Incoming Graduate Student FAQs

Current College of Engineering graduate students provided the following tips to aid incoming students:

What is the best way to find out about resources on and off campus?

How do I learn about classes?

How much time should I spend on research in my first year?

  • This will depend a lot on your program requirements and your advisor’s priorities.  It is hard to make much progress on your research when you are swamped with classes, but your first year can also be a great opportunity to get up-to-speed on what your research questions could be.  Try to dedicate some time each week to learning about your research area.  If you have a well-defined research problem, try to figure out one (small) piece every week.  And remember, figuring out that something doesn’t work counts as progress.

How can I be good at research?

Is it possible to be a graduate student with a family?

I would like to get involved on campus, but I don’t know what options are available to me. How should I go about finding things to do?

  • Unfortunately, there isn’t a single resource that gives you everything you need.  A full listing of all of the organizations on campus can be found at  However, there are thousands of organizations on this website.  Here are a few suggestions to narrow it down.  Each department in the College is very autonomous so, if you want to get involved in department events, talk to a more senior graduate student about organizations in your department.  Some organizations that you may have been involved with in undergrad also have grad chapters, such as Grad-SWE.  You may want to focus on grad organizations if you would like to be with your peers, but organizations with a focus on undergraduates would still be happy to have you.  Read your emails closely for new opportunities. During your first year, make a note of organizations or groups that you’re interested in joining.  Some opportunities may only occur on an annual basis so, if you’re too busy your first year, look into it in another year.
  • More resources can be found on the Student Life site.
  • The CoE Office of Student Affairs seeks volunteers regularly for advisory boards, planning committees, event helpers, mentoring programs, recruiting trips, etc. Contact [email protected] for more information.

When do I get my first paycheck?

  •  It depends on your appointment. Feel free to ask the same person that sent you your offer letter.
  • Typically the administrative in-charge of the department that hired you would be able to answer this question.  There is an option in Wolverine Access to directly have the payment made to your bank account, otherwise you need to get the check from the Wolverine Payroll office. 

 I have been awarded a fellowship.  When and how do I receive the funds?

  •  It depends on the specific terms of your fellowship.  Some fellowships may be paid to you through the university, while others may work directly with you.  Feel free to ask the fellowship provider for the terms of your award.

 Where can I find the tax rules that apply to MY situation (un-taxed fellowships, dept. stipends, quarterly payments, etc.)?

  • Most people you would be tempted to ask will refuse to answer since they are not licensed to do so.  You can ask more senior peers who were in your situation before, hire a tax person, or search online.
  • Rackham Graduate School’s tax information

 What prerequisites should I take before certain classes? 

  • The registrar provides some information, though asking around within your department (both other students and faculty) may give you better answers.
  • All prerequisites can be viewed on Wolverine Access/M-Pathways > Course Catalog > Browse Course Catalog
  • The department program coordinator must be consulted for classes compulsory to the program.  If there is a class for which you feel that the mentioned pre-req course isn’t required, contact the professor teaching that course.

Should I live “on campus” (i.e. Northwood), near North Campus, on Central Campus, elsewhere?

  • It depends on your preference.  Many students live in Northwood their first year because it’s convenient and there’s limited time to find a place.  The North Campus area is much quieter and more scenic, but Central Campus gets you closer to all the action downtown.  Ypsilanti is also an option because it is fairly cheap, but you would most likely need a car to commute to campus.
  • Each area has different advantages and disadvantages.  Central Campus tends to have smaller and more expensive housing, though there are more opportunities to socialize.  Most students choose to live near North Campus to cut costs and their daily commute.
  • Living on Central Campus, there is a lot more activity there (restaurants, theater, bars, movies, etc.).  It’s a lot more fun.  There are free buses to North Campus all year long and they run very frequently.
  • It is very convenient for Engineering students to live near North Campus and likewise for students having their departments in Central Campus to live on Central.  Having said that it is also a personal choice based on peers and the lifestyle to choose where to live.  North campus has a quaint and peaceful lifestyle which is in stark contrast to the bustling and downtown Central Campus lifestyle.

How should I discuss vacation time with my advisor to arrange for visits to see my family?  What is an appropriate length of time?

  • It depends on your advisor and how far you live from home.  Oftentimes, international students will go home once a year for 3 weeks or a month, while domestic students will have a similar total amount of vacation time in smaller pieces throughout the year.  Generally, it is best to discuss any extended vacations with your advisor well in advance.
  • It is best to frankly discuss visits/vacations to visit family with your advisor.  Keep in mind the dates for conference deadlines when you propose your vacation dates.  Sometimes it is beneficial to align your vacation dates with that of your advisor.  Summer is generally a high productivity time for research so 2 weeks is the usual time one takes.  Winter is more forgiving since a majority of the population is on vacation.

 Where is the key office, exactly?! 

  • It is located at 525 Church Street:  It’s very close to the Central Campus Transit Center (CCTC), which is the main bus stop on Central Campus.  Almost all bus routes stop there.  When you get off the bus, walk south along Church St. for about half a block.  The key office is in the Church St. Parking Structure. There is a small sign above the door right along the sidewalk.

How do I print and how many pages do I have? 

  • You have access to the CAEN computer labs, in which you log on to your computer account with your Uniquename, click File + Print, and select the type of printer you want to print from.  U of M students have $24 for the semester to use on printing, however, as a CoE student you will get an additional $40, which allows for printing about 1066 pages, if you select black and white.
  • Google MPrint and access your account

Can I eat in my office or lab? 

  • You can eat in the office (you should really get out of the office/lab to eat–it’s better for your mental health, networking, etc.).  Most labs have restrictions on having food around (you don’t want to ruin expensive equipment).

 Is my advisor happy or mad about my work? 

  • It can be hard to read an advisor, just like any supervisor.  Remember that your advisor chose to work with you because they thought that in the course of about 5 years, you could be trained to conduct independent research.  Along the way there may be bumps in the road, but you will both be happier if you focus on how to achieve that end result.
  • Every department is required to conduct annual reviews with their Ph.D. students, in order to set goals and evaluate if milestones are being met.

How much time should I spend on research vs. school work (for PhDs)? 

  • It will depend on your advisor.  Typically for the first two years, the majority of your time will be spent on class work.  After that, almost all of your time will be spent on research.
  • If possible, pick at least one day a week (or 1-2 hours a day) to focus on research.

How do I find a suitable advisor?

  • Some departments assign an advisor from the start, while in others you find your advisor early on. Finding someone who is a good fit personality-wise will help immensely.  Otherwise, feel free to decide which advising style you prefer.  For example, early career faculty are generally more hands-on than later career faculty.

I am enrolled in a PhD program.  Can I get an embedded Master’s while I am pursing my degree?

  • Yes, if you entered the College with just a bachelor’s degree, most programs will allow you to apply for an embedded master’s degree, as long as you complete the requirements and fill out necessary paperwork specified by the Department.

How should students prepare for the PhD qualification exam?

  • Talk with your Chair and Coordinator on departmental expectations. 
  • Talking to more senior students is also important.

How do you make the most out of a master’s education?

  • It seems that there are two main approaches that students take, depending on their goals.  Those who aim to dive into (or go back to) the job market and industry tend to focus on taking as many classes as possible (3-4 per semester) that companies would like to see.  Even though there is no official list that I am aware of, I know there is a list of courses that EECS students aim to take in order to appeal to companies in specific areas.  Other than taking classes (and getting good grades), they tend to utilize the university resources and networks to promote themselves through university recruiters.  Others who lean toward research tend to follow guidelines that are offered for PhD students.  They tend to take only 1-2 (sometimes 3) courses per semester and try to engage with professors in research.  Many students start out by engaging in directed research with the professor they are interested in.  If you are thinking about a career in a research path, you will not be making the most out of your Master’s education if you do not engage in research one way or the other.  Note that this path is tougher than just taking classes and possibly more challenging than PhD students; you need to not only maintain good grades for future PhD admission but also need to heavily engage in research to gain your research experience.

What are the necessary steps to transition from master’s to PhD candidate?

  • If you hope to transition within UM, the most important step is finding a potential advisor.  Otherwise, learning how to conduct research is extremely valuable.

How does a cross-collaboration typically develop between departments in COE?

  • Usually your advisor has some projects with other groups.  Try to work on one of those projects and you will be able to collaborate with other groups.  Taking classes with professors and approaching them with your research problems can also lead to collaborations.
  •  A common or related problem statement being looked at from different perspectives and fields helps cross collaboration to develop between COE departments
  • Join a project team
  • Tauber Institute for Global Operations
  • Multidisciplinary Design Project

What are key actions and habits that separate highly successful PhD/graduate students from others?

  • Time management skills are incredibly important, as is choosing an advisor who is a good match for you.  Also see “Getting what you came for” by Robert Peters.

If you could go back and restart your graduate studies at Michigan again, what would you be sure to do again, and what would you do differently?

  • As a graduate student, I participated in several student organizations and/or volunteering activities and would be SURE to do it again.  Research and classes are time consuming and can be stressful, but taking a break to get involved in events such as Dance Marathon, Tech Day, Design Immersion, Detroit Partnership Day, etc., is a great way to meet new students (both engineering/non-engineering, undergraduate/graduate), experience Ann Arbor and/or Detroit culture, and give back to the community.
  • As a Master’s student I was lucky enough to participate in an all-expense paid 3 month research internship in Japan through a program offered by the International Programs in Engineering Office.  I highly recommend an experience abroad for those who haven’t done so yet!

Is it safe to walk on campus at midnight?  What about in the city?

  • It is reasonably safe to walk around campus at midnight, but it is advisable to be aware of your surroundings and walk in groups.  More information about public safety on campus can be found on the Division of Public Safety and Security website

What are the disadvantages an international student would face in terms of research opportunities available to the students?

  • As far as opportunities to work with professors are concerned, there is no disadvantage for international students.  Communication might form an issue to some students, however it relies on them to make an effort and be proactive in reaching out to professors or labs of interest to be able to participate in their research.

Can you elaborate on the system of taking up a minor in a particular field?

  • The procedure for minors varies based on your department. Generally your program manual would contain sections of possible minors and the course requirement for each of them. Contact your department academic advisor in case of doubt. 

How and when can I decide whether I pursue PhD degree or not?

  • You start off by getting involved in a research project and develop a good rapport with your advisor. This is preferred irrespective of whether you want to pursue a PhD or not. Your advisor would be the primary person to discuss your PhD plans with. You need to be clear on where you want to find yourself in your future career and also what the industry demands. In some cases a PhD is essential to carry on research work in a field but not in others. Try to reach out to various alumni in industry and academia and discuss their career options and your own thought process with them.

How do you find on-campus jobs?

I’d like to learn something about business too, while pursing the MS program.  I plan to start my own enterprise. Please guide me about the kind of courses I can take up from the business school to complement my technical knowledge.

  •  It is difficult to recommend specific classes because many of these elective courses change each term and may be offered one year, but not the following.  However, the LSA course guide is a good source to peruse classes.  Also, searching on Wolverine Access for courses listed under the subject “ENTR”, entrepreneurship, or “IOE”, industrial & operations engineering, are often cross-listed with or similar to business school courses.  Finally, for more specific guidance tailored to your interests, you can contact the Center for Entrepreneurship, and they will likely be able to suggest special courses.