Suggestions for Current and Prospective Graduate Students

Prof. Brian L. Evans
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712

09/13/21

I have been compiling this informal document while answering questions that current and prospective graduate students have been posing to me. This information is not an official document of UT Austin. The opinions expressed in this document are my own. I try to keep the information updated. Please feel free to send suggestions to me at bevans@ece.utexas.edu.

For official policies concerning graduate ECE studies at UT Austin, please see information on the Graduate ECE Program Web page.

Other opinion pieces on graduate studies:

My comments on both articles are quite similar. First, I would recommend that undergraduate and graduate ECE students take significant coursework to build breadth and depth in their field(s) of interest. This will help undergraduates be better prepared for graduate studies, and graduate students be better prepared for research, and help both be better prepared in the long term for their careers. Second, undergraduate and graduate ECE students have opportunities to conduct research through their courses, e.g. senior design projects for undergraduates and semester-long projects in many graduate courses. Conducting independent undergraduate research should not be at the expense of building a solid foundation through courses as described in my first point. Third, I would recommend that undergraduate and graduate ECE students seek significant summer internships related to their field(s) of interest. Post-MS PhD ECE students should seek internships in corporate R&D settings. Fourth, it is generally easier to go straight through to finish one's degrees. One natural place to take a break from graduate studies is right after receiving the MS ECE degree. However, the longer the break, the less likely the student will return to continue one's studies and the harder the transition back to academic studies if the student were to return.


Table of Contents
1.0 MS or Ph.D? That is the question.

2.0 Admission and financial support

3.0 Planning your Coursework 4.0 Other information


1.0 MS or Ph.D.? That is the question

A great reference for deciding whether a Master's degree or Ph.D. degree is right for you and discerning what kind of research group matches you the best is

Robert L. Peters, Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D., revised ed., Noonday Press, ISBN 0374524777, 1997.

My personal thoughts on MS vs. PhD:

If your ultimate degree objective is an MS degree, then you might consider graduate programs in cities with high-tech ecosystems in your intended specialization. Local proximity makes it very easy to interact with engineers from those companies-- they come often to campus. If your ultimate degree objective is a PhD degree, then what matters is that you can identify 5 or 6 faculty members with whom you'd like to take courses and who you would want to approach as potential PhD advisors. These 5 or 6 faculty members could be in any graduate program at the university.

2.0 Admission and financial support

2.1 Corresponding with Professors

Professors, as you might guess, are extremely busy. A professor may receive hundreds of e-mail messages from prospective graduate students each year. It is important for your e-mail to catch the professor's attention. Some faculty members will ask you to give your e-mail message a certain title, as evidence that you've read their home page.

When you correspond with professors, it is in your best interest to keep the correspondence short (e.g. 200 words) and customize a letter to each professor. Many professors will not respond to form letters. One of my favorite form letters read "Dear $Professor, I am applying for graduate studies at $University." Clearly, an automated script had failed to substitute the appropriate names. I resisted the urge to respond with "Dear $Student" out of respect for the student. Nonetheless, the episode makes for a great story.

To customize your e-mail message, you might spend one sentence on each of the following topics (kept the message as short as possible):

Always attach a resume (preferably in PDF format) or provide a Web address for your resume (e.g., a LinkedIn page but make sure that your settings allow public viewing of all information). I've compiled suggestions for resumes.

2.2 Should I Stay or Should I Go?

If you are an undergraduate ECE student at a university with an active graduate ECE program, then it might be worthwhile evaluating your own graduate ECE program for possible graduate studies. Top graduate ECE programs neither force their undergraduate students to go somewhere else for graduate study nor coerce them to stay.

In spring 2018, UT Austin graduated about 340 BS ECE students, and of these, about 80 went directly to graduate school. Each year, about 30 of the 80 stay for graduate ECE studies at UT Austin. In Spring 2006, 100 of the 570 graduate ECE students enrolled at UT Austin had received a Bachelor's degree from UT Austin.

At UT Austin, the ECE Department has 75 tenured and tenure-track faculty members. An ECE undergraduate student would only have met 15 as instructors for their undergraduate ECE courses. As a graduate ECE student, the department would still largely be unexplored. Moreover, a graduate ECE student has wide access to the courses and faculty in the 160 other graduate programs. UT Austin has about 1,850 tenured/tenure-track faculty and 1,850 non-tenure-track teaching faculty.

2.3 Application for Graduate ECE Studies

With US graduate ECE admission rates in the 8-25% range, I would recommend applying to 7-10 US graduate ECE programs. More than 100 PhD ECE programs and 350 MS ECE programs are available to choose from in the US. There are also many excellent international graduate ECE programs to consider. The key is to match the performance in your math, engineering and other courses related to your intended specialization to the rank of the graduate program to which you are applying. Please pick ~1/3 that will be difficult to gain admission, ~1/3 for which you'll be competitive for admission, and ~1/3 for which you have high confidence in admission and financial support. Students with grade point averages of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale) in the courses most related to their area of specialization for graduate ECE studies should be able to gain admission into at least one of the 350 graduate ECE programs in the US.

The entire graduate study application matters. Application evaluation committees will look carefully at the transcript. In particular, they will be looking at the grades in the engineering, mathematics and other courses most related to success in graduate school in general and preparation for the specialization in particular. They will also look at courses in engineering communication and senior design projects because about half of the effort in graduate ECE studies is reading and analyzing technical material and explaining that material in oral and written presentations. For graduate studies in engineering, mathematics courses are particularly important because graduate study is generally more formal and rigorous than undergraduate studies.

Letters of recommendation provide information that an admissions committee cannot get elsewhere in the application. One piece of information commonly included is the rank that the student earned in a course in terms of the student's numeric score. For example, was the applicant's numeric score ranked 5th out of 40 students, or 21st out of 80 students, enrolled in the course. The course rank is more helpful than a letter grade because there is such a wide variety in how instructors assign letter grades.

In identifying potential letter writers, I'd recommend identifying faculty members with whom you had taken math/engineering courses and in whose courses you receive the highest course ranks among all of your math/engineering courses. These would roughly correspond to the courses in which you had received the highest grades. You could contact a faculty member to determine your rank in that course. It doesn't matter if you had a lot of interaction with the faculty member or not. All of your recommendations should come from current and former faculty members who have advised graduate students in research and published research in peer-reviewed conference papers and journal articles in STEM fields.

In the letter of recommendation, the writer will be asked to evaluate the applicant in many different categories, such as analytical ability, intellectual capacity, motivation, perseverance, teaching ability, oral communication, and writing ability. In addition, the letter writer will be asked to evaluate the applicant's overall potential for success in a graduate program. Even for those students who have selected a Master's degree as their ultimate degree objective, letter writers will often evaluate the applicant's potential in a PhD program because students often change their minds after enrolling in a graduate program. For this reason, I would recommend that all of your references come from faculty members who have had experience advising PhD students in research. That would be true with any faculty member who holds the rank of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Professor.

Here are faculty members to consider asking for recommendations (in order of decreasing significance):

  1. Faculty mentor for your senior design project
  2. Instructor in a third-year or fourth-year undergraduate course directly related to the specialization to which you are applying
  3. Faculty mentor from a summer research program such as the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates
  4. Instructor in a first-year or second-year undergraduate course directly related to the specialization to which you are applying

A letter writer will generally need the resume, statement of purpose and transcript from the applicant in a timely manner to write a letter.

Be sure to include a resume in your graduate school application whether it is asked for or not. I have posted resume suggestions.

2.4 Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is your primary opportunity to make your case for admission to a particular graduate program. It is important to express why you would like to go to graduate school. Let the committee know what your interests are, and what you're enthusiastic about, related to graduate study. Admissions committees have to read a lot of them, so it is very helpful to be concise, e.g. one page of 11pt, single-space text. In the statement of purpose, it is generally not helpful to include information about what you accomplished prior to college.

The statement of purpose is a professional statement-- it indicates

Here is an outline of an effective statement of purpose by paragraph. You have the reader's best attention in the first sentence of each paragraph:

  1. Introduction. Here are example first sentences: Other reasons for getting a PhD degree include wanting to become a professor and wanting to start a company. For the second sentence, you could say that you're finishing a BSEE degree at university z with specializations in x and y. The third sentence could express how the undergraduate specializations are related to the specialization you'd like to pursue in graduate school.
  2. Experiences in undergraduate courses. What were your most inspiring courses? What electives have you taken to help you prepare for graduate studies in the particular specialization? Describe the courses you're planning to take in the spring semester. Mention any special circumstances (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic) and how you responded to them (e.g. switching a grade to pass/fail or dropping a course).
  3. Experiences in senior design project course, hobbies, extra-curricular student organizations, and undergraduate research (if any). You do not have to conduct undergraduate research to be admitted for graduate studies. It is more important to build the depth and breadth of your knowledge for graduate study through courses, hobbies and extra-curricular activities. After pursuing these opportunities and you have about 10 hours/week to spare, you could decide to pursue undergraduate research. Some undergraduate programs have undergraduate research built into required courses (such as senior design projects) and electives.
  4. Experiences working in industry (if any)
  5. Contributions to broader impacts of engineering. For example, broadening the participation of people from underrepresented groups or dissemination of science to the public.
  6. Summary. Why are you applying to this particular graduate program? Which research projects and/or research centers interest you? Which faculty would you like to work with and why (give at least three faculty). What do you plan to do with the your graduate degree after graduation?

2.5 Financial Support

One of the advantages to applying to 7-10 graduate ECE programs is that you will have a good chance of obtaining admission with financial support from at least one of the programs. The financial support should be roughly $20,000 in gross income for nine months (i.e. for the fall and spring semesters) that would be in addition to full coverage of tuition and health insurance. In the summers, working in internships at companies or government labs would give you complementary experience to the coursework and academic research at the university. With MS students making $6000/month (gross) in summer internships, one could earn $38,000 per year in gross salary while in graduate school. Here's a breakdown of the cost of attendance at UT Austin.

Financial support comes in a variety of forms for full-time graduate ECE students:

Externally funded fellowships include the following national fellowship opportunities:

A person may apply to both NSF and NDSEG fellowships.

In the United States, universities may not require acceptance or rejection of a financial support offer before April 15th. This is due to an agreement among the member universities of the US Council of Graduate Schools, which has been in force for more than 20 years and recently renewed in October 2014.

Here are things to do in becoming a teaching assistant (TA) for the first time:

If you have already been a TA, then you will still need to apply for a position for each new semester. For more information about teaching assistantships for international students, please see International Teaching Assistant English Certification.

Responsibilities and duties for a research assistantship can vary quite a bit depending on the source of funds:

Most research assistantships are eligible to any full-time graduate student in good academic standing. (Good academic standing at UT Austin means a UT Austin graduate student GPA of 3.0 or higher.) Some research assistantships, however, are restricted to US citizens because they involve work at a facility with classified information. Examples at UT Austin include research assistantships at the Navy-funded Applied Research Laboratories, which has about 450 full-time employees.

2.6 Admission for Graduate ECE study in Communication Systems

On the application for graduate ECE studies, you might be to select a first choice and second choice in your area of specialization (curriculum tracks). If you are admitted, then you will be admitted into a specialization. Every academic track has some overlap with communication systems. Those interested in graduate ECE studies in communication systems are likely to choose one of the following academic tracks:

As part of the holistic evaluation for admission, the DICE admissions committee would evaluate applicants with respect to their ability to take graduate DICE courses immediately upon enrolling for graduate study and perform well in them. DICE graduate courses require additional depth in mathematical analysis beyond required undergraduate courses. Taking as many of the following undergraduate courses as possible would help you do that (UT Austin course numbers are given in parenthesis):

Some applicants have been able to pick up the equivalent knowledge at work (e.g. through short courses and hands-on experience) for some of these courses. It is important to point this out in your statement of purpose.

2.7 International Students

You will need a social security number to be employed at the university. A permanent Social Security number can be obtained from the local Social Security Office. There is a waiting period of 10 business days for a social security card (with the permanent social security number) to be issued. Please arrive a couple weeks before the semester begins to allow enough time to process your forms. If you do not arrive far enough ahead of time, then your first paycheck might be delayed.

Newly enrolling UT Austin graduate students should contact Ms. Melanie Gulick in the ECE Graduate Office and a counselor in International Student and Scholar Services.

2.8 Holistic Evaluation

A graduate admissions committee should evaluate applications holistically. One of the criteria is to determine if the applicant will be able to excel in graduate ECE courses in the intended specialization immediately upon enrollment. Another criteria is the likelihood of success in completing independent research for the PhD degree. Many committees evaluate potential for the PhD even for MS Only students because students can change their mind during the MS degree and decide to the pursue the PhD degree. There are other criteria as well.

With this mind, the cumulative GPA is not very informative for graduate admission. Instead, a graduate admissions committee would hopefully look at the particular courses that are directly related to the intended specialization in graduate study. Those courses should build a solid foundation for graduate work in the intended specialization. And, yes, the graduate admissions committee will look closely at the grades in those foundation courses for the intended specialization.

About half of graduate ECE studies is engineering communication-- understanding deeply technical material through reading and other means, and communicating that understanding in reports and presentations. To this end, grades in technical writing, engineering communication and senior design project courses are important, as well as in engineering courses with significant open-ended projects in them.

When trying to evaluate a student's potential to successfully complete independent research for the PhD, we look at the technical design work in the senior design project sequence and other courses with open-ended projects in them. Sometimes, a student will excel in a local or national design competition. About 2% of applicants publish a peer-reviewed publication as undergraduate students-- this is rare and of course stands out because of its rarity.

The entire application is helpful to the graduate admissions committee performing the evaluation-- transcript, resume, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, etc.

3.0 Planning your Coursework

It is very important to plan out all of your courses for your MS or Ph.D. degree in advance. Some graduate courses are taught every year, and some are taught every other year. The only graduate course that is offered every Fall and Spring semester is ECE396K-8 Ultra Large Scale IC Fabrication Techniques. We rarely offer ECE graduate courses or ECE undergraduate electives in the summer.

Planning ahead will be important in making sure that you are able to fit in all the courses you want to take. For those who are planning to do a Ph.D., the choice of courses to take is strongly related to one's research topic. In order to transfer a graduate course to UT Austin, you would not be able to take a course that is essentially the same and apply both to a graduate degree.

3.1 Course Load, Numbers, and Workload

A full-time load for graduate students is nine credit hours in the Fall and Spring semesters, and three credit hours in the Summer term. At UT Austin, the course numbering scheme is unusual. It is cgnl-t where c is the number of credits, g is the grade level, nl is the subject area represented by a number and a letter, and t is the topic number. The grade level (middle digit) means the following: So, EE371Q is a three-hour, senior, elective EE class, and ECE381K-2 is a three-hour graduate course. For 2021-22, ECE courses are using ECE at the graduate level and EE at the undergraduate level; after 2021-22, both will use ECE.

For a student, the workload for a course depends on the course and instructor, as well as the student's pre-requisite background and interest in the course. At UT Austin, each formal graduate ECE course that meets for lecture and has regular assignments takes about 15-25 hours/week of effort. Taking three graduate ECE courses and working in a 20-hour assistantship would take on average 80 hours/week of effort, which is an overwhelming workload that should be avoided. Instead, many graduate ECE students take two three-credit formal graduate courses plus three credits of informal courses. Here are several examples of three-credit informal courses taken on a credit/no credit basis:

3.2 Coursework Requirements

The coursework taken for graduate ECE studies is meant to provide both breadth and depth of knowledge. The courses contributing to the depth of knowledge is called major work, and those contributing to the breadth of knowledge is called supporting work. In total, 10 courses taken for letter grade are required to satisfy the coursework requirements for either an MSECE or PhDECE degree. A graduate course taken at UT Austin for letter grade could be applied to satisfy the coursework requirements for both an MSECE and a PhDECE degree.

All 10 courses taken for a graduate ECE degree are electives that are categorized into major and supporting work. This allows each student to create their own curriculum by taking courses in ECE, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, other STEM courses and even non-STEM courses. For the PhD degree, all ten courses must be graduate-level courses, whereas for the MS degree, up to two courses could be upper division (third-year/fourth-year) undergraduate courses.

In order to apply a course toward a graduate ECE degree, a grade of A, A-, B+, B, or B- should be received in that course. No more than one course with a grade of C or C+ may be applied towards a graduate ECE degree. There is an exception for courses taken in the spring 2020 semester due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the campus community, including the sudden shift to online learning in all courses on March 13, 2020.

You may transfer up to six credit hours of graduate coursework taken at another university (provided that the coursework was not applied to a degree) towards an MSEE degree. For the PhD coursework requirements, up to 30 semester credit hours of formal graduate-level coursework (which excludes research problems, conference course, MS report and MS thesis hours) taken at another university may be transferred, even if those hours had been applied toward a graduate degree. However, if you retake the same graduate course at UT Austin that you took at another university, then the course will not generally transfer. UT Austin requires that you take at least 18 credit hours of coursework on site, and PhD dissertation courses and other independent study courses taken at UT Austin will indeed count toward the 18 credit hours. That is, the 18 credit hours do not necessarily have to be formal courses.

To satisfy the Ph.D. course requirements, you will need to take

The PhD dissertation committee will decide on approval of the coursework requirements for the PhD degree. Formal lecture courses do not include research problem courses, conference courses, graduate research internship, MS report or MS thesis courses.

For the MSEE degree, there are three options: MS thesis, MS report, and MS non-thesis/non-report. The best option is somewhat dependent on your research direction. A majority of MSEE students currently choose the non-thesis/non-report option.

For the three MSEE options, the coursework requirements vary:

No more than 6 semester hours of upper-division undergraduate elective coursework may be included on the MS ECE Program of Work. Upper division courses have a middle digit of 2-7 and are generally taken by undergraduates in the third or fourth year of studies.

ECE Master's Program of Work Form

3.3 Choosing Courses and Instructors

Many graduate courses are only taught by one instructor. For some graduate courses, two or three professors alternate teaching it. Examples of graduate courses having multiple instructors alternating to teach them include ECE382M-7 VLSI I (every Fall) and ECE382N-1 Computer Architecture (every Fall and Spring). In the Summer, it is rare that any graduate ECE courses would be offered.

Here are a few pointers for choosing courses and instructors:

  1. Read about the Graduate ECE Program and graduate course descriptions.
  2. Check the course evaluations for the instructors for a particular course. Numeric courses evaluation scores are on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being least favorable and 5 being most favorable.
  3. Ask other students.
  4. Talk to the faculty members who are scheduled to teach the courses in which you are interested.
  5. Talk to the faculty member who is the academic advisor for the academic track in which you are enrolled
  6. Plan out all courses for your degree objective to make sure that you schedule everything correctly, e.g. to take the appropriate the pre-requisites. Scheduling 10 graduate courses distributed properly between major and supporting work will simultaneously satisfy the coursework requirements for both an MS non-thesis/non-report option and the PhD coursework requirements. I have compiled graduate ECE course offerings from fall 2021 to spring 2023 and undergraduate ECE course offerings from fall 2021 to spring 2023. Some graduate courses are only offered every other year. Develop the plan with your academic track advisor, or your research advisor if you have one. Taking the right distribution of the 10 graduate-level courses will also satisfy the PhDEE coursework requirements.
The next section contains example courses for several possible graduate ECE degree plans for different specializations, including the instructors who are currently scheduled to teach the courses.

3.4 Specializations

Graduate school gives an opportunity to choose your courses to build depth and breadth in topics that are of interest to you. As a graduate student, you would have access to graduate courses in a wide variety of graduate programs across the university, except for courses in professional degrees (e.g. Law, Medicine, MBA, and Pharmacy). Even though you wouldn't have access to MBA courses, you would have access to MS Business courses. Many US Business Schools have recently started MS degrees for STEM graduates who would like to apply their quantitative skills in business applications and processes. Next, I give several common choices of courses for a particular research interest, and try to highlight both ECE and non-ECE graduate courses. Sometimes, it is really helpful to take an undergraduate electives to help build breadth in a topic or build foundations for graduate courses.

3.4.1 Digital Signal Processing

For this specialization, you would probably be enrolled in the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering academic track as a graduate ECE student at UT Austin. It is vital that you take graduate courses in probability, statistics, linear algebra, optimization, information theory, and digital signal processing theory as well as graduate courses in a variety of signal processing applications (communication systems, image/video processing, data mining, genomics, etc.). This sequence below assumes that you have already had undergraduate courses in probability and random processes, digital signal processing, digital communications, and data structures in C++.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring Graduate Courses - Fall Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.2 Digital Communication Systems

For this specialization, you would probably be enrolled in the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering academic track as a graduate ECE student at UT Austin. This sequence below assumes that you have already had undergraduate courses in probability and random processes, digital signal processing, and digital communications.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring Graduate Courses - Fall Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.3 Analog/RF/Digital Communication Systems

For this specialization, you would likely be enrolled in one of the following academic tracks: Here is set of courses in the theory, algorithms, design, and implementation of analog/RF/digital communication systems.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring

Graduate Courses - Fall

Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.4 Networking Protocols and Design

For this specialization, you will need to be enrolled in either the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering or Architecture, Computer Systems, and Embedded Systems academic track as a graduate EE student at UT Austin. This following courses assume that you have already had an undergraduate course in real analysis and an undergraduate course in operating systems. It is important not to repeat a graduate course at UT Austin that you have taken elsewhere as a graduate course. Instead, build on what you have learned.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring Graduate Courses - Fall Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.5 Networking Modeling, Analysis, and Design

For this specialization, you will need to be enrolled in the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering academic track at UT Austin.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring Graduate Courses - Fall Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.6 Digital Image and Video Processing

For this specialization, you will need to be enrolled in the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering academic track at UT Austin.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring Graduate Courses - Fall Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.7 Machine Learning

Machine Learning is a large field that includes linear algebra, signal processing, image processing, probability, random processes, statistics, estimation theory, information theory, optimization, algorithms, and distributed computing.

For this specialization, you would most likely be enrolled in the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering academic track as a graduate ECE student at UT Austin. For those interested in machine learning, including applications in image and video processing, here is a set of courses in the area.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring

Graduate Courses - Fall

Graduate Courses - Spring

3.4.8 Embedded Digital Systems

For this specialization, you would likely be enrolled in one of the following academic tracks at UT Austin: For those interested in embedded digital systems motivated by applications signal processing and communications, here is an example set of courses.

Undergraduate Courses - Fall

Undergraduate Courses - Spring

Graduate Courses - Fall

Graduate Courses - Spring

3.5 General Suggestions

For those planning to work after the MS degree, choosing your coursework will be critical to help you prepare to be a design engineer. Taking applied courses with design assignments, labs, and projects will be very helpful. These courses could be in many different graduate programs, e.g. Aerospace Engineering for design of drone systems.

For those who are intending to complete a PhD degree, the coursework is to provide an opportunity to search for a PhD topic areas, To this end, choosing one course each semester with an open-ended research project is helpful. Choosing two such courses might be overwhelming. Once the topic area is chosen, subsequent courses are to provide depth and breadth for the topic area. For breadth, and sometimes depth, graduate courses in Mathematics or Computer Science can be particularly helpful.

At UT Austin, be sure to verify your course requirements with your academic track academic advisor. For your MS degree, up to two graduate courses can be transferred from another institution as long as the courses were not applied to another degree. For the PhD degree, all of the graduate courses taken at another institution can be in general transferred, even if they had been applied to an MS degree at that institution. The approval of the coursework for the PhD degree comes from the PhD committee and the ECE Graduate Adviser.

3.6 Entering Students who do not have an Electrical Engineering degree

If you do not have an Electrical Engineering degree or a Computer Engineering degree, then you might consider taking a couple of core undergraduate ECE courses to help you become better prepared for graduate ECE courses. The specific undergraduate courses will depend on the curriculum track in which you are enrolled. Please consult the academic advisor for your curriculum track.

3.7 Supporting Coursework for the M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees

In order to obtain a Master's degree, you must complete 30 credit hours taken for letter grade. The MS Thesis counts as six credit hours and the MS Report counts as three credit hours. The remaining credit hours (24 for MS Thesis, 27 for MS Report and 30 for non-Thesis/non-Report option) must be fulfilled by formal courses. Formal courses do not include independent study courses and seminars. For the PhD degree, a student must complete at least 30 credit hours of formal graduate courses taken for letter grade. The same graduate course taken at UT Austin for letter grade can be applied towards satisfying the coursework requirements for an MS degree as well as the PhD degree.

For a graduate ECE degree, the courses would need to be divided between a major field of study and supporting work. The courses in the major field of study are courses strongly related to the student's research area of interest. Hence, the courses under the major field of study could include ECE and non-ECE courses, and the same also holds for supporting work coursework:

Supporting coursework is meant to give students breadth of knowledge to complement the depth of knowledge in their major work. Supporting coursework should be complementary to your major academic track of study without duplicating the courses you have taken in your primary academic track of study. Please see the Academic Advisor for your academic track for more information about supporting coursework.

3.8 Beneficial Courses to Take Outside of Electrical and Computer Engineering

There are many excellent courses in mathematics and computer science that are relevant to research in electrical and computer engineering. Some of the useful undergraduate courses follow, with italicized courses directly related to graduate studies in electrical engineering:

Some of the useful graduate courses are:

3.9 Working with Me

If you are interested in working with me, I suggest that you apply to either the Decision, Information and Communication Engineering (DICE) or Architecture, Computer Systems, and Embedded Systems (ACSES) academic tracks in the graduate program in Electrical and Computer Engineering. If you were admitted on the ACSES track, then I would recommend that you take your ECE supporting work in DICE. If you were admitted on the DICE track, then I would recommend that you take your ECE supporting work in ACSES. In either case, I recommend that you take as many signal/image processing and embedded systems courses as you can, and that you take your outside department supporting work in mathematics and computer science. The department regularly offers more then ten undergraduate and more than twenty graduate courses in signal and image processing.

4.0 Other information

4.1 Robotics and Controls

Robotics at UT Austin is a multidisciplinary research effort in robotics involving students, faculty and other researchers from aerospace, computer, electrical and mechanical engineering as well as computer science and information science. Research includes robots in a wide array of shapes, sizes and function.

A graduate student at UT Austin may select any of the 1850 tenured and tenure-track faculty members at UT Austin as their research supervisor. If the research supervisor is not a member of the ECE Graduate Studies Committee, then the graduate student would also select a member of the ECE Graduate Studies Committee to serve as their co-advisor.

The following faculty members on the ECE Graduate Studies Committee conduct research in robotics:

We also have ECE GSC faculty members who conduct research in wearables: Also, the following faculty member conducts theoretical research in joint controller-communication design: Additional ECE faculty members who work in robotics and controls follow: The UT Austin IEEE student chapter of the Robotics and Automation Society has several active robot teams.

4.2 Part-Time Degree

In the conventional graduate ECE program as of November of 2001, 165 of the 548 graduate students (about 30%) were attending on a part-time basis. This path takes 5-6 years to complete an MS degree. The alternate path is an option 3 program, which takes about two years but very few courses are offered in this format, or the online MS degree, which has access to all of the MS courses offered in the traditional program. Hence, while working full-time, you have three choices to obtain an MSECE degree:
  1. MSECE degree through the conventional program (option 1). The best route is to do an MSECE degree with a report option. You would take nine formal lecture-style courses, plus do an MS report and register for an MS report course. The MS report is a description of an implementation, and does not have to represent new original research. In Fall and Spring semesters, we offer a wide variety of graduate courses in the evening, esp. in the circuit design, computer engineering, and communications academic tracks. We offer few if any graduate ECE courses in Summer. By taking one course per Fall/Spring semester, you could finish in nine semesters (i.e., four years and one semester). Although ECE doesn't offer any graduate ECE courses or undergraduate ECE electives in the summer, there are graduate courses and undergraduate electives in mathematics and computer science taught each summer. By taking one course in each Fall, Spring and Summer semester, you could finish in three years. Admissions for part-time enrollment for the MSEE degree is handled with the applications for full-time enrollment.

  2. MSEE degree through the online MSEE Degree Program. This program would allow you to participate via videoconferencing to all of the MSEE courses taught in the traditional program.

  3. MSEE degree through the Software Engineering Program (Option 3). This option meets one Friday/Saturday each month all year long. You would take two formal courses each Fall/Spring semester, and one course each summer. The key drawback is that only four or five courses are offered each Fall/Spring semester in this format. The good news is that the courses and instructors are the generally same as the ones in the conventional MSEE program. At the end of the two full years, you would have completed an MS degree in Software Engineering with an MS report option.
A part-time Ph.D. is possible but extremely difficult to manage. According to National Science Foundation statistics, it takes about 5.5 years of full-time graduate study in engineering after the BS degree to finish the PhD degree. Let's assume that a full-time graduate student devotes 60 hours per week to coursework and research, and a part-time graduate student devotes 20 hours per week. It would then take the part-time graduate student 16.5 years to finish a PhD degree after the BS degree. A lot can happen in one's life over 16.5 years. The more aligned the person's full-time employment is with his/her research, the faster the finish.


Last updated 09/13/21. Mail comments about this page to bevans@ece.utexas.edu.