Being part of the Georgia Tech Ph.D. Program in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in 2009, I was required to take a breadth of courses in subjects beyond my background on control systems. The program required me to earn a minor in a technical area outside ECE. Thus, I decided I would learn more about the processes involved in microtechnology, solar cells, and MEMS for ECE, and chose the field of Aerospace Engineering for my minor.
During the first semester (Fall 2009) I completed five of my eight required Ph.D. courses, plus the written part of the qualifier examination, and agreed to work at the Human-Automation Systems Lab with Dr. Ayanna Howard.
The load in the first semester was:
Introduction to Microfabrication Technology (ECE, with Dr. Oliver Brand)
Solar Cells (ECE, with Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi)
Aerospace Systems Engineering (AE, with Dr. Daniel Schrage)
Cognitive Engineering (AE, with Dr. Karen Feigh)
Research Seminar (ECE, various professors)
Ph.D. Preliminary Examination
ECE = Electrical and Computer Engineering
AE = Aerospace Engineering
I would never overload myself like that again, nor would recommend anyone to do so.
During the academic year 2010-2011, I registered for my last three required courses:
Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS, ECE, with Dr. Oliver Brand)
Spacecraft Design (AE, with Dr. Alan Wilhite)
ECE Professional Communications Seminar (various professors)
Furthermore, I was part of the course Autonomous Control of Robotic Systems (ECE, Robotics, with Dr. Ayanna Howard), taught by my advisor, and of a year-long seminar with the Sam Nunn Security Program.
In the Spring of 2010, I started with dissertation hours towards the preparation of a few initial publications. During these semesters I also prepared myself for the proposal examination process toward Ph.D. candidature.
The rest is history. You can read some excerpts of my dissertation in the ECLSS pages.
Helpful resources for Ph.D. students
During those early semesters, I also found a couple of books that help as guidelines regarding the skills and deliverables expected to be acquired/developed during what is called the "doctoral metamorphosis." I truly recommend these books to doctoral students who are trying to figure out how to successfully navigate the complexity of a doctorate.
The books I would recommend are the following:
R. Levasseur. "Student to Scholar: The Guide for Doctoral Students," MindFire Press, December, 2006.
S. M. Cahn. "From Student to Scholar: A Candid Guide to Becoming a Professor," Columbia University Press, September 2008.
If you know how to swarm in Amazon, I am sure you will find many other good books. I hope that doctoral students out there find these books as helpful as I did.