Building a Professional Network of Peers

Discover why the cohort model is such an asset for MSR students

The cohort model is one of the biggest differentiators of the MSR program.

When Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program launched in 2014, it was intentionally designed to include a relatively small number of students. The goal was to build a cohort of students who would go through the program together and be able to lean on one another throughout their year-long experience.

Four years later, that same cohort model is one of the biggest differentiators of the MSR program.

With a cohort size of less than 20 students, the program’s faculty are able to adapt to the individual needs and interests of each student. They also are able to better match students with projects that align with each student’s interests and skills.

With the understanding and expectation that students work closely together throughout the year, Program Director and Professor Todd Murphey and Associate Director Jarvis Schultz intentionally recruit applicants with varied backgrounds and experiences to better complement the overall cohort dynamic.

Past students have had backgrounds in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, physics, biological science and social science.

“The students get to work together in laboratory space that is dedicated to the program and take advantage of the diversity of backgrounds,” Murphey said. “Someone with a strong mechanical design background can help, and get help from, someone with a strong programming background.

“The students likely learn at least as much from each other as they do from formal classwork.”

Classmates in the MSR program tend to form tight bonds with one another outside of the classroom. Cohorts routinely organize their own weekly meetings to share their backgrounds, expertise and unique perspectives. They also put together intramural sports teams and schedule extracurricular activities in Evanston and Chicago.

Between the time spent in and out of the classroom, students develop a strong support system they are able to leverage long after their time at Northwestern.

“The students form a peer network that will matter to them professionally in the future,” Murphey said. “The student peer network matters for getting hired and later for hiring. It also matters for understanding what a different part of the industry is doing and having informal connections throughout the industry.”