Author Topic: Graduate School in Robotics  (Read 5528 times)

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Offline gfsqualljcTopic starter

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Graduate School in Robotics
« on: August 07, 2009, 08:04:20 AM »
Hello everyone,

I know this topic has been made a buncha times before, but I was wondering what your opinion on my situation is. I am currently going into my 9th and final semester of college at the University of Rochester. This december i will have a BS in Mechanical Engineering, a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a minor in Mathematics. My GPA is a 3.65 (4.0 scale), however it should be around a 3.8, and is lower because my junior year i became very sick with mono from about Nov-Jan and got 3.0s both semesters. My gpa other than that has always been between a 3.7-3.9. My experience with robotics has been much than i wish through my school, as there are no professors who really want to do work/sponsor me for any projects. i am currently working on some research to be published hopefully around december, however it is ME stuff on fluid dynamics. my only other real experience is some projects in my microcontrollers class, and some some closed loop control projects for a controller class.

I obviously want to go CMU and get my PhD, however i know people i consider much smarter than me who have been rejected (big surprise huh?). I also would love to go to MIT, but thats MIT and is rediculously hard getting into anyway.

Asside from those schools, i also have been looking at the programs at Stanford, Michigan State, and University of Pennsylvania, however I don't feel nearly as strongly towards those schools as i am the other two. I have been considering just getting an entry level job and try and get in with some leading robotics companies and work for better recomendations to eventually re-apply and possibly get into MIT or CMU. I am really not sure if i want to go to the others as i am generally not looking at the AI/machine learning aspects so much as the design and manipulation of the physical device, and am generally looking for a school that is doing research in the field rather than just teaching me how to make robots.

Anyway, i guess the whole point of this post is that i was wondering what you think my chances of getting into any of those schools are? Do you think it would be worth it to try and wait and re-apply to MIT/CMU after working in the field for a few years, or should i suck it up and go to Michigan State even though I'd be much happier at more prestigous school? I have been trying to decide what i want to do for the last few months, and i really can't come up with a good answer. any opinion you have would be awesome.

Mike Willett

Offline jvanderhook

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Re: Graduate School in Robotics
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2009, 08:08:31 AM »
From a kid in the same situation, take it from me.  Nobody can talk about your chances.  Nobody has the end-all answer.  When you read the "Is grad school for me" documents (which can be found hidden on particularly benevolent professors' pages) they all say the same thing: we don't know. So I'll repeat what I've found over the last year of searching:

Accolades aside, the only determining factor in admission to grad school (from what I can tell) is your motivation. If you haven't decided until now that you "might" be interested, then you have some catching up to do. Don't worry, I'm a late-bloomer too, and I'm doing the same catching up.

No one (aside from maybe your adviser) can give you the confidence and reassurance you want.  You have to do it for yourself.  Of COURSE you are going to apply to CMU, and every other great school. There is no harm in trying, and you'll regret not trying, I'd bet.  The best schools have the most resources and connections.  They also admit mostly kids from schools they know, recommended by professors they remember. It's just like any job connection: you are best off if you met someone before.  Cold applications don't usually work. That said, their admission rate is similar to any other school (10-25% of all applicants). That means most applicants are being scared off before they apply.  I'm guessing you feel that already. Remember: From Mor Harchol-Balter's own admission, the most heavily considered factors are:
1) letters of recommendation (which reflect the approval of someone already "in the club"),
2) personal statements (which reflect maturity, confidence, motivation, and competitiveness), and
3) relevant research experience (ie. prior experience). 

Finally: Don't be rush to be pretentious. Look at the researchers, not the school.  Peruse scientific journals, make use of google, IEEE, and ACM to find the research that is being done.  Find a prof with a well-funded lab at any school.  Make great use of your adviser's contacts, and other contacts in your school. Do not consider yourself a failure if you don't go to CMU.  Most of the researchers of the world didn't go to CMU.  In the end, the truth will out, and it is your personal capability, motivation, and resourcefulness that will determine your success, not your alma mater. Remember that the last and longest part of a PhD is individual research. Your worth as a researcher will probably be more heavily judged by the quality of your research, not whether or not you were admitted to CMU. (But still go for it!)

Finally again: Don't go to grad school if you don't have some idea of a topic you want to explore.  Grad is not like a continuation of a bachelors, esp. a PhD program. Find a topic, find labs that are exploring that topic, and apply to the school that host those labs.  A large part of your time will probably be spent in that project. A PhD is expected to take classes needed to further their research. The general education stuff is over.

Finally Finally Finally: If you want to build robots: Consider that Big Dog was built by a Master of EE. Their project lead has a masters anyway. Don't put all your eggs in a PhD track, unless you want to spend most of your time sitting and thinking.  The kids with masters get to do the fun stuff, from what I can tell, because they are expected to apply knowledge. A PhD gets to research and pontificate, a Masters gets to be a master.  Look up those robots you find most inspiring, and see who is actually involved.  Read their bios, you will probably be very surprised to find that most have a similar story as yours. (or mine, by proxy).

Hope that helps. Feel free to get a hold of me whenever.  I'm no expert, and all this is second-hand knowledge, but I'm headed down the same path you are. 

Offline Admin

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Re: Graduate School in Robotics
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2009, 08:58:42 AM »
My opinions are here:

Personally, a top-class education is the best life investment you can ever make. Do what it takes to make sure you get it.


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