Things I wish I knew before starting my Master's Program

    Posted on Wednesday, May 01, 2019
    This post is an advice to my old self, who has been working on a job for about two years and is trying to figure out what's next. This is entirely subjective to my situation (I'll try to keep it generic, but there may be some CompSci stuff in here), but I hope this helps in someway.
    I'll address my past-self from here on.
     
     
    Phase 1 - Application
     
    When you are applying to colleges for a Master's degree, you are already researching several colleges and the respective programs they offer. Probably, what you are looking at are factors such as program's relevance and benefit to you, college's social standing for future job / research opportunities, funding and tuition costs, etc. That's rudimentary. You should also pro-actively get in contact with the faculty members at prospective colleges that closely relate to the field of your specialization even before you apply. Sure, most of them may not reply but some will and that's more information to your advantage. You can ask them for advice and guidance on their area of research, test the waters a little. One of them might end up as your advisor if all goes well. Find people who've been to the college you are interested in on social media. More often then not they'll try and help. You might feel cold messaging is is uncool. Wait till you get here boy. The more information you can get, through whatever sources (preferably first-hand alumni experiences or reliable data on the official university websites), the better. The last thing you wanna do is end up where you don't wanna be just because you were to shy (read stupid) to ask. 
     
     
    Phase 2 - Transitioning to Graduate studies
     
    You've now applied to the selected few bunch of graduate programs and anxiously waiting for the response. Aimlessly waiting for something adds up inertia. So, don't. Some would say, you should start laying out plans for scenarios wherein you get into a particular college / program. I'd advise against it. You, like an average Master's candidate have applied to 5-12 colleges and that's too many what-ifs for you. Just begin reading up on the specialization you've applied for. Read research papers and journals, follow up on recent advances in the field through latest conferences and prep yourself.
     
    Begin your studies before you even receive that Letter of Acceptance. It would be better to have a good idea of what you want to get out this. This might mean finding a super-specialization within your specialized field and you'd think that's an overkill but its not. Initiate and begin on your own; a graduate program won't be any different on that front. Better yet, have something tangible before you leave for university. It could turn out to either be THE thing you wanna do or one less thing off of the list of things you don't. It's a win either way. Start coding; can't stress this enough. The coursework is fast-paced and some subjects you opt for will leave you out of breath. You have a chance at a head-start, get that procrastinating monkey off the wheel and start practicing.
     
     
    Phase 3 - Doing Master's right
     
    Choose your subjects carefully. You'll decide the ones you choose based on two factors -
    A. Industry values knowledge imparted through that course,
    B. You are interested in the subject.
     
    Subjects may fall in both of these baskets, just as easily as they could in either or none. The secret to the choice isn't splitting the difference and going with the ones that lie right in the gray area. The secret is to know yourself well enough to firmly decide when to go either way. Aligning your interests with the already frozen career paths will be challenging, sure. Just make sure you don't bend your interests to fit, only to find them broken.
     
    Grow your network. As far as it is from your comfort zone, you'll regret not doing it more. It'll help you put your capability in perspective; size yourself up. Your connections may spawn opportunities you might not reach to on your own. And that goes both ways. Grow and help others do the same; a positive-feedback loop.
     
    Have a good support system. You'll know times when you feel overwhelmed. It's more normal than you'd imagine. Best way to get through it is to humbly accept that you are struggling and ask for help. You might feel you don't have enough time, or capability, or energy. More often than not, you blame your failures on lack of resources when you lack resourcefulness. Surround yourself with smart and motivated people, no scarcity of those guys where you'll be. You've been lucky in this regard, so no worries there.
     
    Prioritize and then selectively procrastinate. Even now you've not shaken off that shilly-shally quirk of yours. Learn to use it to your advantage at least. Or better yet, muster enough mental strength to get rid of it altogether; LOL, who are we kidding here.
     
    When you get yourself a couple of hours between assignment deadlines, cherish it and maybe spend it to prepare a healthy meal, or exercise or play more hoop or click more photos or sketch more or write more or volunteer. Don't sleep any more than you absolutely have to. I'll appreciate that.
     
    And Be grateful. You got this.

    ---Tushar Turkar
    Tushar Turkar is a Masters student in the Computer Science Department


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