Alumni Advice for Grad School

Rebecca Patterson '18

Over the years, many Olin alumni have chosen to continue their education at graduate school, receiving Masters and PhD’s in their chosen field.  We find that 37% of all Olin alumni have gone or are presently attending grad school.  When taking a closer look at our first three classes - ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08, we see that 50% have ‘officially’ continued their education after Olin! We asked them what advice they had for current Olin students who were contemplating  graduate school, and here’s what they had to say:

Regarding Business School:

“Take the GMAT while still at Olin and in "study mode". Have a different friend read your essays for each school so each friend can evaluate whether you tell a good story to that particular school in their essays - if you apply to more than one school, it all can get very confusing.”

MIT Sloan School of Management, MBA
Tiana Veldwisch ‘08

“If you want to do an MBA, work for 4-5 years first.”

Harvard Business School, MBA
Ellen Chisa ‘10

Harvard Business School


“If you want to go to HBS, apply to the 2+2 program.”

Harvard Business School, MBA
Kimble McCraw ‘06

Connecting with the Right Professor:

“Find a potential advisor before applying to a program (correspond with them) and have a pretty well defined idea of what you would like to do for your thesis before the first semester starts.”

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry,
Master of Professional Studies In Environmental Science
Maria Firstenberg ‘08

“Talk with potential advisors before applying to see if your interests match up.  This really helps during the application process.”

UC San Diego, MS, PhD in Solid Mechanics
Sara Wheeland ‘07

“Make sure you take the time and effort to get a good advisor fit the first time.  Talk to current grad students.  Your advisor, lab, and lab culture are by far the most important determiners of your experience in and enjoyment of grad school.”

MIT, MS, Mechanical Engineering
Clay Gimenez ‘12

Why Do I Want to Go?

“Think carefully about your motivations for grad school. The cost is high in terms of opportunity, time and money (mostly in lost salary) and it's only worth it if the outcome you seek can only be achieved this way.”

UCLA, Biomedical engineering
Jared Frey ‘08

“Make sure it is what you really want to do, and you are not just doing it because it is the "next step".  I learned a ton, and am glad I went through the experience, but after having done it I'm not sure I would choose the same path again.”

Carnegie Mellon University, PhD, Robotics
Matt Tesch ‘07

“Know *why* you're going to grad school. Don't go into a PhD program because you need to buy time to figure things out - it pretty universal that you’ll end up being miserable and dropping out. You’ll have more luck with a Master's program, because they are shorter and more structured.”

University of Washington, Master of Science, Human Centered Design and Engineering
Nikki Lee ‘10

“If you're attending grad school to get a PhD, pay very careful attention to your potential advisor(s) track record with students, the projects they like to work on, and their work style. It can make all the difference for your quality of life in grad school.”

Carnegie Mellon University, PhD in ECE
Kristen Dorsey ‘07

Other General Advice:

“Expect people to not know how to help you! You will be way better at projects than anyone expects you to be; prepare to take a leadership role in project planning and execution, particularly for team projects. You may have more trouble with problem sets than anyone expects you to have; prepare to show up for office hours ("just to hang out" if that helps your mindvoice actually do it). Stay in regular contact with other Oliners if you can.”

Carnegie Mellon University, Master of Human-Computer Interaction (part-time, in progress)
Kathryn (Rivard) Mazaitis ‘06


Carnegie Mellon University




“Though I am very happy with my decision to attend grad school, there are a number of things I believe prospective students should be aware of.  First, unless you are dead sure it's what you want, work for a few years.  It's worth saving money, as the dollars you’ll bring in through grad student stipends tend to be low.  Further, you gain perspective about whether you like industry or would prefer to do academic research full time.  Second, if you are considering grad school, try to do summer REUs (Research Experiences for Undergrads)  in labs you might actually want to work in.  I met my advisor in undergrad and it was THE deciding factor when I went to grad school.  Finding somebody you work well with is incredibly valuable for your grad school decision.  Third, geography is important.  You won't have much money to travel with, so picking a school somewhere you can stand to live is a good call.  Finally, the type of work you like to do is potentially more important than your research topic.  There are plenty of topics that sound great but require work that you might not like.  Further, there are some topics that might stand to benefit from your skills that you haven't considered.  Spend plenty of time talking to people in various fields to get an idea of what your day to day research life will look like; it is one you will become very familiar with over the next 4-6 years.”

USC, PhD Biomedical Engineering (and Masters in Electrical and Biomed engineering)
Eamon Doyle ‘09

Do Your Homework:

“Get started as a junior - research schools/programs, figure out logistics and start studying for the GRE/GMAT/etc., talk to professors about potential programs and think about rec letters.”

Georgia Institute of Technology, MS in Computational Science & Engineering
Allen Koh ‘13

“When you're picking your program and advisor for a PhD, try to balance work you're passionate about; an advisor you enjoy working with; and funding opportunities.  If you're missing any one of these your path through graduate school will be exponentially harder.”

Stanford University, MS Mechanical Engineering
Matthew Hill ‘06


Know the Fundamentals:

“If you're planning on doing computational work, make sure to brush up on math skills -- take courses at Wellesley if you have to. If you're thinking of going for a PhD, have a really good reason for it. Take advantage of undergrad research opportunities; and especially try to publish at least once before applying.”

Stanford, PhD, Aero/Astro
Zachary del Rosario ‘14

“Olin is good prep for well-roundedness. Take a little extra math and for mechE’s,  make sure you take the shop class/product design to be really comfortable building experimental set ups.”

MIT, PhD, Mechanical Engineering
Heena Mutha ‘10

“Make a habit of not glossing over details. Take the time to learn one thing really well rather than too many things at a shallow level. (That said, high-level views are also important.)”

Yifan Sun ‘10



“Math is more important than you think. Take math classes. Especially linear algebra. The more you can get under your belt beyond just the Olin requirements, the better. Get involved in research. It might be hard to do exactly what you want at a small place like Olin, but seek out opportunities elsewhere, like summer internships at bigger universities. Find opportunities that help you define specifically what you want to do in grad school. "Cool robots" is not specific enough; something like "localization algorithms for autonomous cars" is better. To do this, you should read papers, perhaps from lists of publications from labs that sound cool to you. Don't worry if it takes a long time to get through, or if you don't understand all of the material (even grad students go through the same things), but make an effort to try to understand what's going on. You'll be better prepared for grad school (not to mention a much stronger applicant) if you come in having a good idea of what you want to do.”

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, PhD Computer Science
Arash Ushani ‘11

“Get some work experience first, it can really inform what you take away from grad school. Get a company to pay for your master's if you can, it's often easier than you'd think. Don't expect that you are well prepared just because you graduated from Olin. Each class you take will have its own assumed prerequisites: find out what they are and ensure your competence  before you enroll in the class.”

Harvard , MS Engineering
Avinash Uttamchandani  ‘10


Build and Maintain Relationships with Undergrad Profs:

“Establish strong personal relationships with Olin's faculty during your undergraduate years.  TA positions, research, and mentorship will pay off when you're looking for references, advice, and recommendations in the application process.”

Stanford University, MS Mechanical Engineering
Matthew Hill ‘06

Do well at Olin :), my GPA was the weakest part of my application. I think that was why I got rejected from some schools. Follow the same process that got you into Olin: study hard for entrance exams, have other people review your essays and applications, get your applications done early. Also, stay in touch with professors - they can provide great recommendation letters.”

Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, MBA
Eric Erzinger ‘10


Yale University

“You don't need to know EXACTLY what you want before going to grad school (although, some idea is good). And it's not a total bore. You get to pursue what interests you for as long as it takes to produce some novel work, which is pretty awesome.”

Yale University, Masters/PhD Computer Science
Sarah Strohkorb ‘14

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Graduate School