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Prospective Grad Student FAQ

answers to the most frequently asked questions by incoming graduate students

Frequently Asked Questions by prospective PhD students:

  • Q: Are you taking on new PhD students next September?
  • A: Yes. We tend to welcome about 2-4 new grad students every year.
  • Q: What projects do you have available for new PhD students?
  • A: You can make a good guess about the latest projects in our group by looking at the latest 40 or so published papers. Beyond that, it's harder to tell too specifically, if you are asking this one year in advance. We will tailor and narrow down your specific project(s) in the summer preceding your first quarter at Stanford.
  • Q: Is the GRE required for Stanford EE grad school admission?
  • A: No, the GRE is not required, as of July 2020. However, if you happen to take it for another application and your scores are strong (including the verbal parts, e.g. 4.5+ on Analytical Writing, and preferably 5+ for native English speakers) then it's totally OK to find some way to "brag" about it somewhere on your application. Be sure to list the % ranking for your GREs too, because without these the scores are hard to interpret.
  • Q: Is there assistance with the graduate program application fee?
  • A: Yes, Stanford has an application for a fee waiver. Be sure to pay attention to any deadlines on that page.
  • Q: Will you admit me to your group?
  • A: Stanford grad school works by admission to a department, not to a group. Thus, we can discuss choice of projects after you get into the Stanford PhD program. Keep in mind that many (but not all) first-year grad students do a rotation to determine which group to eventually join. Some first-year grad students do join a group directly, if a very good fit is determined. However, this decision (both by the student and advisor) is usually made after admission, e.g. during the summer preceding their first quarter at Stanford.
  • Q: Will you be able to fund me?
  • A: All students admitted to the Stanford EE PhD program receive a one-year EE fellowship. Some receive 3-year SGF fellowships, and others come with external fellowships, e.g. from NSF, NDSEG, DOE, GFSD, Hertz, NASA, GEM, or NSERC. (If you are eligible for these, you should definitely apply.) Grad students who are already at Stanford can apply for one of the several VPGE Fellowships. In addition, Stanford/EE effectively guarantee funding during your PhD in some form or another (e.g. TA, RA). So, don't worry too much about funding! But do your best to bring your own fellowship, because it helps join various groups and gives you greater project flexiblity.
  • Q: Can I join your group from a (BS, MS, PhD) department other than EE?
  • A: Yes! Our group has welcomed students from Computer Engineering, Materials Science, Mechanical Engineering, Physics (or Applied Physics) in the past. You can also join us from Aero Astro, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, or really any Stanford department where a good amount of overlap exists with what we do. Stanford is famous for having very low (effectively zero) boundaries for inter-departmental research.
  • Q: How can I draw your attention to my application?
  • A: If you apply to EE, select "Eric Pop" among the top-3 faculty of interest. This will "flag" your application for me in our system. If you apply to a non-EE program please be sure to let me know by email, and list me in your SoP or in any part that the application allows (non-EE applications may look different).
  • Q: May I email you?
  • Yes, and I especially encourage emails from women and underrepresented groups in engineering. For your email, please: 1) state at the top that you read this FAQ, 2) keep your overall email short and show you understand what we work on, and 3) read one (or more) of our papers and explain how you would follow-up on or improve that study. Please message me from your formal email address, not a generic account like Gmail or Yahoo, and keep your overall email < 300 words. Attach your CV in PDF to the email, but do not send other attachments. If you worked with one of our collaborators, please do mention this in your message.
  • Q: Will my email be answered?
  • A: I will do my best, but please don't worry if you don't hear back. I get many inquiries about joining our group, especially during peak time (Sep-Dec). If it appears that you have not read this page and/or that you work in a different area, your email may go unanswered. If you are a very good fit to our group (in experiments, theory, or bringing some new expertise) then we should chat further. However, the real discussion (e.g. about selecting research topics) will start after we begin evaluating applications and/or after you are admitted.
  • Q: May I email your current group members?
  • A: Yes. They can answer questions about life at Stanford and life in the group. However, unless you have a connection to them (e.g. same alma mater), it's probably better to email group members after you have been admitted. There is plenty of information about the Stanford campus and about life at Stanford online.
  • Q: How do I increase my chances of admission (in general)?
  • A: Have high GPA, good writing/presentation skills, and research experience. Have 3 strong reference letters from people who know your work well. (Ideally, at least 2 should be from faculty who can rank you against previous people they've written letters for.) If possible, be a co-author on some publications or conference abstracts. Be sure to list these and any awards on your application. Your research statement should also make it clear that you wish to work in an area that has good intellectual overlap with at least one Stanford EE faculty member.
  • Q: I got into the MS program, can I transfer to the PhD program?
  • A: If you want to pursue a PhD, please apply to the PhD program directly. It is possible to "switch" from MS to PhD in EE, but this means you have to re-apply. (I don't like this system either, but that is the rule right now.) Ideally, you would start research with a group during your MS, then re-apply to the EE PhD either in your first or second year, requesting a reference letter from the Stanford-based advisor. If you are only interested in doing an MS at Stanford, then your timeline and our research timelines are not well aligned. In other words, we will always give preference to students who want to be in our group for the long term (e.g. 4.5 to 6 years).
  • Q: How long does it take to get a PhD in your group?
  • A: On average 4.5 to 6 years. It depends on the project, how hard we work, and what challenges we encounter.
  • Q: Do you co-advise students?
  • A: Yes. At any given time there are 2-3 students in the group who are formally co-advised, and everyone else works closely with at least one other faculty member, or with external academic and industry collaborators. In essence, everyone in the group is highly collaborative and co-advised in some manner!
  • Q: Is your group collaborative?
  • A: Yes, and we're pretty proud of it! During a recent overview of our work, it became apparent that in the past ~9 years at Stanford we have collaborated (and co-authored manuscripts) with over 30 faculty across 10 departments at Stanford and SLAC. We haven't done a similar survey for our collaborators off-campus, but they are probably even more numerous across the 16+ year history of our group. Just in 2021-22 we have published with Univ. Washington, Technion (Israel), Duke, TSMC, NIST, Georgia Tech, Natl. Univ. Singapore (NUS), Penn State, SF State, Hong Kong Poly. Univ., Univ. Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), KAUST, UC Davis, and Aalto Univ.!
  • Q: How do you publish?
  • A: Please see here and look at our publications page. Over the years, our graduating PhD students have each published, on average, 12 journal papers (3 as first-author) and 15 conference abstracts (5 as first-author).
  • Q: Why should I come to Stanford (and join the Pop Lab)?
  • A: We pursue a well-balanced combination of fundamental and applied, experimental and theoretical research. We benefit from world-class facilities and collaborators. Almost all meetings have food (or cookies and coffee). We like to set world records at nano-things. You'll learn how to publish interesting papers and give talks that lead to "best student" awards. Alumni who hobnobbed with #44. Location in the sunnier side of the wonderful SF Bay Area.
  • Q: How is your group run?
  • A: We have one group meeting per week that everyone attends, and 4-5 subgroup meetings every other week. The main group meeting has one formal research presentation and one literature review presentation, within 90-min. The subgroup meetings are smaller and often function as "group therapy sessions" where all attendees bring 2-3 slides with their latest results or failures and we drill deeper. As of this writing, subgroup meetings are around themes of Devices, Energy, Fab, and Memory. We also have a large subgroup on the topic of 2D Materials which is joint with other groups working on this topic, including Krishna Saraswat's, Philip Wong's, Tony Heinz's, Andy Mannix, Stacey Bent's, and David Goldhaber-Gordon's. My door is always open for 1:1 meetings, which are most useful before deadlines or to discuss new ideas, etc.
  • Q: Do you have group social events?
  • A: Yes, as a group we have at least two big social events per year. In the Winter there's the Group Tahoe Trip, where we rent a cabin and spend two days cooking, skiing, hiking, or snow-shoeing around Lake Tahoe. In the Summer there's the Group BBQ, where we grill and play sports including volleyball and soccer. Students also self-organize various hiking trips and movie nights, and they stay connected via Facebook, Slack, and Zoom.
  • Q: How many people have been in the group and where do they go afterwards?
  • A: In March 2022, we welcomed our 40th PhD student. Our alumni include 26 PhD students and 11 post-docs. Approximately one third went to academic positions after leaving the group (6 are currently professors), and all others to the electronics industry (e.g. Apple, Applied Materials, Intel, Micron, Samsung, TSMC) or to government research labs. Over the years, our lab has also hosted over 40 undergraduate researchers, 11 of which have written Honors theses. The group make-up has been approximately 50% women since 2017.

updated Aug 2023 by Eric Pop