We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

3. US education system...Continued

I believe unless you are studying in "IITs" or "IIMs" in India, you miss the fun and enjoyment part in doing a post graduation. Research done by a professor or student results into a publication, which gets published in different conferences. Have a look at this sample paper, here.


These are the publications of any new research people have done. Most of the teaching involved revolves around such kind of papers. The need here is not only to understand the paper but to raise good questions debating the research in paper. This requires by default understanding of the material in paper. This is termed as the process of thinking. This is how you learn to think and raise questions. This is how slowly you start getting a bigger picture of the overall system and start thinking in terms of design of the system.

Second major difference is MATHS. I used to wonder back in my college days, where does all this which I am learning is getting used? I had many questions when I was studying my engineering in India. I joined industry to seek answers. I could not get answers to some of the questions like these because we do not do this kind of work. Those questions still remained unanswered. I got answers to those, when I landed here.

There is much emphasis on Maths. The professors say computer science is maths. Maths is the parent of computer science. Computer science evolved only in 1970s. Till then Maths was the main contributor. I always feel I am the most dumb person when it comes to Maths. But if you do not learn again you cant survive. I am learning still :). When I say you need to be good in maths, I do not mean knowing some formulas here and there. What I mean is you need to be able to think in terms of maths. I would have loved to have love for maths as I know its importance now and I envy those people with aptitude for Maths.

People around you are so charged and motivated that I many times feel so inferior. But then some where I feel and I think, yes, but if I compare myself to myself some months back.I am much better. To hell with others. I am improving so what if I am not with others level. There will be always people who are better than me and people who know less than me. That drives me and motivates me. People ridicule you sometimes, people demotivate but then this keeps me going. My friends help me understand I am here for a better cause. And as long as that is satisfied this all is fine.

MS is an Experience. We do not have many Indians here. Hardly 15 Indians. And that makes it more better as you end up spending time with more International students and learn to explore and understand things in a better way. Some of my friends are Americans, mexicans, Chinease, Russian, German. Its really a international stage.

Every class has a concept of Teaching Assistant (TA). Who helps students understand and learn the difficulties faced in the class. Instructor teaches and TA helps in class problems, lab problems, lab assignments. Every class has dedicated hours where students can ask TA the questions. Many times students come with the most dumb doubts. But is it not what we call learning? In India we do not have this concept. TAs are paid to work here. I am a TA for a class and I get to interact with all these undergraduate students.

EXAMS. I do not know about you, But back in India I used to fear them a lot. I could never perform in exams though I knew things. The way things are viewed are different here. Exams may not be the typical exams which all of us view. Final grades depend on lot of intermediate work. You have weekly assignments to do with tight deadlines. The assignment questions are more design oriented like how will you design this rather than where in the book is this? It makes you think hard. Then there are projects. There are presentations. There are seminars. And each has a strict deadline. If there is a project there is no written final exam. You toil hard for 10 weeks to get things working and present it at the end. Is it not better than some written exam? I think it is. You get criticized, ridiculed for your presentations, projects but then you learn the mistakes and move on. There are strict standards for writing report. You make use of different tools. Implementation is just a part in project. The idea is important. The motivation is important. After doing all this, even if you do not get a good grade that is fine. At least with me :) it teaches you a lot of things.

Another important thing is about the kind of students with whom you learn with. I have some students who have PHDs in maths, some students who used to work for National Laboratories in USA, some students whose age is 50+, some students who at present work in research labs in companies. This mixed population makes you feel learning never stops, and exposes you to different problems. One should have the crave to learn things.

I felt like quitting and still many times still, I feel the urge to quit when the pressure mounts and I am not able to cope with it. The cultural differences, attitude of looking at things differently by different people, loneliness, silence, homesickness, missing friends, problems of food all sort of problems start showing. I feel so inferior, so many times, in studying. I feel why I am doing all this. Life was so easy and good back in India. But I was not satisfied, I chose this path and I have to sustain. My parents, my friends help me realize that. Its all about hard work. Sincere attempts always pay off. I get distracted by lots of things, but then slowly I am able to understand importance of a career and hard work that goes into it. Every field has hard work, I realize that. Somebody may feel I am dumb, but I am gaining much more knowledge than what I had expected and I am satisfied. Money also gets in by funding which I get from doing a TA job. You always find some way. Important thing is to work and make a sincere attempt.

MS vs. PHD? A MS candidate is looked down as a person who is aiming to use the degree to have a better job. That is the common perception here. 90% people you would find around here are PHDs. The competition never stops.

But then it makes you a better person.

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