Masters in Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin
Sahana Dinesh (BE CSE, third year)
GT: Hey Sangamithra, can you tell us about yourself and the course you are pursuing?
Sangamithra: I graduated in 2021 with an M.Sc. integrated at the Mathematic department from CEG. Currently, I am pursuing my postgraduate studies in Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin with a focus on research in systems.
GT: Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in the US after doing a Master’s degree in India?
Sangamithra: The degree I did in CEG was more coursework heavy, but the degree I am currently pursuing has the option to do a thesis. I can also take on a research assistantship, where I can explore my interests and get into publishing papers.
GT: What motivated you to do this course?
Sangamithra: I was working with a professor at UT Austin before applying. I got invested in the domain that he was working in. I come from a theory-oriented ML background, and he was working in systems; I used both of these concepts and applied my skills in various algorithms to solve systems problems. I liked working in this interdisciplinary domain, so I wanted to continue doing this.
GT: How did you shortlist colleges and the courses that they offer?
Sangamithra: My application process was a little unique compared to other students. UT Austin was the only college I applied to, and the professor I worked under pushed me to apply for this course. Before working with him, I had a few colleges in mind, and I put these colleges on several ranking websites. I also went to college websites and looked at the research the professors were doing. Whatever seemed interesting to me made it to my shortlist.
GT: What were the requirements for UT Austin?
Sangamithra: There were no fixed requirements. They look at the applicants holistically. Most people assume that you need a 9-point CGPA, many published papers and stellar recommendations. While this may get you a seat at the table, if you have around an 8 point CGPA and have a lot of projects and internships, it will compensate for your academic record and show that you have equal potential.
Your SoP and LoR should also stand out and answer questions like- Why you want to study in this college and why they should accept you as an applicant. Try to avoid a vaguely worded SoP.
GT: What entrance exams did you write, and what resources did you use to study for the entrance exams that you wrote?
Sangamithra: The GRE was waived for my batch because that was when the pandemic started, so I only had to write TOEFL. I would recommend using practice books and looking at online resources. The GRE, on the other hand, requires a significant amount of preparation.
GT: When did you start the application process?
Sangamithra: Around October 2020, I started working on my SoPs and LoRs, and I started applying to colleges in November.
GT: How did you prepare a portfolio for these colleges?
Sangamithra: I was very clear about what sort of research that I wanted to work on; my end goal was to work on sustainability and reduce carbon emissions in data centres, and I also wanted to work on power-efficient computing. I worked on these issues under a professor at UT Austin as a research intern while I was still in CEG, and I mentioned that I wanted to continue working on the same at their labs. I also had an LoR from this professor; that gave me an edge over the rest of the pool.
GT: How did you get a letter of recommendation from professors?
Sangamithra: I had worked on a project with my department’s HOD, and he was willing to give me a LOR.
GT: Does a corporate or research internship help build an applicant’s profile?
Sangamithra: Any internship will have an impact on your CV. It also depends on your interest. At a point, I was a little unsure about what area I wanted to work on- if I wanted to pursue research or go into the tech industry or a mix of both. If you have not made up your mind, it is better to do an internship from a well-reputed organisation- anywhere willing to give you an LoR.
GT: How has your course been going so far? How different is student life in India and the US?
Sangamithra: It has been going well. I like the way classes are over here! The course’s format here is very different from that in India. The course structure is very flexible, and there’s a lot of focus on projects and paper presentations.
GT: Have you taken up any teaching roles at your university?
Sangamithra: I am doing a research assistantship at UT Austin. I assist in the lab and work on the different projects there.
GT: What do you want to do after your Master’s degree?
Sangamithra: I am in two minds- I either want to continue research by doing a PhD or go into the industry for a research position.
GT: What tips do you have for students aspiring to pursue a Master’s degree in the US?
Sangamithra: I would say you don’t need to decide what you want to work on right away, as long as you highlight what you have done so far and what you would like to do eventually. A Master’s degree is all about figuring out where you want your area of expertise to lie.
GT: Finally, what do you think about GT’s university admission series?
Sangamithra: I think it’s a great initiative! Students usually get discouraged if they have a low CGPA or a history of arrears, but it doesn’t matter! No matter your background, you can work on improving your application and get into a top school. As long as you work on your area of interest or try to figure out what that is, you are good to go.
The Guindy Times thanks Sangamithra for taking the time to share her experience!