Take Two: Alumni Return for Graduate Degrees

“Getting out.” That’s a common phrase undergraduate students at Georgia Tech use to describe graduation. But, then there are the students who actually want to come back for more. 

“I wished I’d had more time at Tech to continue my education,” said Ravish Chawla, who earned his bachelor’s in Computer Science in 2014. “While I was out in California, I realized just how respected Tech is in the real world. Returning was an easy choice.”

Chawla’s not alone. Below, four graduate students from across Tech share why they chose the Institute for graduate school.

Ravish Chawla, master’s student, Computer Science

It was a love of learning that drove Chawla to return to Tech after he earned his bachelor’s.

“I came to Georgia Tech as an undergraduate, because it was one of the best colleges where I could earn a computer science degree,” he said. “I came back because I wanted to fill in the gaps in my undergraduate education. I’m not here for a grade anymore — I’m here to learn.”

The biggest difference between Chawla’s time as an undergraduate and now is that grad school is about more than just earning grades.

“You cover more material in less time and handle semester-long projects, not midterms,” he added. “The courses are more difficult, but they’re also more engaging.”

When Chawla returned to Tech, he was working on data analytics but later moved away from research into a course-oriented program. He wanted to gain an overview of all that the field of machine learning had to offer and is taking multiple courses per semester, as opposed to only one or two.

Chawla advises all graduate students to get to know both what their professors and their peers are doing.

“Even if you don’t contribute directly to their work, you can still learn a lot about how to write a better research paper and help them in the process,” he said. “Learning more about the work being done helps me keep my focus in my own work.”

Nana Obayashi, master’s student, Aerospace Engineering

Once, Nana Obayashi wanted to be a pilot. Now, she works to figure out how to keep others in the air.

“I knew Georgia Tech was the place to come for an engineering degree,” she said. “My work as an undergraduate convinced a professor to offer me an assistantship [as a graduate student], and with the full tuition waiver and the chance to do research with him, it seemed like a no-brainer.”

Obayashi earned her bachelor’s in Aerospace with a minor in French in 2015. Now, she’s continuing her work in aerospace, modeling how icing can build up on the rotors of helicopters.

“I get to work closely with my professor and do research with him,” Obayashi said. “I’ve published one paper already and am currently working on a second.”

One of the challenges she has faced going from undergraduate to graduate student has been balancing the time spent doing research and time spent in class.

“To remedy this, I always schedule how long each day I will work on research, my hobbies, or my coursework,” she added. “I also increase or decrease the amount of time I spend on research or coursework depending on what’s more important; I don’t let time go to waste.”

Her advice for fellow master’s students? Don’t forget you’re on a timeline.   

“When you’re working on a master’s degree, you’re under a time constraint for degree completion that isn’t there as an undergraduate,” Obayashi said. “It’s extremely important to stay self-motivated. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to graduate in two years like I’d planned. Try not to let distractions keep you from getting your work done on time.”

Hillary Alberta, Ph.D. student, Public Policy

Georgia Tech changed Hillary Alberta’s mind — at least, when it came to her career path.

“When I first came to Tech, I was working toward entering medical school,” said Alberta, who earned both a bachelor’s in Biology in 2010 and a master’s in Public Policy in 2012 from Tech. “But, through my studies, I found out about the challenges that arise form the interactions among science, technology, and policy, such as those around informed consent in clinical research. I decided to shift my focus to research in bioethics.”

This change resulted from the classes she took in Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

“A lot of clinical research studies offer incentives to participants but are not transparent about the risks involved, particularly in advertising the studies,” Alberta said. “My doctoral research focuses on risk disclosure and how government policy has to be shaped to ensure participants have the oversight and information they need when participating in any clinical study.”

One of the biggest changes that Alberta has enjoyed about becoming a graduate student at Tech is how much more face time she has with professors. This is something Alberta thinks all graduate students should take advantage of. 

“To get the most out of your graduate studies, the connections you cultivate with your peers and advisors are imperative,” she said. “You have to be your best advocate, and you have to be able to develop the research tools you need to succeed, which requires strong relationships with your advisors.”

Conner Herndon, Ph.D. student, Physics

Classes may be over for Conner Herndon. But in his lab, Herndon is learning more than ever.

“Physics can study anything, so, you can follow your interests. I loved finishing my classes and being able to move on to research,” said Herndon, who earned his bachelor’s in Physics from Tech in 2015 and his master’s in the same in 2016. “I had to complete the classes to finally be able to focus on the science I enjoy.”

He decided to stay at Tech because the physics labs are always well-equipped. Plus, Herndon has been able to get funding for his research. His research currently focuses on finding a better way of fixing the electrical impulses of the heart through defibrillation to restart hearts after failure with less risk and pain.

Herndon’s advice to peers looking to stay at Tech is simple — set a pace that works for you.

“My program is really self-motivated, meaning that you can blaze through your research and get done in three years or take your time over six years — like I am,” he said. “You have the chance to set a pace that is right for you.”

He advises students to figure out something to do for relaxation to avoid burn out.

“For me, that’s a place that does bottomless mimosas on Sunday,” he added.

Related Media

Click on image(s) to view larger version(s)

  • Ravish Chawla, master's student, Computer Science

  • Nana Obayashi, master's student, Aerospace Engineering

  • Hillary Alberta, Ph.D. student, Public Policy

  • Conner Herndon, Ph.D. student, Physics

For More Information Contact

Brian Gentry
Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Development

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