Finding Purpose: A Graduate School Story

Variety of defects found in semiconductor manufacturing

Pursuing a PhD in engineering requires perseverance, and having a purpose helps when you have a rough day. I delayed graduate school because the statement of purpose portion of the application made me realize that I wasn’t sure of my purpose. So I took the risk to wait on a PhD as I began an entry level engineering job. My experience at IBM rewarded me with a purpose.

While working in the Product Assurance organization that supported IBM’s ASIC development, I became enthralled with testing semiconductors. Exposure to the topic via IBM training gave me a broad introduction. Listening to senior engineers discuss the issues that necessitated testing for delay faults (called Gross AC Test,) made me understand that a defect’s impact can change. Finally, I became inspired by the engineers that I worked with when evaluating the first implementation of Weighted Random Patterns (see this post for an introduction.)

Finding purpose is like finding a key

As I had pursued my masters of engineering with evening classes, the next step would be a PhD. So now I returned to writing my statement of purpose. I sought input from several engineers and they suggested I mention signal integrity, package technology and Computer Aided Design tools. However, one sentence needed no coaching–“I’m fascinated by defects in the semiconductor process and the engineering aspects of design tolerance, and the preventing and detecting of them via test and diagnosis.”

That’s the line that caught the attention of Professor Wojciech Maly at Carnegie Mellon’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department.

That’s the line that gave me strength during my five and a half years of my PhD studies.

That’s the line that remains true today.

Have a productive day,

Anne Meixner

Dear Reader, What memory or question does this piece spark in you? Did you have something specific in mind when you went to graduate school? Are you considering graduate school and not sure what to say in the statement of purpose? Please share your comments or stories below. You, too, can write for The Engineers’ Daughter–See Contribute for more information.

Additional Reading

Semiconductor manufacturing takes many steps; read here for an introduction.

The Gross AC Test was documented in an IBM Journal of Research and Development in 1990 (Volume: 34, Issue: 2.3).  Paper title “A Logic Chip Delay-test method Based on System Timing,” the lead author is one of my engineering role models–Franco Motika

Like me you will want others to read over your statement of purpose.  To draft it you may find the advice from UC Berkeley or Princeton Review helpful.


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