Day: March 13, 2012

How much does it cost to go to grad school in chemical engineering?

Ph.D. study in chemical engineering is often paid for by research funds obtained by your grad-school faculty advisor, and thus it will not cost you anything if you are able to obtain such support.  In addition to receiving a tuition award, you will typically receive an offer of financial support for your living expenses.

When you apply to graduate school, you will automatically be considered for support, either in the form of a research assistantship, a teaching assistantship, or a fellowship.  These assistantships will usually include full tuition and fees.  It’s a great deal for which good students will often qualify, and it is not usually based on need, rather is based on merit.  There are also very prestigious graduate research fellowships offered by the National Science Foundation for the best students in the country.  If you are able to obtain an NSF graduate research fellowship, you will be highly courted by all the top graduate schools.  You must apply directly to NSF for these fellowships.

M.S. study in chemical engineering can be done either in coursework mode (never supported; you are charged tuition and fees) or in thesis mode (may be supported; may include a living stipend).  The two-year coursework masters has the advantage of being straightforward to get:  you apply, are admitted, take for the necessary courses, get your degree.  There is no research project.  The M.S. thesis path also starts with you applying and taking courses, but students are working from the beginning on a masters thesis that must be completed before the degree is awarded.  There are funded research projects that lead to the M.S., and it is competitive to obtain this funding.

For more on graduate school, please visit the Department’s website on graduate studies.

What else can I do to prepare myself for graduate school in chemical engineering?

Attend the seminar series in the Chemical Engineering Department.  In all chemical engineering graduate programs, the weekly seminar series is an important element.  Speakers visit the department from all over the country and the world and present their work.  Graduate students are usually required to attend, since learning about the wide nature of chemical engineering research is one of the reasons for your studies.  Seminar announcements are posted on the department’s web page and across from the main office in Chem Sci.

Students may hesitate to attend seminars that they fear they will not understand.  Although the material may at times go over your head, will the situation be any different in a year or two when you start graduate school?  You can learn from attending seminars, even if they go over your head.  You can learn about effective presentation techniques (and ineffective techniques) and you can learn about research areas that you would never have had a chance to explore otherwise.  And you can learn what you need to study in order to understand.  If the visitor is a faculty member, he/she is probably interested in talking to juniors and seniors who are considering graduate school in the hopes that they can recruit you to their program.  If you are particularly interested in a speaker’s talk, you can ask to meet with him/her later in the day.

Participate in undergraduate research.  Click here for more on undergraduate research.

Improve your writing and presenting skills.  Writing and presenting well are really reflections of how logically you think.  If you can explain a topic well in writing or orally, you are displaying an important thinking skill you will need in graduate school.

Engineers sometimes distain writing as a soft skill that is less important than analytical skills.  It is not.  Writing well is an important skill that can make or break your graduate school experience.  That last task of writing your thesis or dissertation and writing up the publications from your work is critical – you will not graduate without your final thesis/dissertation being written and approved, and usually these documents are held to a very high standard of organization and grammar.  Do what you can now to improve your writing by taking writing-intensive courses, writing in your extracurricular activities, and availing yourself of the help provided by the Department of Humanities’ Writing Center.  I also recommend reading as an activity that promotes writing.  Read for pleasure – novels, literature, plays, quality magazines, and quality newspapers.  Reading is an excellent way to improve your recognition of good writing and of good grammar.

Oral communication is equally important.  Learn to make effective presentations and practice what you have learned.  Attend seminars and note down techniques that you find effective at getting the point across to you and then use those techniques in your own presentations.  Solicit feedback on your presentations so that you can improve.  Also, take the time to learn to present yourself well in day-to-day situations.  When you call someone on the phone, always identify yourself and find out right away if they have time for the discussion you would like to have with them.  The same goes for when you come to someone’s office door – identify yourself and make sure that they have time to see you.  In email, always start your messages with a greeting of some sort (Dear xxx or Good Morning or something equivalent) and state your point and sign off politely with your name and contact information.  These little habits can also be important in your graduate studies (as well as in life) since you will need to interact with many people to complete your graduate research, and if you do not interact well, your road will be very rough.

Don’t sell back your books.  You will be buying new books in graduate school, but you will often find that you need to refresh your memory of your undergraduate studies.

How can I prepare academically for graduate school in chemical engineering?

The first year of graduate school in chemical engineering typically involves taking advanced courses in transport, thermodynamics, kinetics, and mathematics (partial differential equations).  It may also involve specialty courses specific to your area of chosen specialization. Anything that makes those required courses easier is a good idea.  I feel that at Michigan Tech we do not go far enough in transport, so I recommend that you take the graduate transport class (CM5300 Advanced Transport Phenomena I, 3 credits, Spring, prereq=CM5100) or Polymer Rheology (CM4650, 3 credits), either of which will introduce you to the use of tensors in mathematical analysis.  After that I recommend taking our graduate math class (CM5100 Applied Mathematics for Chemical Engineers I, 3 credits, Fall) or any advanced mathematics course that interests you (some examples might be MA