Diane L. Peters, Ph.D., P.E.

Welcome to Diane Peters' website

Advice to Students


If you need money for school, as so many students do, you want to get scholarships. There are a lot of them out there, so how do you figure out what you actually have a chance to get? Start by listing what makes you the unique, incredible person you are. What are your talents? What obstacles have you overcome? What are you passionate about? Fundamentally, who are you? Once you know this, you'll be able to evaluate scholarships to see if you're a good candidate for them, and be better able to explain why you should get it. Obviously, you could apply for everything, but since time is limited, you want to start with the ones you have the best chance of getting.

In many cases, you'll need to write an essay or personal statement for the scholarship application. If it's specifically a personal statement, then this is where you explain who you are and why you're outstanding. As someone who has judged scholarships before, this makes a huge difference - if you come across as a real person, with a compelling story, then the judges will WANT to give you money, if we possibly can. There are a lot of different ways you can do this; you might explain how you want to solve some serious problem, and that's led you to your choice of major. Or, you might be enthusiastic about cool technical stuff for its own sake. Both are equally valid; I tell students that there are many "flavors of awesomeness", and it's better to be genuine than to try to be someone else - it's very hard to pull it off.

Many times you'll also need a reference letter or two. As a professor, I'm happy to write these letters, if I can. Many of my colleagues are, too - don't be afraid to ask. You can help us to help you, though, if you do a couple of things. First of all, make sure we have enough time. If you didn't find out about a scholarship until the very last minute, I can TRY to get a letter written for you, but it's hard to do a good job without time to write, evaluate, and revise. So, give as much notice as you can, and make sure I know what the deadline is.

Second, make sure I've got all the information on what the scholarship is. I need to know whether to give you a physical letter, send it somewhere, or submit it electronically. More than that, though, what's the scholarship all about? What aspects of your awesomeness should I emphasize? If it's about leadership, then I'm going to write a different letter than if it's about overcoming obstacles in life. If it's for someone with an interest in the automotive industry, I'll emphasize different things than if it's aimed at community involvement. Usually this information is on the organization's website, so you can just provide a link.

Finally, make sure I have all the information on you that I need. I'm going to draw on my knowledge of you - how you did in my class, or what you did in that organization for which I'm faculty advisor, but I want to relate that back to other things, like your involvement in multiple organizations or the other courses you've taken. If you have an updated resume, then that's extremely helpful. You can also suggest a few key points that you'd like me to emphasize, if you know that they'd be particularly important for this scholarship.

On Office Hours

When should you come to my office hours? You should show up if you're confused or behind in class. Show up if you're OK but you think you might be about to fall behind. Show up if you're looking for an excuse to procrastinate - just ask about my current research, or past experience in industry, or tell me about a cool project you've done at your co-op job. Show up if you just want to say hi. Show up if you want me to know you well enough to write a good reference letter for a scholarship. Show up if you want to grab a handful of M&M's from the candy dish. Show up if you want to learn about any of the professional organizations I belong to. Show up if you're bored and need to kill time. Seriously, there isn't really a bad reason to come to office hours. If you want to see me and my office hours don't work for you (for example, if you have another class at that time), just pop in when the door's open or make an appointment if it's urgent and you want to make sure I'll be there. Faculty members have office hours for a reason. Use them! We're not fire-breathing dragons, really. I promise. Help yourself to some M&M's.

Graduate School

Should you go to graduate school? If so, when? The only answer I can give is, "It depends." I worked before getting my master's degree, as well as while I got it, and worked for several more years afterwards before starting on my doctorate. For me, I think that was the right decision. Your right decision might be different. I do recommend that almost all students get a master's degree of some kind at some point - now or later, in their original field or in a different field - but a doctorate isn't necessary for everyone. You need to figure out what you want, and what it takes to get there. I can talk to you about it, and share my experiences (feel free to stop by my office to talk about it), but ultimately, you have to figure out the right decision for you. One thing I would suggest is, if you know what kind of job you want five or ten years down the road, look at what the people who have that job now did to get there. That can provide you with a starting point.

Getting Good Grades

Everyone wants good grades, right? Besides the obvious point, that you need to learn the material, how do you get them? And, how do you learn the material since that's important for its own sake as well as for grades?

Show up for class. Seriously, there's a strong correlation between showing up for class and doing well. Some people can truly learn on their own, and would grasp the material equally well if my parents' Golden Retriever, Autumn, was up in front of the classroom. Most students, though, benefit from showing up, so please do yourself a favor and come to class.

Write neatly. I don't expect artful calligraphy, or perfect penmanship (do they still even teach that in school?), but if your homework, quiz, or test looks like there was a graphite explosion over the page, that's a problem. If I can't read it, it's wrong - and I can't even tell you where you went wrong, because I have no clue what you did.

Think of homework and tests not just as a problem to solve, but as communication. You're not just trying to get the answer - you're trying to communicate that you understand the material and how you solved the problem. If I can see your thought process, and what you are doing as you solve a problem, then I can give you points for what you did right - even if you went off track at some point - and explain where you went wrong.

Do a sanity check on everything. In a statics course, if you solve a problem and find that a rope has a compression force in it, something is wrong. Ropes don't push. If you solve a problem in thermodynamics and find a temperature that's negative on the Kelvin (absolute) scale, something is wrong. That's not physically possible. If you solve a problem in physics and get a velocity that's greater than the speed of light, you guessed it, something is wrong. Sometimes you don't know what's a reasonable answer yet, since some subjects seem more intuitive than others, but you'll develop that with experience.