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!

 

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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

 

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

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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.

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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

Becoming a Pro at Self-Promotion

“Look at the tower I built!”  “Wanna hear me count to 50?”  “Watch me ride my bike!”

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If you’ve spent time around kids, you know that they are often uninhibited in sharing about their recent accomplishments and abilities. Maybe you’ve babysat or have nieces, nephews or kids of your own, but you know about the persistent and passionate pleas of a child to pay attention to them!

But somewhere along the way, many of us were told, overtly or subliminally, that bragging and being ostentatious is not ladylike. This culture that encourages female modesty fosters a workplace where women are less likely to talk about their achievements than men.

Advocating for oneself in the academy and industry is key for demonstrating leadership skills and therefore achieving upward advancement, but for many of us, it is also risky. When we go against the norm of humility and brag about our accomplishments, we may be perceived as too strong, pushy, and less likeable, even by other women. For introverts and anxious types it can be especially uncomfortable to bring attention to oneself. It’s not always easy, but tasteful self-promotion is something we should all practice.

Here are some tips to become a pro at self-promotion!

  1. Be proud of your successes! You worked hard for them and the world deserves to celebrate with you.
  2. Reclassify the task. Terms like “bragging” can carry a negative connotation. Consider your self-promotion “networking” or “increasing visibility.” It’s just like any other leadership skill!
  3. Be yourself. Find ways to authentically promote yourself in ways that make sense for your personality and your industry.
  4. If not your own, then promote the work of others. Women are generally more comfortable with advocating for others than for themselves and maybe with some practice you’ll feel empowered to promote yourself. Alternatively, create safe spaces for self-promotion in your lab or community!

Ready to give it a shot? Check out Carolyn’s post about developing a personal website, nominate yourself to be considered for a GradSWE Spotlight or WE Local award and be sure to share with us how you are promoting your amazing accomplishments in the comments or on social media (@SWE_grad)!

 

Get a mentor, be a mentor – enrollment opening soon!

New semester, new challenges. Don’t face them alone! Mentors can be great sounding boards, helpful guides, and lifelong friends as you navigate grad school and your career. But how do you find a mentor?

There are several ways to find mentors. They can be peers, family members, colleagues, friends, or people further down your career path than you are. You can meet them by chance, be introduced by a common friend, or network your way to the conversation.

GradSWE offers a mentoring program where graduate students can be matched with mentors or guided to reach out to their perfect match. GradSWE members can enroll to get a mentor through the protege enrollment survey, available soon in the GradSWE newsletter. Mentors in graduate school, academia, industry, and government who have graduate degrees and engineering backgrounds can enroll to mentor graduate students through the mentor enrollment survey, also available soon in the GradSWE newsletter.

New this year, GradSWE is adding an undergraduate component to the mentoring program. Undergraduates interested in graduate school can sign up for a mentor as well, and graduate students can enlist to mentor their younger selves.

Keep an eye out in the newsletter for your opportunity to become a mentor and inspire and guide undergraduates and graduates interested in your career, or to find a new mentor!

Not yet receiving GradSWE news? Join the listserv here: https://goo.gl/forms/2vrHPI7gScjLtc3s1 

The Importance of Celebrating the Little Victories

Hello SWE Grad Community!

Can you believe it’s August already? I feel like it was just yesterday I was wrapping up a busy spring semester and looking forward to using the summer change of pace as an opportunity to get plenty of reading, research, and writing done!

If you read Amy’s blog post about making the most of summer in grad school, maybe you kicked off your summer by creating a list of goals to guide your summer trajectory. Have you checked your progress recently? I’m a very goal-oriented person and about this time in the summer I check up on my goals and often start freaking out about all the things I set out to do but haven’t done yet. Maybe you’re in the same situation! Instead of feeling guilty about all the things you haven’t accomplished, I want to encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the things that you have accomplished. Also, consider all of the extra tasks and projects that may have come up this summer, and how those may have influenced your ability to accomplish your original summer goals – these small, unexpected tasks that were completed are wins too! On the other hand, maybe you have had a very productive summer and are totally on track to reach all your goals…great! You too should take a moment and celebrate your victories!

phdsummer

(http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1520)

It is well documented on the individual and organizational levels that engaging in meaningful progress can drive motivation, satisfaction, and creativity. Teresa Amabile from the The Harvard Business School designed a study which collected 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees across 7 companies and found that the daily habit of noting small victories increases appreciation of even incremental progress which in turn increases sense of confidence. The reward centers in the brain can be activated by even small accomplishments, inducing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine which reinforces and encourages productive behaviors to continue the feelings of pride and accomplishment. Taking the time to reflect on and celebrate the small wins can be a powerful tool to increase motivation and sense of satisfaction- things that are extremely valuable through the ups and down of graduate school!

Why is it so hard to celebrate the small wins?

Maybe it feels silly to pat yourself on the back for something that is not a major milestone or project. Maybe self-critique, not self-appreciation, comes naturally to you. Maybe in the busyness and stress of life and grad school you haven’t had a chance to realize the victories along the journey. Graduate school is full of highs and lows, and don’t underestimate the power of taking a moment to reflect and enjoy when something good happens!

What does celebrating even look like?

Celebrating your victories doesn’t have to look like treating yourself to a fancy dinner when you update your CV or throwing a party when you finish a chapter of your dissertation; the key is taking a moment to acknowledge and appreciate your meaningful progress and good performance! Maybe it looks like keeping some fun snacks in your desk or taking a coffee break with a labmate. Maybe it looks like simply giving yourself a mental high five or sharing a small win with a mentor or colleague. There is power in sharing your good news as well – labmates, friends, and family members can help you celebrate when you share your wins in everyday conversation. Find what feels rewarding to you!

Here are some last tips for celebrating the little wins:

  • Make celebration a habit

Like muscles and working out, recognizing the small achievements can be difficult or awkward at first, but with practice and dedication those abilities can be strengthened. Set a daily reminder or calendar appointment to stop and reflect on the progress you have made that day. Or use a habit tracking app like coach.me to help build a routine.

  • Create a culture of celebration

Share your victories with labmates and friends and celebrate with them when they share their small wins. By fostering an environment where even incremental progress is valued, group morale is grown, not only individual confidence. Friends and mentors can be your cheerleaders when times are tough and hold you accountable as you build your habit. And you can help your coworkers form similar habits by celebrating their small victories as well.

Personally, I keep a small notebook in my desk where I keep track of breakthroughs I’ve had and small victories I’ve won. I call it my “Little Book of Little Wins.” Sometimes when I’m stuck or very discouraged about my work and progress, I flip through my little book and I’m given perspective on the progress I have made in my graduate career!

 

How do you maintain your perspective and motivation? How do you remember and celebrate your small victories?

What have you accomplished this summer- big or small? Share in the comments so we can celebrate with you!

 

Cecilia Klauber
FY19 Graduate Member Coordinator Elect
grad-coordinator-elect@swe.org