channel or use Slack already but don’t know much about the platform and how to get the most out of it. Keep reading to learn the basics of Slack and be sure to join the SWE Grad Community at swegradcommunity.slack.com!

What is Slack?

Slack is a set of team collaboration tools. Slack is cloud based and has only been around for a few years, but has quickly become popular among teams in industry, academia, and in the classroom, with over 8 million daily users as of May 2018. Slack communities organized around common interests exist, in addition to the logistical and organizational ones.

Slack consists of channels, which are like chat rooms, organized by topic or theme, as well as features that allow private and group messaging. In Slack, all content is searchable. This includes files, conversations and people. Can’t remember who said they would email the professor about when your group would present or who was bringing cups to your lab’s holiday party? Search for it!


My favorite feature of Slack is that you can add emojis to messages! Users can click to express their reactions to posts and responses.

Slack integrates well with Google Drive, Dropbox, GitHub, Workday and so many more services.

Did You Know?

Slack is an acronym for Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge

How do I Slack?

First, join a community and subscribe to your channels of interest.

You can access Slack from a web interface, but I would recommend downloading the desktop version and/or mobile application.

Learn how to tag people and topics: use the @ and # symbols to tag people and topics, respectively.

Want to save something for later? Star the item to save it for later; find it again by going to your side pane and selecting Starred Items.

Join the SWE Grad Community Slack!

When setting up your profile, feel free to use a photo or your full name or not! As Slack was originally intended for organizational communication, there is a spot for “Role.” In our community it might be useful to add any SWE leadership role you hold or your home institution; for example, I have “Grad Member Coordinator Elect” listed as my role!

Our goal for the GradSWE Slack channel is for it to be a place where we can discuss blog posts, answer questions about SWE at the societal level, share best practices among GradSWE groups and set up meetups for annual and local conferences!

What other channels should I join?

  • When signing up for Slack, you can give your institutional email address to see if there are any institution specific groups you can join. Groups also exist for almost every interest under the sun, from entrepreneurship to machine learning, teaching to gardening!
  • A few other grad student interest specific groups: gradstudentslack and gradwriteslackgradwriteslack
  • Some research groups use it in place of/in addition to email, consider using it with your collaborators, undergraduate researchers, or on your next class project

Last Tips

  • Be professional and respectful
  • Learn how to set up Do Not Disturb and Notifications
  • Embrace the opportunity for collaboration and community!SlackDND

How do you currently or hope to use Slack? Share in the comments!

For more about Slack, check out this fun YouTube video or the tutorial videos posted by Slack!


Why I Study Inclusion in Engineering Education

As the year closes, I am reflecting on my journey into being a graduate student and how I found a topic of research that I am passionate about. My name is Andrea Haverkamp, and I am currently a PhD candidate in environmental engineering at Oregon State University, and also minoring in Queer Studies. These academic fields have blended together in an exciting way as I now study inclusivity and equity in the engineering classroom. 

I have been in engineering for almost 12 years now, between two degrees and several jobs and internships in engineering. Before coming to college, I really wanted to be a high school science teacher. At the urging of my family and teachers I ended up majoring in chemical engineering. I discovered once starting my undergraduate degree that the culture of engineering towards women was often diminishing and the classrooms were not as diverse or welcoming as in other spaces. I am a gay woman as well, creating what some would consider a “multiply marginalized” identity. After hearing a number of gay jokes during class and already being shy, I began to not openly discuss my dating or outside life to my classmates. LGBTQ+ people and women face unconscious bias and stereotypes wherever we go and they can both blend together in uniquely uncomfortable ways for gay women. I also remained hidden during my environmental engineering internships out of fear and lack of diversity initiatives in engineering. When I graduated and started my first job as a process engineer I began to experience the common hurdles that women and LGBTQ+ people in the workplace overcome every day. I was talked over, had projects taken from me and given to men on our team when the projects proved promising or expanded, and had co-workers make comments about me and another woman’s appearances. The attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people were often unfriendly too – I heard coworkers during lunch make “gay jokes” and say discriminatory statements towards a machine operator who was transgender. I continued to not discuss my identity or social life at the workplace, as I feared these statements would make my life as a woman in engineering even more difficult. I once heard a senior engineering manager make highly discriminatory statements towards immigrants as well. The lack of inclusivity made me uncomfortable. I felt very alone in caring about these topics and became very detached from my work.

I had the opportunity through this employer to obtain a Master of Engineering degree as part of a employee development program. It was during this degree program that I took a life changing course – Engineering Education Research. This topic was completely new to me, as all of my courses revolved around mathematics, physics, fluids, and other typical chemical and environmental engineering topics. During this course I was first exposed to the rich research topics that engineering educators and sociologists are studying across the country. Topics range from conceptual learning (how to best learn engineering), engineering philosophy (what is engineering?), and engineering equity and inclusion (the professional climate for underrepresented groups). I had never known that engineers worked on this!

Taking this course, I learned that the negative workplace and classroom experiences of LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color were not something I was imagining. These were very real dynamics that other engineers were studying and researching. This research even has the support from large National Science Foundation initiatives to create a diverse engineering profession. I learned that this research community is growing, with degrees specifically in Engineering Education starting to appear at universities. The professor of this class saw my enthusiasm and we began to meet in office hours frequently. I became very passionate about this topic but sadly, once I graduated, I had to return to the job where these research topics of inclusion and equity felt very real. He told me that I should consider staying for a PhD to join this research field. It felt daunting as someone who had only studied chemical and environmental engineering. I was so fresh to the topic of education that I didn’t believe I could do it.

The turning point in my professional life came during a new position I had as a project engineer. When touring one of our workplaces I came across a cubicle which faced the hallway. On this cubicle wall (belonging to an engineer) were cartoons with highly negative, and what I saw as offensive, cartoons disparaging women, LGBTQ+ people, and the indigenous peoples of North America. I was furious! I made documentation, talked to management, contacted our equal opportunity office, and the cartoons were taken down. I realized that I felt a calling to make sure that this and the other things I had witnessed would never happen again.

Within the year I left that job and was accepted to a PhD program to work on a topic I was passionate about – diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering education. My experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ population informed my research proposal to highlight and document the experiences of undergraduate students and identify the strategies they use to succeed in the classroom. I am excited by the work I do every day. In addition to engineering, I am pursuing a PhD minor in Queer Studies which compliments my research. I finally feel like I found a place in engineering where my real-world experiences can merge with my research to make a better future in engineering. As a high schooler I wanted to teach science, and now I see my true life calling, which is to become an inclusive and welcoming educator in engineering.

Organizations such as SWE, and specifically GradSWE during graduate school, have been instrumental towards my own success and professional development. I cannot change what I saw and experienced the past decade, but I have found a place in my career where I can affect change on many levels through my work. Together we will create an engineering that uplifts all of us!


If you are interested in contributing in any way to GradSWE’s Diversity & Inclusion team (such as assisting in blog posts, brainstorming ideas, sharing ways we can become more inclusive, or developing outreach initiatives) please contact Diversity & Inclusion Liason Andrea Haverkamp at gradswe.dil@gmail.com We look forward to working with you!

Tips for Ensuring a Positive Experience in your Research Lab

Working in a research lab with a diverse group of people and under the guidance/management of a professor can be a foreign experience. How can you make the most of your local research community and set yourself up for success with your research advisor? These are a few tips I’ve learned along the way, having exposure to multiple labs and management styles.

  1. Your research advisor serves multiple roles. Not only does this person commonly provide funding for your research and tuition, and serve as your employer/supervisor, but they also serve in the role as your research advisor (sometimes called “mentor”).  Their key function is to provide you, the student, guidance along the path of research activities and to prepare you for a future as a researcher. Some research advisors may not fit the role of what we think of as a traditional “mentor”. In those cases, seek other faculty members as mentors while working with your research advisor.  It is encouraged to have multiple mentors and sources of feedback as you develop as a researcher and prepare for your future career.
  2. Lab management is approached very differently by professors. Some prefer to have low numbers of students while others have large labs with a hierarchical system in place to manage the different levels of students (undergrads, masters, doctorals). Some professors have weekly individual meetings in addition to weekly group lab meetings, while others may only have monthly individual meetings.  This is an important consideration when selecting a lab to join. You must consider your level of interaction needed with your advisor. If s/he is not giving you as much time as you need, be sure to communicate this to them and request a meeting.
  3. Make the most of your lab community. Research labs are often comprised of a variety of students from different countries, backgrounds, undergraduate degrees and Alma Maters. Labs will have a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. For doctoral students, this often becomes your new home away from home for the next 4-6 years. Countless hours will be spent in this environment. Be sure to reach out to your lab mates and spend some “team building” / “get-to-know-you” time with them. Sometimes this happens naturally, other times it takes effort, but it’s worth it. It will make for a much more collegial and supportive environment. Also, be open to helping each other. Often research is an individual effort and can become competitive. This is your time to learn, from others as well as your advisor, and to share and teach others as well so they can learn from you.
  4. Advisor/Student Expectations.  It is vital to have a clear understanding of your advisor’s role, their responsibilities and what you can expect from them. In the same way, you must know your responsibilities and what your advisor expects from you. Some professors and/or departments have implemented a student/advisor contract that each person signs. This is the surest way to prevent misunderstandings and even abuse of the student through inappropriate tasks assigned or causing a delay in graduation. If your school doesn’t use one, feel free to ask your advisor to sign one with you.

  Examples of advisor/student contracts:

Upstate Agreement

University of British Columbia Agreement

Other resources on establishing a successful relationship with your advisor:

Blog on relating with your advisor

U. Michigan Student/Advisor Guides to Mentoring


Grad Student Spotlight: Caymen Novak

Caymen Novak
Biomedical Engineering
University of Michigan

Caymen Novak has been a committed member of SWE since her undergraduate studies at Oakland University, where she contributed as the Outreach Chair and President. Since beginning graduate school at the University of Michigan, she has gotten involved with their Graduate SWE group, again serving as the Outreach Chair from 2014-2018.

Caymen’s accolades also include the Marian Sarah Parker Prize for academic excellence, leadership qualities and outstanding contributions to the University and/or community and the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Prize for Distinguished Academic Achievement. In addition to being a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, she has also received recognition through SWE, receiving scholarships in 2011 and 2015 and participating in the Rapid Fire Competition at WE18.

Caymen Novak

Caymen Novak, University of Michigan

Thesis Topic: The Effects of Mechanical Stimulation and ECM Stiffness on Ovarian Cancer Cell Phenotypes

Caymen investigates how different mechanical stimuli innate to the ovarian cancer micro-environment affect cancer progression and drug treatment response. The goal is to identify critical pathways that can be targeted in the future for better clinical outcomes.

After graduation, she would like to become a professor in biomedical engineering. Caymen has always loved teaching and is especially drawn to the opportunity it provides to connect with people.

Caymen enjoys running and artistic activities. She also teaches workout classes!

Fun Fact about Caymen: She can juggle but not well!

GradSWE Journeys in Leadership: Part 1

By Cecilia Klauber, FY19 Grad Member Coordinator Elect

When looking at an organization as large as SWE, it can be hard to understand all the opportunities and how to leverage them to achieve your leadership and service goals. The purpose of the GradSWE: Journeys in Leadership series is to de-mystify just a few of the leadership pathways in SWE. Join me over the next few weeks as I blog about section and society-level options you can pursue now or aspire to in your SWE future!

Hopefully you’ll be inspired to explore your options and to ask your peers, mentors, and the GradSWE community what paths they took and opportunities they know of!

My SWE Journey


I love catching up with Baylor alums at annual conference!

I first joined SWE as a freshman at Baylor University. I had just moved two time zones away from my friends and family, and SWE was one of a few engineering student organizations that helped me find community, as well as study groups and professional development opportunities. I was an officer in the section my junior year, but I wasn’t sure what extracurriculars I would have time for as a graduate student.

GradSWE at Illinois and I had a slow start, but when I started volunteering for their weSTEM Conference and helping plan social events, I was hooked. Before I knew it, I had a committee position, friends in STEM departments across campus, and a support group for the days when grad school was especially rough. Throughout my time in various positions on the GradSWE at Illinois Committee I was able to improve my communication and strategic thinking skills and when I led the GradSWE group in FY17, I especially honed my conflict resolution and people management skills. My involvement with GradSWE at Illinois was one of the best things about my time in Illinois and I am so thankful to have the close friends and leadership experience I gained.


The weSTEM 2016 committee at Illinois.

As I transitioned to Texas A&M this year, I knew I wanted to continue to stay connected to SWE as I finished school and began a career, but all I really knew was how to be involved at the collegiate section level and a little bit of understanding of the now defunct Region structure. I wasn’t even 100% sure about the structure of the GradSWE Leadership Team and how it fit into the organization as a whole when I was interviewing for my current position!

Now here I am as FY19 Graduate Member Coordinator Elect and I am constantly amazed that I get to work with such amazing people from across the country who are passionate about SWE’s mission! Working at the society level has been eye-opening and challenging, but so worth it. As I work with people remotely or meet them at annual conference and hear about how they have exercised leadership within the organization, it gets me excited about what my SWE future could hold. After I graduate, I think I would like to try joining a different committee and I hope to be in an area with a strong professional section that I can participate it.

What path will you take?

There are so many ways to get involved in SWE and there is no one right path to success within the organization. I hope you can take a moment to reflect on your experiences with SWE and dream about how SWE might help you develop and grow as a leader!image3

I look forward to sharing more insights about potential leadership pathways for you to explore in SWE in the coming weeks. If you have any particular questions or particular perspectives you would like to hear from regarding future leadership opportunities, please comment, or email me directly at grad-coordinator-elect@swe.org.


You’re more valuable than you think – and GradSWE needs you!

I’ve seen several colleagues go through their graduate career and get to the ‘mid-life crisis’ point. You may be familiar with it: frustration at experiments or advisors, trouble finding a job, proposals get rejected, wondering if you made the right decision entering grad school in the first place. The good news is, that phase is a common symptom of people who are nearing the completion of grad school, if they resolve to be finished and move on to bigger and better things.

It’s at this point that many people seek mentors. And GradSWE can help with that, connecting you to people who can offer encouragement, share their journeys in your particular field, be a sounding board for you next steps, and serve as role models in a career path you may be interested in.

But what you may not realize is that there are many grad students and undergrads in GradSWE who would love to talk to someone like you too, for the exact same reasons you may be interested in a mentor yourself! Your experiences presenting at lab meetings and conferences, drafting articles on your research, working in industry, figuring out which experiment to run next and how, juggling lab and classes and life, learning about potential career paths in your field, and many, many other things you’ve accomplished even in your first few years are nuggets of gold to those aspiring to follow in your footsteps. If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? What do you wish you knew? You already have all you need to make a very real difference in someone’s life. And what’s more, you might just learn something yourself, gain a great connection or friendship, and develop the marketable skills of training and developing others.

So if you’re interested in getting connected and sharing the love, we’d love to have you as part of GradSWE’s mentoring program! To learn more about it, visit http://gradswe.swe.org/mentoring.html or email the Mentoring Team at gradswementoring@gmail.com. To become a mentor, simply fill out the form with a few details on your experiences ( https://goo.gl/forms/M13dEyBkJYZKgCMW2 ). If you’re a grad student interested in getting connected to a mentor yourself, you can enroll through this link:  https://goo.gl/forms/zNHhPv6Al2bhL4I33 . And remember, you’re more valuable than you think, and we’d love to have you as a mentor!


Angelica Payne

GradSWE Mentoring Co-Coordinator 2018