Notes to prospective applicants

Dear friends --

Many faculty members at UC Berkeley receive a large number e-mails from prospective graduate students or postdocs.  Because of the volume of mail we receive I have written this FAQ on applying for graduate school and postdocs.  If you have written me, I will refer you to this generic note.  I regret that I am not able to answer your inquiries individually.

Q:  I've already been admitted.  Does this FAQ apply to me?

A:  If you've been admitted, congratulations!  Admissions at Berkeley are highly competitive, and we want to make sure you know as much about Berkeley as possible.   After you've been admitted, faculty welcome your individual inquiries. 

Q:  I am applying.  Does this FAQ apply to me?

A:  Yes -- because of the flood of e-mail from applicants that we receive, I can not respond individually to students and their questions, so I am using this FAQ.

Q:  Can I be your student?

A:  Admissions decisions are made based on applications (mechanical engineering admissions information). If you are interested in working for me, when you fill out the application you should specify "manufacturing" as your area, since those are the applications over which I have influence. You should also list my name as a professor you are interested in working with in the appropriate field on the main application, so that I will be sure to see your application. (If you only list my name in the essay but not under professors you are interested in working with, our current search utilities will not alert me! The essay is a great place to explain *why* you are interested in working for me; just make sure you also fill in the field.)

Q:  What does Berkeley look for in deciding admissions?

A:  We look at a range of factors, including grades and recommendations.  One particularly important criteria is evidence of ability to do research.  If you have research experience, I highly recommend stressing this in your application. If you have already published a peer-reviewed paper relevant to the area in which you are applying (common for students who have already received a master's degree elsewhere), you should include a copy of the paper in your application.

Q:  What do you look for in choosing graduate students for your lab?

A:  A passion for solving geometric problems in design and manufacturing, and evidence of both the creativity and rigorous thinking required to solve them. Most of the research I do involves a lot of computer programming; therefore, the more experience you have with programming, the better. Experience with programming for e.g. deep learning, computer vision, path planning, and/or geometric modeling (not just using commercial software) will help you become a productive member of my lab.

Q:  What about work experience?

A:  I worked in industry for two years between undergrad and grad school myself, and about half of my Ph.D. students so far have spent some time working full time in industry before joining my group. It's not required, but I certainly don't hold it against you! If you have worked full-time, a strong recommendation letter from your supervisor can help your application, but we'd generally like to see at least two letters from professors (note that though we require three letters, it is also possible to submit more). If you have done research, whether in academia or industry or a national lab, we'd expect you to have a letter from your research supervisor.

Q:  Can I be your postdoc?

A:  Postdoc requests must also be approved by the department.  Because of the level of commitment involved, I will only consider someone for a postdoc if I know him/her or if he/she is recommended by someone I know.  Normally, I must know by Fall of the preceding year to consider someone for a postdoc in the next year, unless you come with your own funding (such as an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship).

Q:  Can I meet with you and tour your lab?

A:  Again, due to the large number of applications we receive, I can't meet with applicants or give individual lab tours until after the admissions process is complete. We host an invitation-only visit day for top domestic applicants to meet with individual professors and tour labs. Admitted students who didn't attend are encouraged to make alternate arrangements to visit campus and meet with faculty.

Q:  What is your affiliation?

A:  I am a professor at UC Berkeley in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, in the Manufacturing group (though I also sometimes advise PhD students in Design). I am also a participant in the interdisciplinary designated emphasis in Computational Science and Engineering.

Q:  What is your research?

A:  You can get an overview of my interests from my web pages and by reading my recent publications posted there.

Q:  Can I enter in the middle of the year?

A:  We have not admitted students mid-year (admit in summer/fall for a spring semester start) for several years, though under special circumstances an admitted student may delay matriculation until spring semester.

Q:  What are my chances of being admitted?

A:  Admission at Berkeley is highly competitive.   We are eager to accept the best, most intellectually exciting students.  If this is you, I highly encourage you to apply.

Q:  Can I apply without submitting GRE scores?

A:  GRE scores are mandatory -- this is a campus-wide requirement.

Q:  Is there a cut-off for GRE scores?

A:  There is no formal GRE score cut-off. GREs are considered in the context of your other application materials, which can mitigate poor GRE scores, though obviously we find higher GRE scores more reassuring. Good grades and recommendations, particularly from a college or university whose students have excelled in our graduate program in the past, are far more meaningful to us than GRE scores. If you are coming from a college or university we are less familiar with, outstanding grades and recommendations can still make you a competitive applicant.

If you did your undergraduate work in a language of instruction other than English, we pay more attention to your TOEFL score than to the GRE verbal score.

Q:  Will sending e-mail to professors help my chance of admissions?

A:  No.  Particularly if you begin e-mail to female professors with "Dear Sir." :) Or send the same generic e-mail to multiple faculty members, especially without replacing your boilerplate as this student did (quoted verbatim):
> After visiting your web page, I recognized that some of your researches
> is exactly where my interests lie, especially (mention that professor's
> current research).
And when we receive such an email but with the boilerplate replaced with a list of research interests from our website, we can still tell. Most faculty receive a distressingly large amount of such generic e-mail regarding admissions. An e-mail contact will not persuade a faculty member to pursue an application. Excessive e-mails to faculty may even decrease your chances of being admitted.   There is a place on the application to mention contacts with Berkeley faculty, but that refers to extended contacts -- not just e-mail contacts.

Q:  What about financial aid?

A:  We often provide financial support for Ph.D. students -- if you are accepted, we will contact you about this shortly. Ph.D. students have priority for graduate student instructor (teaching assistant) positions in the department. Students with excellent communication skills in English are often able to obtain teaching assistant positions in other departments as well.   For masters students, the funding situation varies, and Berkeley will discuss this with you after you have been accepted. M.Eng. students are eligible for "reader" (grading homework and exams) positions.

Q:  Will you be recruiting new graduate students to your lab this year? For what projects?

A:  This varies and can't always be predicted! Usually I hire a new Ph.D. student each year, but it depends on the applicant pool. After you are admitted we can discuss possible projects.

Q:  How long does it take to get a degree?

A:  The average is about two years to get an MS and about five years to finish a combined MS/PhD, but especially with a PhD there is wide variability. Entering with an MS from another institution doesn't reduce your course requirements significantly, but it often helps you get up and running with research sooner; my students entering with an MS typically finish in about 4 years.

Q:  I am very interested in your research area. What other schools besides Berkeley have M.E. professors working on similar research?

A:  Look for other M.E. professors who've published in geometry sections of recent ASME conferences, in particular DAC, CIE, and DFMLA at DETC. The SIAM Geometric Design conference and the Solid and Physical Modeling conference have a good mix of C.S. and M.E. professors doing interdisciplinary work in geometric issues in design and manufacturing.

I hope this simple FAQ answers most of your questions.  As I receive further questions, I may extend this list.  Good luck with your applications and studies!

(this FAQ was inspired by those of Prof. Doug Tygar and Prof. James Landay)