Frequently Asked Questions

Information for Prospective Graduate Students

If you would like to apply to Stanford for graduate school, I will most likely be unable to communicate with you directly about the application process or about the opportunities you might have to join my research group. There are simply too many emails to answer them all. However, I have pulled together some answers to common questions, which I hope will be helpful. For general information about graduate school in electrical engineering, the following article by Dr. Robert N. Candler, who completed his Ph.D. thesis at Stanford in 2005 in Prof. Thomas W. Kenny's group in the Mechanical Engineering Department, is very insightful. Rob then joined Bosch Research and Technology Center, Palo Alto and later joined the Electrical Engineering Department at UCLA as an Assistant Professor. He provides many valuable and entertaining observations about life in graduate school.

R. N. Candler, "Stuff most students never ask about grad school," IEEE Potentials, 24, 4-10 (2005).
DOI: 10.1109/MP.2005.1502497

Dr. Jorge Cham, who received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford a few years ago, created a comic strip based on life in graduate school. It's required reading for those who are about to enter this challenging phase of academic life.

Piled Higher and Deeper a grad school comic strip, by Jorge Cham

Prof. Christos Kozyrakis (EE and CS Depts.) has modified a presentation by Prof. David Patterson (EECS Dept., UC Berkeley) that tells you how to have a bad career as a graduate student. The presentation is available on his homepage and has excellent insights into common misunderstandings about how to succeed in graduate school.

Question: Can you give me advice on my background and chances for admissions?

A. The webpage for the Department of Electrical Engineering and in particular, the Graduate Admissions webpage will answer most of your questions. In addition to your grades, undergraduate major and courses, and GRE scores, it is very important that you request letters of recommendation from professors or engineers in industry who know you and your abilities for research. Needless to say, admission is highly competitive for the M.S./Ph.D. program. The MSEE program at Stanford provides an intensive, coursework-only graduate education that is an excellent foundation for a career in the information technology industry, including MEMS and nanotechnology. Although the MSEE degree does not require a thesis, there are many project-oriented courses that provide students with intensive experiences in design.

Question: I've been accepted to Stanford's M.S./Ph.D. program. Can you tell me whether or not I can join your group and be financially supported through my Ph.D. studies?

A. Research funding in engineering fields at Stanford has been declining slowly. Therefore, it is important that you apply to all multi-year fellowships for which you qualify: the National Science Foundation, Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Homeland Security, the National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship, as well as the Hertz and other private fellowships. You should be sure to apply for M.S./Ph.D. admission early to maximize your chance of winning a Stanford Graduate Fellowship, which provides three years of support and which can be combined with external fellowships for up to five years of support.

Stanford has a large M.S. program in Electrical Engineering, in contrast to most other leading U.S. graduate programs. Some of the M.S. students are being supported by their employers, some are supported by teaching assistantships, but very few are supported through research assistantships. EE faculty tend to add research assistants to their groups only after students have passed the Ph.D. qualifying examination and completed a significant number of their graduate courses. Many M.S. students and even some Ph.D. students are paying their tuition and living expenses out of savings or loans, which you should be prepared to do, if you accept an offer of admission (M.S. only or M.S./Ph.D.) without financial support. Even if you have a one-year fellowship, you may end up paying for some of your graduate education.

Q: Are you taking new students?

A: I make an effort to meet with all students who are interested in joining my research group. However, I only occasionally add students to my group due to limitations of both funding and time. I currently have about 6 Ph.D. students who I'm advising, or co-advising with a colleague. That number is less than my long-term average over thirty-two years as a faculty member at CMU, MIT, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. My Ph.D. students usually take about five or six years (starting with a B.S. degree) to complete their courses, exams, and thesis research. So in steady-state, I should be adding only one or at most, two students per academic year. In order to make an informed decision about joining my research group, I would recommend looking carefully at my current research projects and recent publications, as well as contacting my current and former doctoral students. Note: I will be on sabbatical in the Autumn quarter of 2017 - 2018 and will not be adding students to my group.

Over the past seven years, I have been the Faculty Director of the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility (SNF). This responsibility consumes a significant amount of my time and energy throughout the academic year and summer, especially as Stanford is developing plans for a new research fabrication infrastructure.

Finally, I do not select students by having them do an independent study project first; my research group and project meetings are open only on an "invitation-only" basis. The slides from a talk I gave about gradute school and pursuing a career in higher education might be helpful.

R. T. Howe, "An Academic Career in Engineering," IEEE SPAV Conference, UC Berkeley,
Oct. 10, 2007, with updates through February 2011.

Q: Do you have openings for postdocs or visiting researchers?

A: Yes, I occasionally have openings for visiting researchers, depending on whether there is a mutually interesting research topic for which I have funding. Send your resume and I will reply.

Q: I am visiting Stanford, can we meet?

A: Start with the EE Department's helpful information on visiting Stanford. You'll have to send email to me to see if I'm in town, but even if I'm unable to meet you, you'll most likely be able to meet some of my group and see the SNF.

A: Refer to the Stanford bulletin for details, but consider E240, E341, E342, ME218, ME220, ME329, ME358, ME 344A, ME414, ME457, EE212, EE312, EE410, EE412, MSE251, MSE316, MSE324, MSE353, MSE321. Many of the courses in the solid-state devices, photonics, and integrated circuit-design areas are very relevant to research in this field. EE202 and BIOE370 are courses relevant to Bio-MEMS; faculty in EE, ME, and Bioengineering are developing new courses in this field.