Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Post 8: The Good Things

During your MS student-life, once you get settled its fun, real fun.

-You have total freedom, enjoy this freedom in a good way, do not lose track
-You have good amount of activities going on other than academics
-You have a chance to do a few crazy things which you never thought you would do
-Few of them will follow Indian timings, few of them will follow American and a few of them will even follow     Vietnamese timings :)

Few things that I happened to enjoy -
- Eating ice-cream at 3-4 am in the night
- Calling everyone, waking them up at 4:30am to go have donuts
- Walking in knee deep snow at midnight to grab hot-chocolate
- Carrying 10 bags(covers) on both shoulders for a mile and a half because we didn't want to waste $4 on a taxi
- Two of us unknowingly finishing up food-stuff from a big cooker because we kept waiting for others and they were late to turn-up for food
- Listening to guitar/other instruments played by others from 3:00 am to 5:00 am
- Get a chance to play almost everyday in the evening, (if others are not sleeping)
- Have days when you sleep for upto 14 hours and have days when you work from 12 noon to 6am for a project
- Go jogging on the streets at 4:00 am because the breeze was good and the weather was awesome.
- Play cricket when its 0 degree Celsius outside and your hands are freezing!

Post 7: Course selection (thesis/non-thesis)

The best people to ask about course selection are the students who are already there at the university. Ask a few of them. Don't just rely on one person's opinion. When you do ask your previous batch students, please don't call them sir/Anna. I felt weird when one guy who was elder to me was addressing me as Anna :), though nothing against him.

Most programs have a Thesis/Non-Thesis option. Many of you would already know this, but just for records, if you have any plans of a possible PhD in future, you should take the Thesis option. That's what gives you some research experience.

If you are completely sure, you will not do a PhD, you might consider both options. The Non-Thesis option will give you a chance to take more courses which might help in your job search. The Thesis option will give you some research experience and teach you a bit of how to do things on your own. With the Non-Thesis, you expect to have more projects. If you choose the Thesis option, then at the end of it, if given anything, you should be able to at-least go on a certain path by yourself without getting totally stuck.

In a Non-Thesis program, you will not rely as heavily on a professor for your graduation. You should choose good courses which you think will help in your job-search. If you want to do a thesis, you will have to find a professor who is willing to work with you and equally important is you should be able to work with him. Your frequencies must match or should eventually match. What I mean is, either both your attitudes should match or he should be able to convince you to follow his attitude or you should be able to convince him to follow your attitude. One of the three must happen for an enjoyable experience. Again, the best people to ask which kind of courses you should take and which professor you should approach are students who are already there at the universities.

I was lucky to have a professor who I guess was ideal for a student with the kind of attitude I had.

Once you know, you have a good adviser, you should take their inputs into account as well. Keep in mind, there is no rule that you should follow someone. The good thing to do would be to listen to everyone and do what you feel would be best for you.

The most IMPORTANT things according to me during this student life period is -
" Prof, Roommates, Gang-mates" you get this combination right, its almost a guarantee that you'l enjoy your study period to the fullest.

Again, I was lucky to have that combination as well, and I had a gang of 9! It was like a dream for me and am sure it was like a dream for all of the as well.

Post 6: Arrival at University

You've decided your university, what next?  As soon as you decide on your university, you should sync up with people who might be your potential roommates. Its important to take this decision carefully, you will be living with him/her. Their habits might affect you - either positive or negative.

Your previous batch students at the university work hard to make arrangements for each of your pickups and temporary accommodation  So, when you give your travel details double check and make sure you give the correct details. If you end up not boarding a flight please let them know as soon as you can. (I saw this happening)

Try to avoid asking questions about funding on your way from airport to the university. Use this time to get used to the environment. It might take a while for your body clock to get adjusted and get used to the new surroundings. You could ask your funding questions well in advance of your coming or wait until you come to terms with the new place and see how it works at the university.

People will get homesick and it might remain for some days depending on the individual. If you are a girl, you tend to feel it more. The good news is, you should be able to find a good set of friends for life. If you've lived in a hostel before, homesickness might not affect you.

 I would suggest to take your time the first few days and get comfortable. Get through the formalities like University tour, library registration, etc. If you haven't yet decided on roommates, you will have to make that decision soon and get settled in a house. You will generally start having more friends now. Its a nice and an important thing to have a good "support staff" :).

In many of my situations, I couldn't have gotten through them without support from my closest friends at the university.

Post 5: Where should I apply ?

I would say the answer to this question depends on your subject area, financial budget, and your preference for location.

Should I join a consultancy ?
Personally, I would say no. It depends on what you trust more- your research or someone else. There are a lot of blogs/websites out there which will give you good information. If you are prepared to spend some time,  then you will find a lot of information relevant to you. There are social sites as well which connect a lot of prospective students. One good site is Edulix.

Do university rankings matter ?
To a large extent no. But, you don't want to go to an unranked university as well. What matters is how good the university is in your area of interest. The rankings are based on a lot of factors which is probably unrelated to you like the number of undergraduate students, the school funds, undergrad retention rate, etc. Also, the university ranking covers all departments of which only one or two will be relevant to you.

If you say so, why is it not suggested to apply to unranked universities ?
The answer is simple - remember, the world is full of different people. You are in a foreign land and a person of international origin. First thing someone will look at when you apply for a job is your university. The locals will definitely know which university is good for which subject. But a good profile or a well placed connection can offset this.

How many universities should I apply ?
There is no specific number really. I would say at-least two universities which are good for your subject and where you are sure you will get through. Also, remember that all the universities have application fee ranging from $50 to $100 depending on location, so you'll have to be wise and selective here.

Any preferred locations ?
Its easier to find jobs and internships if you are located on the coasts, especially the west coast. But, that doesn't mean that its difficult to find a job if you are elsewhere. It all depends on you!. It's important to look at the student cost of living in your place of study. Remember, the cost of living for a student will be lower than that for a full-time worker.

Any suggestions ?
If you find a school that is good for your subject and doesn't have a lot of PhD students, its probably the most ideal place for you. This means you have more chances of finding some sort of funding. Funding in the form of  TA/RA (Teaching Assistantship/ Research Assistantship) is going to cover up most of your tuition expenses and depending on the place you will end up saving some as well. I also suggest you try to find a place where you will get a chance to interact with the locals.

Post 4: Should I choose US or Europe ?

This post is relevant to people who are not sure if they want to do their higher studies in Europe or US.

Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages -
Its easier to get an admission into a good university in Europe for a Master's degree. The quality of universities in Europe is very good as well. The downside of Master's in Europe might be difficulty to find jobs in Europe later. I am not sure about the international student rules in Europe, but have heard that they are not as favorable as the ones in US. Keep in mind, a lot of research takes place in Europe.

I would suggest to avoid a 1 year Master's degree, it will not give you enough time to enjoy/learn the subject.
Moreover, high chances you will not even enjoy your student life, with so much going on. In Europe, countries other than UK usually have a two year Master's degree. Switzerland, Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands have a few excellent universities. Of course, you'll have to learn their language, but it'l be a good experience.

Some people might argue that you can get done with quicker with a one year Master's degree. You don't have to start from basics, you can start from application level -
I would say, unfortunately as the current situation stands, very few people from India have good basics straight after their Bachelor's.
For example, I am a guy with some communications background, how many of the final year Electronics and Communications guys know - What capacity is ? Who Shannon was ? Can you define Fourier Transforms without telling the formula ?
I don't blame the students for not knowing it, neither the teachers. During Bachelor's in most places (in India), by the time the student realizes what's going on, the semester ends!, time to prepare for exams and remember formulas.One possible reason which I believe contributes to this is, the teachers in India are generally paid less compared to a lot of other professionals.

In any case, if you are sure you intend to do a PhD before even taking up Master's, you could look at direct PhD programs. Also, I would say seriously look at options in Europe as well.
Reason: a) Europe has few top-class universities b) Slightly more easier to get into top universities in Europe than the ones in USA and more importantly c) Since the economy is not doing so well, there is a need for new things, which means much more active research and more funding for research. d) if you commit to a PhD, your application from a funding perspective will be looked at more seriously.

Post 3: Should I really do MS ?

Many of us will have this question initially - Should I really do MS ?
The answer to this question depends on you!, but be aware that the whole process takes a little more than a year.

Some people develop their interest for MS/ PhD pretty early, before they start Bachelors. Some people develop it during their Bachelors, but a lot of people are not sure even after they finish their Bachelor's degree.

My suggestion is to have an open mind. You don't really have to think about everything in a sequential manner, you just have to do them in the right manner. You always can think about Step-2 before Step-1, all that matters is you should do Step-1 before Step-2. More often than not, this approach will get you better prepared for Step-1 as well. In this case, you think about what would you do after you get your MS. This will help you get some points for your SOP (Statement of Purpose for your application as well)

Most probably, your answer will be on of the following -
1. I want to learn, I don't feel like I have learnt a lot in Bachelor's
2. I want to explore, I want to see how it is to study in another well-known place
3. I want to get a good job and make money
4. If I get an MS from USA, then I'l get married in a good family.
5. I am a girl who is going to turn 25, I want to get away from marriage.

Now, if the answer is 4 or 5, its not really a good reason to pursue MS. You are probably wasting time, effort and money in a lot of cases.

Another important thing, is to listen to others but follow only what you think would be correct in these matters. During the time I was applying for MS, I had the chance to meet an Assistant Professor from one of the well known universities. He said, an MS from US will make you a hot piece in the marriage market, but it would be good if you could spend another year, do some good work and get into one of the top 3-5 ranked universities. I am glad, I didn't take that piece of advice!

My mom realized that I would be happier if I did my Master's. By nature, I like travelling and experiencing different things. But, when I got to 8th semester, while doing my project I realized, I didn't know a lot of things and had lots more to learn. I wanted to explore and experience!

The biggest take-away for me from my MS in the USA is the attitude I've developed towards life in general :)

Post 2: Philosophies!

When you ask for some advice, I think its important what you think of the person whom you want to take advice from.

This post will be about a few philosophies I like to follow which will be beneficial as a student (of and in life).

A few teachings of  the great Chanakya. There is great value for 'common-sense'.
- Realized learning (vidya) is our friend while travelling
- Do not live in a country where you are not respected, cannot earn your livelihood, have no friends, or cannot acquire knowledge
- He who runs away from a fearful calamity, a foreign invasion, a terrible famine, and the companionship of wicked men is safe
- Consider again and again the following: the right time, the right friends, the right place, the right means of income, the right ways of spending, and from whom you derive your power
- By his own actions a man entangles himself in the world, and by his own efforts he extricates himself
- He who is prepared for the future and he who deals cleverly with any situation that may arise are both    happy; but the fatalistic man who wholly depends on luck is ruined

Source for the above - Chanakya_Niti

What I have learnt from my experiences and follow:
- Giving the right advice to a fool is useless and a waste of time & energy or as I like to call it "idiots will be idiots"
- Give more value to become the best in your strengths than trying to improve your weaknesses
- Someone who works hard in the right direction cannot remain poor for long

Post 1: Blog Info

Why this blog ? 
I think this could be useful to aspiring MS students.
I like writing, what I do at work does not necessarily stop me from writing :). If its useful to someone, then its a good thing.

Content ?
It will have my opinion to few of the general questions students usually have before/during their application process. Please note that at this time, I don't have plans to comprehensively cover everything. There already are websites/blogs having this information. Rather than the general information available, I will try to stress more on your student life in the US (you could call it the intangible, psychological part.) I'l shoot for about 10-12 posts

Any other blogs to refer ?
Most people I know invariably look at the "Happy Schools Blog". This is pretty comprehensive with some general information.

Objective ?
(i)To cover most things people would ask someone who is studying or just finished MS, especially in the USA, so that to some extent you can save the time of two people.
(ii) After reading a few of the posts, one can have a better understanding of what to expect during the student life of a MS candidate.

A personal taste: Typically, I like to focus on breadth rather than depth. I have a liking for psychology as well!

Something to remember -
- The content in this blog is copyrighted material.
- All opinions are my views and there is no obligation that they should be accepted/rejected by anyone

If there is something, you would want me to write about and you don't find it easily on the internet, then let me know and if I am capable of, I will update it whenever I get some time.
I am not too keen on grammar/spellings here, I am more keen on communicating my thinking through, so you might find a few spelling/grammatical errors.