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Department News

Making the Grad School Decision

Man looking in microscope

Hey seniors! This one’s for you!

BYU’s biggest graduation ceremony of the year is only a few months away, which means everybody and their great-aunt Sally has been asking you what you will do after graduation. Maybe you have your dream job lined up and answer with confidence. Or maybe you hide behind the nearest curtains whenever you see your curious relatives approaching.

Beloved curtain-hiders, we would like to present a potential answer to that dreaded question: graduate school. Maybe it’s for you. Maybe it’s not. But with the graduate school application deadline approaching, now is the prime time to find out!

Graduate student Michael Eyler went into graduate school because he wanted to pursue robotics, which required more than a bachelor’s degree. “I jumped at the chance to do a Master of Science with the ECE department,” he said.

BYU offers both master’s and doctoral programs in electrical and computer engineering. A master’s degree typically takes two years to complete. Students in the program work closely with a faculty advisor to participate in leading-edge research, contribute to published scholarly articles, and/or report their work in a thesis.

Eyler, for example, focuses on decentralized information fusion: three fancy words for helping small radios communicate with one another. He also works in the Experiential Learning Center and manages the semi-annual robotics competitions.

Graduate student James Smith works with David Long, Ph. D., launching the cubesats into space and on a NASA-sponsored research program to design a new satellite system.

The doctoral program involves more advanced research. The grad studies website says it requires “an ability to identify, investigate, formulate, and solve new problems of interest.” Doctoral students report their work in a dissertation. They take advanced courses and often participate in projects funded by federal agencies, foundations, and/or companies. While they still collaborate with a faculty advisor, they enjoy considerably more independence than master’s students. The time to completion ranges from three to six years.

Doctoral student Grant Stagg works with Cammy Peters, Ph. D., on algorithms that allow autonomous agents to learn an unknown environment by flying to areas with high uncertainty, and doctoral student Sequoia Ploegg works on the AUVSI Student Unmanned Aerial Systems competition team.

Goodies like custom research experiences, increased technical understanding, and leadership opportunities fill the graduate school experience.

And after graduation? Well folks, it’s the gift that keeps on giving! Electrical and computer engineers with graduate degrees have broader job opportunities, better career trajectory, and increased job satisfaction. Those who hold a doctorate in electrical or computer engineering enjoy careers with more creative focus and opportunities to solve recognized open problems.

“The ability to work with professors, whether in research or coursework, has been a stellar opportunity,” Eyler said. He said it’s a lot of hard work, but the skills and networking are well worth it.

Although it can seem daunting, graduate school is possible! Most graduate students in the department receive a stipend of $18-25,000 as well as free tuition. Some even complete their degrees in less than two years! It may not be for everyone (nothing is), but it is a fabulous path for thousands of electrical engineering students.

And if none of these reasons to attend graduate school appeal to you, keep in mind the best reason of all: you can put off the question of what you’ll do after graduation for another two years. No more curtain-hiding for you!

For more information about how graduate school could work for you, visit our graduate school website, talk with a favorite ECE professor, or schedule an appointment with our graduate advisor, Jana Featherstone.