Tag Archives: phd

CollegeQandA asks: What should I do to get into graduate school?

What should I do to get into graduate school?

For a four year undergraduate program, asking this question in the fourth year is almost too late.  Getting in to a good graduate program (if that is the path you want to take) takes some planning.  Here are some basic ideas on grades, early, research and recommendation letters that may differentiate you for  graduate school admission.

Desk with person and many papers

Where to go is first

The reality is you need your reasons to go to graduate school.  In engineering, the typical Ph.D. reason is “I want to be a professor”.  In other fields, there might be other reasons, but you are going to want to go to the best school possible since the trickle down of academic pedigree will likely impact your future career options.

Grades aren’t the whole game, but they matter

Now that you have picked a top school to attend, you need to get accepted there.  The base bar to being admitted to the school is your grades and how you perform on any admittance tests.  For most US universities this test is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  You need to do well on the test and have a high GPA.  However, this is only the base bar that you must meet.   The reality is that students across the country and throughout the world are meeting this base requirement.  How are you going to separate yourself from this large group?

Undergraduate research helps

If you can get an academic paper, presentation experience, and research training in your undergraduate time, then you are in a better spot than most.  This is why the fourth year is not a great time to get into research since the time it takes to complete research and submit work is not a short period such as a semester.  It can take a year or more to complete a worthy research project or even participate in a large research team.  However, the experience of performing research will not only improve your chances, but will show you some idea of what graduate school might be like.

Letter of recommendations

Probably, the biggest step to get into certain programs is the relationships between your recommending professors and your target schools.  If one of your recommendation letters comes from a tight relationship with your target school and the professor writing the letter, then there is a significantly greater chance of you being put to the top of the pile.

The reason for this is that all professors write letters of recommendation for their students.  If I know the person who is writing the letter when looking through graduate applications, then I know I can trust their opinion, and a strongly recommended student carries more weight from someone I know than a letter from a random professor.

In this light, I highly recommend looking at where your professors came from (in their graduate and post-graduate work) as this may help guide you on where to apply for your graduate future.

Credits: photo titled: E.D Morel, ca. 1900-1915 (IMP-CSCNWW33-OS10-23); by Ashley Van Haeften

CollegeQandA asks: Should I go to graduate school?

Who goes to graduate school?

Should I go to graduate school? This is an important question to consider as you complete your undergraduate and try to plan out your career. We will take a few perspectives on the whys and why nots.

Clock with 3 replaced by word career

Rarely just because

Many people who I’ve talked to about going to graduate school include the answer, “just because”.  I, probably, should be included in this camp, but my other reason for going to graduate school was that a professor a respected and listened to told me to go to graduate school.  I, obviously, had a great plan for my future.  The trick here is graduate school can:

  • Cost significant amounts of money
  • Costs more money in terms of lost opportunity cost
  • Takes time
  • Is not a guarantee of being completed successfully
  • Might not impact your life goals

The first piece to choosing to go or not to, is to have some sort of plan on where and what you want to do.

Let’s start with the Master’s degree

In most cases, a masters degree is a financial end career total earnings the best degree to get.  Still, that does not mean you should just do the degree.  Also, this is general advice on the Master’s degree and there are a tonnes of factors to consider depending on your individual case including current debt, area of study, job market, location in the world, school to attend, etc.

The masters degree is an opportunity to spend one to three years delving deeper into academics via courses, projects, and in some cases, a thesis.  This additional depth means that you will improve your ability to think and do, and people who can think and do better tend to get paid more if there is demand.

One other thing I noticed when I did my Master’s was that I got to tackle problems that I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work on until 2-5 years into an industrial career.

Finally, I know many people who say they plan on doing their Master’s later.  This is possible, but in most cases getting paid and the prospect of doing a Master’s and being paid significantly less (if anything) is very tricky to do.

For the Ph.D. degree

In almost all cases, I think the main reason to pursue a Ph.D. degree is if you want to become a professor (or really think you want to become a professor).   I, highly, recommend you read The Professor is In before starting that degree to understand the nature of the faculty job world.  If you start with the basic idea that a Professor self-replicates by advising and creating Ph.D students, then you quickly see how a market with exponential growth doesn’t have positions for everyone in it and is competitive – Amazon.

If you have another reason to do a Ph.D, then as long as you see it as a means to get what you want then it is fine.  That is unless the reason is you want to be called Doctor; not worth the toil for such a title.

Credits: photo titled: Clock-career; by Flazingo Photos

CollegeQandA asks: How are professors trained to teach?

How are professors trained to teach?

An interesting question that not many undergraduates understand is: How are professors trained to teach?

Baby with glasses on

The secret is, most of us are not trained in any teaching.  Graduate degrees (Masters and Ph.Ds.) are degrees pursuing leading edge research and creative endeavors.  Many of your professors will have no formal training in education other than some basic courses.

Why do they have no training?

Many graduate schools around the world have programs that help train graduate students to teach.  Typically, new faculty will have orientation and additional programs/workshops to help them improve their classroom teaching.  In the end, with all this training a professor will have spent at most 20-40 hours of educational training.  Compare that time to a typical higher education class worth 3 credit hours.  Over 15 weeks, student’s will have had at least 45 hours of class time on the topic of the class.

So, professors will have some training in education, but in reality, the training is very limited, but the rest of the learning to teach is done (or not done) by ourselves.  The reason for this is that teaching training is not a priority within higher education.  Instead, there seems to be a mentality of I learned this way and this stuff, and therefore, my students can also learn this way and this stuff.  There’s not a huge problem with this mentality since for decades the model has worked, and people still get careers and work in their respective fields.

Is there a case for improvement?

As an engineer (not practicing), I’m not too crazy about my above argument.  One of my question is if professors are better teachers then, on average, will our students learn more?  I don’t have any direct research to answer this question.  I, at least, believe that universities could make some real attempt at testing this crazy question.  Many schools have taking a dedication to teaching and learning.  Is your school one?

Credits: photo titled: Professor Baby; by Quinn Dombrowski