McGehee Group

Stanford University | Stanford Materials Science & Engineering |

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What kind of research do you plan to do in the coming years?

Our research on perovskite and organic solar cells is going very well and we will definitely continue it. In late 2015 we started a new project on smart windows and have plans to expand our efforts on electrically controlling the tinting of windows. It is hard to predict what new ideas might emerge over the next several years, but they will probably lie at the intersection between organic electronics, perovskite semiconductors, nanotechnology and renewable energy.

2. How do you manage the group?

The group is usually broken up into a few subgroups so that each student can be part of a team. The subgroups meet weekly and Prof McGehee meets individually with students as needed, which ranges from weekly to once every few weeks. The subgroups usually take a holistic view of a technology, trying to develop it in every way we can. In addition to making devices that function well, we take long-term durability and cost modeling very seriously to make sure that we are creating something that industry will be able to scale. Prof. McGehee provides opportunities for students to engage with industry both so that they understand what is needed for a technology to be successful and so they know what it would be like to work in industry.

3. How many students will you be taking this year and how do people join the group?

Professor McGehee typically takes two new PhD students each. At Stanford we do not encourage students to determine their advisor before arriving at the University. We like for all of the graduate students to have time during the Fall Quarter to interact with lots of professors and their research groups before making their decision. That is not to say that it is impossible for a professor and a student to agree to work with each other before the student arrives, but it is not what we recommend. Students at Stanford can select an advisor from any department and there are no barriers that make it difficult for student in one department to pick an advisor in another department.

4. Do I need to have a degree in Materials Science to join the group?

No. Members of the group have come from the Materials Science Department, the Chemistry Department, the Electrical Engineering Department and the Applied Physics Department. Students have come into the group having majored in any one of these subjects plus Mechanical Engineering and done quite well. When someone joins the group, Professor McGehee assesses that person's strengths and weaknesses and advises them on what courses to take in order to have the right background for doing the research. He did not know what a semiconducting polymer was when he started his PhD research with Alan Heeger, so you shouldn't worry about not having a specialized background.

5. What do you look for when you are selecting students?

While I like to see that a prospective student has done well in their courses at a strong undergraduate institution, there are other factors that I look for as well. I look for candidates with extensive research experience and strong recommendation letters from their supervisors. I also look for candidates that have excelled in extracurriculars, such as sports, music or service to charities or environmental organizations. I particularly like candidates who have demonstrated leadership and have excellent communication skills. I look for candidates who would love to do science even if it had no application, but who choose to devote their career to something that will make the world a better place.

Members of the group have very different skill sets. Some are extremely good at using numerical methods for modeling, others have a strong background in traditional materials science and others excel at building and using complex lab equipment.

6. Will contacting professors before applying to Stanford increase my chances of being admitted? Can you look over my credentials and let me know what my chances of being admitted are?

Unfortunately since hundreds of students contact each professor every year, most professors do not have time to read through the emails. The emails will have no impact on whether or not you get admitted. The best way to get into Stanford is simply to build up the best set of credentials you can and carefully fill out the application. Most professors do not think about who should be admitted until all of the files are in and the admissions committee is getting ready to meet.

If you have been admitted to Stanford and are interested in joining the group, you definitely should contact professor McGehee and set up an appointment to talk on the phone or visit Stanford.

7. Where do students go after they finish?

Most students have gone to work for Silicon Valley startup companies. Nine students and post docs from the group cofounded seven companies (Allion, Dragonfly Systems, NextTint, PLANT PV, Sinovia, Thin Silicon and WellDone Technology) right after leaving Stanford. Four group members have received the Forbes 30 under 30 Award. A few students have gone to large companies like DuPont or the consulting firm McKinsey. One student went to NIST and won the Presidential Early Career Award. Two post docs from the group are now teaching at AMOLF and Kentucky.