Testimonies From Current and Former Graduate Students

Non-UIUC Graduate School Experiences
Joy Chen ’21-UC Berkeley – UCSF Graduate Program in Bioengineering
Why did you choose to go to grad school?

“I chose to go to grad school because I wanted to continue learning and deepen my understanding in the biomedical field and have the opportunity to drive forward my own research projects that excite me. I trained in Dr. Erik Nelson’s lab during undergrad and got to hear about the grad students’ experiences throughout the years which showed me that grad school is where I wanted to be after college. From learning new research techniques to contributing to new findings in the field, I thought the whole process was exciting. I found a passion for doing cancer research through my undergrad research and have been integrating that into many of the projects I’ve worked on in grad school thus far, whether it be in fabricating microfluidic devices or studying the body’s immune response to disease.”

What was the application process like? How many schools did you apply to, and how did you choose your program?

“The application process took a few months, but I really enjoyed it because I got to connect with a lot of professors and graduate students across the country and learn about the different research going on in my areas of interest. After spending a lot of time researching schools, I started preparing for my applications by reaching out to programs and professors that I was interested in to learn more about their program’s opportunities and research strengths. I ended up applying to 8 schools and narrowed down based on several criteria I had for my graduate experience. All my graduate school visits and interviews were virtual (due to Covid), which made it a bit difficult to get a feel for the campus community of each program. But with everything on Zoom, it made it easier to schedule in meetings with people by sending emails. I ended up choosing the UC Berkeley – UCSF Graduate Program in Bioengineering because there were several research faculty here I am interested in working with, the current students all spoke very positively about their experiences, and there are so many places to explore in the Bay Area (that I’ve definitely taken advantage of in the months I’ve been out here)!”

What benefits or drawbacks have you found in your program?

“One of the major benefits of the UC Berkeley – UCSF Graduate Program in Bioengineering is that there are rotations and you have access to labs across both campuses. There are over 100 faculty in many different departments and research areas that students can choose to work with. This has allowed me to explore a variety of research topics during my first year, including bioMEMs (micro electrochemical systems) where I fabricated devices to study single cell interactions and immunoengineering where I worked on a project to develop a 3D-printed cancer microenvironment to study immune cells recruitment to tumors. With that being said, rotating at the opposite campus from where you live can be a challenge because of the commute, but students end up moving to the campus they choose a lab on, so it all works out.”

What do you wish you had known before grad school? What do you find to be really rewarding, or particularly challenging?

“Though it’s called grad *school*, the focus has shifted away from school/classes and towards research. Grad school is a place to dive into interesting research projects and explore new ideas. Classes are there to supplement your knowledge and give you a more fundamental understanding of some of your research. I felt like I knew that coming in, but sometimes it is hard to make this shift, especially coming from undergrad.

I have found all my rotation experiences so far to be really rewarding and challenging at the same time. Each rotation lasts 8 weeks and serves as a way to get a feel for the lab environment and work on something that you think is interesting that’s aligned with the lab’s directions. I have been able to work on some really awesome projects in just the span of 8 weeks and present at lab meetings and integrate myself into these different labs. I think finding a balance between rotations and coursework the first year can be a challenge, while also trying to settle into a new city and new learning environment.”

Do you know your plans post graduation?

“Not yet! It’s still early for me and I am open to going into industry or doing a post-doc after graduation. It’ll depend on where my interests are closer to graduation. There are a lot of great companies in the Bay Area so I look forward to exploring those in the next few years.”

Do you have any additional advice for students looking to apply for grad school?

“Pick a program where you vibe with the professors and the students and where the research excites you! The people around you during the next 5 years will really shape your experience in grad school. You want to be in an environment where you can grow and feel that you have the support to push yourself to be the best researcher you can be. Also, there are so many niches of research even within a specific area, so keep an open mind when learning about all the different research projects. Finally, it’s important to pick a school/lab that allows you to have a good work/life balance! You want to have time to relax, do your hobbies, and hang out with friends! I’m always happy to answer any questions or give more specific advice on the application process/choosing schools! My email is joychen3@berkeley.edu.”

UIUC M.Eng. Testimonials
Hannah Harris ’21
Why you decided to pursue the master’s program

“After graduating from UIUC’s Materials Science and Engineering program, I knew I was equipped with a strong technical foundation, but I was looking for ways to best apply my skills to industry. I was determined to fine-tune my soft skills so I could be more competitive and prepared for an upper-level leadership role. I aspire to be a project manager someday and through the M.Eng program’s combination of coursework in business management techniques, experience leading teams in more complicated engineering capstone projects, and leadership development opportunities, I knew I would gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to function at a higher level within the medical and healthcare industry.”

What experiences you have had in the program

“I am so glad that I pursued the master’s program because it has allowed me to be involved in so many enriching experiences. I was able to explore both research and industry opportunities.

I pursued an independent study with Professor Holly Golecki and published a paper on the development and characterization of hydrogel robotic actuators for implantable devices. During this research, I was able to apply my materials science knowledge gained from my undergraduate studies to a biomedical application while being mentored by an accomplished professor. I also will be presenting on my paper in the 2022 Design of Medical Devices Conference.

I also had the opportunity to work as a mechatronics intern at PSYONIC in research park. In this role, I was able to learn about work being done in industry and I learned what it’s like working at a start-up.

In the capstone course, I was able to work with another master’s student as a project manager for a design project sponsored by Carle Illinois College of Medicine. This experience was extremely unique, as I was working with graduate and undergraduate engineering students, medical students, and MBA students. I enjoyed working on a cross-functional team and finding ways to harmoniously combine all of our skills to create a functioning medical device. This capstone project, the Breasy Incentive Spirometer, will be featured in the 2022 Design of Medical Devices Conference Student Showcase.”

 Advice for students considering the master’s program

“The Master’s program offers a wide array of opportunities in leadership, engineering design, research, technical skills, teamwork, and industry. Being able to work with students, professors, and professionals of all different backgrounds has allowed me to grow as an engineer and future leader. If you are hoping to be more competitive and prepared for an upper-level leadership role before you enter industry, this program is for you! I recommend finding ways to get involved in what you’re interested in. Whether it is research, industry internships, or project and technical experience, you will find opportunities! Time goes fast, as the program is only a year, but you are truly able to grow so much professionally and personally.”