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Name, batch, program in IITB
Hi, I am Varunesh Goyal. I did my B.Tech in Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay, class of 2018. Currently, I am doing MS in ECE at The University of Texas at Austin with specialization in Computer Architecture.
Motivation for going for MS/PhD over a career
I had very simple reasons to go for MS over a job. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about going for a 9 to 5 job so soon after bachelors. And I felt like doing some more courses to explore some more topics. So in a way, masters was my way of giving myself some more time to figure what domain I am interested in, and figuring out what sort of job (if any) I might like. An industry internship really helps in this aspect as well but I didn’t have any during undergrad.
You should ask yourself if you are really willing to study some more and once again spend all-nighters on labs/assignments before applying for grad school if research is not your motivation. It can get a bit stressful at times.
Why did you choose an MS over PhD?
Choosing between MS and Ph.D. was not difficult. I didn’t want to do research as such and had ruled out Ph.D. quite some time ago. A Ph.D. is also a much larger commitment. And anyways after joining for MS, if you later want to, you generally stand a good chance in converting to the PhD program provided you start doing research and build a good rapport with some faculty.
Any exam tips, application tips, links to any personal blogs etc
For exams such as GRE in which English is a topic to focus on, I would suggest reading some novels along with the standard preparation tools. That helps in building vocabulary and also provides a much richer understanding of the language. So pick up some novel that you have always wanted to read and go for it!
For application to a masters program, contrary to popular belief, SOP is NOT that critical. Its your LORs that matter the most. Also at many places, having some work experience helps in getting into MS programs. So taking up some job, or giving a try at your startup idea before going back to academia is absolutely plausible.
Factors considered in choosing the university, program and advisor (For PhD)
I broadly knew that I wanted to go for computer architecture or RF. So I applied to universities which had a good standing in these areas in terms of a breadth of coursework, and faculties in case I wanted to do research later.
Difference between IITB and the current univ
Faculty at IITB teach better on an average (and thats something many of my batchmates who have come here across branches have also felt, but then again, grad courses in general might get tricky). Faculty here have close ties with industry and really know what is at the cutting edge. Approaching any faculty is just as easy as it was at IITB.
Universities here seem way ahead in this aspect. There are support services for practically everything a student might require. Want help on updating your resume, you are covered. Want to get a professional photo for your linkedin profile, you got it. Learning some dining etiquettes before going on a lunch with a recruiter, you got that as well (with a free 3 course meal for practice). The main library is HUGE! It had an entire shelf of books on my hometown, Vadodara, that too in Gujarati! The department libraries are good as well. Overall infrastructure is much better.
Barring some research in which the Department of Defense or the military is involved, most of it is open for everyone. You can easily approach a faculty to work with them and also go ahead with your ideas.
Any other factor
In general it’s much easier to indulge in hobbies and projects. Also owing to a higher cost of living, its relatively cheaper to do so. Spending Rs.5000 at IIT seemed a lot but $70 here looks quite reasonable.
Friends and Social Life
I miss our hostels so much. No matter how much we curse them for the terrible infrastructure, the inedible mess food and our holy cows, insti life was the best! You could actually call that tiny, cramped room your home for those 4 years unlike the much better apartments here. The friendships forged there, availability of food right in your hostel at three in the night, all the hostel and institute level events, you most likely won’t get them again.
Food! Cooking, while it can be fun, consumes a lot of time. Also if you are a vegetarian (like me), you need to make it a habit to read all ingredients carefully.
Travel in general can also be a hassle if your city doesn’t have a good public transport system (which is true for most US cities), so stay at a place close to your university.
Getting along with undergrads! You feel the difference when you enter grad school and it truly sucks.
As of now, it is to find a decent job in my area of specialization (yeah sounds boring). I realized after my internship here that even a corporate job can be fun. But I surely don’t want to be confined in a cubicle for the rest of my life, and plan to have my own startup back in India!
Key takeaway and advise to students
Don’t think in terms of what you want to become. Think what you want to do, and then act on the best way to achieve it. If you are someone like me, who didn’t know clearly what to do, take the path that feels the most exciting (or least boring, if all options look disinteresting). You are very young and still have many years to try and to fail. So don’t fret too much, and you will do fine and be happy no matter what.