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Thread: Advice/Chances in US CS PhD programmes?

  1. #1
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    Advice/Chances in US CS PhD programmes?

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    Hi,

    I'm thinking about applying to CS PhD programmes next fall. What are my chances for the top schools / can you mention schools that you think I could get into? (My dream is Stanford, but nobody gets in there...)

    UG: Duke, B.S. Economics & B.A. Computer Science
    Graduated with Honors & Higher Distinction for Econ Thesis
    GPA 3.536 but 3.83 in CS courses
    GRE: Q800, V720 A6.0

    MSc Advanced Computing Research Stream, Imperial College London
    (This is the #2 school in UK after Cambridge, well-known in CS)
    Assume I get Distinction (edit - means all A on exams and research projects)
    Courses include independent study, research seminar, etc.
    Receiving selective departmental scholarship that covers tuition + stipend

    Recs: 2 excellent recommendations from professors at IC. Can also get one from undergrad thesis advisor (gave me the Distinction)

    Publications: none. This is my weakness. My master's thesis might result in a publication .. but can't assume that.

    Area: Machine Learning, AI, Computational Neuroscience


    So ... what are my chances? Also - I'm thinking about taking both Math and CS subject GRE in October. Is this a good idea? I've heard math helps..

  2. #2
    TestMagic Guru CalmLogic's Avatar
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    Regarding top ten schools, I don't know how master's theses are interpreted relative to undergrad students with publications. In any case, I would think you would have GA Tech in the bag already, especially if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

    Quote Originally Posted by meanlittlechap
    I'm thinking about taking both Math and CS subject GRE in October. Is this a good idea? I've heard math helps..
    Technically, it won't hurt to take one of the Subject Tests since, at a minimum, you are just spending a Saturday morning and you don't have to select schools for automatic score reporting.

    However, as you may agree, if you get a paper accepted by January, that would be enough time for the admin committees to consider it. So since you already are excelling in the GPA department, I would try to put every ounce of energy you have to spare into getting a paper published instead of stuyding the GRECS, especially as the GRE Subject Tests are a crapshoot -- it's very difficult to predict how well you will do, e.g. an extreme case:

    I scored in the 41st percentile.

    But last week I received acceptance into UIUC for a computer science PhD. With financial assistance.

    ...I have close to 20 papers, my undergrad was from a US State University not known for great research, my undergrad GPA was above 3.9, my master's GPA (from the same college) was above a 3.9.

    http://www.urch.com/forums/gre-compu...s-not-end.html (Bad Subject Test Scores are not the End) (Bad Subject Test Scores are not the End)
    BTW, you can only take one subject test for each test date, so, if you wanted to, you could take one in October and the other in November. However, it's pretty much impossible to study very well for both.

    As far as math vs. computer science, I don't know. Even this hint from UIUC seems ambiguous:

    GRE Subject. Applicants to the Ph.D. program are strongly encouraged to submit a score for the GRE (Subject/Advanced) Computer Science Test. If the background of the applicant is in mathematics, science, or engineering, they may submit an advanced GRE test score from that area.

    Degree Admissions | Online Degree and Certificate Programs | Computer Science | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    If you feel comfortable with the practice tests of both subject areas, I would suggest asking some of the CS departments you are interested in.

    BTW, an old profile from 2004 for MS (not PhD) admission that makes me agree with you about Stanford (as their admit rate for MS is much higher than PhD):

    I applied to 10 schools, heard responses from first week of February up until 14 April, and since all schools got back to me by the 15th, I was able to respond and go where I wanted.

    Accepting me: University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, Brown University, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Columbia University, University of Colorado - Boulder.

    Rejecting me: Stanford University, University of California - Berkeley, University of Washington - Seattle, University of Texas - Austin, University of Maryland - College Park.

    No school offered me assistantships or fellowships, so my decision was based on my opinion of the school more or less. My undergrad was at UIUC, and I knew the program well, it was a good program. I visited at Brown and I'd seen Colorado in the past a few times. I chose to stay at UIUC, and being such a high ranked school, I know it can't have been the wrong decision.

    My stats: 780/87% quantitative, 440/42% verbal, 810/80% CS subject, 3.33/4 cumulative, 3.5/4 technical, 3.75/4 CS only.

    (original post from TestMagic no longer available)
    Last edited by CalmLogic; 02-24-2009 at 08:15 PM.

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    Thanks for your reply and your time - it's amazing that you can help out so many people here! BTW I couldn't make any of those links to other posts work .. they all gave 404 errors. I'll try searching...

    Can we do something hypothetical? Best case scenario:

    There's a chance I'll have a minor conference paper this year. So let's pretend that happens. Let's also say I take one of the two subject GREs (probably Math) and do well. Say my Master's thesis is quite impressive (like wins an award or something). Finally, say I have a great S.O.P. backed up by previous experience (I know this is optimistic, but never mind.)

    Chances at:
    - MIT / Stanford / Berkeley / CMU (I'm guessing still zero)
    - UCSD ? UCSC?
    - UofToronto?
    - Harvard?
    - UChicago?
    - Columbia?
    - UCLA?

    Any other schools you can suggest that are urban, and preferably on a coast?

    Cheers! (btw yes I'm a U.S. citizen)

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    TestMagic Guru CalmLogic's Avatar
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    - MIT / Stanford / Berkeley / CMU (I'm guessing still zero)
    - UCSD ? UCSC?
    - UofToronto?
    - Harvard?
    - UChicago?
    - Columbia?
    - UCLA?
    My Google queries for CVs of U.S. CS PhD students who got an MSc at Imperial College aren't helping me find anything, so I really don't know as I am less familiar with both PhD admissions and top programs. I did see this, but it was someone who went on to get a PhD in psychology:
    http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~kskassam/kskassam_cv.pdf

    I also found a CV of someone admitted to the PhD program at MIT Media Lab, but that's not saying much regarding MIT for CS since the Media Lab is less selective and the person had prior publications:
    Dimitris Vyzovitis

    Since Imperial College ranks between Cambridge and Duke in the world academic rankings, I think looking at CVs of those who have done a masters thesis at a well-ranked university may help provide some clues (or just more questions).

    All I can say at this point is the obvious, i.e. that you certainly would have a worthwhile chance at most places in the top 30. And, of course, in theory, there's nothing wrong with playing the lottery for CMU/Berkeley/MIT/Stanford if you don't let that decrease the number of applications you would be sending out to other universities, including other top departments like UT Austin and UIUC that have less competition compared to the top 4. In other words:

    Apply to as many good graduate programs in your [research] area as you can. When in doubt, apply.

    Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate School
    Regarding anything below the top 50 like UCSC, with your profile, I wouldn't settle for it. Sure, UCSC has a great location, but I haven't seen any hot shot CS professors with a PhD from there except those who work in Bioinformatics:
    http://www.urch.com/forums/computer-...r-science.html

    In any case, I would ask your recommending professors where their students have ended up. Even the ACM website says that doing so is a good idea since, as you know, computer science tends to be like Disney World ("it's a small world after all"). Similarly, I would guess your professors may have established good connections to some well-ranked U.S. CS departments, and, as such, your professors may have a better idea of some CS departments that may give more priority towards the type of AI research done at your university or the more specialized conferences you may publish to. In other words:

    the schools that were great matches for my background and interests showed dramatically more interest in me.

    http://www.urch.com/forums/computer-...s-learned.html
    Of course, I am sure as you complete your thesis, you will become even more aware of which CS departments are most related to the research you are currently doing. Regarding machine learning:

    http://www.urch.com/forums/computer-...-learning.html

    BTW, some rankings for AI:
    Artificial Intelligence - Computer Science - Best Graduate Schools - Education - US News and World Report
    http://www.urch.com/forums/admission...ng-needed.html
    Ratings of CS graduate programs
    Last edited by CalmLogic; 02-25-2009 at 05:16 AM.

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    Thanks so much, you're really thorough. I'm going to look up that guy's Master's thesis, to see what I'm up against.

    My gig is really Comp. Neuro, it's the coolest subject to hit the block since .. molecular computing? (I'd say quantum but that's kind of a dud). However, that's more Neuroscience than CS, yet for some reason nobody actually runs a PhD program in comp. neuro, you have to get into their CS dept first and then go work in the "MinDlAB" or whatever goofy 21st century name they have for theorizing about neurons.

    Yeah I haven't been able to find much from Imperial either. I've also been unable to find CVs of people with PhDs from Imperial who are doing postdocs at the Dream 4.

    I've got a serious dilemma now..

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    Kind of like:

    Computational Neuroscience at UC San Diego

    Or even

    Committee on Computational Neuroscience


    The brain nets lab was cool though, hadn't seen that before.

    What do you think about Texas A&M?

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    What do you think about Texas A&M?
    On the negative side, I don't remember seeing professors listed who got their PhD from there, at least compared to UT Austin.

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    On the positive side though, TAMU's CS department has a pretty good reputation !!

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    So here's my list right now, in approx. order of difficulty to be admitted, tell me what you think. The criteria for these places were:

    a) There is a non-negligible probability of being admitted.

    b) They have both excellent Machine Learning and excellent Theoretical Neuroscience research, with strong interdisciplinary collaboration (because I want to work on the edge of these fields).

    c) In an urban center or at least a town that seems reasonable, with reasonable weather. I want a great lifestyle while I study my PhD!

    Legend: ((r)r)r/m/s = ((really) ridiculous) reach/ mid/ safety
    rr - U. Toronto
    r - U. Illinois - UC
    r - U. Texas - Austin
    r - U. California - San Diego
    r - Brown U.
    m - U. Chicago
    m - U. Washington - Seattle (fails (c))
    m - Boston U.

    Maybe:
    rrr - CMU's PNC (Program Neural Computation) or Machine Learning Dept. (fails any semblance of (a)).
    rr - NYU Courant (fails (a))
    rr - Columbia (fails (a))
    m - U. Waterloo (fails (c))
    m - UCSB (fails (b))

    I have a problem in that these are the places I really want to go - on the other hand, I'm probably not qualified to get into them (I've been looking at a lot of PhD students' CVs recently, and it's looking quite difficult ... even for the "m" schools).

    So - I'm thinking maybe working in a research lab for a while, and possibly taking some math classes to boost my profile? Another option is get a Master's degree in Mathematics somewhere.

    I want to get into the right school, rather than going for a school I'm not utterly psyched about.

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