Masters in Industrial and Operations Engineering, Batch of 2019, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
B.E Industrial Engineering, CEG, Anna University
M.S Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Interviewer: Sayitrisha R (GT)
Interviewee: Palaniappan Chellapan
GT: Industrial Engineering is not a course that is commonly heard of in India, especially for an undergraduate degree. How did you find out about this course, and which area of study drew you to this course?
Palaniappan: To be honest, I came to CEG with the intent to study Mechanical, but I, unfortunately, did not get it. Industrial was my second option since it is pretty close to Mech. I developed an interest in Operations Research during my second year, and it has been my career since then.
GT: At which point during your undergraduate years did you decide that you wanted to continue your education further? (Follow up: Were there any particular sources of inspiration that helped you in the process – like professors or mentors?)
Palaniappan: I realized that to have a career in the area I like the most, Operations Research, I needed a Masters. I felt the need to learn more in OR before I try to make a career out of it. Several people, including my professors (Dr.P. Shahabudeen, Dr.T. Paul Robert), and Robotics Club seniors, helped me during the process.
GT: What criteria did you consider when applying to universities?
Palaniappan: I was looking for a place with intriguing coursework and laboratories that conduct active research in OR. There is this generalized strategy where you apply for ambitious and safe universities. I am not a big fan of this. I went all in and only applied to places that I liked. Of course, it has its consequences. I only got one admission, but that turned out to be good enough.
GT: Which exams did you have to write for admission into your university? Could you elaborate on the preparation it took?
Palaniappan: GRE, TOEFL. I used a lot of online prep material. I am not a big fan of attending coaching classes. The toughest for me was GRE English; I spent around 4-6 months on it. I would suggest understanding your strengths and weakness, then making a plan accordingly.
GT: Could you talk to us about the timeline you followed for the rigorous application process?
Palaniappan: Typically, the timeline starts in the 6th semester, when you can begin preparing for the exams. I would also suggest looking at the universities you like. Decide on the Professors/Mentors from whom you are planning to get LOR, and get their approval by the very beginning of the 7th sem. Professors do not give a lot of LORs, so act quickly. They are also busy most of the time, so give them enough time. I finished all my exams by October during my 7th semester, and most deadlines are by the end of December, January and February, so you have 1-3 months to write your SOP. Get it done by early December.
GT: Could you explain the characteristics that these kinds of universities look for in a candidate?
Palaniappan: This is a difficult question to answer. So many things affect the admission process. It all depends on the strength of the candidate pool that year. I would not underplay the importance of a good GPA; you need a good one (around 8.5 is enough, but you may need more for more prestigious universities). While extra-curricular activities are helpful, your co-curricular activities will help you a lot. These can be a make-or-break for bigger universities. Any research work will make you a strong candidate, bonus if you have papers published. Have good references and get LORs from people that know you well.
GT: Could you talk to us about the research internship you attended at the University of Duisburg - Essen, and whether or not it impacted you in terms of which course to specialize in, in your master's program?
Palaniappan: First, I need to thank Dr.T. Paul Robert for helping me get this opportunity. It was the first time I got a chance to apply optimization in my practice; this internship pretty much defines what I did in my Masters. I worked on scheduling problems at UDE and continued to do so at the University of Michigan. I developed new perspectives working with different people; it was a valuable experience. It was also the first time I lived outside my home.
GT: And finally, what advice would you like to give to current students who are contemplating getting a master’s degree, but are unsure about where to start? Or for students who are not sure about the path they should choose, in general?
Palaniappan: For me, it is simple. The first question you need to answer is, what do you want to work on in your career? The answer could be quantum computing, computational biology, macroeconomics or anything else. Now do your research to understand what you need to succeed in the field. Doing so will answer all your questions. Just do what you love, and you will always be successful.