Why Did I Choose Purdue for Grad School?

I believe graduate school is one of the most important decisions you can make for your life. When you are going to college, you may not have the freedom or the means to select the university you want. However, going to graduate school is your own choice, and I felt the pressure to choose wisely. I remember making my list of things that a graduate school should have to deserve my dedication to the application process. I applied to five different universities, but Purdue was always my first choice.

Before selecting the university list, you need to define your own professional goals. And remember, graduate school, especially a Ph.D. degree, will be demanding and time-consuming. So, it is better to put your effort into something you want. Here was my list of priorities:

1) International world rankings: If I spend money and time on a graduate degree, I want that degree to be internationally recognized. And civil engineering at Purdue fulfilled this requisite easily. As a prospective graduate student, here are a few sources to check out:

Purdue Graduate Program Rankings

Civil Engineering Program News

2) Living costs: Did you know that each state in the USA can have different living costs? As a graduate student, the budget is my responsibility. Even for visa purposes, you need to check how much money you will need to have. Depending on the location of the university, you may need much more. Purdue is located in the state of Indiana in a small city called West Lafayette. These characteristics showed me that I could have a better-quality of life on a student budget.

3) Funding sources: Purdue is a massive university with more than 45 thousand students. And to attend this enormous student population, a significant infrastructure is necessary. The university has many student employment options that are incredibly helpful during your academic life.

4) Laboratory infrastructure: To study far away from home, there needs to be a reason. The university needs to have something that I could not find in other places. The impressive Bowen Laboratory is a research facility beyond expectations. With more resources available to you, your research and your career can go further.

5) Purdue spirit: I confess that I didn´t know about it before I arrived at the university, but it ended up confirming my choice to attend Purdue. It is a place where everybody wants to do their best. The students do not wish for grades “enough to pass”; they want to be the best student in the class. Graduate students want to solve big problems in the world. Professors and employees want to help students in any way they can. Everybody is proud to wear Purdue gear and apparel. When you are surrounded by people trying to do their best, you also push yourself harder to achieve more.

One thing that I didn’t know existed, and now is my favorite thing to do in my free time, watch a Purdue game. I love the Purdue spirit! Go Boilers!

Finding the Best Graduate School for You

Graduate school was always something I considered but was not sure about. I graduated with a biotech engineering degree from Tec de Monterrey in Chihuahua, Mexico and immediately started working at a local company, where I learned a lot. But after three years, I realized that I needed a change. Then, an opportunity opened up with a series of positions available at Purdue as a partnership with the Mexican scholarship program CONACYT and my alma mater, so I jumped right in.

To begin the graduate school process, I reviewed the open positions for potential fits for my interests. I did additional research on the labs and professors. After that, I learned that it is important to schedule the professor interviews to discuss the project and talk about your goals. After 3 years in grad school, I can safely say that this is the most essential step in choosing the best fit for grad school.

It is vital that you feel “connected” to the research or the lab, or even the professor’s research. I was lucky enough to find an excellent fit for me in the laboratory of renewable resources in the Department of Agricultural Biological Engineering at Purdue. As an international candidate to grad school, there is an additional layer of requirements. Whatever your options are, always remember to follow both the school and the country guidelines. Every department has specifics to their process, but everyone is happy to help when you ask kindly.

If I were to start grad school again, I would consider 3 essential things in my checklist. First, the laboratory or professor’s presence in the research topic areas is easy to see from publications and citations and potential job or academic opportunities. Second: the current state of the project finances; some projects might be eligible for you to look for funding opportunities or be already funded for your degree. Third, the cost of living and pay for your research work and how this payment will cover your expenses because you are expected to commit to this research for 2 to 5 years. This will not guarantee your success, but it certainly allows peace of mind for you to carry your research successfully.

Women in Engineering Department - Graduate Women in Engineering Network Leadership Team.

Funding – Where to Search for the Money

I believe, for most of the students who are looking for a graduate school, funding is one of the main concerns. At least it was my biggest fear. How am I going to pay for everything? I asked this question to myself a million times. Today after I got my master’s here at Purdue, and I am working towards my Ph.D. degree, I think I know a few things that could help other students like me.

  1. Start looking for funding inside your own country before you move to the USA. Since I arrived at Purdue, I have learned about the enormous list of countries that offer scholarships to their citizens. Check online and ask inside the universities. I never heard about those scholarships before I got mine, but if you search, you will find some help!
  2. Check other options. If the government of your country does not offer any scholarships, look for programs that help different countries. The first name that comes on top of my head is the Fulbright, but there are many others. Check all the possibilities! You truly need to spend some days in front of the computer searching for everything.
  3. Talk to your future professor. Professors here in the USA have the freedom to choose the student who will receive some type of funding, like the RA – Research Assistant or TA – Teacher Assistant. So, before you select your professor, check if he or she has any available funding.
  4. Next step, check your own department. If your professor does not have any funding available, it is not the end of the world. Sometimes the department itself is looking for graduate students to hire for TA or even GA – Graduate Assistant positions. Those GA positions can be inside the department office itself, like to help with statistics of the students and things like that.
  5. Look in other departments. For example,if you are an engineering student and the engineering department is not hiring anyone, for now, do not give up. Think about your own qualities and check where someone may need your help. The math department usually hires engineering students as well. If you speak another language, the language department may be looking to hire more TA´s.
  6. Check the Purdue jobs website. Purdue is incredibly organized. And the university has a website where you can look for positions available, including GA positions. I found my GA position on this website!  https://www.purdue.edu/studentemployment/site/
  7. Be open minded. Sometimes you can find great opportunities in different and unexpected departments. Did you know that the Women in Engineering is an official department and hires graduate students? The University Residences also hire GA´s for many different programs.

Do not give up on the first no! Keep searching. The difference between success and failure sometimes is just another try!

GA for University Residences.
My boss, my students, and me; working as GA for University Residences, supervising the University Residences Multicultural Connections club.

The writer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Civil Engineering at Purdue University.

Learn more about funding and other resources for graduate school here: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/fellowship/funding-resources-for-students/index.html

Three Minute Thesis Competition – a great opportunity for graduate students to stand out

The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) is kind of a speech contest for graduate students. They talk about their research (thesis) in three minutes with only one slide. It is not a conference-like talk, but rather a speech; they don’t introduce themselves in the presentation, there is no Q&A session afterward, and they are disqualified if the presentation exceeds three minutes. 3MT started in the University of Queensland and expanded to other universities including Purdue. Purdue Graduate School organizes this exciting event every Spring, where a big number of Purdue graduate students participate every time. (for more information, see Purdue 3MT website).

I learned about this event from Dr. Linda Mason, the Dean of the Graduate School. She is a science communication professional and offers graduate seminars/workshops every semester. Just like other students, I was so attracted by her passions and the way she talked in the seminars. That was the time I started thinking about participating in 3MT. But it seemed to be a big challenge – talking in public is definitely out of my comfort zone, and as an international student, I thought I was already having a linguistic disadvantage. I shared this feeling with my fiance – hey, I kind of want to try this, but I don’t know if I can do it. Then he, without trying to encourage me or anything, just went straight to the Purdue 3MT webpage and registered me.

The preliminary round was just me talking in a regular classroom in front of three judges. The absence of a big public audience minimized my nervousness. Luckily, or maybe thanks to the fridge in my apartment that was listening to my practice every night, I was selected as a finalist among 100 participants.

Unlike the preliminary round, the final took place in the newly-built, huge auditorium in the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. I thought I would be extremely nervous but my confidence level had increased since being selected as a finalist. My friends came to watch me, and I tried to do the power posture to just pretend that I was a superwoman (if you haven’t watched Dr. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, I highly recommend it for those who have low self-confidence like me). And the miracle happened; I was placed second among the eleven finalists. That was one of the few experiences (or maybe the only one) where I’ve been under the spotlight. I felt even a little shy on the stage.

Purdue Three Minute Thesis Competition 2018. All the eleven finalists and Dr. Linda Mason (left).

This all happened last year, April 2018; but, the story didn’t end. Earlier this year of 2019, I received an email from one of the 3MT organizers saying “would you be interested in participating in the Midwest Three Minute Thesis Competition in St Louis?” I didn’t wait for a second to say yes.

I couldn’t make another miracle happen in my second 3MT experience. There were 40+ students representing each university in the Midwest, and all the talks were high-level. Some talks were even entertaining to make the audience laugh. Although I didn’t make it to the final, it was a wonderful experience to see all the talks and interact with the participants. I couldn’t believe that Purdue provides such a fantastic opportunity for a student like me.

The Midwest Three Minute Thesis Competition 2019 held in St. Louis. Representatives of Midwestern universities.

Waiting for my returning flight at the St. Louis airport, I was writing a thank-you email to the Purdue 3MT organizers who sent me to St. Louis. Then, one of them asked me, “would you be interested in being a judge in Purdue 3MT this year?” Wow, my 3MT journey never ends.

People at Purdue are respectful and inclusive, both students and faculty/staffs. I feel all the students (both domestic and international students) are equally treated and respected, and I believe this is a very important factor when you choose graduate school. Furthermore, there is plenty of opportunities where you can challenge yourself, stand out and grow as a professional researcher. 3MT is just one of many opportunities. I can’t wait to see what’s coming up next in my graduate life at Purdue!