Plan Ahead for the Spring Semester

Hi everyone! Happy holidays!

If you’re an international student, this is probably the month that you travel back home for some much needed R&R. While I encourage you to spend this time with family and friends, here are a few things to think about before the start of the Spring semester to help you be more productive once you’re back:

  • Plan Your Classes: This is a no-brainer, but be as proactive as you can about planning what classes you want to take during the Spring and ask former students for advice on whether those classes are appropriate for your career path
  • Establish Your Minor: If you’re a new international student and you’ve successfully completed one semester at grad school, you probably have a much better idea about your interests now as opposed to when you first signed up for classes in the Fall. Use this experience to branch out and take classes outside your major area of study if possible. For eg: I was in the construction & project management program but I took a couple classes from the MBA & BBA programs that added value to my areas of interest
  • It’s Never Too Late to Find Funding: If you weren’t lucky finding a teaching / research assistantship during your first semester, stay proactive, positive and alert – email the network you build during your first semester and show them your interest in seeking funding opportunities for the Spring
  • Get Involved: The first semester as an international student can be tricky in terms of finding your bearings, managing classes and cultural differences. But now that you’ve had some time to straighten things out on that front, get involved with organizations within your University – be it sports, cultural, educational, GradSWE, etc. Not only does it add bonus points to your resume, but in my experience, building leadership skills in a new country will also build self-confidence and help you perform better during interviews
  • Lessons Learned Checklist: This is something I wish I’d kept track of, but make a note of all the things you wish you’d done differently during your first semester (if you’d known better – which you do now!) – and actively CHANGE once Spring rolls around!

Have a wonderful holiday season and a successful Spring semester! Feel free to email the GradSWE international team at with any questions you might have ūüôā

– Akshaya


Graduate Community Events at WE16!

Mark your calendars for these events hosted by the SWE Graduate Community! We have grad student sessions each day. Also monitor our social media pages for real-time updates about the sessions and other social events! See the image below for links to our various social media pages, and talk up these sessions at the conference!



WE16: Opportunities for Involvement!

We are only TWO months (plus a few days) away from the WE16 national conference in Philadelphia, PA! Participating in a conference session is a great way to justify attending the conference and network with fellow SWE grads. Here are TWO ways to become involved in WE16 as a grad student! These opportunities include:

  1. Rapid Fire sessions – call for applications
  2. GradSWE member survey/option to participate in a panel at the GradSWE Meet & Greet

Rapid Fire Sessions:¬†Year after year, Rapid Fire presentation prove to be a very beneficial¬†way for SWE grads to practice presenting their research in front of their peers and a panel of judges. The call for applications is officially open and due on Monday, September 26th at 11:59 pm EST.¬†Please fill out the application here. Master’s and PhD students are highly encouraged to apply.

GradSWE Member Survey:¬†Does your university have a GradSWE committee? If so, we would love to have your input!¬†Each GradSWE committee arranges their funding and committee structures in a slightly different way. We are planning to devote time to discussing this at WE16. Ultimately, these efforts will create a reference of “best practices” as GradSWE committees become more prevalent across the country. We greatly appreciate your input! Please fill our the survey here.

For questions about either of these opportunities, Please email Rachel at with any questions.

Announcing the WE16 GPC-Elect: Emily Hoffman!

Hello Graduate Community! It is my pleasure to announce Emily Hoffman, the Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect for WE16!  Emily is a PhD candidate in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University researching the nanoscale properties of metal hip implants using transmission electron microscopy. Emily has attended WE13 in Baltimore, WE14 in Los Angeles, and WE15 in Nashville. She also delivered talks at WE14 and WE15 about opportunities for engineers in policy for students and professionals. Emily will also serve as Graduate Programming Coordinator for WE17.

Welcome, Emily, to the Graduate Committee!

Do you have an idea or vision for conference sessions for graduate students at WE16? If so, stay tuned for more details regarding a teleconference regarding session planning for WE16 very soon!

7 tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the PhD

An article has been floating around on the psychological cost of going through a PhD program, have you read it yet? Read it here.

I know I am in the minority of PhD students who had no serious mental health issues during graduate school. Am I lucky? No, I don’t think so. I think the reason I was healthy – physically, emotionally, and mentally – during graduate school is because I chose to have the balance the article’s author mentions at the end of the piece. I did, however, experience this unbalance during my undergraduate years which is what prompted me to change my ways for graduate school.

How did I maintain my health (physical, emotional, and mental) during graduate school?

  1. MOST IMPORTANTLY: I maintained my involvement in SWE as a graduate student. As a graduate student, SWE offered me something invaluable – a support network of other women going through the EXACT SAME THING as me. It’s amazing how just being able to chat with a fellow female grad student¬†for a few minutes can help you get through a tough day because you know you’re not alone. How going to a SWE Grad lunch event can give you that little nudge, that little reassurance, that everything will be ok. And, of course, going to the Annual Conference gives you that “shot in the arm” to survive another year. All of these things help combat the imposter syndrome so many of us experience.
  2. I made sure I exercised often, especially when preparing for my qualifying exams, as exercise was my de-stresser. This wasn’t just going to the gym, it was going for walks, hikes, bike rides, etc. I found that variety was key.
  3. I surrounded myself with a support network which included my then-boyfriend (now husband), friends, and family. I made a point to going out to events and socializing, thus getting away from lab, homework, studying, writing, etc.
  4. I maintained a healthy eating regimen. I never skipped a meal, even if I was really busy. I found that I was most productive by eating small meals throughout the day. I would snack while I worked, take a short lunch break where I read news/Facebook, and snacked more throughout the afternoon. But the key was that I only ate what I had pre-packed for the day, all of which was fairly healthy (with a few chocolate things thrown in, of course!).
  5. For the most part, I worked a standard work day – 9-5ish and went home, leaving research in my office. Exceptions to this were, of course, grading papers, studying for quals or other exams, reading assignments, etc.
  6. As the article mentions – I had a plan. I had a plan of (approximately) when I was going to graduate and what I was going to do when I left grad school. I loved grad school, but I was really excited to be done and start done this new adventure (so far, it’s awesome!). I think having a plan really helped me focus on my goal, and not on the daily issues that popped up. But I also suggest having a back-up plan, also mentioned by the article. I had a back-up plan should I not pass my qualifying exams. Those who didn’t pass and did not have a back-up plan suffered some major depression.
  7. Of course, a great advisor does wonders for your graduate school experience. I had a fantastic advisor, really a fantastic committee. They were all incredibly supportive. If you aren’t happy with your advisor, consider switching. The extra time (and perhaps money) of switching advisors may vastly outweigh the psychological damage a bad advisor can cause.

BONUS tip! (that I thought of after this article was published): Get plenty of sleep. Yes, this is possible. Perfect is the enemy of good enough. This is coming from a perfectionist. Grades are important in grad school, but job interviews will care more about your research and your ability to communicate. So, when it comes to getting that homework/exam problem PERFECT vs. sleep – choose sleep. You’ll get more done on your research when you’re well rested, trust me.

I think finding your balance in graduate school is KEY to finishing the degree while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. These are just some of the ways I maintained my balance — what are your tips for being mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy?


Grad Group Spotlight: University of Texas at Austin

2 Nov 2015


SWE_Sandia luncheon

Co-Chairs: Lindsey Sharpe and Valerie Gono

Over the course of the past 7 years, the UT-Austin Grad SWE group has hosted scores of different events, and only continues to have more innovate events with more grad student participation. Check out more about the UT-Austin Grad SWE group below!

When did your group start?

The SWE Graduate Committee was started in Fall of 2008 in response to the lack of events tailored to graduate women in engineering and computer science.

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 group is considered a committee within the larger SWE section at UT Austin. We receive a budget line, similar to other committees, and report to the SWE External VP. However, we still operate fairly autonomously, guided by two Co-Chairs, who oversee event planning, budget management, etc. and a strong supporting committee of 6-10 focused graduate students who execute event planning and outreach. We also hold joint events with the undergraduate section to encourage socialization and provide resources for undergraduates considering graduate school.

What type of events do you host? How often do you host them? How many people tend to come to these events?

We typically host 3-5 events per semester. Once a month, we host some form of workshop or speaker event, over either lunch or a coffee/tea/dessert break. Topics of these events have ranged from successfully navigating conferences and giving strong presentations, to managing office politics, to financial planning considerations for graduate students. These workshops are either led by a guest speaker or consist of a panel discussion mediated by one of our committee members. Attendance is typically 25-40 people for these types of events. We also host at least one social per semester, and try to do monthly happy hours or coffee breaks, attendance of which varies much more from 5-25!

What is the one event or program of which you are most proud? 

We are extremely proud of the consistent event attendance because it means that the talks and seminar topics¬†are of interest to the general graduate women population. Since our goal is to provide support for the female graduate student body, attendance is a source of validation and achievement for us as an organization.¬†We are having an “Alternative Careers for Higher¬†Degree Candidates¬†Workshop” that we are excited about. We are planning to have a panel of alumni with graduate degrees who¬†have taken non-traditional career paths¬†to share their experiences with our¬†current graduate student¬†over dinner. We think this is going to be a really fun event for both the alumni and the current graduate student.

What tips do you have for a newly-started grad group?

For us, communication has been key! We have extensive support from the undergraduate section and the Women in Engineering Program (WEP) staff on campus, and everything tends to run much more smoothly (particularly regarding the budget!) when all the lines of communication are open. We’ve also started a listserv that includes every female graduate student in the Cockrell School of Engineering, which has helped to improve event attendance and diversify the departments represented at events. However, we’ve also recognized that the most effective way to recruit committee involvement is direct invitation to events and to planning meetings. Once people see how much we divide responsibilities in the planning process (and how much we enjoy each other’s company!), they’re much more likely to join! The more committee members the better, as it helps to lighten everyone’s load and and helps to brainstorm diverse events!

How can someone contact your group if they’re interested in participating?

Six things to do before getting to WE15

It has finally arrived! WE15 is this week! It is an amazing opportunity to learn, build your professional and personal networks, and have lots of fun! But, the conference goes really fast once you arrive, so here are some tips to make the most of your WE15 Conference experience:

  1. Have a plan!¬†Download the WE15 App (or look at the conference schedule online – or in¬†the SWE magazine –, look through all the workshops, and add those that interest you to your personal conference schedule. This will help save time and frustration when trying to figure out what to do at conference. My advice: don’t try to decide only one session for each time block – have options and choose the one that interests you most in the moment, or have an alternative in case the session gets unexpectedly cancelled.
  2. Be prepared with resumes and business cards! Even if you’re not looking for a job make sure to have copies of your resume (short 1 page version and long version). You never know when someone is going to ask for a copy to pass along to their managers. Similarly, have contact cards or business cards. They’re simple to make using Microsoft Word and easy to print at home or elsewhere. You could even buy business card paper (on Amazon, or in stores like Staples or Office Max) – you can print and punch out the cards at home.
  3. Pack smart! Conference attire is business casual, with the exception of the awards banquet (formal) and Celebrate SWE! (business/semi-formal) and perhaps any tours or additional activities in which you partake. A few tips: make sure to leave enough room in your suitcases/bags for all the swag you’ll want to take home. Also, pack comfortable dressy shoes and Bandaids. Walking around the conference center in new shoes is also not advisable –¬†¬†pain and discomfort will ensue, trust me.
  4. Carry only what you need! I highly suggest bringing a professional-looking bag (a backpack also works), but only carry what you need! I learned this lesson the hard way by always trying to carry my laptop around. It gets really heavy really fast. Unless you need to work in between sessions, I suggest leaving your computer at your hotel. Things I suggest making sure to have on you: pad portfolio with a pen and pencil, business/contact cards, conference schedule, Bandaids, water, granola bar/snack, extra set of panty hose (if you wear them) or clear nail polish (stops panty hose runs), comb/brush, extra hair supplies, lip balm, and mints (not gum – you don’t want to be chewing gum when talking to recruiters or making connections).
  5. Bring cash! The SWE Boutique offers a chance to buy neat SWE merchandise, but you’ll need cash or check. Also, cash is easier for buying lunch or snacks from the conference vendors.
  6. Practice your elevator pitch and small talk skills!¬†You will meet SO many people and you’ll need to introduce yourself and your background to each of these people. I suggest having a “script” of what you tell people. Practice saying it over and over to yourself on your way to the conference. Similarly, think of some small talk topics related to your recent experiences. For example, I recently finished my PhD, moved across the country,¬†am looking for a house, starting a new job, and recently spent a month touring around Europe. Many people have experienced at least one of these things and mentioning them tends to spark a conversation.

Read through the recent Conference Intelligence Webinar here for more great tips on how to successfully navigate WE15.

Good luck, and Happy WE15!