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 Continue reading


What opportunities are there to do undergrad research off campus?

I can recommend two large programs that sponsor undergraduate research:

  • Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and
  • Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, sponsored by the National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST)

NSF through the REU program sponsors summer research programs at many universities.  These are competitive programs and an excellent way to check out if you are interested in graduate school.  You may obtain more information about the REU program from the NSF website.  Undergraduate students sponsored with NSF funds must be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or its possessions.  NSF maintains a website that allows you to search by topic for REU programs throughout the country.  A contact person and contact information is listed for each site.

NIST sponsors an undergraduate research program (SURF) that brings students to their Gaithersburg, MD location (near Washington D.C.) to do research with government scientists.  This program requires that your university apply for you and cost-share your application.  Thus if you are interested in the NIST program, you will have to interest a professor here at Tech to cosponsor your research.  For more information see the NIST SURF website.


What opportunities are there to do undergrad research at Michigan Tech?

Undergraduate research is an excellent idea for all students, but it is an especially good idea for those who are interested in attending engineering graduate school after completing their B.S. degree in chemical engineering.  Check out our short video on the subject.

There are three paths to undergraduate research experience at Michigan Tech (for information on off-campus possibilities, click on the tag below), and all three of them begin with speaking with a professor.  You must go to individual professors, presumably those who do research in areas that you find interesting, and discuss with them what types of opportunities there are to do research in their laboratories.

There are three types of research arrangements possible:

  • Research for credit;
  • Research as a part-time job;
  • Research as an unpaid intern. Continue reading



What courses count as chemical engineering elective?

The rules in the Department of Chemical Engineering for technical electives are posted on the web on the undergraduate advising page.  The rules are updated from time to time and students are advised to choose the list that corresponds to their catalog year (usually the year they entered Michigan Tech).

As of 3 February 2015, the following courses count as chemical engineering elective:

CM 2200                Intro Minerals and Materials*                             3cr

CM 3450                Computer-Aided Problem Solving*                    3cr

CM 3820                Sampling Statistics and Instrumentation*        3cr

Continue reading


What is a technical elective in chemical engineering?

Technical electives allow chemical engineering majors to tailor their degree.  These classes, which include upper division engineering, science, and applied business subjects, cover a wide range of topics and give students a chance to follow their individual interests.  In addition, students can often earn a minor by double counting some of the minor requirements with the technical electives.

To earn a BS in chemical engineering, you must take 10 credits of approved technical electives.  Technical electives are any course listed as approved chemical engineering, engineering, or technical electives.  Within these 10 credits, you must take:

1.     Four credits of chemical-engineering-designated elective, and

2.    No more than four credits (and as few as zero credits) may be chosen from the Math, Science, and Applied Business (MSAB) list.

Note that many of the technical elective courses are not offered every semester and most have prerequisites.  It is best to plan out your technical electives ahead of time.  The rules in the Department of Chemical Engineering for technical electives are posted on the web on the undergraduate advising page.  The rules are updated from time to time and students are advised to choose the list that corresponds to their catalog year (usually the year they entered Michigan Tech).


What Chemical Engineering electives will be offered in 2015-16? 2016-17?

The schedule for chemical engineering electives is posted on the undergraduate advising web page.  This handout is updated regularly.  The posted schedule may change due to sabbaticals and other staffing issues.  Note that classes marked ** are offered only every other year.  Most classes have prerequisites; please check the Schedule of Classes for details.