Call for Applications: Owens Corning Scholarship and Paid Internship

As we approach the last month leading up to WE16, the graduate community is excited to announce a new scholarship/internship opportunity sponsored by Owens Corning!

Owens Corning will select one SWE graduate student attending WE16 to receive a $1000 scholarship and the opportunity to participate in a paid internship. The recipient will be announced at the WE16 Grad Meet & Greet networking session on Thursday, October 27.

The application can be found here. All application materials are due on October 7, 2016.

Please email with any questions.



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.

Personal reflections from the MS/PhD process

Have you ever stopped to think about what you’ve learned about yourself during your time in grad school? This was a frequent topic of conversation between me and my advisor on conference trips. While most job interviewers will ask about your research experience and what you want to do with your career, these abstract questions are also thrown in, especially at the MS level. As I went through my final year of my PhD and started interviewing, I thought about these questions and wrote down my answers. Feel free to add your own insights  – questions and/or responses – in the comments!

What has the PhD process taught you?

  • I can do anything I set my mind to, e.g. studying for (and passing) quals.

  • I can solve any problem — that’s what research is!

  • Setting small goals for myself — semesterly, monthly, weekly, daily — helps me achieve my desired result. In other words, how to solve a big problem by dividing it into smaller chunks.

  • How to find adequate resources / learn the material I need to learn to solve the problem at hand.

  • If I see something that needs doing, I do it. Also known as taking the initiative.

  • Keep track of references / papers along the way — with notes on what was helpful or will serve as a potential reference later.

  • Keep track of future work concepts while focusing on what needs to get done immediately.

  • Most of the time someone is not going to be there to do your work for you. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. (e.g. Mundane and monotonous tasks)

  • Taking pride in my methods and attention to detail. While it may be annoying during the work, the finished product and analysis will speak for itself (e.g. running tests may not need to be run, but makes the analysis more complete).


What skills did you develop during your PhD that can be translated to the job?

  • Know how to find and use resources — library, professors/contacts.

  • Read, comprehend, and utilize relevant information from technical papers/publications and figure out how to apply it to the problem at hand.

  • Network and collaborate with other leaders in the field to advance the research in the most beneficial way.

  • Collaborate with other team members to utilize everyone’s strengths.

  • I see what needs to get done and I do it, because with research, no one else is going to do it.


What have you learned about yourself?

  • I really really need deadlines.
  • I don’t like waiting, or being inactive. I need things to do all the time. I prefer to be busy, I will be more productive and efficient with my time.
  • I don’t want to waste entire days of valuable research time.
  • Having gone through a PhD program with minimal other women, I am a huge advocate of SWE, STEM, and helping women succeed in male-dominated fields.
  • I stand up for what I believe in — always providing a welcoming environment and making sure people know I’m not ok with certain comments or actions
  • I need multiple things going on at once
    • music to distract portions of my brain
    • multiple projects/things to work on
    • people to talk to / interact with
  • Make semester goals, then monthly goals, then weekly goals to help break down a large task into more manageable pieces

MS vs. PhD: Which should I choose?

The short answer is: whichever you think is best for you.

I know, that’s a cop-out answer. But, in truth, choosing whether to leave with an MS or continue on for the PhD is such a personal decision that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In an effort to help people think about both sides and make their informed decision, here’s a Pro-Con chart (modified from a WE12 presentation I co-presented) and some things to think about.

Master’s Ph.D.

  • Geared toward a career in industry in technical areas or management.
  • More $$ than earned by a Bachelor’s
  • More competitive resume; range of job opportunities.
  • Allows higher level entry than with BS.
  • Required for some positions.
  • Interested in research but don’t want to commit to PhD.
  • Usually only 1.5-2 years full-time.



  • Geared toward a career in research, think tanks, highly technical areas in industry, or consulting.
  • Often more $$ than MS or BS.
  • Overall curiosity and desire to learn.
  • Required for some positions (primarily R&D, academia).
  • More funding opportunities.
  • Love for the research.
  • You get to call yourself Dr. at the end.
  • Skill set gained is beyond just the specific research project, e.g. deep research, writing (grant and technical), mentoring (if you worked with undergrads), time and project management, etc.

  • Little funding for those who are only interested in Masters.
  • Usually only focused on coursework and minimal research.
  • Non-research skill set not as transferable as with PhD.

  • Exhausting, longer commitment than MS. Usually 5-7 years total (full-time).
  • Qualifying exams are scary.
  • If you don’t have a fellowship, you have to do research for another professor or teach. These things often interfere with making progress on your own research (and therefore graduation).
  • Sometimes companies pigeon-hole you into your research area. I suggest looking at R&D places, National labs, Federally Funded R&D Centers (FFRDCs) aka Think Tanks, and government. These places will put a premium on the PhD degree and the experience you obtained by getting it as well as allow you to work in as many areas as interest you.


Keep in mind, too, that some degree programs only offer certain paths. That is, some programs only offer PhDs, with no option for an MS along the way. Other programs don’t even offer PhDs. Make sure to research your program, or even similar programs not in your specific discipline, so that you know your options.

Think about your own situation: do you have a significant other or children? Do you really enjoy the city in which you’re going to grad school? These things often are the biggest influences in the MS/PhD decision.

For me, I had entered graduate school thinking I would get the MS and leave, heading to industry. When at my internships, I had seen a lot of Managers with MS degrees in positions I aspired to. This was my primary motivation. Once in graduate school, I fell in love — with my research, my lab, my now-husband, and my city – Austin. Complete with an amazing advisor and support system of friends, family, and SWE, I decided that a PhD would be no big deal. Additionally, I had another amazing internship which showed me the value of obtaining a PhD for the career I wanted. My primary motivations were: the career I wanted, my support system was intact, and I loved my research.

Overall, I think my biggest piece of advice is to have an idea of what you want to do after graduation. Take a look at the education level of the people holding positions you aspire to. What degree do a majority of these people hold? This can help you figure out what the company/position values. The PhD is a huge investment of a lot of time and energy. The biggest question of all is: will it get you where you want to go?


What are people’s thoughts? Are there pros/cons that I forgot to include?


Grad member spotlight: Himani Agrawal

29 June 2015

Himani Agrawal


PhD Student, Expected graduation Spring 2017

Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston

Himani was recently selected for the Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future Fellowship, a prestigious $50,000 per year fellowship awarded to women PhD students from developing countries. You can read more about it here:


What is your research?

In the summers right now, I am doing internship at Microsoft Research Redmond. My research interests are Computational Biology and Statistical Mechanics. My research project is “HIV induced membrane softening”. Please visit my research blog:


What do you plan to do after graduation?

I am very interested in becoming faculty after doing a Post Doc.


What are some of your hobbies?

I am very fond of singing and taking Indian Classical Voice Lessons presently. This Fall, I also plan to enroll at the Moore School of Music at UH for Opera Voice Lessons.


What’s a fun fact about you?

I am also very fond of travelling. In fact I am travelling to Germany tomorrow to take part in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting where I will get to meet and interact with 70 Nobel Laureates and also go on a boat trip with them. Apart from that I am invited by the State of Baden-Wurttemberg to explore the German Southwest for a week which include to several universities, labs, German Black-forest and many more exciting places!!!


Financial Advice for Graduate Students Part 2: Insurance

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 @ 10:30 AM CST


Compensation packages in the US can be confusing for new graduates.  This series of three webinars is designed to explain the three main elements of a compensation package: salary, retirement and insurance.  In the first talk we discussed income and taxes in the US.  I gave a brief overview of the other non-monetary forms of compensation such as paid time off (vacation, sick leave), retirement and insurance.  In this, the second, talk we will delve deeper into the various insurance products that will likely be offered – or that you may wish to purchase on your own.  These will include medical, vision, dental, disability, and life insurance.  In the third talk we will discuss retirement plans offered by US employers, how they work and the pros and cons of each.  The goal of the series is to acquaint you with the likely options you will encounter as you transition from university to paid compensation so as to empower you to make the correct choices for you and your family.


Karen Feigh is an Associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering. As a faculty member of the Georgia Tech Cognitive Engineering Center, she leads a research and education program focused on the computational cognitive modeling and design of cognitive work support systems and technologies to improve the performance of socio-technical systems with particular emphasis on aerospace systems.  She is responsible for undergraduate and graduate level instruction in the areas of flight dynamics, evaluation of human integrated systems, human factors, and cognitive engineering.  Dr. Feigh has over nine years of relevant research and design experience in fast-time air traffic simulation, ethnographic studies, airline and fractional ownership operation control centers, synthetic vision systems for helicopters, expert systems for air traffic control towers, and the impact of context on undersea warfighters.  Dr. Feigh serves on the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB), as the Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Helicopter Society, and as a guest editor for a special addition of the AIAA Journal of Aerospace Information Systems on Human Automation Interaction.

Registration Link:

What’s my region?

Classes are about to resume which means there are many new sets of graduate students beginning their studies. As someone who changed regions between undergrad and grad school, I was confused as to what my new region was when I began at UT-Austin. Here are some helpful resources for anyone switching regions or who may be curious as to what the other regions are up to.

SWE map of regions:

Feel free to contact any of the Grad Community Leadership Team if you have a question regarding how to get involved in your region. You can also contact the Region Governor, or the Region Grad Student Rep listed on Region Grad Reps page of this blog.

If you have switched regions, make sure to contact SWE HQ to let them know by sending an email to Make sure to include your membership number, your former section (professional or collegiate), and your new section (professional or collegiate). It is important to have the proper section connected to your profile for section financial purposes as well as general demographic information.

The Graduate Community is working with each region to ensure information regarding how graduate students can get involved with SWE may be found on all the websites and blogs. Lots of great information can be found on the region sites and blogs…check them out here:

Region A:



Region B:



Region C:



Region D:



Region E:



Region F:



Region G:



Region H:



Region i:



Region J:




As always, let us know your thoughts, be they comments, concerns, suggestions, or questions! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment area below, or send one of the Leadership Team a separate email!