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Advice for Returning to School After Long Break? 580

Posted by Cliff
from the back-to-the-books dept.
arohann asks: "A few months ago, I quit my secure, well-paying (but boring) job as a software engineer in India and have been applying to graduate schools in the US, Canada and the UK. My aim is to get back to computer engineering studies (my undergrad major) as a grad student. However, after a 5 year break from academics I'm not sure about my decision and could do with some advice from Slashdot users."
"Here are some of the things that I'd like to know:

1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience? Note that I haven't been working as a Computer Engineer but as a Software Engineer.

2) What are the differences between graduate studies at the Masters level in the US, Canada and the UK? I already know a bit from what is available on the websites, so I'm looking for some deeper insights.

3) I'd like to hear from people who've done this, i.e. quit their jobs and gone back to get a higher engineering degree. What problems did you face and what advice do you have?

4) People who've studied in the UK at the MSc, MPhil, MEngg level - how did you fund your education? Were you able to get things like teaching or research assistantships and how much of your costs did these cover?"
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Advice for Returning to School After Long Break?

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  • by LBArrettAnderson (655246) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:07PM (#11311576)
    Step 1: Have a tech job outsourced to you, forcing someone else to find a way to get back into school. Step 2: Ask them how they did it. Step 3: Expect an answser. Step 4: Profit!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:18PM (#11311710)
      step 1: create a global free market economy
      step 2: get fat off the work of foreign workers paid much less that you
      step 3: complain when your boss discovers that the free market apllies to your job too.....
      step 4: post on slashdot about it, instead of looking at why it happened.
    • by dark_requiem (806308) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:20PM (#11311744)
      Step 1: Demand a policy of inflationary government fiscal programs and a welfare state. Step 2: Watch as your wages go up, but ability to compete in an international labor market plummets. Step 3: Complain when companies do the rational thing and opt for cheaper labor. Step 4: Mock someone for trying to better themselves because you're bitter and unable to compete for wage rates.
      • Unfortunately I can't post as AC (and I'm too lazy to find a working proxy), but I always feel the need to point out when somebody says something based on ignorant and biased views. First of all, I have not yet dropped out of school. I will continue my education until I feel I have done enough. That probably includes at least a Masters degree.

        I was pointing out an obvious perspective. No mocking was done. In no part of my Guide to Success post did I say anything about the asker being a bad person, sim
    • by glass_window (207262) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:41PM (#11311970)
      Haha, I checked out the posts to this article because I wondered how many people would be complaining like that. What I was thinking was more along the lines of:

      You took my job, now I can't afford to send my kid to college, but it turns out he/she was put on the waiting list in favor of the software engineers from India that took my job! What will they take next, will I wake up to find one of them sleeping with my wife?
  • Interesting (Score:4, Funny)

    by ravenspear (756059) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:08PM (#11311583)
    Americans want to get out of school and into the workplace and Indians want to get out of the workplace and back in school.

    Sounds like a fair trade to me.
  • by gvc (167165) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:09PM (#11311594)
    Mature students have pretty good track records. What they may lack or have forgotten in skills, they make up for in attitude and general savvy.

    So don't be intimidated. Sure, you'll have some catching up to do, but it won't be that onerous.
    • by happyemoticon (543015) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:26PM (#11311809) Homepage

      Right on. Every graduate admissions guru I've talked to from computer science to humanities to law says they prefer somebody with field experience as opposed to (exposing my personal bias here) a snot-nosed 22 year-old who thinks they're God's gift to the university. Arrogant people are very hard to teach.

      • After a couple of times were people go to you program that you spend a long time perfecting and goes to you that "Your Program Sucks" Puts you Arrogant levels down a couple of notches. Also it is an issue that the People with field experience actually have a better value in education then someone whos life has been based in education for 18 years, whos view in education is must finish these stupid courses, vs. understanding what the courses offer.
    • I've been dipping in and out of a part-time MBA program for a while, and would generally agree with your point. The biggest adjustment I had to make was simply being able to sit and listen to someone for three hours. Not having done it in a while, I found it to be a skill that had to be relearned.

      There were some other things, especially being able to bang out a 10 page paper in an evening without having anything particular to say. But on the whole, as the parent says, general cluefulness makes up for a whol

    • by eln (21727) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:31PM (#11311876) Homepage
      I'm going back for a bachelor's degree, so it's a little different, but so far (after 3 semesters back), my experience has been pretty positive.

      First, I kept my full time software engineering job while I went to school. It makes it so I have less time at home, but I'm still able to maintain a "full time" (12 credit hours) schedule at school and maintain a good GPA (3.75 so far).

      I think you're dead on about mature students. My first time in college, I went in with a full scholarship, and lost it after the first semester because of poor grades. I ended up with a 2.1 GPA and dropped out after 3 semesters suffering from pretty severe depression. I think a lot of this is due to immaturity, and the fact that I just wasn't ready. After 13 years of school in a highly structured environment, I think the sudden shift to the freedoms and unstructured environment of college were just too much for me. I had a lot of trouble motivating myself, I partied too much, and I got poor grades as a result. The whole thing was a downward spiral.

      Anyway, I took 7 years, got into the workforce, rode the dot-com bubble up and back down again, and decided to give it another go. It is MUCH easier this time around. The workload is much easier to handle now that I've been in the workforce so long, and I have experience juggling things on tight timelines. Trust me, with my work experience to this point, deadlines in college are a cakewalk in comparison. The only thing I found difficult is I would forget really basic stuff in math classes, but after taking 10 seconds to look it up, the rust was shaken from my memory, and it all came back to me.

      Going back to school is a great decision, and I encourage anyone, especially those who have not yet gotten a 4-year degree, to do it. As competition in fields like programming becomes more intense, 4-year degrees are quickly becoming the baseline qualification that you must have to be considered for any job.
      • by macdaddy (38372) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:12PM (#11313259) Homepage Journal
        I think you're dead on about mature students. My first time in college, I went in with a full scholarship, and lost it after the first semester because of poor grades. I ended up with a 2.1 GPA and dropped out after 3 semesters suffering from pretty severe depression. I think a lot of this is due to immaturity, and the fact that I just wasn't ready. After 13 years of school in a highly structured environment, I think the sudden shift to the freedoms and unstructured environment of college were just too much for me. I had a lot of trouble motivating myself, I partied too much, and I got poor grades as a result. The whole thing was a downward spiral.

        Damn. Boy does that ever sound familiar. I had 3 scholarships and I lost all of them too. I did horribly. I didn't know how to study. I didn't really get the importance of higher education. All I wanted to do was work at a campus job I liked (they really needed me which was a big plus for me) and play in the marching band. IIRC my GPA started with a decimal point. Yeah, I did a horrible job. I drug it out for 2.5 years though instead of only 3 semesters. Then I went into the work force. I just wasn't ready for college at that time either, no matter how I tested before entering it.

        I've been planning on going back for a number of years now. First I needed to get out of debt and get some savings to live on for my first year or so (no outside work temptations to drag me away from my studies). I had just gotten out of debt when my employer laid me off. That was actually a good opportunity to go back to school. Unfortunately other things intervened. First I wrecked my motorcycle. That laid me up for a little while thanks to my back. Then my parents started building a new house. They needed my help badly. We had to get various stages completed so that the log home builder could come out and put up the house. Since then we've been working on adding the garage, wiring, plumbing, etc... I've been working on their house in various stages now for almost two years. Unfortunately the construction loan is up in March and the house HAS to be finished by then. That means I won't make it back to school this semester either. I will make it back to school I'm sure. Things just have to slow down a bit first.

        My biggest concerns seem to be echoed by everyone here. I used to be excellent in math. I went to numerous competitions and I have dozens and dozens of medals for my efforts (minimal efforts, not to brag; I had a really good teacher set me on the right path). Unfortunately I can't remember jack now. I used to be able to do complex crap in my head. Now I can't even recall where to start. It's a good day when I can manage to add and subtract correctly. That's a big concern for me. I never was good at studying because in HS I never needed to. All I had to do was simply listen to the teacher or read the assigned reading in the book and I could pass any test they threw at me. I could whip out a 2-page book report on a book I'd never read in 5 minutes. I could whip out a lengthy research paper over night. Then I got to college and found out I couldn't do that anymore. I had to study to get by. Given all that I knew and my ability to learn, I just didn't know how to study. My failure was readily apparent early on. Ever take a 5 minute Chemistry final? No, I wasn't that good. It took 5 minutes to fill in all the bubbles as fast as I could. That should have been an indicator.

        Well, enough of my ramblings. Best of luck on your degree. Hopefully I can get mine in the near future too.

      • by HardCase (14757) on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:30PM (#11313501)
        I took an 18 year break, then went back and got my BSEE. It was the best career decision I ever made. I didn't go to one of the "good" schools, but I did keep a high GPA, got a good internship and when I graduated, a job was waiting for me paying substantially more than first year engineering jobs.

        Being 40 years old helped, I'm sure. I can most definitely say that I'm not the same person that I was 20 years ago. Which is a good thing, because I'd probably be dead if I'd kept it up.

        Interestingly, though, when I started talking about getting an MSEE, the company where I work (with about 20,000 employees) offered to pay for it, but pointed out that it wouldn't be particularly beneficial in terms of promotions or pay increases. Where I'm at, I guess, the degree gets you in the door, then it's experience from there.

        -h-
    • Having experience with things like deadlines, juggling priorities, etc. is definitely an advantage to students who have actually been out in the working world. When I went back to school I was at first amazed by students who hadn't yet figured out how to budget their time... but then, I was like that when I was their age. On the other hand, it can be a bit frustrating when you run into instructors who don't have (or respect) that experience.
    • Mature students have pretty good track records. What they may lack or have forgotten in skills, they make up for in attitude and general savvy.

      I'd go a step further and say that if you have the experience, you don't need the education. My CS degree isn't getting me anywhere, whereas my friends without any degrees at all are getting their foot in the door for coding jobs based purely on work history.
  • My Advice (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dagny Taggert (785517) <hankrearden AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:10PM (#11311611) Homepage
    1. Start drinking now to build up a tolerance. 2. If you're married, get divorced; your marriage will not survivce. 3. Lot's O' Condoms. 4. Did I mention drinking? 5. ??? 6. Profit!
    • "Condoms"? You're thinking of undergrad college. Grad school is all about not having a social life.
    • Re:My Advice (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      1. Start drinking now to build up a tolerance.

      No, no, no.

      You're a *student*. You will not have a lot of money. You want to be able to get as drunk as possible for as cheap as possible, so don't destroy your intolerance for alcohol; it's your route to getting very drunk, very cheaply.

      If you're skinny enough, and lightweight enough, and willing to drink in unfashionable student unions, you can get totally out of your head for under five quid (well, in the UK anyway).

      NB; bear in mind that this does
  • Grad Help! (Score:4, Informative)

    by CyberBill (526285) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:10PM (#11311617)
    I recently graduated from a bachelors degree and went out looking for a school to get a Master's from... Unfortunately when I went out, a lot of the schools requested that I got work experience first... So dont forget to mention that you've been WORKING for five years, it really will help you get in.
  • by Cade144 (553696) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:11PM (#11311624) Homepage

    I just completed a professional degree program after several years away from school. Here are a few nuggets of advice:

    • Buy/sell used books online, if you can. The campus bookstore still rips you off.
    • If you don't know already, learn to use Power Point (or similar presentation software). As far as I can tell, all university professors have traded in their old View-Graphs and slide carousels for Power Point presentations.
    • Collaborate with your classmates (if such is allowed by class/university rules) online. Starting a class blog, or Yahoo! group can help keep you and your classmates up-to-date, and provide a good forum for "what the heck was the prof saying?" type of questions.
    • Pack your lunch/snack/coffee. Campus food services/vending machines still overcharge for junk food.
    • Use the campus career center as much as you can, even in the early days of your degree. After all, a new and better job is the untimate goal, and University Career centers are still full of fantastic advice.

    Good luck, and make sure to do all the readings and homework this time around.

    • 1) Actually as far as books are concerned he should buy them in India and bring them over (or have his relatives ship them over). Most countries outside of North America sell international edition textbooks which are WAY cheaper than any used book you can get here (it's something like $18 for a book that would cost $150 new/$80 used on Amazon). Also I am told that in India the prices are usually even lower than standard international edition issues because they print on lousier paper or something.

      (btw it's
    • Purchase a copy of Edward Tufte's The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. At $7, it's well-worth the price if it prevents more bad slideshows. His site is here [edwardtufte.com]. I've no connection, other than as a fan of his work and buyer of his books, which are works of art in my opinion.
    • Also, bear in mind that in the UK (for undergraduate courses at least; I don't have experience of taught-Masters), the courses generally don't rely on specific textbooks to the same extent as the US (although this varies; I've done some courses which *did* follow a single textbook closely- some others didn't at all).

      This is a double-edged sword. It means you're more likely to get away with not buying the books in many cases (if the book *is* essential, it'll be obvious soon enough), but some of the "recom
  • For the life of me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paranode (671698) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:12PM (#11311641)
    I never understand why people (for some reason especially Indians) have an obsession with getting graduate degrees in Computer Science/Engineering. I was in a grad CS program for a little while in the Southern US and the makeup of the students was 90%+ Indian, a few other Asian, and then the rest (5%?) white. This is not a cultural attack or anything like that, but from what I've heard from the Indian natives I've known is that there is some family pride attached to going further in school. While I may not understand that, I can respect it for personal betterment.

    However, I have to say as a piece of advice, that you are wasting your time going to grad school in CS unless your intent is to be a professor or a heavy researcher. I think the best graduate degree for a CS undergrad is probably an MBA, at least as far as earning potential. If your interests are purely theoretical and money is not something you ultimately desire out of your career, then by all means continue.

    • by stratjakt (596332)
      Yes, the caste system is very much ingrained in many eastern cultures, even if it's not a matter of law.

      It still is in the west, to a point. People tend to think someone who graduated from Harvard is "better" than a guy who graduated from local community college, even though they both studied the exact same things.

      It's definately a measure of social status. If your father was a PhD, for you to be anything less is an insult to the family name.

      At least 3 years of my 4 year degree were useless to me in an
    • by 0x461FAB0BD7D2 (812236) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:20PM (#11311738) Journal
      A lot of Indians like to get graduate degrees simply because it offers us security professionally, which is by far the most important thing for us.

      For almost any Indian parent, a steady professional job (medicine, business, law, engineering, etc.) is far more attractive than a riskier yet potentially more lucrative job (artist, musician, comedian, etc.)

      For most Indians, we are told from a young age to study hard in order not to fail in life. Chinese parents, from my own experience, are quite similar too, in many respects.
      • For almost any Indian parent, a steady professional job (medicine, business, law, engineering, etc.) is far more attractive than a riskier yet potentially more lucrative job (artist, musician, comedian, etc.)

        I think you meant to say "rewarding." And by that, I don't mean remuneratively rewarding. It's a rare "artist, musician, comedian, etc." who makes more money than your average physician or lawyer. People become artists because that's their calling, that's what they do, that's what makes them happy.
      • by paranode (671698)
        A lot of Indians like to get graduate degrees simply because it offers us security professionally, which is by far the most important thing for us.

        For almost any Indian parent, a steady professional job (medicine, business, law, engineering, etc.) is far more attractive than a riskier yet potentially more lucrative job (artist, musician, comedian, etc.)

        Those are certainly noble goals to set, but from what I've read the earning potential for a CS/CE major can actually dip with a master's degree. Most l

      • by northcat (827059)
        True. Here, parents suppress any ambitions their children might have and (some times) even force them to graduate in either engineering or medical. And they think and make their children think that studying (related to school and college) like a machine is the only way to succeed in life. It really sucks. And it's far worse than it sounds.
      • by BobWeiner (83404)
        I agree with the parent poster. Indian parents want their kids to go into law, engineering, or medicine. Being Indian, I was put through the same thing. I wanted to go to art school after high school - but my folks 'convinced' me to go into Electrical Engineering, because I also had a strong interest in computers.
        After years studying EE (both B.S. and M.S.), I worked in the industry for a few years. Yeah, I could do it - but my heart really wasn't into it. Thankfully, I decided to take control of my own lif
    • The purpose of a graduate degree is to get a student visa and have about 3 years (you get a 1 year work permit after graduating) to hang around in US and look for a job that can get you a green card. Other than that, there are much cheaper places to teach you programming/CS at graduate level. Of course I can not speak for serious scientists.
    • There are 2 main reasons for Indian students to go into advanced degree programs (this info culled from my discussions with a number of Indian students):
      1) Security - job markets are unstable, especially with just a Bachelor's...at least with a Master's or PhD you have a little more flexibility and aren't quite as easily replaced as someone with an MBA (even though the MBA's make a ton more money) This is also important for Visa-retention reasons.
      2) It's an easier way to enter the US - getting a job straig
      • Re: #1, in many cases an advanced degree will be met at interview time with a response of "you're overqualified and/or overeducated for the position". i.e. they won't want to pay for an MS when they can get a Assoc. degree holder for the same job. This applies to the US, don't know offhand if that would be true elsewhere.
      • at least with a Master's or PhD you have a little more flexibility and aren't quite as easily replaced as someone with an MBA

        I would say this is exactly backwards. Businesses are a lot more likley to retain someone who understands the business well. I am not saying that having an MBA automatically grants you some secrect knowledge that no-one else can ever attain, but I will say that having a maasters or PHD for practical corperate IT work is almost never a plus - either nuetral to negative depending on
    • Two things: 1) Interest in a particular subject leading to research interests 2) Make your life better. Those were the two intentions I came to US for. And I bet 90% of students do it for the same reasons. You are on target when you say that is a family pride in having a higher and better education. Families all around India encourage studying, schooling and getting higher degrees. This is why India is producing so many engineer, doctors and techies out there. I as an EE am working as a software engineer
    • by AviLazar (741826)
      IMHO CS undegrad is good - then get a lot of experience so you actually know how to do something - then get an MBA so you can manage a team of geeks - get paid a lot of money and not have to worry when jobs are outsourced because you are the CTO making 150k+ a year.
  • by NoData (9132) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {_ataDoN_}> on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:12PM (#11311643)
    I'd follow the example of the master. [imdb.com]

    "Maybe later you could help me straighten out my Longfellow."
    - Thornton Melon
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:13PM (#11311652)
    Now that you're done with it, of course...
  • by revery (456516) <charles@nOsPAM.cac2.net> on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:13PM (#11311657) Homepage
    However, after a 5 year break from academics I'm not sure about my decision and could do with some advice from Slashdot users.

    and you will immediately do the exact opposite, I presume?

    --
    You have been warned once. Do not touch my danish again.
    • However, after a 5 year break from academics I'm not sure about my decision and could do with some advice from Slashdot users.

      and you will immediately do the exact opposite, I presume?

      Here's my advice: don't tell your choice institution of higher learning that you're applying based on the recommendation of slashdot users.
  • Not "either/or" (Score:3, Informative)

    by leitz (641854) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:14PM (#11311663) Journal
    Many US grad schools offer night time and weekend classes. You need to find a job here and then go to school in your off time. That's how I got my Masters, though not in CompSci.

    Having a job will give you money to fund your own small research projects, buy books/hardware, and contacts that can help you answer questions when you're stumped. It's also a much better way to have a job after graduation.
  • wtf? (Score:5, Funny)

    by delta_avi_delta (813412) <dave DOT murphy AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:14PM (#11311665)
    Is it just me, or did some genius just post a troll on the main page?
  • In Engineering (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ignignot (782335) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:15PM (#11311670) Journal
    Usually in fields such as electrical engineering, students are encouraged to go out and get 2-5 years work experience before returning to school for a masters or phd. Your work experience is not a liability at all - it is an asset to understand how things are really done in the world. You also know what work is really like, so the courseload at a regular university should be bearable. Personally, I think that disciplines that do not encourage people to spend a few years in the work environment before getting post graduate degrees are going to produce a lot of pie in the sky thinkers who can't cut it in real life.
    • Re:In Engineering (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aadain2001 (684036)
      That is all true, about 10 years ago that is. Today, you can't find jobs with just a BS in EE or CE very easily. Oh sure, some students who graduate with just a BS will know someone in hiring at some company and will be able to get their foot in the door that way. But most of the horde of BS holding graduates will be turned away and told to get a MS or PhD before they can get a job (I speak from experience on this). All the entry level jobs have been either eliminated or outsourced, which is why a BS wo
  • by pll178 (544842) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:15PM (#11311674)
    Two years ago, I did what you did. I left my good paying job as a project manager at a high tech firm to go back to engineering school. It was scary but well worth it! To answer your questions:

    1. For graduate admissions, at least at Carnegie Mellon, they send the files over to the professors based on your interests. The professors then look at your background to see if you are a good fit. In my case, they considered both my academic background as well as my industry experience. In fact, my industry experience helped me.

    2. Not sure about US vs. UK vs. Canada, but what I can tell you is that a M.S. in engineering is more than sufficient if you only want to work in industry. A Ph.D. is good if you want to teach and if you want to lead a research team.

    3. The biggest problem I had was all in the mental realm. I forgot most of what I learned in undergrad (all that funky calculus stuff, physics, etc ;). I spent a few months doing a major review of everything I thought would be necessary to get me to the level where I should be if I were just coming out of undergrad. I also found that I wasn't as quick as some of the younger students in my lab, but what I lacked in speed, I made up in discipline and focus. :)
    • Yep, this sounds like a similar experience to mine. I returned to grad school after four years of working. I was the slightest bit slower at the very start. However, I also found that I picked the stuff up FAR quicker than most of the fresh grads simply because I had a few years to fully digest and really *understand* it all.

      I definitely felt that my undergrad was a bit of a whirlwind. Now that I'm in grad school, however, all the undergrad stuff seems very trivial. I think it's a few years of unconscious
  • by rampant mac (561036) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:16PM (#11311689)
    "Advice for Returning to School After Long Break?"

    I hate to use a cliché, but... Just do it(TM)

    After you gather all of this information, do something useful with it. I remember being in college and having a classmate who was in his early seventies. He had been a successful businessman, but had never earned his degree. So instead of spending his retirement playing shuffleboard and bingo, he chose to challenge himself and accomplish something.

    It's never too late to go back.

  • I don't know how many grad professors actually expected me to know this after never using in the 8 years since i learned it.
  • by beelsebob (529313) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:18PM (#11311721)
    1. I was applying to do a PhD, so I'm not sure how much they look at Masters level, but for PhD level, the supervisors quite frankly cared not about work experience, they cared that my first degree was from a good university and that I had a good interest in the subject
    2. The American and Canadian students here (in the UK) don't seem to think that the courses are that different.
    3. Can't really answer that, my work experience was as a sandwich student
    4. I'm paying £3,010 a year in fees in the UK, and I think as an international student you can expect to pay £7,000-£10,000 a year. I'm funding it through an EPSRC grant, which I believe is available to masters students. You need to get in touch with the universities you're applying to and ask what grants and funding are available and how to apply. Quite a lot of places are usually available on a fees only basis (they pay your fees, you pay your way), but you will find the occasional fees and grant place like mine.
  • Here's my experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by RealAlaskan (576404) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:19PM (#11311725) Homepage Journal
    I went back to school after 11 years. I had gotten my BSEE in '85, then in '96 I decided to go back to school and get a Ph.D in economics.

    I didn't know anyone who could give recommendations (all my professors had either moved on or retired), so I went back to my old school as a master's student for 1 year, impressed the profs, and got recommendations which (together with decent SATs) got me into Purdue.

    I found that living on a small income was hard, but the studying was actually easier than it had been the first time through. In particular, math was easier to learn. That was a good thing, since econ and stats take more and different math than undergraduate EE.

    I never finished my Ph.D (I'm ABD), but I did get an MS in Statistics along the way, and I'm working as an economist. Finishing would have been do-able, but didn't seem worth the cost in student loan debt and time.

    If you can get accepted at a school, you can do it, if you can fund it. If they aren't offering you an assistantship with free tuition and a stipend of more than $10,000 per year, keep looking. Schools recruit undergrads, they hire graduate students.

  • by jxyama (821091) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:19PM (#11311726)
    i am not sure if you want to eventually go back to India or not, but if you intend on staying in the U.S. after you schooling, i strongly suggest taking advantage of the "U.S. college experience."

    don't go back to school simply to get another degree and cram books. enjoy the college life - go to sporting events, cultural events, join student groups... etc. if you are indian, find a way to acclimate without losing your indian roots. be part of the college community. of course, you should always work hard in classes, but don't let it become an obsession. don't become another stereotypical "foreign graduate student." that's a waste...

  • You're not a doctor or a lawyer. School is a complete waste.

    Call your old boss up and ask/beg for your job back.
  • by grungebox (578982) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:20PM (#11311739) Homepage
    Grad schools, from what I understand (I went straight to grad school for various reasons) take work experience as sort of a bonus, if it's relevant. They usually just make sure your previous schooling was sufficient and that you somehow demonstrate through your application that you are capable of handling the rigors of grad school. It's almost more an evaluation of potential rather than actual merit, since a smart but lazy student is much much worse than a hard-working dumbass, because grad school is work, not just book smarts. I would beef up your application by mentioning any projects you worked on long term at your job, any self-motivated work you've done (in or out of work), etc...Also mention how you've stayed in touch with the computer engineering world (if your specialty is VLSI, for example, then maybe if you continually read the appropriate IEEE journal, mention that). I know a few people that went nuts during the dot-com days by getting all sorts of high-$ IT jobs, and then years later came back for an applied physics PhD. Good luck. Oh, and get used to the pay cut...actually, you're comign from India, so the pay will be about the same :)
  • by ghostlibrary (450718) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:21PM (#11311751) Homepage Journal
    Hi,

    Having left the industry to go back for a PhD, here's my input. It may be different for a Masters, in particular for a terminal Masters.

    > 1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience?

    For admissions, mostly not at all. Admissions is really "previous GPA, application, etc." Past work is good if there's an interview stage, but most of admission is just paperwork and weeding out.

    Now, if you do get admitted, that's when you talk to your advisor and find out which past work can count as credit hours (saving you time and money).

    That said, admissions does have one critical bit-- whether they (the committee/department as a culture) tend to favor returnees and people with experience, or if they prefer fresh-outs with no real-world taint that they can work hard and mold in their own image.

    That cultural barrier will be the one big determinant for any application. A department that only wants fresh-outs would turn you down even if you have a Nobel prize.

    An easy way to check this sort of thing, is find out the average age of their student body. Most universities post that (or call them), and it'll clue you into which are 'real-world friendly'. Older = more likely to value experience.

    Good luck!
  • by sjbe (173966) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:22PM (#11311758)
    I recently returned to get a pair of Masters degrees five years after my Bachelors.

    1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience? Note that I haven't been working as a Computer Engineer but as a Software Engineer.

    They tend to view it quite favorably. Some programs insist upon it, though I doubt that would be the case for Comp Sci. Work experience is a big plus to admission committees in my experience.

    2) What are the differences between graduate studies at the Masters level in the US, Canada and the UK? I already know a bit from what is available on the websites, so I'm looking for some deeper insights.

    Can't answer this one.

    3) I'd like to hear from people who've done this, i.e. quit their jobs and gone back to get a higher engineering degree. What problems did you face and what advice do you have?

    The biggest adjustment is getting used to not having a paycheck anymore. It's hard to adjust your standard of living. Otherwise, I found school to be much more enjoyable once I was older. I was a better student, cared more about the material, knew what questions to ask, and could more easily work with the professors.

    4) People who've studied in the UK at the MSc, MPhil, MEngg level - how did you fund your education? Were you able to get things like teaching or research assistantships and how much of your costs did these cover?"

    I just took out student loans to cover the whole thing. Interest rates are so low right now it's almost free money. I have some student loans as low as 1.5% interest, and in the US the interest is tax deductible up to a certain amount. My only regret is that I didn't take more money out because the cost of capital is so low. (If you don't know what cost of capital means, learn! It's one of the most valuable things to know about) If you get some sort of working stipend or grant, that is great and you should take it but I'd still recommend getting student loans. Throw the extra into an investment/savings account and whatever's left over is cheap money you can build savings upon. (Yes I realize this is borderline with regard to the terms of the loan but no one will check unless you default)
  • The worst thing you can do is to get stale on technology while pursuing education. This equates to all the people with degrees and certs but no experience that find it impossible to get a job. Had you asked *before* quitting, I would've suggested you keep working while pursuing your additional education. It would've kept you more current on technology and might've offered some financial assistance from your employer. Maybe you can beg for your job back?
  • by Vaystrem (761)
    You are bored with your job as a software engineer but you are going back to take a Master's in software engineering?

    Are you sure you are in the right field?
  • It's not too bad of a transision!! I finished undergrad in '98 and went in to the work force (well sorta; I'm in the military (Canadian) and its like a job). I was accepted to do my Masters and started in the Fall of '03. The five years off was not that big of a deal. I'm an Electromag guy and I was worried about the calculus coming back, and it does. I found that the older guys in grad school do a lot better. When I was an undergrad, I worked to finish stuff and be done with it so I could go out dri
  • I am in the same boat. I am looking at top teir schools. The admission dates for the top teir seem to be different, just as they are in undergrad, usually requiring an application in the early for for teh next year's admission.

    I breifly looked at the PhD program admission forms for Princeton and Penn/Wharton, and to my surprise, found they were only like one page long. They asked for school history/GPA and publications, etc.

    I think they primarily base consideration on Field of Specialization (for PhD) and
  • There's the old saying "Don't give up your day job," which in this context means keeping yourself employable in your old field, in case the new degree doesn't open the new employment opportunities you're hoping for. So try to keep up with the latest tools and technology that you would have been using if you hadn't quit. (I went back to school and let my old-job skills stagnate a bit, which made it more difficult when I ended up going back into my original line of work.)
  • by elwinc (663074) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:30PM (#11311865)
    I did grad school after several years in the working world. My advice: take some good solid math classes on the side before beginning grad school. I had forgotten alot of Diff Eq, and my linear algebra was weak. The math courses also helped my confidence. You can amaze your new colleagues by explaining the difference between eigenvalues, eigenvectors, and eigenfunctions!!
  • by cybin (141668) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:31PM (#11311874) Homepage
    This is a great Ask Slashdot...

    I returned to grad school in music technology after 2 years off. For what it's worth, having been in a "real" work environment (at least in my line of work, at a university) really helped me understand how the whole "school beaurocracy" works.

    I think going back to school after working gives you an upper hand on your classmates, especially if you're like me and have a teaching assistantship -- "real world" work gives you a lot of experience managing time and planning on how to get things done. It's very easy in grad school to wait until the last minute just like you did in undergrad, but I've found that since I worked before coming here I'm getting things done early and the quality is higher.

    My only advice would be, if you go back to school, treat it like it's a job. Be serious, do your work well, and take time to relax too. If you're doing something you love, it's totally worth it.
  • After working in a low-paid publishing job for 5 years, I went back to school and have never regretted it. I think you'll get the most of it if you do an internship during school, and take classes in other departments as well -- for example, students in my program also took classes in education and law.

    I was lucky in that many (in fact, most) of the students in my department were also people who had been in the working world for years and were in the same boat -- trying to get used to being students again.
  • I want the smartest people in the world filling American schools, so I'm glad to have you here. But I'm curious why you don't study in India, or perhaps in Malaysia or South Africa (presumably you want education in English). Is the Anglo (US/UK/Canadian) education still *that* much better, that you'll relocate to thoe other side of the world, and into the higher costs of living, when your Indian savings would go much further nearby? Especially considering the costs of reestablishing a social network. Are we
  • I got kicked out of school after two years, basically because I didn't really belong there yet. I went to work for five years, and finally decided that it was time to go back to school. I had a good job at a great place, but I kept running into barriers -- things that I should have learned in school but hadn't.

    I went crawling back on my hands and knees to my previous school, and they were surprisingly (well, to me, anyway) receptive to the idea of me coming back. (The "We sincerely hope that you could c
  • I don't work in the US, but I (luckily) found a computer job in Mexico (not outsourced tho).

    Lessons I learned:

    a) Teach yourself with books.
    b) Take programming language (i.e. java) courses. Learn what pays, not necessarily what is the best (there are 100x more ASP.NET jobs here than PHP ones - sad but true)
    c) Practice a lot.
    d) School didn't give me more (or any at all) employment opportunities. It was just a paper. However, I don't know how that applies in the US.

    I think that someone with the tools and ex
  • and any interest at all in biochem, you could cover your bets pretty well by going after one of the Bioinformatics [neu.edu] programs [bu.edu] [those are two programs I know of...quite expensive as they are presumed by the schools to be in demand and it is expected your employer is helping pay the tuition] It does not outfit you for commercial web app development or for some mainstream IT jobs but within a few narrow areas such as search and rapid access to terabyte databases, these guys are at the limits of computing. You
  • Advanced mathmatics. If youre anything like me you remember almost nothing from your math courses, consider (re)learning:

    Single/Multivariable Calculus
    Differentials
    Linear and Discrete math
    Stat
    Combinatorics

  • I took a break 3 years after I graduated (this was last year) and went onto a research MSc in the UK. I didn't really find my job boring, and it was certainly well paying, but the challenges seemed to be similar, day in and day out (mostly with insane deadline pressure) and getting a postgraduate degree was a longtime personal goal anyway. Bewarned, this is a long entry *grin*

    In the UK, I found that work experience is highly valued. What sort of postgrad you opt to do influences things to a certain extent,

  • What I mean is don't go just to get a higher level degree because if you do, you'll probably get a higher level degree that doesn't get you anything more than maybe a higher paying boring job.

    We have TONS of grad students where I work that fall in to this category. They go on to get a grad degree because it's hgiher level, so much be better, right? They slag through the classes, learn lots of theory that they have no idea how to apply, do uninteresting "research" and then go on.

    Well regardless of the high
  • I can't answer all your specific questions but want to offer a few words of advice. The most important one is to take it at your own pace. Don't take too heavy a course load just to graduate sooner, an extra semester or two is a small price to pay for keeping your sanity and you'll also learn better when you're not as pressured.

    Also, don't be afraid to audit courses. If you don't feel you remember something well enough to take the graduate classes in it, by all means audit the lower level course to ref

  • After 14 years (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eric76 (679787) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:49PM (#11312089)
    I went back after 14 years away from school.

    My Master's degree in Math was from 1980. I went back in 1994.

    I applied to four universities and was accepted at all of them. So I had my pick of where to go.

    The first thing I noticed was that, in general, the classes were somewhat less rigorous.

    One math professor told me that was true for undegraduates as well as graduate students. He said that the quality of students they were getting was much lower than in the 70s. The high school (and earlier) education systems were leaving them less prepared for college than before.

    I found out that older students were generally treated much better than the usual undergraduate students. That was true at all levels.

    Seminars were quire interesting. Often, I was older than the profs at seminars being given by outside people. As a result, the presenter would typically think that I was the most senior professor in attendance. So if I subtly nodded in understanding of a point, he would move on to the next point. But if I looked puzzled, he'd explain it in greater detail.

    The campus parking people were much more understanding as well. When I received a parking ticket one night because the parking permit was obscured by another parking permit, they dismissed it on the spot. According to the rules, that was still a parking violation and should not be dismissed.

    Most of the profs treated me better as well. For example, in one class everyone had to do a presentation during the course. Most of the time, the prof just sat at the back during the presentation and listened. When I gave my presentation, the prof actively participated in the discussion.

    With my background, I participated more in class discussions than back in the 70s. In the 70s, if I didn't understand a point, I'd just figure I'd look it up later. When I returned to school, if I had a question, I'd ask it right then. In nearly every class, I asked more questions than anyone else in the class. Most profs get tired of just standing up in front of the class talking the entire period and really appreciate on-topic questions.
  • by kirvero (787739) on Monday January 10, 2005 @02:59PM (#11312233)
    I did this in 2001. I took a BS from a top US engineering school in a combination of CS/Psychology in the early 90s, worked for 9 years, started two companies, made some money, but found myself especially towards the end of the boom getting too far away from what I found interesting.

    So I went back for CS, and am currently in the process of completing an MS thesis, which should also carry me into a PhD.

    It's been a *great* experience, but not without hiccups...

    1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience? Note that I haven't been working as a Computer Engineer but as a Software Engineer.

    The better (top 40-50 in the US) graduate schools exist primarily to create more professors. So your re-entry to the graduate community will be evaluated in academic terms. Despite the greater integration of the commercial and academic worlds through the Internet, academia still is an ivory tower that operates according to its own rules.

    Meaning: the better schools generally don't consider work experience relevant *at all*. Unless you were doing *research* or research-type work- had papers or other relevant public/peer reviewed published materials to show for your time- work experience is irrelevant. In fact, it's unhelpful, because you spent productive years *not* doing research.

    Don't even bother to submit recommendations from employers, unless those employers themselves have recognized academic credentials (meaning, a professorship. PhDs don't count.).

    Put another way, I found that schools considered my *undergraduate* academic performance- from *10 years* prior- to be more relevant in their evaluations than *any* of the innovative, creative professional work I had done since.

    This is startling and dismaying, but you'll get over it.

    2) What are the differences between graduate studies at the Masters level in the US, Canada and the UK? I already know a bit from what is available on the websites, so I'm looking for some deeper insights.

    I can't speak for Canada or the UK, but MS work in the US is viewed in academic circles as *professional*, almost like a trade school. It is of course possible to do research as an MS student, but at most schools there is a class distinction between MS and PhD students that limits access to professors or funding or other academic resources. Most schools expect MS students to *have* another job, while for PhD students, getting a PhD *is* their job.

    3) I'd like to hear from people who've done this, i.e. quit their jobs and gone back to get a higher engineering degree. What problems did you face and what advice do you have?

    It's been a tremendously *positive* experience for me. However, it was a challenge adjusting after not being in an academic environment for 10 years.

    The biggest adjustment for me, frankly, was ego. I came in as an MS student, so it was a challenge coming in at the bottom of the academic food chain, after being at the top in the professional world for the last several years. But humility is a virtue, so I consider this to be a great adjustment to have to go through.

    The second biggest adjustment was working/learning style. In academia, especially in research, you get points for completeness and correctness, while in the professional world, you get points for efficiency.

    The strategies you learn and the risks you take in the professional world to be efficient, to get quickly to market, to employ FUD effectively to thwart your competitors and deal with the crazy needs of clients/customers- these are the wrong strategies and behaviors in the academic world.

    There of course is hand-waving and FUD and all that in academia, and a strong competitive dynamic (getting papers into conferences, etc)- but the way the game is played, as I found it at least, is completely different.

    4) People who've studied in the UK at the MSc, MPhil, MEngg level - how did you fund your education? Were you able to get things like teaching or research assis
  • by Flamesplash (469287) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:42PM (#11312834) Homepage Journal
    I'll address #3 since I think that's the killer

    I got my BS CS in Dec 2000, went to work for a DoD company for 2.5 years then went to graduate school. I'm currently in my last semester of the 2 year program I choose so I'll share the pit falls.

    Money

    Your Own
    You gotta watch this. I saved a lot of money before going back and it's all gone, even the money I made off my tax returns, since I stopped working mid way through, is gone. It's really hard to step back your spending habits, especially when it comes to things like food, and not eating out a lot as I did. So save as much as you can before hand and make a budget and stick to it!

    As an aside, for americans. The FAFSA which denotes how much you get in student loans, as well how much is subsidized will kill you because the form assumes that since you worked the previous tax season you will be working this tax season and therefor you will get probably nothing in loans. What you need to do is petition the financial aid office at your school to manually evaluate your income based on the actual condition for the year ( basically adjust your gross income), that is how much you will be making during the school year. For my first year this was $0 so my loans were then able to cover my tuition etc for a decent part.

    Funding

    If you are going just for a Masters program do not expect to get an Assistanceship, expect to have to pay tuition, fees and all living costs out of pocket, and via student loans. GaTech, my school, is like this and the TAs and RAs are very hard to come by, they ever fired all the MS TAs two semesters ago due to budget issues. Some schools I think are able to more definitively offer funding of some sort, but be aware.

    Time

    Going back to school is pretty much turning your life over to academics. Do not plan on having much free time, no more 9-5 then stop working. This was and has continued to be the hardest thing for me. It's compounded by the fact that not everything will be scheduled for you, eg independant work, or working assistanceships that pay you. It's easy to let all that get lost in the mix and set to the side simply because you are getting your course work done.

    So accept up front that you will be working most of the time and deal with it and be happy when you do have time.

    Etc

    I would advise not getting cable for a couple months after you start. First live without it then if you think you can manage having it just get basic :o)
  • Read this book (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheNumberSix (580081) <NumberSix@simpli ... EL.com_minusfood> on Monday January 10, 2005 @08:08PM (#11316096)
    I just completed a Master's program and I found this book [amazon.com] to be very helpful.

    It will give you some idea of the politics and tactics used to get through a grad program.

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