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What's grad school really like?

  1. Sep 20, 2014 #1
    I had been planning on going to grad school in the field of computer science, but I am having second thoughts from my experiences reaching out to participate in research as an undergrad.

    I would like to hear your experiences, especially the bad ones/parts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2014 #2
    I studied math, so it's a bit different. I'd be a little more optimistic about computer science, which I am considering getting a masters in, now. A PhD is generally way, way worse than a masters. The dissertation was really hard because it's a huge project, so I had to be very self-motivated. I got a little guidance from my adviser, but not that much. He did help me get through some key difficulties in my thesis, but I had to do most of the work on my own initiative. It's a little scary because there's no guarantee that you will actually be successful in solving such a large-scale, difficult problem that will take years. I imagined it might be like writing a 10 page report, only several times longer and more dense, but it was way harder than that. A friend of mine got scooped (found out someone had already obtained his results) not one but THREE times. I was constantly making mistakes that set me back months and called into question whether I was even going to be able to finish. At one point, I had to switch to a different problem because we determined that my original problem was too hard (I now know how to solve it, courtesy of a new professor who was hired just before I left). Also, even though I really liked the class I took which my thesis work expanded on, I found that I ultimately wasn't that interested in the topic, despite thinking that I was at the beginning, which made it extremely hard to work on. One of the worst parts was the writing. My adviser was still marking up page ONE of my thesis and discussing it with me for years. That's how painstaking the editing process was. Also, at the graduate level, you start to grasp how overwhelming your subject has likely become. You imagine it's complicated before then, but reality can still hit you pretty hard when you realize it's much worse than you could have even imagined. So, there's a lot of stuff that can go wrong.

    On the teaching front, I had graduate directors scolding me, students complaining about me and getting me in trouble.

    Also, I ran out of money towards the end.

    A masters in CS doesn't sound too bad, but if you want a PhD, you are basically saying "I'm a glutton for punishment--bring it on!"
  4. Sep 20, 2014 #3
    I should add about my student complaints that my only crime was not knowing how to convey the material to low-level students, which I was very unprepared for, since I was teaching for the first time. The complaints seemed to gradually die down as I got more experience and got more comfortable speaking in front of an audience. It was really terrifying at first, though, having the students be so harsh in their judgments.
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