Explore Your Options
Michigan Engineering graduate students talk about their decision to attend grad school.
Not sure graduate school is right for you?
All Michigan Engineering PhD students receive full funding.
- Tuition waiver
- Monthly living stipend
- Health insurance
MYTH: I can’t afford graduate school. Michigan Engineering PhD students receive financial support that covers tuition, fees, health benefits and a stipend adjusted to the cost of living.
MYTH: Applying for a Master’s will increase my chances for a PhD. The majority of STEM PhD programs accept applications from students with a Bachelor’s degree. While having a Master’s degree helps you define your research interests and provides experience, it’s not a quick route to a PhD and doesn’t guarantee admission to a PhD program.
MYTH: A PhD is only for those who want to be professors. Engineers have access to many different careers, and the transferable skills graduate students develop (critical thinking, multitasking, etc.) are highly valued across many fields. The University of Michigan PhD Program statistics offer a glimpse at where PhDs land in their careers.
Opportunities for PhD’s outside of academia include:
- Policy makers
Once you’ve finished graduate school, you next steps will likely lead to industry, academia, national labs or entrepreneurship.
A good first step is to use tools such as Strengths Finder, leadership values exercises and research to better understand your strengths, weaknesses, values and motivations. Jobs in the private sector and jobs in academics can both be incredibly rewarding: intellectually, financially, and personally. Learn what matters most to you.
Explore your options
- Conduct informational interviews
- Review job descriptions for all types of careers
You’ll begin to notice that certain strengths work well in different career paths. Discuss your strengths/weaknesses and how they relate to careers with your career center, family/friends and/or faculty. Look for and take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by your graduate program and university.
Make a list
Every career path has pros and cons, but listing them can help you understand how those differences might play out in your life. For example:
- Direct application of your research into the world
- Practical, hands-on approach to real world problems
- Immediate results and satisfaction
- Much less overhead (i.e. no teaching, no grant writing etc.)
- More controlled work hours
- On average, a higher compensation package than academics
- (Near) total freedom to choose problems you want to work on, aka no boss/manager
- Working on long-term problems, possibly with industry-wide impact
- Working with very bright colleagues and students, and being able to choose who you work with
- “Flexible” work hours, flexibility when you need it, but often work during nonstandard hours
- Teaching and having direct impact on lives of students
- Tenure and the associated job security
- Writing grant proposals
Ultimately it comes down to what makes you most happy as an individual. A person’s happiness primarily arises from within, so the answer to this will vary from person to person.
Graduate programs and employers now expect competitive candidates to have a minimum of two significant experiences (internships, research, volunteer work) before applying to a graduate program.
Summer research is a great way to meet that expectation; it’s also a smart investment in your professional development. You’ll network, get hands-on experience, develop professional skills and contacts and get a taste of what graduate school might be like.
Before you start:
- Introduce yourself to the faculty mentor you’ll be working with
- Convey excitement and motivation
- Ask for relevant literature to help you prepare
- Take online training in lab safety (if applicable)
- Research the university and program/department where you will be working
During the program:
- Immerse yourself in the project. Read. Ask questions
- Meet with your mentor and/or supervisor regularly
- Learn about the graduate program, requirements & student benefits
- Explore the city and learn about the community outside of the school
- Ask your mentor for feedback on your work
- Discuss the possibility of manuscript authorship/conference presentations
After the program:
- Send thank you notes.
- Stay in touch with your faculty mentor.
- Express your interest in graduate studies.
- Ask for a strong letter of recommendation.
- Ask your mentor(s)/supervisor for feedback on your application.
- Ask for recommendations for other academic and professional development opportunities.
- Get involved in research at your home institution.
- Look for opportunities to present your work at conferences or forums.
You can try it before you buy it while gaining experience that strengthens your application.
- At your home institution during the school year independently or under the supervision of a faculty member
- Summer research program (e.g., SROP and SURE) allow participants to engage in research projects in potential graduate schools. Most also offer academic, professional, and personal development seminars.
Connect with a current graduate student in our Lunch & Lab Mentoring Program.