I was considering grad school even before I started taking classes in my major, industrial design (ID). I guess I felt inclined to, because everyone around me was going to apply for graduate or professional school. I only had two friends who got a job straight out of college. That should be normal, but perhaps in a educational setting where an undergraduate degree is now the new high school diploma, it doesn’t mean so much anymore — or it’s just an expectation that people with certain jobs should graduate college.
I had a graduate school list ready to go before I started my major. I had to scour the internet for programs, because there wasn’t many that I was very interested in. I thought of these programs:
- MIT’s Integrated Design Management degree, for which you can apply to this interdisciplinary program from business, design, or engineering backgrounds.
- Stanford’s Impact Engineering degree, which is technically in the engineering department but has more of an innovation/product design focus. There’s also teaching assistantships available in the d.school, and I would love to teach design to undergrads.
I am also considering Harvard’s Doctor of Design and Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Integrated Innovation of Products and Services. I think Harvard might have more of an architecture focus, and I might not be interested in that. Luckily, these programs only last three years each (which is the shorter program, because I’m majoring in ID during undergrad).
One of my professors told me that traditional industrial design masters (like the one at the University of Houston) are for engineering/other undergrad majors who didn’t major in ID. Some of the classes I take in undergrad are combined with masters students, so I doubt I’ll be getting an extremely different education. To be an ID professor, someone would need a masters, doctorate, or PhD. Most of my professors had masters degrees because they went the traditional masters route and didn’t major in ID as an undergrad, so they now have a masters in ID. A professor said, “it just worked out, and he got lucky that way.” For grad school, I chose those non-traditional ID programs because I want to learn something that I didn’t learn in undergrad.
The main reason I want to go to graduate school is because I want to teach. ID also includes research that I’m interested in, but it’s very different from the research that I’m learning here at VRAC (as far as I know). I have had experience teaching students the SAT by a service-learning program that I am a part of, and I also teach art classes to the Painting Club at UH that I started. Right now, I imagine teaching ID as my dream job. I would love to teach first-semester undergraduate freshmen in ID. Going through my education, I’ve put a lot of thought about how to teach design, and I’ve been talking to my professors about it, which is even making them rethink beginner ID education.
However, I don’t think I’ll start my career in design education, because ID is a very professional field. A non-ID professor gave me some practical advice: “You are majoring in something for which you can actually get a job, so seriously consider that first,” and after some hesitation, I agreed with him. Even to get into these competitive grad programs, I need to have some experiences working in companies, or starting my own company. I don’t see that as an unfortunate step, as something I need to do to achieve my eventual goal. I’m really excited about working at a company too. I think it would be amazing to work for a major company or consultancy and see the products I design go on the shelves. I imagine myself drawing, prototyping, and refining products, and I get really excited.
I’ve met people that are eager to graduate early, and I think that’s totally understandable, given their reasons. I used to be one of those people too, until I found something I really liked, and I added on another year because I had to. And when that didn’t work out for health reasons, I could’ve changed my major to something shorter, but I eventually I decided that ID was worth it. I also decided that I was going to do my best to take care of my health so that I could be healthy and happy with what I wanted to do. I’m so excited for my future in ID, not just long-term, but even for next semester. For instance, we’ll probably have to make a chair, and it will be a lot of work, but I will be glad to put in the effort. My professor told me once during office hours, “I’m guessing you have a lot of passion for what you do, and that’s why you’re here. I’ve only talked to two students like this, over what? 7 years?”
I’m really happy to be doing my major, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a pro. When I was about to start the studio sequence, I had high expectations for doing well in my major. I thought that my skills fit perfectly with what I had to do in industrial design, so I’d be naturally talented and successful. My skills did fit will, but I was a lot worse than I imagined. I had to try a lot of modeling techniques that I had no experience in, and I was really bad. I had to redo a lot of projects from scratch because I messed them up. Even drawing has always been something I thought I was really good at, but going through a drawing class last semester, I felt like I was starting from scratch. I did make a lot of improvement though, and I need to keep practicing this summer.
Also, I’m probably a lot better designer, not judging by the grades I receive (I’m in the B, B- range). A lot of upperclassmen told me about serious grade deflation in the program. Professors don’t really care, because they assume that everyone is going to get a job after they graduate, and employers only look at portfolios. This puts me in a difficult position for grad school. On top of the health issues bringing down my grades, I have to work extra *extra* hard, just to get my GPA above a 3.5 by the time I graduate. Right now, it’s been pretty static at a 3.3, and that’s been something that I’ve worked extremely hard on.
I was once in an ID class, and a new professor asked if anyone was interested in going to grad school, and not a single other person out of 30 raised their hand. I feel alone in this goal of grad school at UH. In this program, I feel comfortable — and even encouraged — to talk to people about my plans for graduate school. I’m happy to be in this environment where I’m learning so much about myself and how I can do research. I will very likely use what Iearned this summer to help me achieve my grad school plans some day.