Grad School: To Go or Not to Go

Let’s face it, industry doesn’t suit  everyone. Three years ago, I left my job in Silicon Valley and returned home determined to find a new path. I wasn’t satisfied with how much I knew. Four years of undergraduate education in Biomedical Engineering had given me a broad foundation, but not a specialty.

Suddenly, grad school didn’t seem so much a financial drain as a second chance towards realigning my interests.  But of course, I did plenty of research before deciding on this course of action and you should too. Let’s begin by considering the Pros and Cons.

Since I’m secretly an optimist, let’s start with the pros of going to grad school:

  1. A chance to specialize

When I was studying Biomedical Engineering, I took a lot of mechanical design classes that fed my interest towards design and product development. I thought for the longest time that I would be happy as a Mechanical Engineer. However, my job experience introduced me to systems, Operations, process development, and Ergonomics. My need to understand these fields led me to IE and I’m happy to say I think I made the right choice.

While IE isn’t niche, its interrelated enough that I can specialize in more than one subfield of my choosing. So getting a Masters in IE has afforded me the opportunity to build on top of my BMED knowledge.

  1. A reprieve from reality

Industry is not what we expect it to be when we’re cocooned in our safe college world. Unless you’ve done extensive internships as an undergrad, you may not be prepared for the real world. I know I wasn’t and it hit me hard. I felt incompetent and overwhelmed. Most times I was so lost I didn’t even know how to ask for help!

I don’t regret my work experience, but I knew I needed to learn more and regain my confidence. Grad school has allowed me to rebuild that portfolio and I’m now eager to build my career.

  1. An opportunity to follow your passion

Maybe you made a mistake choosing your major the first time. Grad school might be your shot at chasing your dream major and then finally landing that dream job. If you have the background or are willing to take extra classes to fill the gaps, grad school can allow you to change disciplines. It might take you longer to graduate, but it will serve you well in the long run.

Now for the cons:

  1. Money, money, money!

We all know that with our screwed up education system, money is always a stitch. Grad school comes with a hefty bill and unfortunately, even if you get into top schools you might have to foot all or a portion of the expense. Most graduate programs at the Masters level don’t give stipends or scholarships to students. However, a large number of PhD programs come with a stipend (although if the new GOP plan passes, this might not be the best option). If you’re planning to pursue engineering/business/science fields, then the money will sort itself out in the long run, but I would think twice before venturing into the softer fields. If possible, combine the soft field with a technical field for a competitive advantage.

  1. Small or no ROI

Unfortunately, not all degrees are equal when it comes to ROI. While getting into grad school is the easy part, juggling finances is another. I’ve invested the salary I earned over the year I worked to pay for grad school. In doing so, I’ve had to weigh my opportunity costs, but this has kept me from taking out loans. I can graduate debt free, but I know not everybody is so lucky.

The choice of field you go into for your graduate studies has a huge impact on how much, how quickly, and how sustainably you’ll earn money upon graduating – if you can find a job first. Hence, science/business/engineering fields have a leg up. We’re entering A.I. Age and these fields are only going t increase in importance. So if your interests aren’t seeing any job growth in the market, I urge you to weigh your options carefully, unless you’re financially well off.

Despite having to hit the books again, dig into my savings, and take a break from the real world, I’m glad I’m in grad school. My experience has made me a better student, engineer, and person.

If you’re in grad school or are considering grad school, what experiences or questions do you have?

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IE: A Simple Intro

Do a quick Google search for “Industrial Engineering” and among a barrage of universities offering IE degrees, you’ll be bombarded with multiple definitions. I’m finishing a Master of Engineering in IE, and here is my understanding of what IE is.

At its core, IE deals with systems of: production, materials, processes, facilities, technologies, and people. The last word “people” is what distinguishes IE from other engineering disciplines.

IE is perhaps the first engineering discipline to incorporate people as a subject of analysis and study. Ergonomics, human factors engineering, and cognitive engineering all stem from this particular focus. But IE is much more than evaluating systems.

IE also integrates and spans across multiple facets of an organization or corporation that provides goods or services. The sub-fields of IE  are as far-reaching as supply chain, facilities, logistics, manufacturing, operations, quality, and management. This means an IE must understand and consider all facets of a business, precisely the reason why many IEs find career trajectories leading to management positions.

Can you think of any industry that doesn’t include the aforementioned sub-fields? Whether its fashion, food, medical devices, healthcare, automotive, aerospace, retail, publishing, etc; there’s always a place for an IE. With such diverse applications and endless opportunities, the job board for an IE will most likely never run dry. This alone is great motivation to love this field in an increasingly competitive world.

The Sub-fields of IE

If we consider IE as a tree, then it has many branches! Based on perusing multiple websites with university curriculum and my own accumulation, here’s a list (that’s by no means comprehensive) outlining the IE sub-fields:

*Operations Research Operations Management Quality Engineering
Supply Chain Project Management Relibility Engineering
Logistics Materials Management Manufacturing Engineering
Production Systems Risk Management Human Factors Engineering
Information Systems Ergonomics Healthcare Engineering
Inventory Control Data Analytics Finance Engineering
Facilities Management Product Development Cognitive Engineering
Data Analytics/Science Business Analytics Managemet Science

*You can argue Operations Research is a field on its own, but most university curriculum house it under IE. Same can be said for Operations Management, which generally can be lumped under Management Science or Operations.

With so many sub-fields, it’s difficult for some to decide a path or design a curriculum when at University – but that’s a post for another day. For now, we can simply appreciate that IE has its paws in many streams, which means the learning opportunities are countless and the field can be challenging – if you like.

That wraps up my brief introduction to the IE Way! If you’re an IE, what field are you in?

GOP Taxes – Disservice to Education

If the GOP tax plan proposed by the Republicans passes, it will be the greatest disservice against higher education. Under the tax plan, graduate students will not only be taxed for the stipend they are given, but also on the total fee waiver that their institution grants them.

There’s a reason why universities wave tuition fees for PhD candidates. Many of the brilliant minds that flock to renown universities in America come here because they know the university has the resources, other brilliant minds, and push for innovation that these students need in order to see their theories through. Universities welcome these bright minds even though they don’t have the means to afford their tuition because these students have the potential to be great leaders and innovators. In other words, American universities attracts great thinkers and this tax plan will be a giant red signal for them to go elsewhere.

Taxing these students is akin to dangling America’s future over a precipice: one small blow and the entire future tumbles down. Why would a country already lacking in high skilled workers make it even harder for Americans to obtain the education to fulfill those job posts?

Wasn’t Trump’s promise to America to bring jobs back to America? How is crippling smart, knowledge-hungry students with financial worries helping the economy? Although I’m currently pursuing a Masters with no waivers from the institution, I’m only able to afford my education after saving for a whole year from my first job after undergrad. I would be in debt otherwise.

This tax plan worries me because I’m a ambitious woman and I love learning. Although I plan to work in industry after graduating, I have often thought about acquiring a second Masters or pursuing a PhD in a field of interest down the road. I can’t predict at what juncture I’ll be in my life when I have the desire to go back to university. I could be married with kids, which means I won’t be able to afford the exorbitant fees. I could have savings and be single, but may have to sacrifice a PhD in order to pay the bills and daily expenses.

This tax plan needs major reevaluation. Knowledge is power and knowledge is the future. Trouncing on the backs students will only hinder the economy. If all else fails, some common sense might help!

Engineers “Should” Blog

The push for engineers to blog has been escalating since 2012 and while these posts aren’t what encouraged me to blog, I do want to share my opinion on whether engineers should blog. We need more engineering blogs. Period. But I do not think all engineers should blog. Why?

Well, simply put, blogging requires: a passion for sharing/informing, a talent for writing/communication, and commitment not just to the subject matter, but to the audience. Most engineers might have the first covered, passion, but don’t posses the latter.

Many engineers I know have outright admitted without shame how much they find writing a chore and these are bright engineers very adept in their fields who could have a lot of information to share – if they were willing to put in the time to string words together.

Some engineers are simply too busy pursuing other hobbies and have no interest in adding blogging to their list. Others find blogging a distraction: get on the computer, start thinking about what to blog, become distracted by the wonderful WWW, and….thirteen hours later the page is as blank as before. We engineers are just human – give us a break.

So no, all engineers should not blog. But for us few engineers who love writing as much as crunching numbers, blogging should be a prerogative. Why? Because we need more engineering voices!

There are quite a few blogs – especially in software – that teach others how to do something. Want to learn Java, html, game design, calculus, thermodynamics? There’s probably a blog out there discussing these topics or at least providing resources for online learning. There are other “blogs” that read like resumes where engineers can showcase their savvy programming or design skills, but these blogs aren’t easily appreciated by non-technical people.

So what about the engineer who’s doing the teaching? How many blogs actually represent this engineer? Do we know what they do on a daily basis? Do we have any window to their personality? Can we put a face to the name? Sadly, only a handful of blogs focusing on the engineer come to mind, and that number shrinks further if we talk only about female engineers

This clearly marks a shortage. How can we expect more girls to enter engineering if googling “Industrial Engineer” only brings up BLS and Wikipedia articles? If we want to inspire these girls (and boys) we need to have female (and male) engineers actually blog what they do as  engineers.

We need to share what engineering means to us, how engineering allows us to live the life we want, and how being an engineer doesn’t take away from other things we want to accomplish in life!

TV shows, anime, and movies already shirk the engineer. Big Bang Theory (which I’m a fan of btw) is the closest I can come to the world of engineering – and this makes me cringe. Horny Howard cannot be the only face to our profession! Engineering is so much more!

So if you’re an engineer with a passion for writing and you want to share your story, please start a blog. Be an inspiration. Let others peek into your world and let others see you for who you truly are: a human being with many possibilities and a knack for problem solving!

If you’d like to share your story of why you chose engineering, how it has shaped your life, or what you want aspiring engineers to know, feel free to contact me and submit a post to The Mind Muse.

Avatar as a Fantasy Novel

Avatar reels like  a beautiful fantasy novel. The world that the writers and director have created is like one never before imagined in my opinion. The Omaticaya people have a deep culture and watching it I felt like learning more about them. Pandora is absolutely breathtaking. The idea of neural networks amongst biological flora and fauna is very interesting.

We know from biology that many organisms form symbiotic relationships, but the idea of complex beings like the Omaticaya having such a connection with their world is novel. The way the Omaticaya are able to create a bond with other beasts and the way every living being is connected one another is a belief that many indigenous people throughout the world have about nature and their place in it.

At its core, the movie is about subjugation. A foreign power comes to a place with selfish intent and building on ignorance begins to destroy the true treasures of the place for something they hold dear. We’ve seen throughout history when Manifest Destiny plays out how many cultures were enslaved, subjugated, or completely wiped out.

The Pagan religions from where out mythology stems is no longer of any religious import. Many countries have scars from occupation of foreign powers. In this, Avatar doesn’t show anything new. However, reading something in a history is one thing, and seeing it played out on a big screen with awesome cinematography, soundtrack, and CGI is quite another. I saw Avatar in 3D and that was truly an unforgettable experience. The movie is a work of art.

The plot is rational. I haven’t been able to find holes in it. The character of Jake Sully as a Marine is perfect because he then uses his knowledge to protect Pandora, using surprise attacks and natural strongholds. Also, just like real life, not everything is black and white. Yes, humanity is in the wrong in this movie, but there are also humans fighting to help the Omaticaya. It’s kind of ironic that a human ultimately brings them salvation – I guess this was the writer’s way of connecting with a very human audience. I’d have liked to see a Omaticayan be the ultimate hero, which makes more sense.

Still, these are little woes. Overall, I’ve seen the move at least five times and each time I enjoy it. It has everything: romance, drama, action, adventure, tragedy, and the cliché good vs evil trope. I give it a full 5/5 rating. I wonder if there’ll ever be a sequel?