With a large undergraduate class graduating, it may be easy to forget that as some undergraduates prepare for life after school, so do some graduate students.
UC Santa Barbara graduate programs include film and media studies, global and international studies, media arts and technology, marine science, environmental sciences and management and the nation’s first doctoral degree in Chicana and Chicano studies.
While both undergrad and grad students prepare to graduate, grad students have a unique perspective of UCSB, as they have either stayed after completing their bachelor’s degree or come from a variety of different undergraduate experiences, some on the opposite side of the country.
Alexander Hunter is one of those grad students who have been at UCSB as an undergraduate and as a graduate. Having completed his master’s degree in electronics and electrical engineering during Winter Quarter, he is now working at Intel in Arizona.
“It was a little different for me because I was a transfer student; I came in a little bit older than everyone as far as undergrad went. In the courses I was in, everyone already had their friend groups,” Hunter said. “That’s the main thing I remember as a transfer student, but only that first year was difficult since I had to adjust to the quarter system and adjust to not knowing anyone.
Before going to grad school, Hunter says he did not know much about it. However, he knew that one of his goals was to go to grad school and get his master’s.
Fortunately, electrical engineering has a five-year B.S./M.S. program in which students receive their bachelor’s in four years and their master’s the year after.
Hunter applied to that program at the end of his junior year and was notified of his acceptance while studying abroad in Chile.
“Grad school was different; it had its ups and downs. Since I stayed [at UCSB], all the friends that I had and studied with, they all left. Like, 90 percent of them left,” Hunter said. “I had to reestablish my friend group. On the other side, I still knew a ton of people; I still knew all of NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers]. I still knew some underclassmen, who were then seniors.”
Hunter notes that by staying at UCSB he felt camaraderie with professors, students’ clubs and staff.
“The best thing about the professors was that I always had someone to TA for and it wasn’t hard getting research. Those were the pros [of staying],” Hunter said.
The biggest con of staying at UCSB was coursework, according to Hunter.
“I had either taken the most interesting courses or had taken the majority of them before I was even a grad student. So, what I primarily wanted to do — circuit design — they had, like, maybe one of two classes I hadn’t taken,” Hunter said. “If I went to a different school there would have been completely different coursework, different professors. It would have been more [diverse], coursework-wise.”
When asked about his decision to stay at UCSB for grad school, Hunter said it had to do with the fact that he was in Chile when the applications were due.
“It was much more difficult to talk to professors regarding letters of rec or references. I couldn’t walk into a professor’s office hours and ask for advice,” Hunter said. “That was out the window because I was in another country and not everyone responds to their emails quickly.”
He encourages others to apply to different grad schools but does not regret his experience at UCSB.
“I loved it and I got a good job out of it,” Hunter said.
Michelle Labrecque, another grad student who pursued her master’s degree in electrical engineering, had a different experience, as she obtained her undergraduate degree in North Carolina.
Labrecque graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double major in physics and math, but after graduation she was not sure what she wanted to do with her degree.
“I did my undergrad at [UNC]. I took a few years off between undergraduate and graduate,” Labrecque said. “I went to [South] Korea and taught English for a year and then I came to Goleta and started a job in 2012. I worked at that job for about three years before starting my masters at UCSB.”
Labrecque started working at Transphorm Inc. as an electrical engineer, which inspired her to go back to school and get her master’s in electrical engineering.
As part of the master’s curriculum, both Labrecque and Hunter were involved in research during their time at UCSB.
“I did my research in electrically characterizing semiconductors,” Labrecque said. “So specifically, the system I worked on was DLTS, which stands for ‘deep level transient spectroscopy,’ and this is a very sensitive instrument to electrically characterize semiconductors. You can kind of find signatures or fingerprints to indicate what sort of defect is inside the semiconductor based on the results of the typing.”
Hunter’s research involved power amplifiers, and he wanted to improve the operating range and get an estimation of error generated by the power amplifier.
“They’re devices that aren’t very efficient. So you’re pumping power into them and they spit out more power and have this linear relationship; like, for every watt of power it’ll give me five watts. It does that until you reach, like, 10 watts and it’ll give you 40 watts instead of 50,” Hunter said.
He looked at amplifiers and changed the rate at which they satuarate.
“What I mean by that is, let’s say you’re getting this perfect linear relationship and then immediately it goes flat. That would be zero saturation,” he said. “We had another [experiment] where we varied it from extreme cases so it would slowly stray from being linear and then get to this flat line. It’s called the compression rate. What we found was that if we vary this compression rate, we can come up with an estimation on how much error is generated based on a power amplifier.”
Labrecque and Hunter agree that their master’s degree has helped them in the work force.
“Actually, my research directly ties into the job I’m doing now in town. It has allowed me to take my work into a different direction than I would have otherwise,” Labrecque said.
Hunter believes that believes that with a master’s degree, he was able to obtain more base knowledge.
“Now that I’m working, I’m using some of it. In short, yes it does, but you don’t use everything you learn. In my opinion, school, it might be different for Ph.D., but for bachelor’s and master’s, when you get a job, it’s like your permit to learn. It’s like [your employer] trusts you,” Hunter said. “When you get a graduate degree, you do go in-depth on some topics, and when you do you learn a lot more, and when you go out in the work force it’s easier for you to learn a lot because you have a lot of base knowledge.”