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Ask Slashdot: Comp-Sci Graduate Schools 387

Posted by Cliff
from the where-to-go-after-undergrad-life dept.
Colonel Kurtz sent in this question which I figured be of interest to some of you: "I'm considering entering graduate school in abouttwo years to pursue a Masters or Ph.D. in Computer Science. I am a good undergraduate student with a passion for CS and I am seeking the academic challenge of grad school. I'm looking for the (un)informed advice of the Slashdot community. Specifically, how should I select a graduate school? Is it worth aiming for the top-tier graduate schools? (like MIT, Stanford, etc.) or should I aim just a little below those (like Purdue or Syracuse?) At this point, I'd be happy to have any kind of discussion about graduate schools."
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Ask Slashdot: Comp-Sci Graduate Schools

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    You can certainly apply to a couple top school like CMU or MIT but apply to backups if you're serious about going to grad school. Just like you applied to schools when in highschool. If your top picks don't accept you, make sure you have backups. I think the most important thing though is to apply to schools that are doing things that you are interested in. Having a well known school is definitely relevant in the sense that wherever you go afterwards, you'll always be known as coming from the last school you attended. Despite this, there are many great graduate programs at lesser known universities. But grad school isn't like being an undergrad. The expectations of grad students go up dramatically. I like to think of grad-school as a full time job (except you are paid really, really pooly :). You are given time to learn but you also are expected to produce results, publish papers, etc. If you really think you're that good... I encourage you to take a shot at it. In a couple months, I'll have completed my M.S. in EE from one of the two universities listed at the top of this message and I think there is a real need to get more motivated, smart students into grad schools. Good luck.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Most companies now are specifically looking for people with bachelor degrees. More degrees are nice, but in a LOT of cases actually hurts your chances of getting a good job.

    The reason for this is two-fold. Companies are forced to pay PhDs and persons with masters degrees more for starting salary. Also companies like to put their employees through their own training programs. Companies like Dell, Inprise, Oracle, and IBM have very extensive training programs.

    With the market still going strong right now I would recommend you get a good job NOW, and work on your masters degree later. A good company will even re-imburse you for your tuition. You can get paid while you are doing work coding and going to school on weekends, or nights.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A lot of high school team captain quarterbacks go to Harvard but they only need 3 of 'em.
    It's not necessarily the greatest advice to pick a sub-field at age 20 and think that you'll be doing it your whole life. You still need exposure to a broad background of subjects in Computer Science and other areas of interest (like English and Science and Girls). What you find interesting now, you may later find to be unprofitable or boring. Unless you've got your whole life figured out up to the old folks home, don't commit to a graduate school based on your current interest; pick a good school that provides lots of different opportunities.
    Also when considering Grad Schools you've got to consider that advanced degrees aren't necessary in the high-tech field. Unlike other fields, most computer geeks are emminently employable *BEFORE* they graduate. Even if you want to go later, you might want to work for a couple of years in the real world first.
    And don't think that your education ends at graduation, you'll learn more at work than you did in school.
    BTW, It's sunny and warm and inexpensive and a young person's town in Austin. The University of Texas is the place!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Some additions:
    • Theory
      • Cornell
      • University of Chicago
    • AI
      • Northwestern
    • Graphics
      • Utah
      • Ohio State
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 28, 1999 @12:57PM (#1719646)

    It all depends on what you are interested in. Moreover, if you are looking at PhD programs, choose school based on potential advisors rather than overall school reputation.

    You didn't give enough information for me to say much about which tier of school you should be looking at. To have a strong chance at the top-tier schools, you should have a strong research record. Preferably published papers (or even techreports), but a recommendation from a Prof. saying that you worked for them is probably good enough.

    Here are a few very top schools in the US in each field (from memory -- sorry for any omissions)
    • Theory
      • MIT LCS
      • Berkeley
      • Stanford
    • Fundamental Algorithms
      • Princeton
      • MIT LCS
      • Stanford (note -- Knuth no longer takes advisees)
    • SE
      • Go out into industry
      • CMU
      • Berkeley
    • AI
      • CMU
      • Stanford
    • Systems
      • Forget grad school and go out into industry unless you are into distributed systems
      • U Washington
      • U Wisconsin Madison
      • Berkeley
    • Graphics
      • Brown
      • Stanford
      • UNC
      • Gatech
    • Computational Science (as opposed to computer science)
      • NCSA (UIUC)
  • It is certainly worth your while to visit the schools you are interested in and to walk down the corridors and talk to the graduate students. Step inside the labs and ask them to show you what they are working on.

    Students will generally tell you both the good and bad things about a place. Be sure to ask them (off the record) about the professors and their personalities. Graduate school isn't about reading books/papers and hacking solo. It is about participating in an academic community and getting to see how experienced people think about new and interesting problems.

    Finally, don't worry about the money. $16K per year is more than enough to pay rent, eat good food, make yearly IRA contributions, take a couple of plane trips every year, and even go out every now and then. Just try to avoid the money sink known as an automobile and you'll be fine.
  • On a similar thread.. Does anyone know of good graduate schools that are doing research into stuff like Nanotechnology, Cybernetics, Biocomputing or anything equally uber-hitech? Or do you know of any specific researchers at an institution doing this sort of thing? (I know thats probably not quite computer science... or even computer engineering... sorry). I just no idea where to even start looking for schools doing research in these areas...

  • Cornell's CS school used to be good. Now, the computer facilities [] are second rate -- MIT's creative writing students get access to better.

    If you don't believe me, see this press release []. Look for the quote from Robert Constable.

  • I think I would add the following:

    Computational Linguistics (AI-related):

    • University of Pennsylvania
    • Stanford

    If you're interested in stuff like Natural Language Processing, these places are very good. If you are seeking a CS major (rather than linguistics) with a specialization on NLP, I would recommend UPenn as a bit above Stanford (though the opposite would go if you were a linguistics major interested in NLP). As a matter of fact, Stanford this year was looking for a new junior professor for computational linguistics, and of the 6 candidates, 3 were from UPenn, that's how good they are in that area.

    I visited both places this year and they're very good. They both do LOTS of very good research in the area, so you'll definitely get chances to do very interesting work. At UPenn, also, lots of CS, Linguistics and Psychology majors hang around the same research center, and take classes in each other's areas, making for a great interdisciplinary approach.


  • I've been curious what the graduate program is like at UNC. How is it? What do they specialize in? I've been looking to see what they have there, but I would like to hear the opinion of someone already there.
  • GATech is a nice school, but OhioState Univ has the oldest (and IMHO the best) graphics program. Besides, OSU's Supercomputing Centre has more power than GA Tech's :)

  • I know we're talking about graduate schools here, but CMU doesn't even have an undergraduate computer engineering program. Computer Science, sure, but no Computer Engineering, a major which most other top tech schools now offer. Any ideas why?
  • Beware. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

    Here's something I wrote late one night [] after a few years of grad school:

    Not everything about grad school is bad. You can work any 70 hours per week that you want. If you just want to waste time and never graduate, and you find the right adviser, you don't even have to work at all. And the people you meet are generally smart, unusual, and fun. But for me
    grad school is fun just like playing Tetris all night is fun. In the morning you realize that it was sort of enjoyable, but it didn't get you anywhere and it left you very very tired.

    Keep in mind that I'm not a CS grad student. I'm a semiconductor engineer in EE, where IMHO a Ph.D. makes a lot more sense than it does in CS.

    To get a Comp Sci perspective one might ask Philip Greenspun, MIT Ph.D. [] [emphasis mine]:

    A lot depends on how much you value being surrounded by interesting people thinking about interesting things. You can make more money selling tires but you have to think about tires all day. Tires are arguably much less interesting than reading Shakespeare. This explains why people go to English Lit. grad school. The difficulty I think a lot of folks have these days is that many companies are working on problems that are at least as interesting as those in academic engineering departments.

    It is tough to talk about academic CS in general when you're at one of the top three schools (MIT, Stanford, or CMU). We have lots of people who are more creative and interesting than those in even the best companies. However, because academic CS is sort of a moribund field, as soon as you get down to the second-tier schools you're mostly dealing with people who lack the intelligence and creativity to get a good job in industry. This is death.

    So the bottom line for me is that if you can get into an absolutely first-rank school in a field that fascinates you, go for it. Otherwise, look at it as training for a bureaucracy that would make the Prussian civil service look imaginative.

    -- Philip Greenspun, October 28, 1998

    If you do go to grad school in CS, stop with the M.S.. There are only two good reasons to get a Ph.D.:

    1. You want to become a professor, and are willing to sacrifice a decade of your life in the attempt, despite the fact that the odds of finding an academic position are terrible. []

    2. You are already in industry, and have found a specific job or salary that you want, but the hiring managers demand a Ph.D.
      In my field, there are many jobs like this. In CS, I'm not so sure. Bill Gates does just fine with his high school diploma.

    I went to grad school because I had fuzzy dreams of being a professor, and because I was intrigued by "the challenge". I was nuts. Now I can only wonder what I might have done if I had gotten some hard-edged advice in time. []

    -- Mike

    P.S. Cornell has a great CS school. Look me up if you come here. With my luck, I'll probably still be writing my thesis.

  • Oops.

    So much for my little joke.

    I tried to plug my alma mater. I really did. But that quote is devastating.

  • Well, I think you'll find that most of the good advice people are giving about choosing a CS program also applies to choosing a math program.

    One thing to be careful of, which no one seems to have mentioned yet : in math, at least, you generally don't select an advisor until 1-2 years into things. It would be a shame to spend 2 years jumping through hoops, only to approach your desired advisor and have them turn you down. The moral of this is two-fold:

    1. Never choose a school because you assume you're going to be able to work Dr. Whatsisname -- if they're a big name, they probably already have a full docket of students. So make sure that, wherever you decide to go, there's more than one person you'd like to work with.

    2. Your first few semesters are the time to shine. The better you do then, and the more faculty who get a good opinion of you, the better your chances are of getting the advisor you want. Everyone knows who the hot new first-years are.

    One other thing -- don't go into grad school for math unless you're absolutely positive its what you want to do. If you can't work up a real passion about anything you've learned so far, don't expect it to come along in grad school. The life of any grad student sucks -- it means at least four more years of eaking out a living with barely enough cash for room and board, while all your undergraduate cohorts are making 5 times your graduate stipend. And it doesn't get any better once you graduate and start looking for a postdoc.

  • Can you validate your figures? Or did you just make that up?

    /. is an American based web-site, with a large amount of American content. Consequently I wouldn't be suprised if the majority of readers were American. But I'm not going to make any made-up claims.

    I didn't go to an American university, I wasn't rich, but I work in America as a software engineer: my BSc Comp Sci seems to have been of higher quality than most of my co-workers.
  • This is not the right place for me to bore people with war stories but I must say this do not even think of considering the University of South Carolina!

    The experience described in the posting to which I am replying (being left out to dry) is far from unique at both the grad and undergrad level.

    I would not enter grad school without a lawyer at my side from day one.

  • I guess then that the greater moral to this story is that no matter what school one chooses, be very careful.

    At least at the U. of South Carolina (probably elsewhere too), it is explicitly stated (in fine print) that the catalog is not authorative and that nothing your advisor says is binding upon the University.

    As far as I was ever able to tell, there is no written document that is authorative with regards to graduation requirements for the U. of South Carolina. The awarding of degrees is purely discretionary at the whim of a committee. All of this information I learned personally and the hard way.

    While you are entering into a contractual agreement, the obligations are purely on the side of the student. I am being quite honest and factual here: my kids will have their relevant college materials reviewed by my lawyer. Caveat emptor...

  • What many people will tell you is that your supervisor is the most important reason to choose a school. You have to respect the work this person does and how they do it. You also have to get along with them in some way. What "get along" means is of course different for everyone.

    If you are not in a hurry, then I would suggest doing a master's first. Then the first choice of school and supervisor is not so crucial. Plus, it gives you a chance to figure out exactly what you really want to do. Reading many papers and going to conferences is the only way to determine exactly what you want to do. As an undergrad not many people have an opportunity to do those things.

    Doing a masters and then possibly switching means 5+ years whereas a direct PhD can be done in 3, so this route is not for everyone. But, having done a Masters first lets you discover who is doing the most exciting work in the area you love most. So, choose a good, braod, fun school to do a Masters and while doing it decide who to work on a PhD under, then just go wherever they are.
  • Definately UT Austin. I did the undergrad CS program and loved it. I mean, you might as well go to a top school that also resides in one of the largest high tech communities.
  • Given a choice between NYU and Columbia, I'd say go for NYU.
  • by dsfox (2694)
    More money, better neighborhood, better departmental politics, generally happier faculty and students. Columbia is a good place to be an undergrad, but I've met very few happy Columbia grad students in *any* department.
  • Scene: It's a fine sunny day in the forest; and a rabbit is sitting outside his burrow, tippy-tapping on his lap top. Along comes a fox, out for a walk.

    Fox: "What are you working on?"
    Rabbit: "My thesis."
    Fox: "Hmmmmm. What is it about?"
    Rabbit: "Oh, I'm writing about how rabbits eat foxes."
    (incredulous pause)
    Fox: "That's ridiculous! Any fool knows that rabbits don't eat foxes!"
    Rabbit: "Come with me and I'll show you!"

    They both disappear into the rabbit's burrow. After a few minutes, gnawing on a fox bone, the rabbit returns to his lap top and resumes typing. Soon a wolf comes along and stops to watch the hard working rabbit. (Tippy-tap, tippy-tap, tippy-tippy-tap).

    Wolf: "What's that you are writing?"
    Rabbit: "I'm doing a thesis on how rabbits eats wolves."
    (loud guffaws).
    Wolf: "You don't expect to get such rubbish published, do you?"
    Rabbit: "No problem. Do you want to see why?"

    The rabbit and the wolf go into the burrow, and again the rabbit returns by himself. This time he is patting his stomach. He goes back to his typing. (Tippy-tap, tippy-tap, tippy-tippy-tap).

    Finally a bear comes along and asks, "What are you doing?"
    Rabbit: "I'm doing a thesis on how rabbits eats bears."
    Bear: "Well that's absurd!"
    Rabbit: "Come into my home and I'll show you."

    SCENE: Inside the rabbit's burrow. In one corner, there is a pile of fox bones. In another corner is a pile of wolf bones. On the other side of the room a huge lion is belching and picking his teeth.

    • It doesn't matter what you choose for a thesis topic.
    • It doesn't matter what you use for your data.
    • It doesn't even matter if your topic makes sense.

    What matters is who you have for a thesis advisor.

    I didn't write it, but it does have some truths in it (but do try to choose a subject that interest you...)

  • It really doesn't matter that much where you go.

    Ok, I didn't have much choice when I started, all I knew was that I wanted to do electronics and CS, and I wanted to become an engineer.
    Well, that left me with two choices here in Denmark.

    Anyway, after my first year, my interests had moved completely away from electronics, and it was CS all the way.

    However, I became rather dissatisfied with the CS department (at least with some of it), and numerics and _real_ computing has been my interest for the last years.

    My point is, even though I've known ``exactly'' what I wanted since primary school, even CS is such a wide area, and you don't know what your real interests are going to be, before you found some subjects that weren't it.

    If it's CS, find a university that does CS. Any university that does CS. You will end up doing stuff you didn't dream about anyway.

    You have to get disappointed before you can be really happy. You have to hate subjects, before you can find the ones you love.

    (Shit I sound old. :)
  • by nadador (3747)
    In undergrad, you're expected to just learn to do something, but in grad school, you're likely to do some research, and you're expected to contribute something new to the sum total of human knowledge. I say go somewhere that the research interests you.

    That, and CMU rules []. Actually, the CS school []. if top notch. Sorry for the shameless plug. You should really also consider the city, ie whether or not you're going to hate living there.

    Andrew Gardner
  • You may want to look at the distance learning thing. I work full time, but attend grad school part time (6 credits a term) via the NTU ( satellite network. They get classes from MIT, U of I, U Mass, University of Arizona, Purdue, etc. Lots of schools. You get some of the best instructors from some of the best schools.

    I was pretty skeptical at first, but tried it (cause lockmart is paying for it :-) ... and found that I acually like it. You can get the classes taped and watch when you want, or go live on some of them. The don't do phd, only masters, but it's something else to think about. Lets you work full time and make some decent money while going to school.

  • I think you are probably correct. I know that they have an option to do a thesis or just more courses. (whatever it's called, I can't remember now ...) I always, for some undefined reason, thought that if you took the thesis option you were OK, but if you didn't you were screwed for a phd. I'm probably wrong.

  • If you're interested in computer graphics, especially real-time computer graphics (read Virtual Reality), seriously consider the University of North Carolina []. Besides the fact that we have been studying this field for almost 30 years and we're ranked very high [], we also have an SGI Reality Monster all to ourselves :-). Seriously, though, take a look at any year's SIGGRAPH proceedings and you'll see a large number of papers from UNC. So, when you think graphics, think North Carolina [].

    Tanner Lovelace
    Ph.D. Student
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Check out the nanoManipulator [] at UNC [].

    Tanner Lovelace
    Ph.D. Student
    University of North Carolina
  • Pick it on the basis of subject matter, assuming that you already know what interests you. If you're only vaguely sure of the latter, then choose on the basis of an existing multi-student and well-funded research project, so that you don't have to build all your tools from scratch.

    On the other hand, you learn a lot when you have to do it all yourself. Er, well, I did, anyway.

    Wherever you go though, it'll be fun, and your ultimate success will depend on you and only you. Good luck!
  • If you are interested to do your graduate studies in Europe, you should check out Turku centre for computer science [] in Finland. Everything is in English (of course as 50% of the students come frm outside Finland). You can get full financial support for the studies and living costs. I have been doing research in wavelet image compression there for one year and can fully recommend the school. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me [].

  • by Scola (4708)
    I've been very happy with my years at UIUC. However, there is of course the downside, the UC part. I don't know if I'd want to stay hear for as long as some grad students I know have. Personally, I'd favor Stanford, if you have the means and ability. They have the most top notch faculty around, although after the retirement of some big names (Knuth, McCarthey), that's somewhat less the case. That said, I have no intention of going to grad school anytime soon, but that's me.
  • You make some good points about WHY you should stay in school - and I think it comes down to if you are planning a career IN acadamia - then a Phd is the cost of entry. If you are going to be a working stiff - then the graduate degree is indeed a waste of time. It never pays for itself. I was told when I was starting out in industry than an MS degree was worth maybe an extra 5K to start - and the difference between my income an the guy with the MS degree would disappear at 5 years out. Turned out to be true. I've worked with LOTS of Phds over the last 20 years. As for choice jobs - well they were doing the same stuff I was ;-) VERY VERY FEW Phds do research in industry (CS and EE that is.) Mostly you do development cause companies are more intrested in product. The R part of R&D doesn't show up very often in this industry from my observation. Thus the advanced degree doesn't help. My two cents worth - after taking inflation into account - not even worth that.
  • I've been very happy with my years at UIUC. However, there is of course the downside, the UC part.

    True enough. I spent six years there (but my graduate work was on the other side of campus -- in microbiology). You know UC is a dull place when Waterloo, Ontario (which even Canadians consider dull) seems interesting in comparison.
  • Um, don't believe your government's propaganda -- going to a public university as an undergrad in the US is extremely cheap (I paid my own tuition from working a low paying part-time job; frankly the idea of someone in the US not being able to afford college is absurd) and graduate school (at least for doctoral programs in the sciences) is better than free -- students get paid.

    Medical school isn't cheap, true. But in a land without socialized medicine, physicans earn extremely high salaries. It isn't too unreasonable to ask medicial students to take out some loans. (And student loans are easily obtainable)

    But your suggestion of going to another country is not bad. I'm doing a postdoc in Canada now.
  • If you want to do the power-education, do anything
    and go anywhere route, then location probably won't
    be too important to you.

    On the other hand, whatever school you choose
    will also determine what city you live in for the next
    couple of years. As a guy from a small Oregon
    town who went to MIT for my undergrad work, I
    realised that the fast paced East Coast way of
    life just isn't for me. Oregon isn't exactly a CS
    powerhouse, but it's in a beautiful location, and
    it's close to my family. I've been able to have
    a family and raise my children close to their
    grandparents while I persue my degree.

    But, my choices would DEFINITELY be different
    if I wanted to get a PhD and go into academia,
    rather than getting a MS and working for a
    Portland area company. The "prestige" of the
    school you go to is much more important if you
    plan on being an academic researcher. If you
    want to go straight into industry after you graduate,
    then you can afford to consider quality of life issues
    a bit more when you make your decision.
  • I too, have heard this; it should be common knowledge. The advice I received from a grad student in my undergrad TA'ing days was to get both. That way, when you work on your resume, you can legitimately omit the fact you have a PhD, and only divulge it if asked.
  • UC Berkeley is a great place to go to school. Fun town, lots of really interesting and intelligent people. SF and Silicon valley are real close. Lots happening and phenomenal professors. Undergrad was a blast. If I could get into grad there I would be stoked...

  • Here was me thinking that /. was news for nerds on an international scale. This very american centric and totally unrelavent article seems to be totally out of place. Not that its ever stopped anyone before...
  • I totally agree with this point of view.

    Right now is the best time for talented people to get into the real job market. Starting salaries and bonuses are the best they will probably ever be. It is not currently worth your time and effort to pursue an advanced degree. In a few years, consider it. However, right now - experience beats education hands down.

    I've seen many people with advanced degrees (people who may or may not actually be able to deal with a real job and real expectactions) turned down in favor of those with less education, but a resume that proves Real World Experience.

  • "Plus, I've often been told that statistics show that in the longer term, people with graduate degree often end up in managerial positions faster (team leader, project manager, etc.)"

    Well.... (You're not very clued in about real world jobs I see. No insult intended, but you're in for a hell of a shock.) If little lame mid-manager jobs is what you are after, then you go ahead and take them. Mid-manager jobs are the quickest way to wasting all the education you have worked so hard to get. Soon, you'll be stuck with all kinds of non-technical issues like making little charts about how all the real workers on your team are spending their time, stuck in eternal meetings about ridiculous topics, etc. Within a year, you'll be so far out of touch with the real technology that all you'll be is the butt of "pointy haired idiot" jokes.

    Clue in: If you go into a managerial role, you do NOT get to play with the technology much, and you begin the downward spiral to incompetence.

    I've been there, done that. It sucks.
    Pursue a career path along the lines of "technical leadership" not "managerial leadership". It's a bit more of a challenge, as a lot of companies are just waking up to the concept and really don't know how to implement it.

    What you want to be, if you are truely the "Way-SmartGuy" you say you are, is to be the technical leader - the guy who (1) works on the toughest coding problems, (2) is the person who all the "less gifted" come to with technical questions, and (3) who the pointy-hairs consult with to sanity-check their charts and graphs and time commitments. (Oh yah, and the technical leader is generally paid better, more respected, and considered more indispensable, than any of the pointy-hairs... Who do you really want to be??)

    Being stuck with managerial responsibility really sucks rocks for those with true technical talent. Those with true technical talent generally don't need the advanced degrees. Face it, the best, most motivated people in the industry usually don't even have bachelor degrees! More power to you if you think you need an MS or PhD, but in the IT industry (as opposed to most other fields) going for the advanced degree is like keeping the training wheels on your bicycle well into puberty - it just ain't needed and in fact will bring you a lot of ridicule. Some dork with a PhD who thinks he's hot shit will cause the resident alpha engineer to spit in his general direction.

    (Wow, that was a fun rant :) )

  • Well, I liked Northwestern as an Undergraduate. Just left this past June. None of the graduate students I knew ever complained so strongly about things...

    Anyone know of anything in particular that's bad?

    AR Schleicher ( is still active)

  • by craw (6958) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @03:16PM (#1719684) Homepage
    Many ppl have already said this but I'll repeat it again. If you are going to pursue getting a Ph.D. the most important thing is the adviser (prof). This person will control your life during grad school and will have an important role when you seek a job afterwards (like in providing contacts, job references, etc...).

    One thing to note is that you will probably be funded off of grant money; your research will be in support of some specific project. Therefore, in most cases you will not have the totally flexibility to pick any research topic of your choosing. Therefore, it is important to check out what work the profs are doing now, not ten years ago. What direction is their work leading to in the future? Remember that most journal articles indicate work done about two to three years ago; hence, check out conference proceedings for the latest stuff (or talk to your profs). It is likely that work that you will be doing has not even been funded yet; your future adviser may be writing the proposal at this moment.

    Also keep in mind that profs only have a finite amount of grant money to support their grad students. This usually means the "good" ones have more money, more projects, and hence, more students. This could be good and bad.

    My personal experience. I picked a school that had a fairly young and relatively small faculty that were on the rise up in terms of their careers. My adviser was just starting out but had already established a very good scientific reputation. Ppl told me that he also a very nice guy, honest, and easy to work with. My working for him turned out to be a good decision. It also turned out that my fellow grad students were great; we studied hard, played hard, and are friends for life.

  • The thing is it's called Electrical And Computer Engineering. The program here at CMU (I am a junior in ECE, doing the computer engineering side of things) is extremely flexible. The way the program works is this:

    You have one intro course (18-100), and two core courses (Fundamentals of EE, and Fundamentals of CE). After that, you pretty much get to choose what area you want to do (electrical, computer, or both). If you want to learn more about the program, check out these two links:

    The CMU ECE Home Page []

    Overview of the B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at CMU []

    My experience here in the ECE program has been great. The program is nop-notch, and very flexible. Anyway, check the links if you want the details of how the program works.
  • Umm, nope. Maybe compared to the Santa Clara, CA area, or downtown Manhattan, but compared to Anywhere Else, Austin is a very expensive town in which to live.

    That said, UT Austin is a decent, and very inexpensive (in terms of tuition) university, with an above-average CS department.

    And yes, Austin as a town is a lot of fun.

  • by whydna (9312)
    I believe that it is, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."
  • Recently, it's hard to beat Stanford's reputation in graphics, but MIT is coming from behind with a lot of talent and interesting work. Watch out! :-)
  • At this year's SIGGRAPH conference, GaTech had more papers than any other institution, beating even top research institutes like MERL and Microsoft Research. Not only is GaTech's graphics program excellent, but it is still constantly growing.

    And yes, I am a GaTech grad. (MSCS '99)

    --Ivan, weenie NT4 user, Jon Katz hater: bite me!

  • Consideration about the U of Washington: They have LOTS of CS money but you know where it comes from. :-) The department is not however totally under MS's hand and still is quite independent or so it appears from the very limited time I've spent there. (My friend is a CS major I am not.) They also recieve money from other firms like Boeing and such. Also good Physics school, ok Business school to if for some reason you want to be prepared to manage people in the event that happens.
  • The only real way to know where you will go to grad school is to GO TO WORK for a while - get some real world experience first, then you will discover what you want to do in this big science that we know as CS (and getting bigger all the time!) ... plus, you may have the added benefit of having your employer pay for your school!

    As far as schools, I would put in a vote for CMU. Simply based on the results that the school is producing in the CS fields lately.
  • There have really been some excellent suggestions among the slashdotters on this topic -- obviously, quite a few grad students read the postings. Let me second the opinion that you should really choose your grad school based on the topics you wish to study -- every grad school will have its specialty, and if you wind up missing on that target, you will have a hard time advancing. Of course, the big (n) schools will make this easier on you (e.g. Stanford and MIT do research in everything), but they are also harder to get into and larger, so it may not be what you are looking for.

    Let me suggest my undergraduate alma mater: The University of Rochester. They have done seminal work on parallel computation, vision, robotics, AI (mostly NL understanding), cognitive science, and theory. They are a PhD-centric department, and very small (about 50 grad students, and 25 faculty. They are very well endowed, and I think highly of the faculty there. I think this would be ideal for the prospective student that wanted a small, intimate department. For more info:

  • Well. Considering the fact that, what, 70-80% of the Slashdot readers are American (?), I don't think it's a bad or biased or unfair topic. Besides which, I believe quite a few of the international slashdotters are interested in studying CS at an American college. Say what you want about America but their CS education is the best in the world. Well, hrm, at least for the rich it is. :P
  • A lot of the comments so far suggest figuring out what specific CS field one is interested in and then look for a school that's good within that field. Well, I've figured out mine: Architecturing, designing and constructing object-oriented software. Anyone have any suggestions as to what schools are good at that?
  • >Well. Considering the fact that, what, 70-80% of
    >the Slashdot readers are American (?), I don't >think it's a bad or biased or unfair topic.

    Does that sound like I'm quoting researched material? The "what" and the questionmark? I guess the English classes weren't quite up to par with the CS classes at that high quality education of yours.

    No, I cannot validate my figures. Yes, I just made them up. Yes, it was a fairly educated guess, but still a rough estimate. Sheesh.
  • Well, Sir, thy supposition dost be false. Actually, I'm Swedish and I generally agree with what you say. I normally use more formal and more correct English in writing than I do in speaking (partly because when I write I have time to really think through what I'm saying, when I speak I'm fully occupied just trying to get the other end to understand me) but I have to admit that my involvement in MUDs and IRC has tainted that a bit.

    But I'm shocked, good Sir! For pronounciation, surely you must turn to Oxford's "The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English" rather than the standard dictionary?
  • Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly is the definition of "system software?" As opposed to what? "Regular" software?
  • by Axe (11122)
    If your primary interests are mathematics or theory, you still cannot beat Moscow State University

    Not for the grad school. It is nonexistent - in the way Americans expect it. I have got my diploma from the Physics department there. It is a good equivalent of MS degree here. In the grad school you just write your thesis and hardly get any additional education except for your narrow field. I would claim it is impossible after american style college. Moscow State is the best place to get your undergraduate in Physics or Math. You actually learn something...

  • It is foggy and girls are all pierced and ugly. Cross the bay.. ;)
  • It sounds like a legitimate comment to me.
  • The fact is no one will hire you (at least not for any decent pay) if you don't have a degree of some sort. You have to invest money in a degree whether you actually need to learn anything or not. It's a lie it's a joke but that's the way the world works-- get used to it my friend. If you don't work with the system you'll get stuck taking orders from morons the rest of your life.
  • Unfortunately, top tier doesn't really apply to CS grad schools as it does to undergraduate education. As an undergraduate, you study computer science. As a PhD tracked graduate student your areas of interest will be much more particular. So now, this "top tier" applies only to individual fields inside computer science. For example, if you think that you would like to do research in MITs media labs, then that is one of the best places in the world to do so. However, if you want to do research in networks and group communications, look at JHU or Cornell where they have established research centers and EXCELLENT faculty that work in those areas.

    Sounds to me like you have a lot of research to do. Also, don't hesitate to fly out to a school to check it out (small investment in the big picture). If the faculty member you are interested in working with is not receptive, you can make a big part of you decision based on that and the environment you see there.

    I actually am pursuing my PhD at the school I attended for my BS and my MSE. I knew the environemtn here and knew that it was right for me and what I want to research.

    Good luck in your decisions.
  • I worked in industry for five years after obtaining my BA in CS from Rice U. Know what? I hate it! I worked at one company where I had quite a bit of freedom in my coding, except that I had to do it in VB. Nobody there really understood CS so I couldn't talk to anyone about my program. They also didn't have any marketing, so they had to can the project after it was finished.

    Then I worked at another company doing support and maintenance of their lousy code. Often times it was screaming at me to fix it, but if it wasn't on the list of bugs we were supposed to fix, I couldn't. Some of it was so ugly and I just wanted to improve it, but it was considered too much of a risk.

    At Rice I had so much fun because even though I was coding something I was asked to do, I had considerable freedom in the coding itself and could actually talk to other people about what I was doing. Now I spend so much of my time wishing that I could work on this or that dream program of mine. Usually I want to write it to illustrate some kind of principle I have devised []. I would get a big kick out of writing detailed documents explaining exactly what my theory is. That's exactly what research is.

    I have begun a new job teaching CS at a local community college. Tomorrow is my first day teaching. The salary cut doesn't bother me, despite what some have said above. I have to be doing what I enjoy. If the teaching works out, I think that's a sure sign I need to go back to school. As for GRE scores, I recently trained with the Princeton Review to teach their GRE course. Not a problem. The only thing I'm concerned about is finding faculty recommendations. I might need to take a couple of classes to get to know some more professors.

  • hmm lets see where is the money ?

    lets face it people talk of MIT, Stanford etc

    but pray tell where is the most recogised Uni or gets more research money CAMBRIDGE !

    no not the fake one

    just trying to make a point if you go do research somewhere else in the world people think you are better. You experance more being in a differant place. You might as well because if you live any distance from home you have to get on a plane !

    so why not cross some water ?

    do the reserach that you want to not just go to the place you want to ! it makes a big differance if your prof is into the same things as you.
    Japan is cool UK is good so are the germans hell travel and get sponsered (if you can get a sponsor they help out with food, traveling improves your chances of geting one)

    but LIVE

    john jones
    a poor student @ bournemouth uni in the UK (a deltic so please dont moan about spelling but the content)
  • I think he means Software Engineering

    and yes go into industry for a while then go back to studying
    a poor student @ bournemouth uni in the UK (a deltic so please dont moan about spelling but the content)
  • Dang straight, Mat :-) Grad school teaches you a bit more about politics than anything else.

    I opted for a Master's over a Ph.D. partly because I want to switch topics (and get a Ph.D. elsewhere) but also because of the politics in the environment--I just want to get of there for a while.

    Getting a Ph.D. puts you in the heart of highly political academia, and since some fields are pretty much Ph.D.-only, like science, the subjugates can't avoid it.

    In my frustration with the political nature of science, I started "The Open Lab", which applies the Open Source Software model to science (the former was modeled after the ideal of the latter; but we ought to strive for that ideal): []

    This sort of thing has cropped up before. And it has always been due to human error.

  • Would you rather we put canadian flags next to the United States government posts?

  • I work at Beckman as a physics grad
    student. Our lab is on the other side
    of the wall from the "cave", i.e. immersive
    3-d display (VR) system. As far as I can tell
    all the power is used to play games, at least
    that's the only sounds that come from there.
    OTOH, the number of SGI's per square inch
    is impressive.
  • Not to mention the Turkey Club with extra meat in the little place on the west end of the building is (was?) one of the best low cost eats on campus :-)

    U of I.. uhm.. 'asked me to leave' as an undergrad in 94, So I missed out on alot of cool stuff. Personally one of the reasons I think I had trouble there was because the CS curiculum was designed by researchers and geared towards creating the next generation of researchers. I had some friends there in grad programs and from what I understand it's an incredible grad school. Part of me is sad to have missed out, but a larger more practical part of me is happy I dont have to deal with rigorous academics anymore. Keep in mind that UIUC is also a huge liberal arts school so not everyone is there to study. This may be a good, or bad thing for you.

  • Cal Tech! Cal Tech! Rah, Rah, Rah!

    Pasadena shore is purdy, too...
  • I got an MS/CS from UIUC after attending from 94-96. Although I did not qualify for financial aid on entry, I got a teaching assistant job the first day I checked in with the CS department. Being a big 10 school, they have a huge need for TA's to teach basic comp sci courses to undergrads. So, I got a free ride all the way, and eventually got a research assistantship to do my thesis work. Also, I should note that their huge undergraduate population is approximately 50% female, FYI.
    - Tim
  • by Osty (16825)
    I agree here. MIT or Stanford will just burn you out. Besides, we have such notable things as NCSA, and the birthplace of graphical web browsing. And as was noted before, the grad school (and the CS department, in particular) are top-notch.
  • An Anonymous Coward informatively wrote:
    • Systems
      • Forget grad school and go out into industry unless you are into distributed systems
      • ...
      • U Wisconsin Madison

    When I got my MSCS from UW/Madison (1979-1981), I wrote tens of thousands of lines of code: compilers, interpreters, a database management system, even mock operating systems and device drivers. I believe it immensely strengthened my programming skills.

    Interesting thing about MSCS programs: they have (or had at the time) huge numbers of students with BS (or even BA) degrees in fields other than computer science. (I started with a BS in Physics and an MS in Mathematics.) The non-CS majors weren't coddled; there were a couple of senior level classes we could take for graduate credit to "catch up", but we were expected to learn C and Unix based on a couple of one hour (each) supplemental lectures.

  • Where does that leave the rest of the world? What do you think: that they don't have any graduate schools? Why not suggest some fscking non-american graduate school instead of bitching and whining?

    Read the original article...

    Now perhaps it just happens that most of the posters here are American, ergo all the suggestions for US schools.
  • no way... I know a few math graduate TA's that don't know how to code at all...
  • University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada!
  • I graduated 2 years ago with a CIS degree and walked into the head IT position (WAY over my head and still am ;) at a private company.The experience I have gained handling people/budgets/owners is worth more than any prefix. I am not knocking MS and pHD's because I fully intend to continue my edu "some day". What I am getting @ is it will always be the bean counters that rule business, you need to learn what you will eventually have to face.
  • Check out U.of South Alabama. Top 5 rated CIS program with some of the most sought after network prof's around.

    I went back there the other day. Was very depressed to see how quiet it was. Not like back in my day, when men were men, and the sheep were scared.

    Now its like a graveyard
  • Good advice. Also:

    Send at least one application each to a school of the first rank, a school of the second rank, and a school of the third rank. Send additional applications to schools of the rank that you think you can get in.

    The above scheme is intended to ensure that you do get into something, but don't have to settle for less than the best that you can get in to.

  • Ok, so I'm an undergraduate, but I thought I'd add my comments anyways from what I've seen/heard and know about the faculty.
    If you're into theory/algorithms, it's a pretty hard core place. Sedgewick, Tarjan, and their buddies can compete with anybody out there in the field (IMHO, Donald Knuth would be an exception to that statement). A lot of the folks on this side of the department say that the best CS grad student was a math undergrad student.
    There's also a new program in applied and computational computing [] which looks really promising. It's all about integrating CS and other fields that require intensive computer modeling, and they're putting some very cool folks in the program.
    Also a pretty strong program in computer/network security, but I don't find that stuff so interesting, so I couldn't tell you much (except that Ed Felten, the government's tech guy in the MS case is involved in that program).
    So, basically, I think I agree with the overwhelming sentiment of the others here today: the school you choose should depend on what you want to do.
  • Purdue has some amazing equipment for that TNT program, but that last time I checked (I graduated Purdue CS '97) you can't get a master's out of the Technology program, so the point is moot.

    Anyways, CPT (computer technology) was the CS washout program when I was there. Heh.
  • I've read lots of good things about the U of Maryland [] CS grad program, anyone have any first hand knowledge?

    Or are we going to be strictly midwestern (UofI, Purdue, CMU...) and left-coast (CalTech, Stanford, UCB...) biased?

  • by jilles (20976)
  • IMHO I would try MIT, Cal Tech., e.g. all those dream schools. Don't worry about money, because with most grad schools they are looking for good students that will make their school look good. So if you have a clue and can show you have a clue money will come knocking at your door. IMNSHO I say check out The University of Cincinnati, Engineering School, they have a good engineering reputation and the computer department is still young so you get "A LOT" of freedom, and they are the ones that started the co-op program. GO UC!!
    Any ways in the end you have to find a school that fits your character, and no matter what don't worry about money[1] because it will only stop you from taking chances, and maybe getting lucky.

    1. After Y2K every thing will be barter :P
  • If you aren't sure that you want to get a Ph.D. get some experience first. I knew that I wanted to get a Master's but wasn't sure if I would get in to, or wanted to deal with the hassles of applying to a "top-tier" school. So, I looked for employment at a place that already had a close relationship with one of those schools (MIT Lincoln Lab []). Now they pay my tutition and my regular salary with only a one year "stay with us" clause. It turned out to be a great job anyway.

  • According to MIT's Graduate Admissions Page [], "an applicant must have received a Bachelor's degree or its equivalent from a college, university, or technical school of acceptable standing." Another place to contact is MIT's Internation Student Office []. If English is not your primary language will almost certainly need to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foriegn Language). If you are asking about undergraduate admission you should be aware that financial aid for ugrad foreign students is almost unheard of in the US. I would say that any international (non-american) student would have a better-than-average chance of getting accepted to a US school since "diversity" has now become quantizable statistic used to rank US schools.
  • A few years ago I ran into this paper about how
    to be a CS grad student, and how to choose a grad
    school. I wish I had read it before I chose my
    (EE) grad school.

    Some years ago now, I wrote a paper called "How to Succeed in Graduate
    School: A Guide for Students and Advisors," that is publicly available
    on the net. (The original version of the paper was called, "How to Be
    a Good Graduate Student / Advisor.") It contains a lot of suggestions
    on finding an advisor and a thesis topic, doing research, writing the
    thesis, and establishing a research network, among other things.

    Pointers to HTML, postscript, and latex versions of the paper are
    available at my home page (, and
    listed below.

    The latest version of the paper is also available by ftp at There is a latex file (advice.tex.Z), with four
    additional input files (advice.bib.Z, the BibTeX bibliography,
    fullpage.sty.Z, a style file to make the text portion of the page
    larger, named.sty.Z and named.bst.Z, bibliography style files),
    and a postscript version ( All of the files are
    (hence the .Z extension). To get the paper:
    ftp to, login as anonymous, and give your
    e-mail address as the password
    'cd pub/ITAD/advice'
    type 'bin' to the ftp prompt to turn on binary file retrieval mode
    use the 'get' command to take whichever files you want.
    To uncompress the files, just do 'uncompress .Z'
    To generate the latex output, copy the first three files, run
    'latex advice,' then 'bibtex advice,' then latex twice more
    to incorporate all of the references.

    The paper was published in two parts in issues 1.2 and 1.3 of
    Crossroads, the online ACM student magazine, available at: l l
    The Crossroads home page is at
    gopher://[the_files.pubs.magazines. crossroads]

    HTML versions of the original paper can be found at: html
    U. Indiana's "What Every New Grad Student Should Know," which points
    to this HTML version as well as Phil Agre's networking paper and other
    useful resources, is at: ml

    The paper was also reprinted in the Winter 1995 issue of the IAPPP
    (International Amateur-Professional Photoelectric Photometry)
    Communications, and in a shorter form in Vivek, an India-based
    quarterly in AI.

    Some of the references in the paper are incomplete (or possibly
    incorrect). If anyone has more complete bibligraphic information for
    any of the references, I'd appreciate it if you would send it to me.
    Comments and feedback on the paper are also very welcome.


    P.S. Another useful web page is Dave Burrell's "Getting In: An
    Applicant's Guide to Graduate School Admissions," at . A mailing list that
    may be of interest to female graduate students is the systers-students
    mailing list (see ).

  • I find this discussion very interesting, since
    I am planing on going to the U.S. next year
    myself, to study C.S. at the undergraduate

    I'm planning on applying to at least the University of Maryland (, and
    South Carolina State University as a backup, plus
    two more I haven't selected yet.

    I chose UMD because they seem to
    * have many courses that interests me
    * they don't brag about their "Macs and PC:s" (meaning MacOS and Windows)[1].
    * are just about within my financial range
    (around $22k total per year, for an international
    student, including residency).
    * they claim to have a highly ranked C.S.

    Am I making a misstake? Does anyone know more about UMD (or SCSU for that matter)?

    [1] I honestly can't take a C.S. department seriously if all they do is teach students how to use Microsoft products and click around in MacOS.
    And I also want to learn more about Unix (because
    I'm far from being an expert, even if I love Linux).
  • When you're selecting a grad school don't just put a bunch of school names on a dartboard and throw a dart to choose. Figure out what interests you in CS. Which subfield makes you cream your jeans? AI? Parallel Processing? Computer Graphics? You need to have a semi-narrow choice.

    Once you've figured that part out, then start looking at grad schools. Don't go pick a school and then figure out what you want to study. That's a recipe for unhappiness.

    I agree, but would suggest a further step--find a good supervisor. I'm a CS grad student now and can assure you that your supervisor makes or breaks your experience.

    Go to the school and talk to some of the people in your area and find someone you can work well with.

    Don't be sucked in by a big name researcher either. You're going to be working with this person closely and the shine of having a well known supervisor will wear off quickly.

  • You're not going to get shot, but... there's not such a bad chance that you'll get knifed
  • isn't math == cs && cs == math?
  • by EvilKevin (26404) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @01:37PM (#1719737) Homepage
    Being a graduate student in computer science is an ascetic experience. In order to succeed, you will be called upon by the elders of your order (professors) to forsake the temptations of big IT salaries and stock options, to labor and toil as a peon with virtually no status whatsoever. In the end, you are supposed to emerge as an enwizened practitioner. That's the theory at least.

    Seriously though, if you decide to go to graduate school, you will help yourself greatly by doing the following:

    1) Talk to graduate students from any of the schools that you are considering attending. They will be able to tell you the real deal about their school. You might also be able to judge how bright a department's grads are when you talk to them. A lot of smart grads is usually a good sign.

    2) Find out something about the school's location. Even though you will be involved with classes and research most of the time, you want to make sure that when you actually have free time, that there's something to do.

    3) Make sure that the school's aid package is enough to pay the rent and eat. That is, unless you are your parents are rich. Make sure that you know exactly what your expenses are, e.g., tuition, fees and health insurance. Any good Ph.D. program will pay most of these for you. Don't be shy asking about the size of stipends or fellowships. And make sure that you'll be funded throughout your tenure as a student.

    4) Know exactly why you're going to graduate school. You will get depressed and start doubting your decision to go to graduate school. Especially when your friend's make $10,000,000 when their stock vests. It's good to be able to reassure yourself that you made the right choice when this happens.

    5) Visit Ron Azuma's guide to being a PhD student. []

    Hope this helps.


  • I don't agree at all. I'm not exactly planning to do my graduate studies in America, but it is an option, so I am interested in hearing what goes and what doesn't.

    Obviously it isn't a too interesting topic if you are not interested in graduate studies, but I think you can show at least a little tolerance. And hey, American students can come here (Europe) to study, so pitch our schools at him them.

    Anyone have some opinions for those of us more into Math than CS?

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.

  • CS is applied Math. Sorta like digging is applied Geology, and playing with shit is applied Biology.

    Sorry, couldn't resist :-).

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • Colonel Kurtz -- yes, I am responding to my own message :) -- I have some more information and suggestions for you as well (and actually, for anyone interested in postgraduate studies).

    Grad Schools are really competitive, so right now while you have plenty of time left as an undergrad, start improving your chances of getting in. You can do this in lots of ways.

    Remember, though, that grad schools really pay attention to letters of references from past professors that show how well you can do work (and possibly research). Meet a professor in your department who is doing research on something you find interesting and offer them your services. Learn a little bit about CS research.

    When you get up to senior-status, talk to some professors about taking on a class as a non-teaching TA. Profs and GTAs always appreciate all the help you can offer. TA one of the introductory CS classes with 100 people.

    Both of these things will help you get better letters of recommendation, and at the same time, you will get a much better idea of whether or not the grad student life is for you.

    Also, when you start to get into the higher-level courses, take some graduate-level courses. Most schools won't let you take the higher-level grad courses, but the introductory ones should be accessible. This will help prepare for the amount of reading and work that your classes will involve in grad school.

    If I think of other helpful tips, I'll respond to my message again. :)

    Sam Jooky [mailto]

  • by Sam Jooky (54205) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @12:38PM (#1719777)
    Well, I'm not going to follow suit with the other folks who have posted by the time I wrote this and just throw out a school name...let's see if we can get you some advice.

    When you're selecting a grad school don't just put a bunch of school names on a dartboard and throw a dart to choose. Figure out what interests you in CS. Which subfield makes you cream your jeans? AI? Parallel Processing? Computer Graphics? You need to have a semi-narrow choice.

    Once you've figured that part out, then start looking at grad schools. Don't go pick a school and then figure out what you want to study. That's a recipe for unhappiness.

    Most CS departments list on their webpages which fields they specialize in. Find the profs at the school who teach your interest and email them about the sort of program of study they offer.

    And don't forget to use the profs at your current school. They're in the field and can probably point you in a good direction for a good school, and if not, they're in a better position than you to find out where the best [insert your interest here] school is located.

    Talk to the grad students at your school, too. They've been through this process before and can probably offer you good advice.

    In short, don't just jump into a CS grad program because you like the school -- make sure they'll teach you what you want to learn.

    And if you're interested in AI, Software Engineering or Parallel and Distributed Computation, come out to Colorado State University []! :)

    Hope this was semi-helpful and not totally redundant.

    Sam Jooky

  • I'd like to add
    • Embedded Systems
      • UC Irvine
      • Stanford
      • Berkeley
  • My Ph.D. is from University of Southern Carolina.
    But if you are planning on a Ph.D. (Most of the
    top schools will actually pay you to geta Ph.D.
    getting funding at the masters level is usually
    improbably or impossible.) My advice would be
    that your selection of advisor is as, or more,
    important than your selection of school.
    You can go to the best school with the fanciest
    labs but if the professor in charge of the
    lab isn't your advisor chances are you aren't
    ever going to see that lab except for maybe
    course work.

    Your advisor also determines the topics of
    research that you work on. You'll start by
    doing work related to their interest, not yours
    (Its what you get paid for.) This will ultimately
    lead to your Dissertation topic.

    So the advisor has an extreme amount of inffluence
    on what you have access to and what your topics
    will be.

    I would also suggest trying to pick an advisor
    that already has tenure. I didn't and my
    advisor picked up in the middle of my dissertation
    and switched schools leaving me without a lot of
    fundamental support. And the school didn't have
    any protocol for what to do with a fifth year
    grad. student with a thesis topic and no advisor
    so I felt I was left out to dry. I think a
    professor with tenure and a well established lab
    is less likely to leave you hanging.

    my $0.02
  • The short answer: CMU, MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley
    are generally regarded as tied for #1. Also very
    good are Washington, Wisconsin, Harvard, Princeton. (Disclaimer: I got my CS PhD from CMU
    in operating systems in 1997. I also spent 18
    months at U Washington so my view of who is good
    is influenced by who was publishing good OS
    papers in the early 1990s.)

    If you know what area you want to work in
    (ie architecture, databases, operating systems,
    AI, etc), figure out who the top people in the
    field are and apply to those schools. For example
    UNC is world class in computer graphics. 90%
    of CS grad school is who your advisor is. A
    good advisor teaches you the right stuff and
    hooks you up with the right people. A bad advisor wastes 5 years of your life.

    The nice thing about CMU CS is that they take better care of their students than most places:
    Everyone gets a fellowship and the cost of living
    in Pittsburgh is much lower than Boston or Bay
    Area. This is a key concern when you are
    trying to live on $16k per year. On the other
    hand, CMU has the worst industry interaction of
    the top schools since Pittsburgh is so far from
    where the real action is.

  • by neal_cardwell (83235) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @01:56PM (#1719821) Homepage
    [ truth-in-advertising: I'm a graduate student in CS at the University
    of Washington (in Seattle, WA). I've been here two years, and i was in
    grad school at UC-Berkeley for a year before that. The following is
    random, biased opinion based only on going through the
    grad-school-picking exercise twice. BTW, i love both the University of Washington and UC-Berkeley. ]

    o First, read this page on "Choosing Graduate School in Computer Science":
    This page was put together by Rachel Pottinger, also at the University of

    o Next, find a list of CS grad programs. is one place to
    start. Another is: tml

    o Surf the web to find out about the programs that seem most
    interesting to you, based at first on their location and ranking. Look
    at what kind of research is going on, how big the department is, and
    for faculty whose interests match your own. Be aware that research
    project web sites are often a year or two out of date; they tend to be
    made at the beginning of research projects and fall out of date as the
    research progresses. The list of publications on the project home page
    or grad student home pages tends to be far more indicative of what
    (and how much) is going on than the rhetoric at the top of project
    home pages.

    o You don't need to necessarily shoot for the very top programs, but
    from the schools that seem interesting to you, pick a dozen or so and
    write for applications in September of your senior year.

    o Pick a set of at least 5-6 of the best schools that you think you
    have a shot at. Rankings aren't everything, but for better or worse,
    departmental reputations are real, and you do want smart, fun
    officemates with whom to collaborate and hang out, a good advisor that
    knows something about how to do research, and a department with lots
    of interesting things going on.

    o In December, apply to at least 5-6 schools. You never know how many
    you'll get into, or which ones they'll be, so apply to a few you
    aren't sure if you'll get into; you may be pleasantly surprised. When
    possible, you may want to wait until fall semester/quarter is over
    before applying, since doing the applications can be time
    consuming. But remember to get transcripts and recommendations done in

    o In February, March, and April you should get several admission
    offers, and hopefully a rejection letter or two, if you picked schools
    well! :-) Visit as many schools as you can. The grad schools are
    picking up the tab, so you may as well take advantage of it! Even for
    schools where you think there's only a small chance you'd end up
    there, you'll learn a lot about grad school and hot research topics by
    talking with grad students and professors. These are going to be
    colleagues that you'll be seeing at conferences and whose papers
    you'll be reading; visiting grad schools is a great way to meet them
    and get 30 minutes of great one-on-one time with them.

    o Pick the school where you feel most at home; the school where you
    hit it off with at least a few professors doing research you think is
    interesting, you get along with the grad students, you like the
    campus, and you like the city where the campus is located. Remember,
    you may be there for 5-7 years if you go for a PhD, so you want to
    know that you'll enjoy the whole environment for a long period of

    o When picking schools, don't sweat the money stuff. Nearly all decent
    grad students at nearly all decent CS departments have no problems
    finding funding, be it with TA-ships or research assistantships. You
    may have to TA your first year or longer, but that's a good experience
    in and of itself.

    o Remember that in the end, the school only matters so much. One thing
    i learned from transferring between grad schools is that what you do
    and how you spend your time has far more to do with your grad school
    experience than where you go. You'll want to pick a grad program with
    good people and good tools, but in the end, it's up to you!

    Hope that helps,

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis