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Programs Robotics - 2nd BS vs non-degree vs neither

  • Thread starter AstroEmma
  • Start date
Hi all! So I think I need some outside perspective on this.

I'm a very non-traditional student. What I mean by that is, I started college back in 2002 as a MechE major, but life happened and I eventually graduated with a BA in Poli Sci. Haven't done anything with that at all, and ended up working in web dev and the video game industry for a while, and eventually got admitted to an online MS in Computer Science at an okay-ish regionally-recognized school. Was a mess when I started it, so didn't do well the first year, and took a leave of absence for a while. Got my act together after finally getting an ADHD diagnosis, and have since resumed the MS and am doing much better now, set to graduate in December.

While all of this has been going on, I started thinking about returning to engineering, and started taking classes at the local community college. Joined the robotics club, fell absolutely in love with it, and have since decided that that's where I belong. So while I'm working to finish my MS, I'm also still taking undergrad math/physics/etc classes, as I figured it couldn't hurt to improve my knowledge there.

Here's the part I'm having trouble with. While I like the software side of things, I really want to be more hands-on with the hardware side, and I've been proceeding with the intent to work my way through as much of an ECE program as I can. I had originally intended to just do this as a non-degree student, but it's becoming apparent that that is going to be more difficult than I thought, for a few reasons. First, I'm in California, and engineering majors at most schools are heavily impacted, so actually getting a seat in a class isn't guaranteed, and I need a lot of classes. Second, the red tape involved in not being a "real" student means that doing anything else, like research, clubs, etc., involves jumping through more hoops. Unfortunately, the school I'm doing my MS through doesn't offer any sort of engineering, so I can't just go there.

So I've thought about applying to a few schools for an actual second bachelors degree. Again, slight problem, it's really hard to do that in California with few exceptions, and the exceptions don't really offer much in the way of robotics activity. I've been heavily weighing a few other options, namely BU's LEAP program, but I'm not super keen on spending that much, nor on the idea of only taking a handful of the undergrad classes before starting the Masters program. Another option I'm considering is the University of Arizona and possibly doing a 2nd bachelor's as a dual major in ECE and MechE - that's actually where I started back in 2002, getting readmitted shouldn't be a problem, and because I went to high school in AZ, I may be eligible for the 150% resident tuition rate rather than out of state, which is good because I'd be paying for this out of pocket.

So the struggle and the part that I need help with is this: which would be the better option? If I stay in California as a non-degree student, I have access to the excellent UC system, but getting the classes is not a guarantee, I have extra red tape to deal with, the cost of living is atrocious, and after all of that, I won't have an actual degree. If I try for BU, again, very expensive, but I get a MS or MEng out of it, but with less undergrad prep (if I even get in). If I go to Arizona, I get a degree and all the great things that come with being an actual degree student, including opportunities for research, etc. (and they're doing some really cool stuff that I'm extremely interested in), but I have to move to Tucson (honestly, this feels like the only real downside here, as doing the full degree would take roughly the same time as the other two options). If it matters, I don't have a problem with really heavy workloads (I actually think I do better when I'm busier, something to do with the ADHD, I suspect) - I'm actually taking 28 credits between the MS and community college classes right now and doing well.

All of that being said, again, I'm finishing my MS in CS in December. My GPA isn't great because of the first year, but I'm focusing on CV/AI/ML and have done pretty well since resuming the program. The DREAM is something at JPL or similar, but obviously that's a huge stretch in my current situation, and I feel like getting actual credentials and possibly pursuing a PhD later on improves the odds of that or anything remotely close to it, hence the interest in research opportunities. I'm actively looking for internships and might have something for the fall that looks promising, but I don't know how likely it is I'd actually find something in the field full-time after graduating.

Sigh, sorry, that was really long. I guess one thing I have going for me is that I'm single and don't have anything tying me to anywhere, so if I need to move, it's easy. At the same time, I'm not getting any younger. Ugh.

TL;DR: Non-traditional student, trying to decide what to do to get into robotics. Do I (1) go back for the 2nd bachelors, (2) continue my slog as a non-degree student, (3) try for the BU LEAP program, or (4) do none of the above and just try to find a job after I finish my MS in CS?
 
Anyone?
 

berkeman

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eventually graduated with a BA in Poli Sci.
I'm finishing my MS in CS in December.
Sorry, I may have missed it, so you went back and got a BS in CS after the BA in Poli Sci? And now are finishing your MS in CS?
Another option I'm considering is the University of Arizona and possibly doing a 2nd bachelor's as a dual major in ECE and MechE - that's actually where I started back in 2002, getting readmitted shouldn't be a problem, and because I went to high school in AZ, I may be eligible for the 150% resident tuition rate rather than out of state, which is good because I'd be paying for this out of pocket.
If I go to Arizona, I get a degree and all the great things that come with being an actual degree student, including opportunities for research, etc. (and they're doing some really cool stuff that I'm extremely interested in), but I have to move to Tucson (honestly, this feels like the only real downside here, as doing the full degree would take roughly the same time as the other two options).
The Arizona degree approach seems like the best path, IMO. If you want to work in Robotics, you will most likely need a degree in a related field. Good luck no matter which path you choose. :smile:
 
Sorry, I may have missed it, so you went back and got a BS in CS after the BA in Poli Sci? And now are finishing your MS in CS?
No, I was able to get into the MS program without a CS background because of my work experience.

The Arizona degree approach seems like the best path, IMO. If you want to work in Robotics, you will most likely need a degree in a related field. Good luck no matter which path you choose.
That's what I'm thinking too but wanted to get some outside opinions since I'm obviously a little too close to it. Thanks!
 
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Here's some info from someone who did enough for a dual graduate degree in robotics: It's mostly glorified CS with a dynamics/linear control course added. If you did CS in ML you're already pretty good off, you probably didn't cover things like SLAM but other than that the core CS topics still apply. I would say most robotics doesn't even touch ECE other than using some mathematical ideas(I have a graduate degree in ECE).

Basically you would be really stupid to get a second BS degree in ECE if you want to do robotics.

Also why are you wasting your time at a community college? Beyond personal interest it won't help you at all, I did my MS in engineering switching from another field and I only took a term of physics - nobody cares about gen-eds(at least within my sub areas).
 
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Also why are you wasting your time at a community college? Beyond personal interest it won't help you at all, I did my MS in engineering switching from another field and I only took a term of physics - nobody cares about gen-eds(at least within my sub areas).
I'm not doing gen eds, just math, physics, and a few engineering classes. I never got beyond Calc 2 in college the first time around, so working my way through Calc 3, linear, DE, etc.

Basically you would be really stupid to get a second BS degree in ECE if you want to do robotics.
What would you suggest, then? I don't feel very prepared, as it is.
 
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I'm not doing gen eds, just math, physics, and a few engineering classes. I never got beyond Calc 2 in college the first time around, so working my way through Calc 3, linear, DE, etc.



What would you suggest, then? I don't feel very prepared, as it is.
Realistically? Udacity, Edx or Coursera to bridge the gap. The mathematics courses is probably all you will need since robotics doesn't really touch physics.

I don't understand how you could get a MS degree in CS with a focus on ML without taking more advanced calculus or linear algebra though since it requires a mix of probability and linear algebra.
 
I don't understand how you could get a MS degree in CS with a focus on ML without taking more advanced calculus or linear algebra though since it requires a mix of probability and linear algebra.
I've been having to learn it as I go. It hasn't been easy, but I've been managing. And I wouldn't doubt employers will wonder the same thing. Which brings me to:

Realistically? Udacity, Edx or Coursera to bridge the gap. The mathematics courses is probably all you will need since robotics doesn't really touch physics.
My lack of formal background combined with my not-so-great GPA from getting off to a rough start is not going to impress anyone. I'm trying to add projects, experiences, and documented coursework to the list so that potential employers have more to look at. Not to mention, because of the ADHD, structured learning - where I am accountable to someone other than myself - works much better for me than informal stuff.

@berkeman, any thoughts on what @Qurks is saying?
 
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I've been having to learn it as I go. It hasn't been easy, but I've been managing. And I wouldn't doubt employers will wonder the same thing. Which brings me to:



My lack of formal background combined with my not-so-great GPA from getting off to a rough start is not going to impress anyone. I'm trying to add projects, experiences, and documented coursework to the list so that potential employers have more to look at. Not to mention, because of the ADHD, structured learning - where I am accountable to someone other than myself - works much better for me than informal stuff.

@berkeman, any thoughts on what @Qurks is saying?
I don't get it, you're acting like the MS in CS has no value when it's measurably better than a degree in robotics for jobs. If you really think it's so bad I wouldn't continue doing it.

<< Mentor Note -- thread edited to remove profanity >>
 
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I don't get it, you're acting like the MS in CS has no value when it's measurably better than a degree in robotics for jobs. If you really think it's so bad I wouldn't continue doing it.
What? No, I never said that. The school isn't exactly known for being great, but I have definitely learned a lot and am glad to be doing it. I just don't think it's going to get me where I want to be, by itself. And like I said in my OP, I'm more interested in the hardware side of things than software. If you really think I can get a job in the field without doing anything else, fine, but so far that has not been my experience (I have heard back from only one internship I applied to and it's only semi-related, and I'll be extremely lucky if I get it).
 

berkeman

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@berkeman, any thoughts on what @Qurks is saying?
Basically you would be really stupid to get a second BS degree in ECE if you want to do robotics.
I'm no expert in the Robotics sector, but I have worked a lot with very talented MEs and EEs. My impression of a career in the Robotics sector is that it would involve lots of work in the electromechanical aspects of systems, including feedback theory, power/motor electronics, machine vision, material science (as it applies to the materials you are choosing for your robotic systems design), 3-D CAD, 3-D fabrication (3-D printers and CNC), and so forth.

I picture a career in Robotics involving systems that are used on a manufacturing production line, or in consumer products (drones, home maintenance robotic systems, etc.), submersible vehicles, and so on. What kind of Robotic systems do you want to work on? For me, I would think that a combined background in EE and ME would fit the Robotics field the best. CS experience is good too, since all of these Robots execute code to do their tasks.
 
What kind of Robotic systems do you want to work on?
I'm really interested in extreme environment robotics (some of the cool stuff they're doing at U of A that I'd mentioned), cooperative robotics, and similar. And I agree - while I absolutely do think the CS background will help me, having an EE/ME background will be invaluable, especially in those areas.
 
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I can say from my own department which does research in robotics that none of it is related to any of things berkeman listed. It's almost exclusively related to the thinking aspects of the systems(which is the current impediment to getting them into the real world).

Physical systems have been out for a long time, the PR2, etc and aren't where current research is.
 

berkeman

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It's almost exclusively related to the thinking aspects of the systems(which is the current impediment to getting them into the real world).
That's interesting, thanks for the reply. Can you clarify a bit on what "the thinking aspects of the systems" is? Is it AI related like drone swarms? Or like self-driving cars? I'm very curious what the cutting edge is like in Robotics these days. Thanks.
 
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That's interesting, thanks for the reply. Can you clarify a bit on what "the thinking aspects of the systems" is? Is it AI related like drone swarms? Or like self-driving cars? I'm very curious what the cutting edge is like in Robotics these days. Thanks.
Sure, it might just be my department so maybe I'm over stating it though - there is one guy who does legged robots but the vast majority of the department focus on AI related things.

Optimal information gathering, path planning under uncertainty, social navigation, multi-robot coordination, swarms(like you said). Control theory is used but I haven't see anyone actually do research in the area, they just use what already is developed for their application.

I think a degree in CS is optimal for going into robotics field from the AI standpoint(which is where the innovation is going to happen). Hardware is hard and expensive to develop and not that many people make their own stuff, from the company perspective it's far better to take existing solutions and try to make them work and do IP development from the software side.
 
I think a degree in CS is optimal for going into robotics field from the AI standpoint(which is where the innovation is going to happen).
See, I think this is where we're talking about different things. What kind of robotics stuff are you working on? Consumer products? Cars? Industrial? I can certainly see why AI is the critical point in those areas, but that's not what I'm interested in. My absolute dream is to work on, for example, robotic probes sent to Europa, the depths of the ocean, etc. Yes, obviously software is still very, very important and I'm not denying that at all, but there are a lot of hardware challenges there, too, and there IS research being done for that. That's the kind of stuff I want to be doing, and if I want even a remote chance of being able to work on those types of projects, I need to make myself stand out more.
 

Joshy

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Which part of the robotics do you like? What kind of hardware challenges... like... having the electronics work in harsh environments, or having them measure something?
 
Which part of the robotics do you like? What kind of hardware challenges... like... having the electronics work in harsh environments, or having them measure something?
All of the above? Navigation in weird environments, getting things to actually work in those environments, sensors, communicating/cooperating with other robots, etc. I'm fascinated by a lot of it and will probably need to narrow it down more.
 
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Vanadium 50

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I suspect that, while we call these probes "robots", a degree in robotics will be less useful than one in aeronautical/astronautical engineering. The issues with space probes are very different that face more typical industrial robots: environment, inaccessibility, long delays in control inputs, etc.
 
I suspect that, while we call these probes "robots", a degree in robotics will be less useful than one in aeronautical/astronautical engineering. The issues with space probes are very different that face more typical industrial robots: environment, inaccessibility, long delays in control inputs, etc.
I'm not looking at degrees in robotics, but rather ME/ECE.
 

Vanadium 50

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Even so. The hardware issues tend to align with Aero/Astro.

One example - lubricants that a ME would use on earth have very different properties in space.
 
Even so. The hardware issues tend to align with Aero/Astro.

One example - lubricants that a ME would use on earth have very different properties in space.
Ah, makes sense! Definitely something to consider then.
 
@Vanadium 50 just looking through the course requirements for ME vs Aero, the core courses are the same, but with some key differences in the upper levels, which I agree seem like they would align better with my interests. Thanks for pointing that out!
 

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