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Author Topic: Computer Science MS - Making the Right Choice  (Read 9075 times)
ironmaiden
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« on: March 28, 2012, 2:18:13 PM »

Hey all,

I'm currently finishing off my BS in Computer Science from a top school in my country and the region.

I have been admitted to the following MS programs:

- Oxford: 1-year taught program with research project, no funding
- Georgia Tech: 2-year thesis-option program, no funding
- McGill: 2-year thesis-option program, funded
- Simon Fraser University (SFU): 2-year thesis-option program, funded

With respect to my research interests, which are in the area of data mining/web search, GA Tech and Simon Fraser are closest. I know SFU is a MUCH less reputable university than the other three mentioned in this thread, but chances for interesting research and publications at MS-level seem to be much higher, knowing that GA Tech has hundreds of Ph.D students already filling every research position with every professor, while SFU faculty dedicate more of their budget and time to MS students.

As for McGill, it beats SFU in terms of reputation in Canada and the US, while an MS at Oxford might represent a huge step into virtually going to any Ph.D program I'd like to in the UK afterwards.


Considering that I intend to follow my MS with a Ph.D (hopefully in a top school in the US), which program do you think I should choose?


I'd appreciate any feedback really! Thanks
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2012, 2:53:53 PM »

You didn't think about this back when you decided where to apply?  For example, why did you apply to McGill (which otherwise seems like the obvious place to go) if nobody there is in your area of interest?

As you are at a good department now, talk to your undergraduate advisor, who should be able to give you advice tailored to your background and goals, which you won't get here. - DvF
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2012, 2:55:43 PM »

Also, why doesn't funding availability appear to be a consideration?
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ironmaiden
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2012, 3:49:58 AM »

You didn't think about this back when you decided where to apply?  For example, why did you apply to McGill (which otherwise seems like the obvious place to go) if nobody there is in your area of interest?

As you are at a good department now, talk to your undergraduate advisor, who should be able to give you advice tailored to your background and goals, which you won't get here. - DvF

Hey thanks for your reply. It's not that McGill is clueless in my area of interest but it's less developed than say, SFU or Georgia Tech. One main reason I applied there is reputation, availability of funding and the geographic area. I thought (and still do) It'll be a good pick given this set of favorable factors.
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ironmaiden
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2012, 3:51:28 AM »

Also, why doesn't funding availability appear to be a consideration?

Hey, It DEFINITELY is a main consideration. It doesn't appear so here because I am looking for feedback concerning research area fit and how this affects getting into a top PhD program later on. Hope It's clearer now!
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2012, 4:02:05 AM »

My main advice (talk to your real life advisors) stands.

If you go to McGill and end up shifting areas a bit, why is this a problem?  You will probably shift areas many times over your career, the absolute easiest time to do it is at the MS level.

Do not go anywhere without funding.  Don't even think about it, not even a little tiny bit. - DvF
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elie_s_dad2
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2012, 11:55:55 AM »

Hi Ironmaiden,

The advice to talk to your adviser is good.

But assuming you just want perspectives on these schools from random people on the internet -

Oxford - Seems like this is the way to go to maximize prestige.  You mention it is the best for continuing in the UK but Oxford isn't exactly a bad name to have on your resume for looking in the US either.  Other than that, I don't know much about the UK system but I hear it is fairly different from instruction in the US, so you should research that and see if it is a fit.

Georgia Tech - I'm in the US, and Georgia Tech has a good reputation.  I don't know about their CS or data mining departments, but at that large of an institution I'm sure you could find something to do at the Master's level (i.e. it sounds like your not planning on getting a PhD from the same institution, so we're just talking about you're learning the graduate level 'ground floor' which you should find some way to apply to your interest in data mining at a large university).

McGill - Same as Georgia Tech.

Simon Fraser University - I've never heard of this university, so unless it's well known within CS (I'm in math / stats), I think you have better options.

Given the above and that McGill is offering you funding that does seem like a winner but again it's also a function of how you want to spend the 1-2 years of your life.  Consider where you want to live and what you can afford, etc or maybe you just want to go to Oxford for the name.

I think DvF is wrong that you should not go anywhere without funding in the mathematical sciences (although I believe DvF is also in mathematical sciences as well, so take my post as one perspective).  Depending on the tuition at the university (like in the US the instate tuition is low for state universities), you may end up with a perfectly manageable monthly service payment to your overall student loan for 1-2 yrs tuition (assuming you did not get loans for undergrad) which would be offset (and hopefully more) with the marginal increase to your wages based on your MS degree.  And you would have learned something and you would be oriented to jobs that are a good fit for you.

But that assumes you would not be doing a PhD after MS, but rather working in industry.  If you are going to do the PhD, taking the debt is more problematic because you will be spending a number of years after graduating from MS (6?) not servicing the loan which by the time you completed your PhD could become substantial.  Although with a PhD in CS, you would in all likelihood be employable at a wage that would allow you to deal with this assuming you did not stay in academia.  Of course, then you're using your money to pay loans rather than whatever else you would want to do with your money...

Anyway, my point is that I'd be hard pressed to think of anyone I know who hasn't used debt in some fashion to further their life goals.  You should just go into taking loans consciously (realizing that you have to pay them back) and with some basic knowledge of the time value of money.

You should do the math regarding how much loan money you would take and the interest etc and weigh with the relative prestige and your living preferences and come out with the best choice for you.  Your adviser can give some insight into the factors, but you weigh them yourself and make the best decision for you.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2012, 11:58:18 AM by elie_s_dad » Logged
daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2012, 9:03:17 PM »

I think DvF is wrong that you should not go anywhere without funding in the mathematical sciences (although I believe DvF is also in mathematical sciences as well, so take my post as one perspective).
Yes.  I was even a R.A. in CS at one point in my life.

The point about not going unfunded was not whether it could pay off eventually, but rather what it means for your career.  If a department is not ready to give you some form of assistantship, then (a) it speaks to their financial situation, (b) it speaks to how they view your quality as a student, (c) you will not get the teaching or research or fellowship credential on your CV that is an important side benefit of the funding (and that all your competitors for PhD programs will have on their CVs), (d) you will not have a reference letter from a teaching or research supervisor when you apply for your next gig, (e) you might not get an office on campus, or access to staff perks like subsidized bus passes, (f) if the degree doesn't lead anywhere you will have more regrets.

Just don't do it, even if you have a trust fund.

PS: Simon Fraser is a perfectly good school - I have colleagues there who are top notch in their areas - but McGill still looks like the obvious place for you provided you take a flexible/long-range look at matters like specialty.   - DvF
« Last Edit: April 01, 2012, 9:06:17 PM by daniel_von_flanagan » Logged

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elie_s_dad2
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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2012, 11:37:29 PM »

I guess I see your point, but it seems like all your points are only applicable if someone wants a career in academia (which is often an untrue assumption even for PhD students).

I am biased because I am doing the thing your deriding here, i.e. getting a terminal masters degree (without a trust fund).  From my perspective, I really don't see it as a mistake as the graduate program has certainly increased my career prospects and I had a wage adequate to comfortably service my eventual loan prior to entering grad school.

I know students who have graduated from my terminal program and they're doing fine (relevant career and good compensation partially helped by having an MS).  I've interviewed in the last 8 months for industry internships (successfully) and things like reference letters rarely come into play in my experience.  Also, as no HR person or hiring manager is looking at anything longer than a 1-page resume (and they don't spend much time looking at that even), CV gold stars are going to eventually give way to listing what the employer is looking for which is work experience.

I also know of one student who entered a PhD program after completing his 'terminal MS'.  They didn't seem to have a lot of difficulty, but I didn't know the person all that well so I could have missed some of the challenges you describe.  Having the terminal masters was certainly not a barrier to entering a PhD program, however.

Obviously, you are speaking from a position of some experience students you have had.  I really can just offer anecdotal evidence based on myself and my peers.  All I can say is there exist students who have gone down this route, been successful and have no regrets.  Maybe we're the exceptions, but I'd be surprised if there weren't other people who benefited from this type of program.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2012, 11:40:56 PM by elie_s_dad » Logged
elie_s_dad2
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« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2012, 11:42:44 PM »

*That was supposed to read:

Obviously you are speaking from a position of experience based on some students you've had.

No offense intended!
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2012, 12:17:44 AM »

I was responding to the OP based on the information in his original question. - DvF
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2012, 7:13:13 AM »

I was responding to the OP based on the information in his original question. - DvF
 

As was I, and I wasn't looking for clarification from the OP. I was pointing out something that s/he seemed to be ignoring. If you read more posts on these fora, OP (and elies_dad), you'll see that it's a very rare thing that anyone is encouraged to pursue an advanced degree without funding.
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elie_s_dad2
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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2012, 5:53:30 PM »

I was responding to the OP based on the information in his original question. - DvF
 

As was I, and I wasn't looking for clarification from the OP. I was pointing out something that s/he seemed to be ignoring. If you read more posts on these fora, OP (and elies_dad), you'll see that it's a very rare thing that anyone is encouraged to pursue an advanced degree without funding.

I have read many posts on this fora because I like the discussions, however I don't post that much.

I am aware of the bias on this website.  I was posting because the bias (not funding == bad always!) in and of itself is not rational if you are pursuing a graduate degree you can afford (and you don't need a trust fund to afford it, affordability being a function of what kind of loan you can get).  If you are working in an area useful in industry (e.g. all of the mathematical sciences), an MS should marginally increase your future wages which offsets your loan servicing obligations.  This would continue to be true if you went on to a PhD in the mathematical sciences.

There is an issue of opportunity cost for not working for 1-2 years, but there is the utility of studying the material (ie your enjoyment of the material) and the benefit of orienting your career as you see fit.

Based on their life experience, many posters are pushing a certain bias.  Because I think it is not true, I wanted to offer the OP my perspective (based on my own life experience and knowing of many people who have gotten MS in mathematical sciences without funding).

People are bound to have different perspectives and life experiences, the OP can determine whatever is useful to them.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2012, 5:55:55 PM by elie_s_dad » Logged
elie_s_dad2
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« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2012, 6:28:50 PM »

I was responding to the OP based on the information in his original question. - DvF
 

As was I, and I wasn't looking for clarification from the OP. I was pointing out something that s/he seemed to be ignoring. If you read more posts on these fora, OP (and elies_dad), you'll see that it's a very rare thing that anyone is encouraged to pursue an advanced degree without funding.

I have read many posts on this fora because I like the discussions, however I don't post that much.

I am aware of the bias on this website.  I was posting because the bias (not funding == bad always!) in and of itself is not rational if you are pursuing a graduate degree you can afford (and you don't need a trust fund to afford it, affordability being a function of what kind of loan you can get).  If you are working in an area useful in industry (e.g. all of the mathematical sciences), an MS should marginally increase your future wages which offsets your loan servicing obligations.  This would continue to be true if you went on to a PhD in the mathematical sciences.

There is an issue of opportunity cost for not working for 1-2 years, but there is the utility of studying the material (ie your enjoyment of the material) and the benefit of orienting your career as you see fit.

Based on their life experience, many posters are pushing a certain bias.  Because I think it is not true, I wanted to offer the OP my perspective (based on my own life experience and knowing of many people who have gotten MS in mathematical sciences without funding).

People are bound to have different perspectives and life experiences, the OP can determine whatever is useful to them.

*What I meant to write above ->  "This would continue to be true (of your future wages relative to your MS loan obligation) if you went on to a funded PhD in the mathematical sciences."
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2012, 7:54:15 PM »

If you are working in an area useful in industry (e.g. all of the mathematical sciences), an MS should marginally increase your future wages which offsets your loan servicing obligations.  This would continue to be true if you went on to a PhD in the mathematical sciences.

It is not just a matter of opportunity cost if the intent is to move on to a PhD.  See my post above, where I give 5 reasons which are completely unrelated to opportunity cost or affordability.

The original question was not about a terminal MS. 

My answer is from the point of view of someone who sits on graduate admissions committees and faculty search committees.  That is my "bias".  - DvF
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