GradSWE International Student Toolkit

Hi everyone! And welcome to all the international students that have made the move to the US this past week to start graduate school in Fall 2017 🙂 . This post is designed to help you gain some knowledge on crucial aspects of moving to America. If you have any questions or would like to receive advice on any of these topics, feel free to email me at Good luck!

    • Proximity to campus is one of the most important factors while picking your new home, whether it be by walk or by public transport
    • Make use of realtors – many of them provide services that are free for students and they know great places near campus
    • Pick roommates wisely – nothing is more disrupting to your education than a hostile environment in your new home
    • If you need your personal space, choose to share an apartment but have your own room and bathroom
    • Choose an apartment that has a good amount of natural lighting – studying under artificial light can cause more strain to your eyes
    • Universities are huge and can be overwhelming to navigate, so make sure you mark important campus spots on Google Maps – library, places to eat, computer center, your classroom buildings, etc.
    • Research your university resources and make use of them – the international office, career center, free resume reviews, etc.
    • Reach out to your subject librarian, learn how to order books for inter library loans and how to access library resources using a remote login from home for papers, journals, etc.
    • Follow your university on Facebook and participate in events, both social and educational and start networking
    • Find your preferred on-campus study spots and save them for when you need some time to study alone
    • Go to every orientation you can despite how overwhelming and monotonous they may seem – they add value to your international learning experience
    • Get involved with graduate student organizations like SWE – even ones that are only within your university
    • Use on-campus facilities such as your gym, yoga sessions, sports centers, etc.
    • Take care of your mental health – research your campus for free counseling resources
    • Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you’re stressed or overwhelmed
    • Open a bank account with your university’s recommended bank
    • International students don’t typically have a credit history in the US, so find a credit union that will give you a credit card even with no credit score
    • If you plan on staying in the US long term, it is important to start building your credit history as early as possible
    • Do not fall for fraudulent calls targeting international students claiming to be the IRS asking for your social security number



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.

Thoughts on successfully finishing grad school and transitioning to the workplace

I recently graduated (May 2015) and have now been in my new job for a few months. I’ve made note of a few things I think helped me successfully finish my PhD, find a job, move across the country, and settle into a new life. While these may not work for everyone, hopefully they may help you discover some things that may help you in the transition.

  • It’s never to early to keep a research journal. I found that one of the most advantageous things I did for myself in grad school was write along the way. Many grad students write papers, but those tend to be much denser than the thesis or dissertation will ultimately be. I suggest keeping an electronic record of what you’re doing and why you chose to do it that way, including the assumptions you made and why you made them. You can then simply take this content and transform it into your thesis or dissertation and fill in the gaps as necessary.
  • Have a plan for applying to jobs. Know the typical timeline for your line of work — how long does it take people to get through whatever processing (e.g. security clearance) is required? I suggest creating all your job profiles and search agents a year before you plan to graduate. That way, when you see a cool job all you have to do is hit “submit”! This assumes that you want to start your job within a few months of finishing school. Also make sure that you have professors or rec letter writers lined up that you can simply supply their name when needed. (Make sure to let them know when you do submit their name, though!)
  • I HIGHLY suggest taking time off between graduating and starting your job. Especially if all you’ve ever done is be in school, it’s really nice to have this time. The amount of time depends on your personal situation. I also suggest using this time to take the vacations that you want to take prior to starting your job. Many companies will not start you off with vacation time and you have to accrue it, so take advantage of the time while you can!
  • Read your benefits package VERY CLOSELY. Saving for retirement is crucial. It’s so much better to start this savings plan as soon as possible so it grows as long as possible. Max out your allowed contributions, or at least make sure you put in enough for your company to match, if they do that.
  • Many grad students are used to living on a tight budget — keep this up! If you can continue to live on a modest budget, put the rest of the money into a savings or investment account and let those accounts work their magic. The money will build up fast!
  • Make an effort to get to know your co-workers. Schedule or set aside time with them to learn about their background and the project they’re working on. Networking is crucial in the first years on the job.
  • Be honest with your manager, if you feel comfortable, about what you expect to gain out of your first few years. They typically want to help you accomplish this, but they need to know how they can help you.
  • CRUCIAL: find mentors. Mentors in positions you aspire to; mentors in your work groups; mentors outside your work; mentors in SWE

Something I’ve noticed since I started my job (aka you’re not alone!): I feel guilty when watching TV during the evenings. I feel like I should be studying, working on a paper, or doing something productive. In fact, this relaxation is critical to recharging for another day at work. So, don’t feel guilty!

I hope these tips help you in some way! Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

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:

The Many Ways to be a SWE Grad Member

The end of FY14 is fast approaching, which means it is time to renew your SWE membership!

For many members, it’s as easy as collegiate membership vs. professional membership. The graduate community, however, blurs the lines between being a full-time working professional and a full-time collegiate student. If you’re a graduate student, you may have different needs from the average collegiate member, but professional membership’s significantly higher annual fee probably wouldn’t work for you either.

Fortunately, there is another option! SWE is now allowing graduate students to become professional members, but at the collegiate cost of $20/year! Being a professional member distinguishes you as already having a degree in STEM. You will receive webinars and other information from SWE targeted to professionals as well. Lastly–and most importantly, as a SWE members–you will be able to vote in SWE elections beyond your section!

If you are a full-time graduate student and interested in switching to professional membership, follow the steps below:

  1. Visit, and go to Membership > Profile to get to the ‘SWE Member Services Center’
  2. Select ‘Join/Renew my Membership’
  3. If you currently have collegiate membership, choose “Transition from Collegiate to Professional Member RENEWAL”
    If you currently have C2C (Collegiate-to-Career) membership, choose “Transition from Collegiate to Career (C2C) to Professional Member RENEWAL”
  4. If you are a Professional member, select the “Professional RENEWAL” membership product AND use the coupon code B2S in the box at the bottom of the page and then select “continue”. Your membership dues should be $20.

We have also added a new blog page focused on SWE Membership, that should hopefully demystify the membership options, benefits, and discounts.

Don’t wait until your membership has expired– renew now to continue staying involved in the 27,000 and growing network of women engineers!

2013 Innovation in Graduate Education Challenge

Our world is changing faster than ever before–technology is developing at an unprecedented rate and the world faces extraordinary challenges with solutions based in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). What is needed to prepare STEM graduate students to meet these modern day challenges? Fundamental changes are also occurring in the career options for STEM professionals. What is necessary to navigate the career pathways of the future?

The Division of Graduate Education at the National Science Foundation challenges STEM graduate students across the nation to submit innovative ideas to prepare them for tomorrow’s opportunities and challenges. Entries are solicited for ideas with the potential to improve graduate education and professional development. Ideas can be directed toward, for example, students, faculty, departments, institutions, professional societies, and/or federal agencies. Make your voice heard on STEM graduate education!

Be sure to include the following elements in your submission:

  1. The title of your submission (150 characters or less)
  2. The issue in graduate education you wish to address
  3. Your solution or idea
  4. How your idea will change graduate education