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  • Soumya Khanna ('21)

Virginia Tech Graduate School

Updated: Nov 17, 2021


Goodwin Hall. Photo / Hayley Stout
Goodwin Hall. Photo / Hayley Stout

Have you thought about applying to graduate school? If not, you might want to consider it after reading this article. The College of Engineering provides graduate students the

opportunities to excel in their careers while exploring their research interests through doctoral and master’s degree programs and a breadth of research centers and labs. Currently, the College of Engineering offers 15 doctoral and 17 master’s degree programs in 18 areas of study.


Undergraduate students can also begin to earn graduate credit with the Accelerated Undergraduate/Graduate Degree Program. The Accelerated Master’s Degree Program is for Virginia Tech undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing graduate studies at Virginia Tech. Richard Tran, BS/MS student in computer science tells us about his experience at Virginia Tech.


What should a prospective student in your program expect?


Richard Tran
Richard Tran

Prospective students should expect more in terms of both workload and research opportunities. The accelerated BS/MS program offers a plethora of opportunities to foster one’s growth and expand one’s knowledge and experience in research through both graduate classes and being a GTA or GRA (Graduate Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant respectively). Students are saving one entire year of education, compared to a normal two-year master’s degree, which is a lot of money and hours conserved. Overall, prospective students should expect opportunities to advance their knowledge in their respective research areas to make themselves stand out much greater than they would if they did not pursue a master’s from different applicants for jobs.


Could you tell us about your experience so far?


The difficulty of graduate courses has taken me some time to get used to. Especially for the first couple graduate classes you take, you must learn how to balance that alongside your undergraduate classes, research, and extracurriculars, which can prove challenging as the time you spend on graduate course assignments tend to be much greater than those of undergraduate courses. For my specific research area, I needed to learn the concepts and applications in deep learning, so my thesis advisor pushed me to

take the CS deep learning class without even having taken its prerequisite classes. It even motivates me to try harder in this class to be able to utilize more concepts in my research.


"It has challenged me in many ways, but working hard to understand the concepts to be able to apply them into my research has been extremely rewarding.” - Richard Tran

Student-Faculty interaction


The student-faculty interaction varies depending on the advisor. Different thesis advisors have different styles of managing their students, as they are also caught up with their own work as well. I have the pleasure of working with Dr. Chandan Reddy to use machine/deep learning concepts for healthcare applications. He has advised me on what classes to take for my specific research interest, allowed me to help one of his Ph.D. candidates, Ping Wang, on her research project to expose me to this research field, and also given me an outline of what milestones he expects me to achieve in order to graduate spring 2022 on time with my MS degree.


Research opportunities


The amount and quality of research opportunities available to you are only as great as how many you are proactively searching for. Make sure you are subscribed to the graduate student mailing list to stay up to date with all CS graduate news including seminars/talks from professors and guest speakers, GRA openings, and other research breakthroughs and other opportunities.


What are some advice and tips that you would give to interested students?


  • Maintain a good GPA (at least a 3.5).

  • Participate in undergraduate research or independent study to not only increase the chances of you getting accepted, but to also help you determine what you want to do in graduate school so you can make the most out of this opportunity.

  • Talk to potential professors you would like to work with based on their research areas, personality, management styles, and current projects.

 

Jake Viar, an MS student in Material Science and Engineering, shares his experience of being a graduate student.


What should a prospective student in your program expect?


Jake Viar
Jake Viar

Students coming into the MS program in MSE should expect to treat graduate school like a job. Students should expect to work hard and take their graduate degrees seriously.


“Successful students take the initiative to actively reach out to other collaborate and look for opportunities to further the impact of their research.” - Jake Viar

Research Opportunities


My experience with research opportunities has been unique. I’ve had the opportunity to work in three labs: the DREAMS lab where I work primarily with additive manufacturing technologies, the Hume Center which has a strong EE and ECE focus, and the advanced composites lab in the ESM Department. All three of these areas were new to me when I first became a graduate student. Fortunately, as a member of the MEEP program through the Hume Center, I had a lot of flexibility when I chose my thesis topic.


What are some advice and tips that you would give to interested students?


Being in graduate school allows studying one particular subject very intensely. However, it is important to always stay curious and remain teachable even as you become an expert in your field. Additionally, there will be many times where you find yourself in a seminar or in a talk that might not be particularly relevant to your work, but pay attention always. Arguably the true value of the graduate school is be-

ing able to think deeply and critically across many domains. One final piece of advice that I would offer is to make sure that you write often, read often, and manage your time efficiently. Time management is fundamental.


Goodwin Hall. Photo / Hayley Stout
Goodwin Hall. Photo / Hayley Stout
 

We also heard some important information about the Ph.D. student experience in the department of chemical engineering from an anonymous student.


What should a prospective student in your program expect?


The department of chemical engineering organizes research presentations where professors who are interested in taking newly admitted Ph.D. students

in their research groups present their research. New Ph.D. students meet at least three professors in the department to decide the research group they want to join. Then, the student decides the projects to work on with his or her advisor. The student is expected to publish research papers in reputed journals to showcase the results achieved in the Ph.D. journey.


Student-Faculty interaction


I meet with my advisor every week to discuss the progress in the research projects, get his feedback and decide next steps involved in the project. The purpose of a PhD is to make a person an independent researcher. Therefore, the student in later stages of

the program is expected to be more independent in his PhD journey compared to the initial years in the program. Apart from the advisor, I developed better interaction with the faculties whose courses I took or professors I assisted in teaching. Faculties helped me when I approached them during office hours or when I needed to discuss problems related to research.


Research opportunities


Faculties at Virginia Tech are working in various areas of chemical engineering for example polymers, colloids, surface chemistry, biomedical, catalysis, and machine learning. Virginia Tech provides a great resource for using the instruments and computational software for research. I chose to work on a project related to the impact of surface topography on the motility of bacteria after discussing it with senior graduate students and Dr. William Ducker.


What are some advice and tips that you would give to interested students?


Interested students should expose themselves to research projects in various areas during undergraduate studies so that they can decide the area or nature of work that suits them. Since a Ph.D. takes 4-6 years one should be self-motivated to do research.


"Students can figure out whether they like experimental research or computational research. Students should also think about what they want to do after their Ph.D. since job opportunities are different for different areas of research." - Anonymous








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