Graduate School FAQs Pt. 1

A guest series by WIT Faculty: Aaron Carpenter

Aaron Carpenter Headshot

Meet Aaron Carpenter, he received a bachelor’s (2005), master’s (2006), and Ph.D. (2012) from the University of Rochester, all in the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering, focusing on computer architecture and VLSI design.  Prof. Carpenter then taught at 3.5 years at Binghamton University, teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses and supervising his own PhD and master’s research lab.  In 2015, he joined the ECE department at Wentworth Institute of Technology, focusing on computer engineering and engineering education.

Professor Carpenter will now introduce us to the first part of a three-part series on graduate school:

Graduate school is an important facet of STEM education.  While it is by no means required for your career, it is often a significant addition for long-term employment and promotion. But, here at Wentworth Institute of Technology, students have no academic contact with graduate students or graduate school, at least not yet.

Students often have curiosity regarding graduate school, and the goal of this article is to answer some frequently asked questions.  We will discuss some introductory information regarding graduate school, including various motivations for graduate studies, some details on various degrees, specifically in engineering and science.  The discussion will mostly be around the STEM fields, but could apply to other fields.

Before going into the questions and answers, let me describe some of my qualifications.  I have a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degree from University of Rochester, all in Electrical and Computer Engineering.  I then taught at Binghamton University for 3.5 years, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, advising master’s and PhD students doing research, and helping to review graduate applications at the request of the graduate director.  While I have some level of insight into graduate school and applications, please note you should consult your academic advisor, professors, and coop and career advisors for your specific graduate school goals.

General graduate school FAQs:

  • Why should people consider graduate school?
    • Undergraduate programs teach students an ability to analyze problems, think critically, learn skills pertaining to a particular field. The education is often broad, with your major classes provides some depth.
    • Master’s programs teach you a specialty within your field of study, developing a deeper knowledge and understanding, often aimed at more state-of-the-art areas.  Master’s will often push students toward the cutting edge, but not delve into deep research level more than a little bit, depending on the school and program.
    • PhD programs make you innovate in your field. You will learn about the cutting edge, and then add to it, becoming the expert in your field.  It builds on the skills learned in undergraduate and possibly Master’s work.  You will also learn about how to research on your own.
  • So why should someone get a Master’s or PhD?
    • There is a growing reliance on a Master’s degree in the industrial marketplace. Employers want employees that know the state-of-the-art and can think deeply and critically in their field.  They also want to see a dedication to your field.  So, to be more employable or upwardly mobile, or even to increase your salary, it is a good idea to pursue graduate studies.  That could be full-time, part-time, right after your undergraduate, years later, but you should look into it seriously at some point
  • What is the Master’s program like?
    • Full-time master’s work can range in length of time, averaging about 2 years. Different programs have different lengths, depending on if you are doing a thesis, or how many classes you take per year.  If you are pursuing part-time study, you would probably count on closer to 4-5 years, taking 1 course per semester, 2 semesters per year.
    • Programs range in number of classes, but most will be between 8-12, depending on the field. These courses will be of a higher level, beyond the basics learned in undergraduate programs.  Think of a technical or specialized elective in your junior or senior year, and that is roughly the starting point.  Depending on your program, some of the credits typically reserved for classes would be replaced by either a project or a thesis.  A project would be about 1 semester of dedicated time, often in support of some larger research goals of the professor.  Similarly, you could have a thesis, which is often 2 semesters of more dedicated research, again sometimes in support of larger research goals.  The thesis would require you to write a dissertation and defend it to a committee, although it would be must smaller than a PhD thesis, which we will discuss later.
  • Do students need to have research before they apply to graduate school then?
    • You don’t need undergraduate research going into grad school, but it does not hurt to have a little bit of experience. You can get that kind of experience by talking to professors about getting involved in research work as an undergrad.
  • Students often need to worry about cost of education. What should students expect for financing graduate school?
    • As a baseline, you should assume that you will likely have to pay tuition/fees/etc. while pursuing your Master’s degree. This is a big difference between the Master’s and a PhD. Master’s students can get scholarships, fellowships, or assistantships like teaching or research assistant. However, these funding opportunities are typically reserved for PhD students.  You can inquire at individual programs regarding these opportunities.  There are also external grants you can get, such as from NSF or DoD.  Some companies may partially or fully fund a Master’s degree, though typically in exchange for a mandatory employment period.
  • How should students try to find these programs and opportunities?
    • For funding, that would be based on the program or the school. But picking a program or school is a whole process. You want to choose a school or program based on the specialties you are interested in.  If you don’t know yet, that is ok also.  But if you are interested in a particular field, say artificial intelligence, make sure you find a department that has those classes and research available.  That means looking at department and faculty websites prior to application.
    • There are online programs out there. Be cautious of their quality. Do your background research and speak with faculty or the co-op and career center to check their quality.
  • Once a student has found a program, what is it like to be in graduate school? Is it similar to undergraduate programs?
    • Once you get to the program, you will be surrounded by like-minded people, pursuing graduate careers. This community of students will be similar to your undergraduate, but now it is a self-selecting group of scholars, all choosing to dive deeper in their field.   This can be a great advantage, as many of you are now in it together, creating a support structure
    • It can also work against you in something called “imposter syndrome”. This happens when you are surrounded by people who are smart and driven, and can often make you feel like an imposter. Students and faculty no matter how accomplished, are susceptible to it.  It is the feeling that if someone wanted to, they could prove you are not worthy of your opportunities, like you are an imposter in your field. It is important to remember that everyone feels that way once in a while.  It is less common in MS, but is more common in PhD.

For more questions regarding the PhD program, please check back next week for Part Two!

Fall 2018 WITwear Hours: Mon – Thurs 5 PM – 8 PM, Fri 10 AM – 3 PM

Make an appointment with your Co-op + Career Advisor by calling the front desk at 617 989 4101.

Stepping Out of Your Professional Comfort Zone

By: Abbey Pober

Image of ArrowsCom·fort zone / ˈkəmfərt zōn / noun: a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview once, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… in a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” I can think of no better example of a professional who has taken calculated risks in their career which have resulted in incredible professional learning and growth. Stepping outside your “comfort zone” is a risk that is known to lead to big rewards when done strategically. If your goal is growth in your career, professional development is key to your success.

Why do you want to push yourself to do something outside your professional normal? The reason that motivates you is personal, changes based on where you are in your career, and can range from wanting a promotion, to needing to build new skills. Some of the benefits to challenging yourself professionally include:

  • Building your confidence
  • Strengthening your resume
  • Opening doors to new opportunities
  • Gaining new perspectives that change the way you approach your work
  • Discovering something you love
  • Increasing your resiliency

So, how exactly do you step out of your comfort zone? Again, this looks different for everyone.  You should be looking for an opportunity that will push you to try something new, or that will strengthen a weakness you want to work on.  If your work has you sitting behind a computer all day without much human interaction, consider seeking out speaking engagements, or ask to run part of a meeting for your department/team. Or perhaps you are a person who can talk to a crowd all day but struggles to sit down and focus on tasks for a long time? You could ask to take on an important project that will require you to sit down, plan for, and complete tasks individually rather than in a group setting. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:

  • Join a professional organization
  • Submit a proposal to present about something you are skilled at/an expert on at a conference
  • Reach out to someone you’ve been meaning to connect with
  • Write a blog/create something to share your expertise
  • Take a class that will challenge you

The important piece to stepping out of your comfort zone is taking the first step and doing it. When choosing what you will do to grow professionally, remember to be reasonable about the time and resources you must commit to it. Want to push yourself this semester? Consider joining a club/organization here at Wentworth, or reach out to your Co-op + Career Advisor to discuss ideas on how you can get involved off campus professionally.

To meet with a Co-op + Career advisor, make an appointment or swing by fall drop-in hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:30 – 4:00 PM. Our office is located at 101 Wentworth Hall. Feel free to contact us via email at coopsandcareers@wit.edu, or call us at 617-989-4101.

Creating an All-Star Profile on LinkedIn

By Ria Kalinowski

Bringing your LinkedIn profile to an All-Star (or complete) level is important because profiles that are complete show up higher in search results. If you want to be found by recruiters, fill out your entire profile. It’s important not only to complete your profile but to include key words that recruiters are searching for. Check out the key words employers are using in relevant job postings for some ideas.

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Grab Their Attention!

LinkedIn search results show your name, photo, and headline so it is important to include a professional photo (visit the LinkedIn photo booth at the next Wentworth Co-op + Career Fair!) and create a unique headline to grab peoples’ attention. When crafting your headline, think about where you hope to take your career as well the skills you have to offer. Headlines like, “Student at Wentworth” don’t give enough information or distinguish you from the 4,000 other Wentworth students. Adding your major or target industry helps but use the available 120 characters to take it a step further by sharing your skills or interests. Be careful to avoid spelling errors and stay away from these overused LinkedIn buzzwords!

Sample student LinkedIn headlines:

  • Former NASA Intern. Future Investment Technologist.
  • Electrical Engineering Student, Future Systems Engineer.
  • Computer Engineering Student | Former Systems Engineering Co-op at Vestmark | Laptop Repair Technician
  • Industrial Design Student at Wentworth ● Future Model Maker ● SolidWorks ● Shoe Design
  • Currently seeking full time position in logistics/supply chain or construction project management/estimating.

Tell Your Story

Use your summary to add personality to your profile and tell your story. Use all 2,000 characters to talk about what you are passionate about and how that aligns with your career interests. Recruiters use key word searches to find relevant candidates. Profiles that include the key words recruiters are searching for show up higher in search results, however, an overabundance of repeated words may get your profile filtered out as spam. When writing your summary, keep in mind that viewers only see the first two lines of your summary unless they select, “See more”. Check out summaries of co-op colleagues you admire or look up alumni profiles for ideas.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Why did you pick your major?
  • What is your dream job?
  • What are your key technical and non-technical skills?
  • What type of work environment do you thrive in?

Make (and Keep) It Relevant

Now that your dream recruiter has found you and their interest is piqued, show them you have the necessary skills to encourage them to reach out. Include any co-ops or jobs in your experience section highlighting technical and transferable skills relevant to your target industry. Add skills, coursework, and projects. If you have a portfolio or personal website include the link in your summary section. Upload your resume to your summary section as well. Request recommendations from past colleagues, classmates, or professors. Join groups and follow relevant companies. These show up in your interest section. Update your LinkedIn profile every semester just like you would your resume. Add new projects, experiences, and skills you have gained.

Customize your URL

Once your LinkedIn profile is complete, add your URL to the contact information on your resume. But FIRST, make sure to remove that long stream of numbers after your name. Go to your profile and click on “Edit public profile & URL” in the upper right-hand corner. Next, visit the “Edit URL” section in the upper right-hand corner and click on the blue pencil next to your URL. Remove the numbers and make your URL unique to you!

Once your profile is complete, make some connections! Connect with past and current colleagues, classmates, and professors. The number of relevant connections you have will help you show up higher in search results as well. According to LinkedIn, “The more connections you have, the more likely you will have a connection to the searcher” which helps you rank higher in their search. Personalize each connection request to remind people of how you know them or outline why you want to connect. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool so make sure you are taking advantage of it! Meet with your Co-op + Career Advisor to get help creating your profile or making connections.  They can also give you feedback once it is completed. See our LinkedIn Guide for more suggestions.

Top Ten Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

By: Lauren Creamer

The fall term is fast approaching and with it comes deadlines for graduate school applications. One piece of the application you want to leave plenty of time for is the personal statement. It requires a style of writing that most engineering and technology students aren’t used to using (because it isn’t a prerequisite of your academic programs). All the personal statements I have read required multiple drafts and tons of edits! Those things take time.

Consider the following tips when beginning the writing process:

  1. Read the prompt. Are you answering a specific set of questions? Are you simply explaining why you want to enroll in a specific program? You should include only what is relevant and required for the prompt.
  2. Tell a story/consider the narrative. Your statement should flow well, be authentic, and engage the reader. This style of writing is different than the direct nature of a cover letter, yet not too casual as to seem like you are writing a blog post. It generally begins with an anecdote about why/how you got into your chosen field, and moves into a summary of your experience to date, and then concludes with future goals. (This is generally speaking – again, follow the prompt!).
  3. Consider the weight of the statement – how does it rank against other admissions criteria? This one takes a bit of research (which I suggest you do). Is it weighed more or less heavily than your GPA or standardized test scores or an interview? Ask, because it may impact how much time you spend on this portion. See here for general advice from graduate admissions representatives.
  4. Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. “The writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads,” Dr. Seuss. (Yes, I just quoted Dr. Seuss).
  5. Get a faculty member to review your statement. Your professors already went to graduate school. They have written and probably read plenty of these before. Ask them for their two cents.
  6. Bring it into CO-OPS + CAREERS to have your advisor review your statement. It is our literal job to review your written documents. We get paid to do it. (Plus, a lot of us genuinely enjoy editing… myself included).
  7. If you struggle with spelling, grammar, sentence structure – go to the Center for Academic Excellence. A writing tutor will work with you to identify specific areas in which you can improve your writing capabilities. And/or take gander at some of the recommended writing tutorials.
  8. Consider format. A cramped, single-page document with small font is difficult to read. Seriously! Space it out a bit, use size 12 font. Make it easier on the older eyes (generally, your application will be read by someone who is several decades older than you and possibly wearing readers. This is not a joke).
  9. Things to avoid? Clichés, a negative tone, damaging information. You want the reader leaving with positive feelings about you – not critiques on your writing style and negativity.
  10. Finish strong – why is this school/program/lab your top choice? The reader should finish knowing that you would be a strong choice for the program.

I know this is already in the tips above, but it bears repeating: bring your personal statement in to have it reviewed by your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor before you submit!

Additional Resources:

https://www.cmu.edu/gcc/handouts-and-resources/grad-app-sop

https://www.prepscholar.com/gre/blog/graduate-school-personal-statement-examples/

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/642/02/

https://ctl.yale.edu/sites/default/files/basic-page-supplementary-materials-files/writing_personal_statements_for_graduate_school.pdf