Monday, August 10, 2009

MS in US Vs M Tech in India - an MS perspective

A very pressing issue which, apparently, not too many people have ventured to explain. Even if they have, it doesn't hurt to have one more *opinion*, does it? Also, since I see that I haven't really blogged anything useful for others, and since I have been wanting to do this for a loooong time (3 years), and also since Karthik Raghavan inspired me to do it partially and also since I want to beat him to it (Ha!). For those needing guidance on admission to CS Master's in the Indian Institutes of Tech (IIT's in India), his posts are an excellent guide.
Target Audience: Definitely not the studs from any of the IIT's, NIT's, CeG's and the like. Also, not for the studs from private colleges who've got loads of IEEE/ACM papers on their resume, apart from internships at DRDO, Microsoft, Google, etc. However, a little bit of perspective always helps, so in case you studs have come till here, there's no harm in walking the extra mile. This post is mainly meant for people like me who have wanted good education and are interested in studying & learning, but were unfortunately forced to make do with private colleges (and eventually realize that great careers can be carved out of humble beginnings also :D) for reasons ranging from sheer laziness to reservation to bad luck to "it's just too bad".
First, I will give you a little bit of my background so you can compare yourself with mine and make a more informed decision.
My Background:
I did my BE(Computer Science & Engineering) from Meenakshi Sundararajan Engineering College, Anna University, passing out in 2006.
I wrote the CS GATE in 3rd year and got 87 percentile. I again wrote GATE in the final year and flunked badly. Not surprisingly, I did not prepare even a wee bit for either exam. Hence, deservedly, my 3rd year score was a fluke and my final year score was justice.
GRE - 1290/1600 (800 Quant + 490 Verbal) - September 2005. TOEFL was something like 285-290/300 same time. Again, I did not go for any coaching classes for GRE and preparation was very limited. My BE Aggregate was 76% and I had a few local papers. Note that despite my keen interest in Computer Science research, I did not do any proper research on any one field - started off with Neural Networks & Fuzzy Logic, changed to Networks, Chaos Theory and finally settled in Game Theory. So much for not knowing one's interest. :P
My MS applications:
I applied to the following 7 universities for doing MS -
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette
  • Washington University at St.Louis
  • Duke University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Chicago
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
Needless to say, I was being very over-ambitious (something I didn't realize back then) and ended up getting only 1 admit - at Illinois Institute of Tech. I also had a job offer at Hexaware Technologies and that could possibly have been another reason for my lacklustre performance in the GRE. So I came to IIT-Chicago, did my MS without any research or specialization, graduated and am working now as a Software Engineer in the financial industry. I was quite interested in researching here and doing a thesis, but that would mean I had to extend my graduation. I had seen enough of life here and decided I wanted to graduate asap, find a job, make some money, get some good experience and shoot back home. Hence, I decided to go with the non-thesis option - just did my coursework, did a couple of internships and found myself a decent job here.

Facts at a Glance:

Time - Anywhere from 1.5 years to 3+ years. Usually, it takes about 2 years.

Money - If you are funded, you can start sending money to your parents within a year. If you are not funded, you might need anywhere from 12 lakhs to 30 lakhs. Typically, inclusive of your monthly expenses, your total expenses for the duration will be about 20 lakhs.
Again, this depends mainly on the type of university (private or state) and location.

On Campus Jobs - DONT TAKE THIS FOR GRANTED. While there are lots of universities where you can quite easily get monthly-paid on-campus jobs, but in a lot of universities, even this is very difficult. A lot of Indian students sadly have to resort to working illegally in departmental stores, restaurants, etc.

Jobs after Graduating - Again, very subjective. But this doesn't come easy. If you dont have good contacts and you aren't lucky, you have to work very very hard (in the other case, you just need to work very hard :D).

On your India-centric Love-live, Relationships, Cultural Degradation, etc. - No comments. :D

Why one should opt for MS in US over M Tech in India -
  • (Surely) International Education - Studying in the US does definitely give you a wider feel. It makes you feel global. You meet tons of new people, from different backgrounds and cultures. Education-wise, there is a wider exposure. You have tremendously more options available. Technology-wise, despite all claims of India being a rising superpower, we will have to admit that even mediocre universities in the US offer you great facilities for studying. That said, you must also realize that as far as brains are concerned, there are equally good (if not better) people (meaning Professors and Research Advisors) available in India. Yes, the options are lesser and the number of such people is also lesser, but there are great professors back in India.
  • (Possibly) Initial Poverty followed by Bigger Bucks - There could hardly be anyone currently in the US who will say that of all the reasons (s)he came here, money wasn't one.
    Yes, the degree of importance will vary. There are two lives here -
    1. Fully/Partially Funded - Typically state universities or very good private universities, you will not have to worry about a majority of your educational expenses, just your monthly needs will have to be met by you. Your funding might either be because you are a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, or simply work on campus for which the univ waives your fees.
    2. Slog yourself/Rely on Loan - Mostly the case with applicants to private universities/mediocre state universities. You will mostly work on any one of a zillion jobs "on campus", or in the sadder case, work off-campus (illegally), and scrum for your monthly expenses. If you're lucky enough, you'll save some money for your 3rd semester after working in the summer, otherwise you have to be prepared to shell out the bucks.
    (I belonged to the latter kind :D).
    Towards the end of your Master's, things become more intense. If you're good enough and/or you have good contacts and/or you are plain lucky, you will land a decent enough job and from then on, things are usually rosy (excuse the current economy :D), well, at least till this. Without a job, however, you are forced to resort to third-grade options depending on how desperate you are. I will refrain from elaborating on such forgettable options now.
  • (Surely) Travel - If you're lucky enough to have money (either because you're funded, got an internship or are simply rich), there are a million places to see here in the US. And the best way to explore all these places is as a student. You have time, you have the energy, and you're lucky if you have the money.
  • (Highly likely) Inability to get into any of the top schools in India - I may be wrong, but as far as I know, the places worth doing a Master's, *irrespective of any question* are any of the IIT's, IISc, TIFR, IIIT and a few other lesser-known ones. You can enter these universities without a second thought, basically, for a Master's (unless of course you have personal issues like research, location, etc.), the same cannot be said of the other private institutions. Yes, there will always be brilliant people or exceptions from the second-rung PG-granting institutions, but on a broader scale, they are no match for the facilities offered by US universities.
  • (Possibly) Settling down in the US - I'm not sure how many such people exist, but I know of a large number with this inclination. Coming to the US as a student is the best way to come here and settle down (provided you are willing to work hard enough and are not jinxed enough). Despite my antagonism, material life in US is not matched in India, at least among the middle class.

My reasons for coming to the US for MS -
  • I was not good enough to get into any of the IIT's/IISc/TIFR.
  • I had been living for 21 years with my parents. I wanted to go outside and get a feel of the real world, away from parents' comfort. This, in a way, also helped me test myself and my character. How much I would be prone to change, lose myself, etc. Anyhow, unrelated.
  • Craze. Much as I hate to admit it, this craze which people have for going to America and studying affected me, even though I did not have much of it.
  • No viable alternatives - I wanted to study more, and felt my BE was inadequate. My only option then was working in Hexaware, and I felt I had to do MS because I wanted to study.
I know I have spoken a lot about my background than going in detail about life here. This is because I want to analogize our lives (yes... you and me) to a binary tree. We start off from the same root and then branch off into sub-trees and recursively diverge until (one of) our lives end. Instead of trying to cover all possible sub-trees and giving you a very vague picture, I've tried to explain in detail, the sub-tree that my life has been, so far. Since I've clearly mentioned my roots, you will be able to better identify which way your sub-trees might branch out.
Hence, in case you are looking for more information, feel free to contact me, I will definitely try to help you out with more specific queries.