Three Minutes with Samueli School Dean Magnus Egerstedt

Dean Magnus Egerstedt, whose research focuses on robotics, joined the UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering in the summer of 2021. The Office of Graduate Admissions spoke with him about the evolution of professional and research degrees in the field of engineering.

What makes graduate studies at UCI unique? Why choose UCI?

UCI Engineering has an exceptional mix of really cutting-edge research, multidisciplinary studies, and a strong connection to booming local industry in the area. We have a number of areas of strength, including sustainability and energy, urban infrastructure and questions of technology and society – that is, how technology fits into the world (some examples: privacy, equity, making us more productive and healthier).

In addition to our research strengths, our location is hard to beat – we’re situated in one of the prettiest parts of the planet, only 10 minutes from the beach, with easy access to both Los Angeles and San Diego. UCI is a gorgeous campus with year-round wonderful weather. Additionally, UCI offers graduate student housing that is relatively affordable, especially compared to other California institutions.

Finally, UCI is still a relatively young university, so it’s not set in its ways, and is willing to innovate with the curriculum. Our professional programs are a clear reflection of the university’s nimbleness, as they respond directly to the needs of employers, and to the multidisciplinarity that the field of engineering is facing. Engineering is engaging with some of the big defining questions of our times, including climate, affordable medical care and using technologies for the good of humanity. UCI’s innovation helps better prepare our engineers to answer those challenges with scalable solutions.

UCI offers two types of graduate programs: research (M.S./Ph.D.) and professional (M.Eng). What’s the difference and how should students choose?

When students are trying to decide between the two options, the key question they should ask themselves is this: What is it that you want to accomplish with your educational and professional journey? If you want to be a researcher and work in academia or a lab, the M.S. and Ph.D. track is right for you. If you want to be an industry leader or an entrepreneur, you’ll get the most out of the professional track.

Your end goal of the journey is the biggest factor in this decision. What are you drawn to? Do you want to drill the deepest hole possible and learn the most you can about a particular area? If so, the M.S./Ph.D. program will be wonderful for you. If you’re more interested in a broad general knowledge of engineering that will prepare you for work in industry, the M.Eng program will be most fruitful.

Tell us about the evolution of newer professional programs, like the M.Eng degree.

For a while now, there’s been a sense in the engineering field across the nation that we educate good problem-solvers who aren’t ready for jobs in industry on day one. They lack what have previously been called “soft skills,” or what I think of as “essential skills.” These are things like teamwork, ability to give clear presentations, understanding of business cases, policy and the legal landscape around technologies. Professional programs like UCI’s M.Eng program are able to sharpen students’ essential skills so they’re better prepared right from the start to enter careers in industry.