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UW Nanotechnology Grad School Prospects

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi all,

The first few paragraphs are background about me. If you don’t want to read this, please skip it and answer my questions at the bottom.

I’m a nanotechnology engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Over the past two years of my studies (I’ve finished 2B,) I’ve found that the program will provide practically no job prospects after graduation. Being at the early stages of its development, nano does not yet have an industry. It is, however, a hot topic in academia. Quite often, it’s a buzzword being thrown around in academia to make the works innovative and cutting edge (perhaps more so than it really is.) In terms of the program contents, nano seems to be lacking direction as there are chemical, materials, physics and electrical courses being taught, but at an introductory level.

My plan has always been to do graduate studies in prestigious US universities (MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc.). I don’t know how I will fare against other applicants in fourth year but I’m keeping my grades up and trying to get as much research experience as I possibly can in my undergrad. From what I hear, UW nano seems to be attracting a lot of attention from top graduate schools in the US since it’s a hot topic and there is a lot of “nano” research going on. This implies I will have a good shot with grad school if I stay in nano.

For the past little while, I have been planning on switching out of nano and into electrical engineering and perhaps doing a physics option on the side. This will cause me to fall two terms behind but in my opinion will get me a good background of the field I want to go into. I don’t like the chemistry and materials implications of nano and am more interested in the electronics and physics side. The only advantage of staying in nano, as I see it, would be its grad school prospects.

I have a few questions and I would appreciate it if you answered any of them:

1. Does a degree in nanotechnology work better for graduate school admissions or would I be able to get in with an EE degree and a physics option with the same grades and research experience?

2. With nano, I will have very little knowledge of EE. Without these fundamentals, would I be able to pursue general ECE (circuit design, vlsi, etc) in a masters or PhD or will I be restricted to nanoelectronics and semiconductor topics?

3. I’m trying to avoid a career in academia as it’s not very financially rewarding and there is very little chance of becoming a professor or a rockstar researcher. Will an undergrad degree in nano take me in this direction regardless of my graduate degree?

4. In general once one obtains a master’s or PhD, will the undergrad degree still be a factor in finding a job?


I’d greatly appreciate your responses.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
131
0
A couple of comments first:
Being at the early stages of its development, nano does not yet have an industry. It is, however, a hot topic in academia. Quite often, it’s a buzzword being thrown around in academia to make the works innovative and cutting edge (perhaps more so than it really is.)
As you say, nanotech is just a buzzword, but nanotech has been around for decades. Technically I was doing “nanotech” 20 years ago, it just didn't have a pretty buzzword. It is completely false to assume that there is no industry. Some kinds of nanotech don't have industrial applications and never will, but others are doing quite well.

In terms of the program contents, nano seems to be lacking direction as there are chemical, materials, physics and electrical courses being taught, but at an introductory level.
That's probably because nanotech spans across so many fields that it's hard to cover everything. I'm surprised there is even such a thing as an undergraduate nanotech program. I think it would be better as a graduate program.

My plan has always been to do graduate studies in prestigious US universities (MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc.). I don’t know how I will fare against other applicants in fourth year but I’m keeping my grades up and trying to get as much research experience as I possibly can in my undergrad. From what I hear, UW nano seems to be attracting a lot of attention from top graduate schools in the US since it’s a hot topic and there is a lot of “nano” research going on. This implies I will have a good shot with grad school if I stay in nano.
First, in my opinion, prestigious schmestigious. Choose your university based on the people in the field who work there (as long as the university is reputable). If no one at, say, MIT does the kind of research you want to do, then it's pointless to go there. In the real world, people don't get jobs just because they went to MIT. One could argue that a prestigious university gets the best researchers, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. Choose your field, find good people in the field, pick your university based on that.

Second, just because you have a degree in the latest bandwagon research topic doesn't necessarily mean you have a better shot at grad school. Lots of other people will think the way you do, and you end up with a glut of students with the same degree trying to get into grad school.

Now, your questions:
1. Does a degree in nanotechnology work better for graduate school admissions or would I be able to get in with an EE degree and a physics option with the same grades and research experience?
It depends what you want to do in grad school, really. Even if you're sold on nanotech, you would have to decide what kind. An EE degree would not be very useful if you want to go into nanotech that is more chemistry-ish for example. But an EE degree might be OK if you're into semiconductor nanotech, physics even more so.

2. With nano, I will have very little knowledge of EE. Without these fundamentals, would I be able to pursue general ECE (circuit design, vlsi, etc) in a masters or PhD or will I be restricted to nanoelectronics and semiconductor topics?
Again, what is your primary interest? If it is just circuit design, then EE is obviously the way to go. On the other hand, if you know semiconductor physics, it's a lot easier to learn circuit design than it is for an EE to learn semiconductor physics (real semiconductor physics, not the cookie-cutter physics that is normally taught to EE undergrads).

3. I’m trying to avoid a career in academia as it’s not very financially rewarding and there is very little chance of becoming a professor or a rockstar researcher. Will an undergrad degree in nano take me in this direction regardless of my graduate degree?
Probably. Since you mention that the program teaches courses in many different fields, you have a wide range of industries covered. But it's not a guarantee that you will find a job.

4. In general once one obtains a master’s or PhD, will the undergrad degree still be a factor in finding a job?[/I]
Not really, but it could in some cases. Finding your first job is always a very weird process. Whoever hires you will make subjective decisions. He/she may see your undergraduate degree and find it a plus.
 
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  • #3
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4

I have a few questions and I would appreciate it if you answered any of them:

1. Does a degree in nanotechnology work better for graduate school admissions or would I be able to get in with an EE degree and a physics option with the same grades and research experience?


Graduate school applications are looked at individually. If a prospective professor finds your background and research experience more suitable for the research that they are engaged in then he/she might select you.

2. With nano, I will have very little knowledge of EE. Without these fundamentals, would I be able to pursue general ECE (circuit design, vlsi, etc) in a masters or PhD or will I be restricted to nanoelectronics and semiconductor topics?
This again comes down to the graduate programme that you are applying to. Usually most graduate programmes specify the minimum undergraduate course work and GPA required to be eligible to apply. Depending on the university, master's level courses will get specialised at some point. For PhD programmes, you will spend the first 2-3 semesters taking advanced level courses before starting your thesis project.
 
  • #4
131
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For the past little while, I have been planning on switching out of nano and into electrical engineering and perhaps doing a physics option on the side. This will cause me to fall two terms behind but in my opinion will get me a good background of the field I want to go into. I don’t like the chemistry and materials implications of nano and am more interested in the electronics and physics side. The only advantage of staying in nano, as I see it, would be its grad school prospects.
Another thought: do you have the option to take courses that are outside your major's normal coursework? You could take more advanced courses in your preferred field without switching majors. Then you have the best of both worlds.
 

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