diary of an aspiring grad

Nerves tight, mind singing,
Phone perched atop nearby ledge.
But when will it ring?

On my plate today was a phone interview with UC Berkeley's EECS Department, that being one of the two schools I applied to for graduate school in the fall.  The other one was MIT's Media Lab.

With respect to the phone interview, it was puzzling.  I frantically asked many people I knew what I might expect from such a thing, and everyone I asked responded that they had never heard of a CS department doing phone interviews.  Hm.

For the record, it was what one might expect from such a thing: it was a few pokes into what makes me tick.  The only three questions were "why CS?", "which school would you go to if you had your choice?", and "how do you plan to pick a professor as advisor?".  The complications of the interview were largely related to the tenuous phone connection that we had... the caller was on Skype, and it simply didn't play well with my phone for some reason.  Although I genuinely couldn't make out more than 20% of the actual words he said, it was still easy enough to understand the questions.  There's a psychology experiment in there somewhere.

Here are my thoughts on the schools/grad school in general/the phone interview questions:
  • They are both doing cool things.  I think some of MIT's projects (like Color Code) are a little too... ah... out there for me.  Then again, they do have loads of really fascinating augmented reality and intelligent surface projects.  Berkeley's department is merged computer science and electrical engineering, which leads to a lot of awesome robotics-type projects.  I am pretty excited about robotics.  Both schools are strong on interdisciplinary projects like bio-inspired materials and robots.
  • I like being near Evan.  I like the Bay Area.  Berkeley is here.  Points.
  • Stanford is also around here, but they are a farm for startups.  I don't want to start/join a startup.  I want to get a PhD.  That's, er, why I applied to get a PhD.
  • I don't want to find myself wasting away for 5-7 years in a school I'm not super excited about.  If I have to wait another year and explore my interests further, so be it.
  • How to pick an advisor?  To be honest, I hate the system for choosing them.  I had to fill out the names of people I would be interested in working with when I did the applications, and it was kind of silly.  An advisor isn't just someone you have to know, it's someone you have to spend LOADS OF TIME WITH.  There's no way to tell if you'll like a prof as a person until, um, you meet him or her in person.  I mentioned this in the phone interview, and the interviewer was amused and echoed that he thought it was silly also.
  • I am still scattered on exactly what I would like to do for a thesis.  I don't even comprehend precisely how large a project needs to be to be "thesis worthy".  It will be something related to robots, technology and society, or green engineering (or all three).
I suppose there are probably other things I want to say, but the State of the Union is about to start over at whitehouse.gov!  Watch it!


  1. It's weird that you had to fill out potential advisors in the apps; I didn't have to do that on any of my applications (also to Ph.D.s in CS). Some did ask which professors I would want to read my application, but that seems pretty reasonable.

    Also, when I go to the MIT Media Lab website, it dumps a bunch of PHP warnings from Drupal at the top of the screen. So maybe they could at least use some programmers. :)

  2. *shrug*

    Where did you apply?

    And, yeah, I was amused when I was putting that link, but I didn't expect anyone to be reading it before they got it fixed. :P Weren't you watching SOTU then, anyway?