Wassup (Prospective) Grad Students!
If you are looking for insights on grad schools in USA and Canada, then this is the (another) blog post for you. There are a lot of resources out there, and it is challenging to find the right information.
Frequently, I am contacted by a prospective student, like you, on LinkedIn, and a majority of the time they have the same questions. Hence, to save some of your time and mine, I am compiling a list of questions, with my version of answers, in this blog post.
Before you read ahead, be advised.
The opinions expressed in this post are mine. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or the views of the organizations I am or have affiliated with. I do not intend any part of content to malign any organization, group, company, individual or anyone or anything.
Some of my opinions are backed by my experience and my journey, in and after grad school.
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Prospective Grad Students applying to schools in USA and Canada, specifically, for students applying for robotics programs. I also try to incorporate questions that are application to most/some programs under STEM education.
Frequently asked questions
How good are the MS or/and PhD program in robotics (overall) at WPI?
WPI is super awesome. It is the first school to give a BS, MS, PHD degree in Robotics in North America. It is also the only institute to have a Robotics Department. The professors are super nice, courses are well constructed and resources are plenty. I could not have been more happy at WPI.
My personal experience: I loved WPI because you get a lot of exposure. Also, Massachusetts is a hub of robotics and WPI is super famous among companies, especially in north-east USA. WPI is one of the very few schools in the world to have a wide variety of research professors/labs working on a wide spectrum of robotics research. To more visit this page.
I got an admit from WPI and many others. What school should I go for?
All the universities are great. There is no correct answer. Compare the coursework. Labs, profs, the research they do, lifestyle, weather and region they belong to. Are there enough companies nearby that you can apply after graduation?
My personal experience: Look here.
Does university ranking matter? Why does WPI have such low rank and why should I consider it?
Brief Answer: NO, ranking never matters!
"It is never the college, it is the student!", a quote by a great human and my mentor Dr. Ronak Shodhan.
Ranking does not matter. Ranking of a school is not determined by the quality of education or by the number of students getting employed. Ranking of the schools are calculated based on the amount of funding they have, their scientific/academic output, student to teacher ratio and many, many other factors. PLEASE, Don't choose the right school based on ranking. Always, see if it offers the program you want to attend and the outstanding, legendary professors backing those programs.
Like I said before, WPI's ranking might be low, yet WPI has one of the best Robotics program in North America, even in the world. WPI is the only school in USA to have a robotics department and they are doing a wonderful job. WPI is famous in most of the US but is a small school. There are limitations in funding opportunities for grad students and often limited to only PhD students. That being said, the resources - technological and human, are readily available. All professors are always available and known in their respective fields.
My opinion might read biased, and so here is my personal experience. I attended a top raking school for the first year of my grad school, because I had the same mindset for going to a ranking school. However, once I spent the first semester there, I found that the school does not the courses that I would like to take,. There is more competition to survive and less importance was on hands on learning. I am not saying the school was bad or wrong; I am saying that it was wrong for me. I wanted to learn core robotics and explore different fields of robotic. Again, I am not saying that I wasted a year, and I learned various things at that school that helped me to find my way to WPI. And so, I moved to WPI, and I was never more happy.
How can I get RAship under a professor? How competitive is it to get RAship? What about TAship?
RA/TA Positions are limited to PhD students, at-least in RBE department at WPI and many other schools. You can volunteer in a lab or work on a project.
It is extremely rare for a MS student to get it, but not impossible. Still, I would recommended not putting your faith on the fact that you can easily get a funding at least in the good schools. I have known no MS Student in Robotics Department who has had RA/TA funding, in last 5 years (I can be wrong.). And, this is the case in entire North America.
Even not all PhDs get RA in their first two years. Funding is (mostly) not for MS students and is also competitive for PhD Students. As a PhD Student, I was a TA for 4.5 years and RA for 2 years. Also, my family paid the first semester's fees. I was not funded even if I had a PhD admit and had to volunteer in labs.
In volunteering, you get the experience of working in the lab, and that also is competitive (depending on the professor). There is no stipend for MS students. But, you get experience in the lab, which helps a lot while interviewing for jobs and internships.
Internships are the best way to fund yourself during your grad school. Try for them, and if you don't get it, don't stress out, there are on-campus jobs are there to help you survive. Always focus on improving yourself and the rest shall follow. Watch 3 Idiots if you have to, same thing!
I have mailed professors and no one have replied to me. How can I check if they are looking for a grad student?
Research or tenure-track professors are the busiest people I have ever seen in my life. Their jobs are packed with at least three jobs; lecturer, researcher, and lab manager. If they don't reply, don't get upset; they simply don't have time to attend to all the emails they get.
Best way is to check their personal or lab website. They often update vacancies on their webpages. Even better, contact the Post-Docs or Ph.D. Students/Candidates in their lab. They usually respond, at least I did, to every single email and LinkedIn message.
How can I work in a lab?
Every lab has their own dynamics. Most of the labs, I know, have a form of hierarchy.
For MS Students: Contact the PhD Students or the Post-Docs and see if they need help with their research. I usually used to have at least 1 MS student for most of my PhD journey. All of them were rewarded with a research credit, and no form of monetary compensation was involved. But, all of them got jobs in super-awesome companies with super-awesome packages, way above the average pay scale for a MS student. SO FOCUS ON WORKING IN THE LAB AND NOT THE FUNDING! There is also another way, take the professor's course and get noticed with your project, skills and interactions, then show interest in working at their lab.
For PhD students (it's easier as compared to MS Students): Usually, the professors would have known about you or read your profile during the admission process. After the admit, email the professors saying that you are a PhD Student and would like to know more about the lab and the research being done at those labs.
How is Worcester as a city?
Worcester is a small town near Boston. It is not a major city and has challenges related to it. The public transport is like it does not exist. Fewer options of food choices and shopping. Indian store is a bit far away, but few items are available near the school. It also is cold and snow remains on the street for few months. Yet, I lived happily for about 7 years in Worcester. I have had a lot of friends complain about Worcester and many people dont like it as much, specially if they are used to a fast city life.
Cost of Living: This is highly subjective and may depend on the type of lifestyle you want. The following is for an average living; can be less or more depending on where and how you live. Rent ~$400 (usually ranges between $350-$500) Food ~$300-400 (if you only cook at home); I think. Bills ~$150 (internet, phone, electricity, heating)