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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Back to School - this time Stanford.

Hey! Finally the finals are over. And phew what a relief! That they were disastrous - is another story. Screw it, this post is mostly a sort of an answer to more than a couple of queries I have been getting over the past couple of weeks since the people who are gonna be at Gates and Packard started sending out admit emails!

Some of the questions are about the fact that people get admissions, not only from stanford, but from other top cs/ee programs around the US as well, and in some cases they also get a tuition waiver and stipend etc, so it sort of makes it difficult for them to decide where they should go. My suggestion - "Forget about every other college/univ if you have an admit for MS in CS at Stanford or for that matter in any other dept". As with nearly every other engineering department in Stanford, the Computer Science Department is arguably the best CS department on the planet and it is right in the middle of silicon valley - in fact stanford and berkeley together fuel the entire silicon valley and are responsible for much of the innovation around here. So if you are involved in high tech/engineering, there is no better place to be at than Stanford. And if you are someone with a slightly entrepreneurial bent of mind, then you better get your ass here, this place has entrepreneurship in its air! (Disclaimer: There are specific areas with CS/EE which are perhaps better at other CS/EE Depts in the US, but overall, nothing beats Stanford)

Another question is that of Research Assistantship at Stanford and also Teaching Assistantship at Stanford. Well if you can code, and also demonstrate that you can code well, then there is a lot of opportunity for an RA in the numerous research groups all over campus. The CS department itself has many positions open and so does the EE department, but if you are also in the mood of phd, then its slightly more easier. But even without that, EE is like the biggest deparment on campus (or so i have heard) and hence has lots of positions. But people get a lot of programming related jobs at SLAC, Medical School, Medical Informatics, Radiology, Genetics Research, Mechanical related research groups, vagayra, vagayra, vagayra...and of course other engineering deparments, etc. You need to convince people that you can do the job and have some past expertise/experience in that field, and you are in! You cannot expect to get an RA if your chief motive is to learn!! Although, what you can get is a chance to do an independent study under a professor here for units that may count toward your degree, in case you want to learn something and again it needs some convincing.

I dont want to be biased here, so for other departments, especially like Mechanical, there also exist a lot of research assistantship opportunities. And people in the MS&E program also manage somehow to convert an independent study into a 25 or 50 % RA over the course of a few quarters. And so is the case with other departments also, but not everyone is assured an RA.

The TAs are actually called CAs here - course assistants. So the thing is that you need to take a course to actually TA for it! But that could change if you are a PhD candidate and not a Masters candidate. Oh, and btw, to CA for a course, you also need to have scored an A- or above to be able to become the CA for it ;)

Another thing on RAs is that the only thing that determines that you get an RA in the first quarter is - are you ready for this - luck! Believe it or not, the only thing that will get you an RA right in the first quarter is basically keeping your eyes and ears open. And of course persistence. Here are a few reponses i got when i was looking for an RA. People who are nice try to help out but then its not that simple. But most of the guys(CS and EE) have an RA by the second quarter and the rest by the third quarter. It may also happen that you get an RA for a few quarters and then have to look for another the rest of the quarters. I forgot to mention above that, just like the more than one tax slabs that we have in India, there are more than one kind of RAs - 2 to be exact - a 50% RA (which covers 100% tuition and pays really good stipend! - 20hrs per week) and the 25% RA(which covers 50% tuition and pays 0.5 times really good stipend - 10 hrs per week). God only know why they call them 50% and 25%, am sure some guy missed a multiplication or a decimal point somewhere!

Campus jobs - so till the time one doesnt get an RA, they can work at other places on campus - these are jobs which pay by the hour (in the range from 13-25 $ per hour) and are good for pocket money - and there is not dearth of such jobs on campus. These jobs range from everything from administrative (think clerk) to jobs in the lib, to programming jobs on short term, etc. In fact there are lists that people should join in case they are not already on it regardless of their dept - ee-jobs@lists.stanford.edu,
wics_jobs@lists.stanford.edu (dunno if this works)
soccerforfun (this one is if you like soccer - not for a job)

You need to send an email to
majordomo@lists.Stanford.EDU with the body - 'subscribe recruting' if you wanna subscribe to recruiting list, without the single quotes.

Monthy expenses?? Well good question, really depends on the person as such. But here is a brief financial analysis:

Housing+Medical Insurance = $600 - $900 per month (depends on where you live and what medical insurance you have - i suggest Cardinal Care as it is comprehensive but expensive, Housing - if you go for a 1room/double occupany - its going to be 200$ cheaper than a 2room/double occupancy, per month)
Food - (going by an average of $15 per day on 3 meals (roughly $5 per meal) you can do that math which amounts to - $450 per month (this can be significantly reduced if you cook yourself - around $200 if you cook yourself)
Groceries - keep aside $150 here per month
Phone calls - with a $10 Reliance Call Card here you can talk for more than 2 hours to your girlfriend in India - so there is hope for those entering a long distance relationship!
Travel - if you are a good boy and study is all that you do - you wont be doing a lot of traveling to San Francisco or even Palo Alto, within stanford the idiotic Marguerite Shuttle is phokat ka $0!
Initial (First Time) Expenses - Microwave($30-50), bike ($50-$300), Laptop ($700-$1300), rest of the things depending on person($anyones guess!)

These figures would really depend on your kind of lifestyle, so keep that in mind. Also, the biggest expense is always gonna be the tuition - $7620 for 10 or less units per quarter, and if you want to have time to breathe, there is no point in taking more units than that in a quarter. But if you wanna be a smarty pants - its over $11k per quarter for over 10 units in engineering.

Books - well unless you really know what you wanna study here its difficult to decide on which books to bring, i did in fact bring books from india to this place, but i ended up not taking those courses and so it was really not worth it. You can also try to get books from people who took that course last year, so you really dont need to bring all books, some can a be brought along. Many books are not that costly on amazon - especially the ones which are 'used and new'. BUT - If you are planning on giving quals, then you might as well bring the whole basta(bag) - as much will fit in your boria-bistar.

Internship paisa - In an internship here you can easily make anywhere from $4k to $8k, average being $5K (this is my guess), per month. So for a 3 month period, you can probably make some good amount of money, if you dont squander all of that on alcohol, clubing, and gambling ;)

More fundas:

  • Stanford opens so many doors, its sorta a ticket to... well...many thing which wouldnt be possible elsewhere, so if you have an admit here, dont give it up that easily.
  • Plus the weather! If you have traveled in the DTC buses from Dhaula Kuan to Iffco Chowk in the middle of summer or a packed BMC bus from Majestic to Vijaynagar in April, you know what heat is like. Welcome to Hotel California, where the sun always shines but never too brightly to scorch you. This part of the world has some of the best weather all round the year.
  • Great companies are near by - so internships and jobs are much easier to come by as compared to going to a college which is not in the middle of so much industrial activity - but dont think its going to be a cake walk, competition is so high that sometimes getting even a single offer could be really really tough.
  • Indian stores are nearby, in fact I am munching on Haldiram's Khatta Meetha Mix as i write this - damn its getting over fast!
  • Great pedigree and peers!
  • Great opportunity to polish those social/extra-curricular skills in terms of classes on dances, singing, playing instruments, playing any game that exists (count cricket out), though with 3 courses and an RA (which is 1.5 courses worth of load) you probably would be lucky to get proper sleep, let alone take that Salsa class with sweet chics in it.
There are probably many more questions that you might want to get answered, I would try my best to answer them on email/blog. Though i may be a bit sluggish in replying, depending how hard i am getting whipped here!

Hope this helped :-)


Suchit said...

Comprehensive. Thanks :)

amit said...

thanks man

vikram said...

Ah reading this post is almost making me change all plans and come to Stan..U should have told me all this before..!

jerkophobe icosmay said...

Nice post about our school!
Just wanna add a little comment. They call it 50%RA because it's a 20hr job. Full-time jobs usually take 40hr. :)