Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate Student Handbook
for Incoming Engineering Students


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PhD Comics: Life Plan

Academic Advice:

Comparison between undergraduate and graduate studies

  • Graduate studies are more independent than undergraduate studies. In undergrad classes, the professor generally gives you all the material you need. In undergraduate courses, the student rarely needs to study outside materials and the “prime” objective is to be ready for the tests. As a graduate student, you are expected to take the initiative to bring the course material to bear on your own research topic. This is why it is very important that you, in concert with your advisor, select courses that are closely related to your research area.
  • Classes and the material covered are deeper (harder) and more challenging in graduate school than in undergraduate classes. One crucial goal in a graduate class is to come up with new questions and research interests and to help define a path to your thesis – not only to know a lesson.
  • In graduate studies, it is difficult to compare yourself to the other students in your class (there must be a change of mentality). Within the same program, students pursue different paths (theoretical or experimental), different projects with different faculty (some projects may well be interdisciplinary and involve other departments), and thus branch off.  There is no one measure of your success relative to your fellow students.  Success is a combination of conducting original research, knowing your field, finishing a thesis and moving on to a job.
  • Communication skills and reasoning are important skills to a graduate student.  When you discuss your progress or experiments – not only with your advisor but also with other faculty members, graduate students and researchers – you must communicate clearly and “sell” your results.  This regular communication about your research will train you so you feel more confident about your work.
  • As an undergraduate, your time was structured around semesters and you were “free” between semesters.  As a graduate student, you should expect to be working “all the time” (with some holidays approved by your advisor).  In fact, you may well find that your advisor has more time, more focus, and is much more supportive during between-semester breaks when he/she is not as busy with teaching and service activities.  Do not expect to get the summer off!  This is normally when a great deal of research gets done.

Choosing your research group


“Faculty members carefully review applicants for compatibility with their research interests when recruiting students directly into their groups.  For students that enter the graduate program without an advisor, we recommend they talk to all faculty members conducting research in their area of interest, taking on preliminary projects to obtain a better appreciation of each group’s research.  Interest in a group’s research and performance on the preliminary project, as well as of the availability of funding, must be jointly considered by a faculty member and student when jointly deciding to work together.”

Prof. Arce, Chair
Electrical and Computer Engineering


Course Work and Qualifiers:

Each department has their own requirements, and quite possibly several different tracks, for getting an MS or a PhD.  Read the requirements carefully and discuss them with your advisor or a designated faculty member in the department.  In some cases, the MS track is quite different from the PhD track, so if you don’t want to lose time be sure you are on the appropriate track.

Every department has its own rules about course work and qualifying examinations. To find detailed info in your department, follow the links:

Funding and Research Groups in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering:

Admission to the graduate program in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering is offered to students whom we expect to succeed in their pursuit of a PhD.  All students are admitted with a Research Assistantship unless they have fellowship support from external sources.  All students are admitted to the program “at large”; no pairings with research advisors are made prior to the student’s arrival on campus.  Students who have an interest in traineeship programs in which department faculty and students participate (e.g., IGERT programs), may apply and be selected for these prior to their matriculation.  In that case the advisor match process may vary with respect to timing and selections, but it is carried out in very much the same spirit as described below.

Our goal is to do the best possible job of accommodating student research and career interests while meeting the needs of the department with respect to progress on funded research projects.  We have numerous collaborations among our faculty and with faculty outside the department.  Quite a few students are jointly advised on collaborative projects, and it is not unusual for us to put together a joint project to satisfy an individual student’s interests.

Shortly after arrival in the Fall, students are provided with brief descriptions of all available projects.  Faculty members deliver oral presentations of these in September and October, and new graduate students are encouraged to follow these up with one-on-one discussions with individual faculty and with their students.  By early November, students are asked to submit a rank ordered list of their project requests to the department Graduate Advisor.  We ask that these contain 5 projects covering at least 3 faculty members, and that the students indicate the reasons for their interest and the intensity of their interest (e.g., strong preference for choice #1, little difference between #1 and #2, etc.)  We also ask them to communicate any other interests and goals (e.g., in an academic vs. industrial career) that may help us to best meet their objectives.  These requests are then evaluated by the Graduate Advisor and the Department Chairperson.  Faculty input on prospective student assignments is obtained and, as noted above, collaborative projects are sometimes created where interest and opportunity emerge from this process.  Our objective is to match everyone up with a project they are excited about, not necessarily to maximize the number of students assigned to their first choice.  That is why we ask students for prose comments, not just a rank ordered list.  No student is assigned until all students can be assigned, again to ensure that we have done our best to meet everyone’s interest and needs.

Historically, about 85% of the students admitted to our program pass the oral qualifying examinations, and ultimately complete a PhD.  The department guarantees all students who are making adequate progress toward the degree a minimum of 4 years of financial support, and does not terminate student support because of changes in external funding.

Prof. Barteau
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

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