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Why Go to Graduate School? The Benefits of the BYU Mechanical Engineering Graduate Program

The decision to go to graduate school is an important one. Brigham Young University’s mechanical engineering graduate program provides invaluable opportunities for individualized research and further preparation for advancement in the workforce.

There are many differences between a graduate and an undergraduate education. Doctoral student Josh Cannon started his graduate degree last fall. He was apprehensive at first, because after six years as an undergraduate, he was burnt out. But graduate school has been a completely different experience for him.

“Once I started grad school, I found that I really enjoyed it,” Cannon said. “The classes were smaller, I liked the topics we covered more, I really liked the closer interaction with professors, and then I also really enjoyed my research.”

Cannon enjoyed graduate work so much that he decided to pursue a PhD. He was selected as an NSTGRO (NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity) fellow, a funding opportunity for his research in CubeSat Thermal Control.

Fellowship awards like this are one of many opportunities available to pay for graduate school. Scholarships and assistantships also make these opportunities possible and affordable.

“It also brings greater credibility at work,” said master’s graduate Janette Herron. “People pay attention to you a little more in the workforce; companies pay more for people with more education, and you generally start with a higher title. It's a pretty big leap forward if you’re first starting out in your career.”

Not only does a masters degree or PhD bring a higher salary and more job security, but it opens doors to a variety of careers in research, management, and professorships.

For Dr. Rydge Mulford, who graduated with his PhD from BYU in 2019 and works as a professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio, graduate school was the opportunity he needed to pursue his love for teaching.

“When I finished my bachelor's, I had a job with a local engineering firm; it was nice, but not work I was passionate about. The jobs you can get by having a masters are all really nice jobs; career potential is a great thing about grad school,” Dr. Mulford said. “It depends on what you're going to do right out of school. If you've got a bachelor’s, you'll probably be more on the ground floor doing the real work. If you've got a master's or a PhD, depending on what you do, you might end up directing and managing things. Graduate school increases your options.”

For those unsure about a career path, the individualized environment creates an opportunity to explore and figure out what you want to do. This was the case for Adam and Janette Herron, who found both their career paths and each other while in graduate school.

“I worked in airbags, and grad school helped me get there because I was able to explore my interests a little bit more in-depth,” Janette Herron said. “I pulled from my research in compliant mechanisms and applied it to air bag folding and analyzing the different components of air bag inflators.”

Adam Herron discovered a love away from the mechanical engineering route during his graduate program and now works in programming.

“The extra time that I spent doing research in solving really challenging problems that required a lot of programming during my master's degree really helped me solidify that I really like software better,” Adam Herron said. “It really lets you dive deeper into particular parts of the field that you gloss over in your undergraduate education.”

Graduate programs include more application of what’s learned in the classroom during the undergraduate degree through research with professors. These opportunities bring specialized knowledge and further discoveries that can then be published, helping students to build a reputation both at BYU and in the engineering world.

“The skills you're learning, like how to write very effectively, how to anticipate problems and solve them, and how to use math and science to predict what's going to happen in the future — those are all useful skills I use all the time,” Dr. Mulford said.

Applications for fall semester are due Jan. 15, 2022, and applications for winter semester 2023 are due Sept. 1, 2022.

During a graduate seminar on Wednesday, Nov. 18th. Dr. Iverson and the mechanical engineering advisors recommended taking the GRE as soon as possible, getting reference letters early, and looking into the different labs for potential research options with their professors.

Other advice from the Herrons included the importance of picking a good advisor, and if you are unsure about graduate school, to take research classes for your technology electives to see if it’s a good fit for you.

For additional questions about the graduate program, visit the graduate program page on the department website, or contact graduate program advisor Janelle Harkness.