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

Saturday, June 28, 2008

MS vs PHD - The difference.

When I was in India I often used to think what is a PHD? How different it is from a MS? In this post I try to answer some of the basic questions which occur in any students mind about the difference between a PHD and a MS program.

First of all let me give you a brief background on the type of Universities in US.
Different universities could be categorized broadly as.

1. Universities which are research oriented -

The main focus is research. These universities are very well funded. They are
mostly the top universities and very tough to get into.

2. Universities which are research / commercial oriented -

These universities have main focus on research but they also produce candidates
for job market. Like MS students. But 95% people in here are PHD students.

3. Universities which are commercial oriented -
These universities do not do research. Their main aim is to give students degree.
Most of them do not have PHD programs also.

Now I explain the differences between a MS and a PHD.

1. Duration - The first and most important difference is duration. MS duration is fixed. In most of the universities it is upto 2 years. PHD duration can vary from 5 years to more, depending on the professor, university policy and the research that you are doing.

2. Both MS and PHD candidates have the same course work to do for the first two years. So essentially a PHD candidate also gets a MS degree after the completion of the first 2 years. What differs is the rest 3 or more years which he /she spends on doing research.

3. Coursework - First two years are spent taking different courses which helps the student in his future research work. These courses are related to the work he / she wants to do. There is lot of autonomy in terms of choosing the courses. This is a credit based system. The projects which you do in these courses are sort of mini research oriented. So slowly one starts getting the feel of the research oriented environment.

4. Background -
Most of the candidates who appear for PHD have very strong background in research. They would have shown inclination towards research in their previous work. They would have published some papers, have done good work in industry, graduated from a reputed institute. PHD candidates thus show the aptitude for research and getting admit for a PHD program is tougher than getting admit for a MS program. A PHD is sort of commitment from the student. It requires patience, the aptitude towards research.

5. Adviser - Every student works with his adviser. He guides the student initially to identify a problem, find the correct thinking procedure, giving directions, help in giving ideas etc. Slowly as the student matures adviser's involvement grows less. Student has to find a path on his own, identify problems, work on the solutions, fail, recover. The important part is the procedure of thinking, which the student develops ones he goes through this cycle.

What a PHD teaches is how to think independently. How to identify problems, how to seek solutions. May be that is why the PHD in its full form is called "Doctor Of Philosophy". So once student has understood the technique, he concentrates on the research work. The ideas on which he is working is termed as a technical paper and it is published in reputed conferences like say for storage systems "FAST", "USENIX", , "OSDI", "RTSS" etc. There are many such conferences depending on the area you are working in. These conferences attract eminent personalities from academia and industry and they judge the quality of your research work. Links for these could be find in one of my earlier posts. Many students start publishing their work as early as in the first year. Many take 2 years or more to get started. It all depends on your previous background, your advisers interests.

6. Research - The standards of quality are very high. No plagiarism is allowed. The research work mainly could be categorized as

6.1 Survey and analysis of existing work and comparison of them -
consider the analysis of the data access patterns in existing storage servers
and how the performance gets affected. what are the observed trends in
accessibility of data in terms of sequential, randomness etc.

6.2 Design of new ideas -
Design of a new file system.

6.3 Tweaking existing ideas into a different form -

How could an existing file system be used on a different device and how it
would affect the performance.

This is a very gross level division. But mainly the work could be split like this.

7. Funding - PHD is a long term commitment. Mostly in 99% cases students get admits from university if he shows a potential to be a PHD candidate and some professors finds him worthy to be working in his group. Professors control the funding. Professors have control on everything. They design the syllabus, teach, design labs, design exams, homeworks. They receive grants from different sources like industry, Government, national laboratories. The grants in US universities mainly arrive from Governments. National Science Foundation (NSF), Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), National laboratories are some of main sources which fund the professors to carry on the research. Some part of it comes from Industry. The professor has to utilize this budget on his students. Thus he sponsors the students and funds their education. He pays their fees. He gives them stipend for monthly expenditure. So it is like a mini job where you have schedules, deadlines and are paid. So a PHD student gets admit only if some professor finds him good enough, so that he could get him in research that he is doing.

The situation varies in case of MS students. MS students do not contribute much in terms of research as their time is spent in doing the coursework for initial 2 years. So many times funding is an issue for MS Students. The available funding to MS students is in terms of Teaching Assistants where you assist professors in conducting labs, grading assignments, solving difficulties of students etc. This is a very good learning experience. This funding comes from the department and not from the professor. Many MS students depending on their potential do get funded by professors and work as research students. It varies from student to student.

8. Many times student switch from MS to PHD program if they find the atmosphere encouraging and feel they could commit to the work. A lot of factors go into taking this decision. Professors always look out for good students and encourage MS students to go for PHD.

This is a different process, than what we find in India. In India only IITs work in this way. But the scale to which this kind of operation is done in IITs is also minimum. MS is a good process to understand all these details. It gives you enough exposure and food for thought, that you can take some decisions about your future and the direction in which you would like to move.

The process makes you more wise and mature. This exposure is what that matters because it makes you aware of so many different perspectives.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

MS / PHD application procedure

Applying for higher studies could be made easier if you have the plans on your mind at least in some form during your undergraduate days. Like say you know that you would be applying for MS / PHD in future( Many students know this when they enter their undergraduate programs). Many students start taking coaching classes, building up their profiles, start building good rapport with Professors so that they could get good letter of recommendations, do internships in different schools so that they could have their hands on research, try to involve in academic oriented extra curricular activities etc. Thus if you are amongst those few who know what they want to do in future, applying for higher studies could be very easy for you as you yourself are building your profile and are aware of the entire process.

It is for those who had never thought about applying for higher studies previously because of various reasons may be because of financial issues, lack of exposure, lack of communication skills, lack of future vision, lack of guidance etc. things could be slightly difficult.
I am describing here a detailed procedure of how to apply for higher studies and what steps go in the whole application process.

1. Planning. - You need to have at least some idea about why you want to apply for higher studies. Are you applying because you want to do heavy research, you need a break from your current job, you have fascination towards a higher degree, you are very enthusiastic about learning new things technically etc. Believe me everybody is confused to a large extent on this question, but at the same time everybody has a vague fuzzy idea of what he/she wants to achieve to at least some extent. So for example take my case, I knew I would like to learn more but I never had money to apply for GRE examinations also, neither I was confident that I had enough exposure of all the things, had good communication skills etc. So I took my time doing jobs, learning how Industry works, what kind of job opportunities are there in future etc. And when I had got enough exposure in these 3 years I applied for a MS. Some students apply directly after undergraduate degree. I find that a bit risky as I do not think you are mature enough to have known industry when you directly apply after undergrad degree. You lack the exposure you get when you work at least for some time in Industry. But if you are from a family where there is lot of exposure about higher education like say you have a elder sibling or your parents are in Industry and they know things, you might be correct. It all depends on the guidance you get from other people and how much exposure you have about things around you. Differs from person to person and situation to situation. So do not compare yourself with others. Everybody is unique and takes his time to understand things and get into shape.

2. GRE / TOEFL Pattern and plan of action:

The first thing that one should do is take dates for the GRE / TOEFL examination. Deadlines always work and they in a way act as milestones and help to keep track of the progress while you are preparing. How to calculate the tentative time you would need is the first question one asks. It varies from person to person. There are two main situations.

1. Either you are studying in your undergraduate school.
2. You are doing a job.

Preparing for GRE is a bit easier in the first case as you are in the charge of the your time. When you are doing a job, the packed schedules of job and professional commitments could pose a bit problematic in preparation. So a very high degree of self commitment and motivation is needed to keep on studying, while you are doing a job. A detailed tentative time table would help you stay focused during your preparation. The amount of time you need for the preparation depends a lot on your background. If you are convent educated, read a lot of English novels, stories, magazines chances are that you are having a good command over the vocabulary, so the verbal section of GRE would require less preparation.

GRE exam consists of a
1. Verbal section - synonyms, fill in the blanks etc
2. Quantitative section - 10th standard maths.
3. Essay - Essay on a general topic. ( social, educational etc)

For most of the people tackling the Verbal section is the only difficulty as it involves learning around 4000 words. These words are called GRE words and most of the standard coaching books like Kaplan have a list of them. Its called a GRE word list. So keeping so many words in memory and use them correctly in the exam is the major difficulty most of the students face. Quantitative section is quite easy and does not involve complex mathematics. Essay writing comes with practice. If you are an avid newspaper reader, follow the news channels, read newspaper editorials, read magazines essay writing should not be a problem.

So the time needed for the preparation varies from person to person. Typically 5 months should do wonders starting from scratch and without having any background. Around 1.5 months are needed for preparing application packet once GRE exam is done. I would describe that at the end of this post. 5 months was the period I used for the preparation. It is a personal choice. A good strategy is to go through the syllabus, analyze your capability, understand the pattern and take the dates accordingly. Dates could be taken throughout the year. Once taken, they could also changed by paying some fee. But sticking to the first date is advisable as sticking to your deadline helps a lot. It is a good idea to take the TOEFL date earlier to the GRE date, so that when you appear for the TOEFL you have an idea of the surrounding in which you would take the exam. You are prepared for the exam surroundings mentally, when you would appear for the GRE. TOEFL is supposedly very easy if you can talk and understand English pretty nicely and your grammar usage is good. It is much simpler than the GRE.

3. Preparation strategies:

Most of the students who opt for the GRE / TOEFL attend some form of coaching classes. So most of the strategies are the ones, which are known to almost all other students. So its really a personal choice how one tunes them to ones own use. For those who do all the studies on their own, guidance from friends who go to such classes is useful. Different strategies could be used in learning up the word-lists. If you start going alphabetically word by word, soon you would find it too boring and you would find that you are not able to recall anything. Good idea is to do a word-list at a time, like say you would do a word-list for the alphabet "A" first, word-list for alphabet "F" next, so just keep on randomizing. It surely helps. The best way to remember words are to identify them while you are reading newspapers, listening to news, reading magazines. Slowly you would realize that the words start popping out when you are reading newspaper articles, books etc. Its perfectly natural if you do not recall the meaning of the word exactly as you studied it. The feeling that this word looks familiar itself is good enough. This way you remember the words using their contextual usage. Simply memorizing them up does not help. For long lasting results always try associating them with their meanings and it should do wonders. There are softwares available like "word dictionary", or "word pop ups" (it pops up a different word with its meaning on your computer screen every minute or so). Such tools also help to keep them fresh in the mind. Remember if you do not keep them fresh and refreshed, chances are that with in a week you would have forgotten most of them. Human memory is very fragile. It needs constant updates and refreshments to keep things up and running. So do not feel bad and disappointed, if you feel you do not recall anything. You are not dumb, what you are feeling is perfectly natural and humane. Only few amongst us are gifted with super natural powers of amazing memory. :) So keep on working. Do not give up thinking you have no memory or you are dumb. Know that this is natural. Talk to your friends, understand their ways of learning. Discuss with them. Discussions are the best way to get the fear out of your mind and knowing that the other person also faces the same problems as you. So start speaking.

3. Tracking the progress -
It is very important to have your own intermediate goals and deadlines to keep track of your own progress. Like say first 2 months are dedicated for complete word-list preparation. It is perfectly alright if you do not know all the words at the end of 2 months. But you would have gone over all the word-lists in the first 2 months. In the next 1 month you could revise your strategy to keep things in memory and again go through the words. In this month you could brush up your maths. It is a good idea to take a sample practice test, just to know that how the knowledge that you are learning, would be used. Where do all these words gets used? In what form they are used? Its a good idea to take tests which come on the paper books and try to understand the pattern of exam. So by now you are in a state where you are familiar with the words, you are somewhat familiar with the maths section. Now you can revise your methods of preparation in the last 2 months. For preparing maths, the maths section in books is sufficient. So over the last 2 months you would keep on revisiting words, reread the word-lists, do Maths. And you do this repeatedly. By the end of last 2 months you are so much bored of the words and would feel like running away from all this, and wish this could end fast :) GRE preparation can drive people crazy because, after a certain point it gets monotonous. It becomes more of taste of your patience than your intelligence. GRE really does not tests your technical intelligence. It tastes your patience and general aptitude. In the last week many people opt for the online tests from the coaching institutes where feedback is given on your taste scores. Test CD's are available in market from different institutions, which allow you to take online tests. Your score is reported immediately. 5 to 10 such tests are sufficient, depending on how much time you have in hand.

4. Appearing for the test:
The tests are held at different locations in India and you chose the location convenient and closest to you. Date availability is also another criteria in choosing the location. The test environment is very user friendly and relaxing. The people over there are very friendly and helpful. But it is always a good idea to be aware of the exam setup so appearing for TOEFL first, which is comparably easy than GRE, is advisable. One more important thing to keep in mind is the choice of universities where you want to apply to. At the end of both tests, you are allowed to send your test score directly to 5 Universities, free of cost. So it is a good idea to have a tentative list of universities where you want to apply.

5. Procedure after GRE:
Relax and enjoy your days :) You have gone through a laborious, monotonous procedure and you deserve some pat on your back whatever may have been your result. Many times people do not do well during final exam. Since you can always get a new exam date, you should not be worrying much about it, unless money is an issue. That brings me to another point. Always take a date such that even if you do not do well enough in final exam, you would have al teast 15 days to take a new exam before you can start with the application procedure.

6. Application procedure -
On what basis does an University give an admit? A casual talk with one of my professors here lead to discussion where he told me following things. Most of the times the admission procedure is mostly a guess work on Universities part. How does the admission procedure goes? Mostly there is a panel of professors, who decide looking at your credentials whether you are good candidate or not. So what the professor told me was, "Mrunal, we have to be judgemental in our decisions. Many times the students whom we admit fail to meet our standards, so its only your application packet that helps us decide, how good a guess could we make."

If you are applying after you have some job experience, its better to apply to specific Universities which are doing good research in your area of interest. If you are applying as a fresher, you need very very strong academic background, good extra curricular activities. You should show a good potential to these professors. Believe me, many of us think that industry experience of 2,3 years is good enough to get into good schools and even if your academic is not so good it would match up for it. hmmm, sadly that is not the case. The way research is done in these universities is totally different than how mostly people work in industry. So industrial experience unless, its in exactly in the area of interest of future research to some extent, is of not much use. If you have industry experience of say 8,9 years yes, it really matters. Otherwise it really does not matter that much. But it does give you an edge over the other candidate, who is a fresher and who has a weak academic background.

University Selection : There are some online forums which are very popular, where senior students help applicants in selecting the correct universities to apply to depending on their profile. Do look at these forums. University selection depends on how good your profile is in terms of academic achievements, Research background like number of publication you have ( What is a publication - See my other post, "Is MS an Experience" where I mention about technical conferences where technical papers are published), relevant industrial experience, GRE / TOEFL score (Many universities have individual cut off marks for Verbal and Quantitative, essay section). Another important criteria while selecting university is "Financial Cost" involved. According to me first thing that one should look for, while selecting an university is the "Research Work" being done and whether it matches your interest? Next, think of the financial criteria. Always remember you are going for MS / PHD, to learn new things and be a better person. So research work is of utmost importance.

The MS / PHD application package needs following important items.

1. GRE / TOEFL score - Score above 1300 is considered good for getting in a good school. If your score is above 1500, you are special and you are treated specially by all universities.
2. Three letters of recommendations -
3. Mark-sheet transcripts - These are the official copies of your mark-sheets signed
by your college registrar.
4. Statement of Purpose - Why do you want to go for higher studies? The purpose.
5. Application to University - Generally universities have online application forms.
6. Resume - Resumes in US are formatted in a different and much more professional
way than in India. Have a look at my resume on this site.

A good preparation for all the above items take around 1.5 months. So another criteria in choosing a date is to know the tentative date of deadline of applications, so that you can schedule the procedure accordingly.

GRE/ TOEFL score is sent directly to the 5 universities which you listed when you appeared for the GRE / TOEFL exams. If you want to apply to more Universities, you could pay and send the score to more.

7. Letters of recommendations -
The concept behind letters of recommendations could be understood if one understands how a US professional system works. In US recommendations are considered a genuine way of knowing how good a person you are. So these people keep great deal of trust in the person who is referring to you, even though they do not know him. They expect the person recommending you is of high caliber, have good ethics, knows you well. The general practice that could be seen in two tier Engineering colleges in India is, the professor asks you to write your own recommendation letter and he just signs it. After witnessing the professionalism in US, it feels a way of cheating. But there is no option as many times professors are not aware of how to write a good recommendation letter himself. hmmm, but then in that case the professor you chose is not a good candidate for referring you. But this is how it generally works. You can not argue with professors in Indian colleges as they work under their own fancies. So its best to be very true about what you write in those recommendation letters. General rule of recommendation letters is to keep them short and simple, yet giving details about your technical abilities and overall aptitude. It is good to have letters of recommendations from well knows professors from well known institutes like if you have done an internship with some Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)professor. Its good idea to get a recommendation letter from him. The caliber of the person who is recommending you is the most important thing. If you are working in industry, recommendation from your manager or MD who knows you is good to get. Thus an integral part of application procedure is planning the three persons who would refer to you. This is where those students who know that they are planning to do a MS in future become successful, as they could plan their action by working with some good professors, or doing internship in good institutes like IIT. The whole idea is to build a good profile and how successful you are at it.

8. Statement of purpose: - The statement of purpose as its name suggests is a way to tell the University where you are applying, your main reason to pursue higher studies. It is one of the most important documents and is taken very seriously by professors who are on the selection panel of these universities. Preparation of it requires extensive homework and a genuine attempt of your own thoughts. You have to be to a large extent, true to your reasons to apply and the statement of purpose should indicate that. If a person has already done technical research work his statement of purpose would show that clearly, but if you are working in industry and have not done good work, or if you are a fresher your statement of purpose has to indicate your future plans with some backing claims. Do not look at sample statement of purpose available on web, or your friends. Try writing rough drafts, have the idea of what you want to write. Make some initial attempts. Only when you feel like you really have thought well enough on all the things, take a look at others. Be creative. Do not be a copy cat. It does not really help. You will really be damaging your own chances of success by doing that, because by looking at others you would start thinking in their directions. You have to be a genuine writer.

9. Resume: Prepare a good resume. It is always a very bad idea to lie on resume. Strictly avoid that. Avoid all the things that could get you in trouble in future.

10. Creating an online application: Most of the universities allow you to create an online account for application. It mainly consists of an application form. Many times you are also asked to provide your statement of purpose, letters of recommendations, resume in online application. It varies from university to university. Every university has a different deadline. So you have to be aware of all these different facts while applying.

11. Final dispatch: Once you are ready with your application packet. You send it to the university by international courier services like FedEX, DHL etc. Results are declared within two months and you get to hear about the good news or bad news. All you need is an admit from a good university. So do not feel bad if your friend got admits from lots of universities whereas you received a single admit. Different people have different profiles, so do not compare yourself. You have taken so much of pain, so end results would definitely be good. Hope for the best. If you get an admit, you are sent a form titled "I-20" by the university. This is the most important form that you need in the procedure for VISA application. Once you get an admit, start preparing for your VISA interview preparation.

12. VISA interview: VISA interview preparation starts right from applying for VISA dates to actually appearing for an interview. VISA preparation could be a pain, depending on your financial status. Most of the times Universities ask you to prove your financial status by sending them the copies of your banks statements and other funds that you have. It shows them that you can support yourself financially. Most of the time finance proof is the most important hurdle, as showing amounts in Lakhs of Rs suddenly is a serious problem. Most of the time people remedy this by transferring funds temporarily from their friends, relatives in a back account and then a taking a bank statement. If you are promised some financial support in terms of funding by University, finance should not be a problem for you. Online forums discuss all these issues in detail and help a lot in solving the questions you have. VISA interviews do not last more than 1 minute or half a minute. Be confident. Dress smartly. There are standard set of questions which VISA officers asks and you would get all the help about those on online forums.

Well, this is the most of what goes in applying for a MS / PHD degree, in most of the foreign universities. There are more details in it, but this should help you getting started and would help you understand the bigger picture. A first look at all these things could be intimidating. Do not fear it. Tackle the procedure phase by phase. Do keep the overall picture in mind, but at a time concentrate only on a single phase. Like first only think of cracking the GRE exam. Once GRE part is done, concentrate on the application procedure. Dealing with each and every phase separately should ease out the stress and help you get going.

I wish you all the best. Remember, once you decide to do it, you would be able to do it. Give your best.

More information about applying, could also be found on www.kaaledge.com

Monday, June 16, 2008

Applying for MS- The procedure

I am planning to write a post on a detailed procedure that goes right from starting preparation of MS to applying to different universities for admission. One of my managers from an earlier company is starting his own venture of a coaching institution in Pune, for higher studies. He has requested for this post.

Do spread out the news of his coaching class as I believe he would surely succeed in his venture, in some more years. He would start in September in Kothrud, Pune and he surely does need mouth publicity.

Thank you,

Is MS an experience?

This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine while I was working in India. Her view was MS is not needed as whatever you learn during MS could be learned with experience in Industry. At that time I did not know how to debate this issue with her as I myself was not aware how good the experience of doing a MS could be. Though I knew I was right, I did not have facts to back my claim. I do not belong to that category of people, who with their amazing conversational skills, could convince how their point is valid even if they are not sure about it. I envy those people, as this is a skill which could be made to work really well in professional life sometimes. Sometimes, not all the times. Bluffing does not go well always.

Her points were.

1. If you say MS teaches you how to think and design, then I could learn that with new project design responsibilities.
2. If MS gives you more exposure, then I am getting that by working and designing this new feature for this project I am doing.
3. If MS lets you interact with different people with great technical skills, then I am getting that by interacting with my onsite clients, attending meetings with them, discussing ideas with them.

How MS makes a difference then?

My claims are, as one of my friends had told me while I was applying for MS, that look towards MS as an experience. Not only in terms of learning new things technically, but also as a personality growth. So what I am explaining here is from these two points. Technical growth and personal growth. Whatever I have written here are purely my own views and they might not be exactly correct. as I have not seen most part of the US, but only a tiny fraction of it. I do not intend to hurt anybody's feelings with these views.

Technical aspects.

1. MS could be considered as a specialization that lets you chose in what area you want to explore and do the research in your career. Every university has its core strengths in a subject matter say for example my university has specialization in research on storage, stony brook has good research on security. I am not talking about first tier universities like Stanford, Berkley etc as they are special. Whatever they do is special. They do not need to brag that they are good in this field or that field. They are like GOD.

2. When you chose a university based on its specialization, you get to take courses which are related to your specialization. Like say my university has 5 different course like operating systems, advanced systems, storage systems, distributed systems, security. So you get to learn the concepts in that field, in much detail and get much needed insight into how to move ahead in these fields.

3. Most of these courses are arranged such that you read the technical research papers published in different conferences. FAST, OSDI, RTAS etc are some of the conferences where these research papers are published. Find the links for these conferences here. There are conferences like this for different fields like say supercomputing, real time systems, security, networking etc.

RTAS - http://www.rtas.org/
FAST - http://www.usenix.org/event/fast08/
OSDI - http://www.usenix.org/events/sec08/cfp/

In every class discussion, presentations of these research papers are done. You prepare a summary of the papers that you are going to read ahead. Along with this you do a class project which explores similar ideas on a much simpler scale.

4. Lets say you are interested in "operating and storage systems". Professor for the corresponding class designs the syllabus in such a way that you learn about history of the important trends in that subject, present research that is being carried out.
So for example a "storage systems" class would have research papers which discuss topics like history, early designs of file systems, different types of files systems, different types of devices and how file systems need to be efficient on them, performance factors related to file systems, local file systems, distributed file systems, indexing mechanisms in file systems, current trends in file systems etc.

5. This makes sure that one has enough information about everything that goes around in that subject so that he could succeed on his own in future. A background and solid foundation is prepared.

6. The students with whom you interact with, range from freshers to people who have worked in industry for years, people who have earned their PHDs and waiting for a second PHD. Listening to their conversations itself is a great source of information.

7. Different new tools and different practices are learned. One starts valuing time and planning as that is at core of getting successful in graduate schools.

8. Projects even if they fail to produce results are not a problem. what matters is a efforts that you took, hard work and knowledge you learned. People do not scream at you because you could not get results. They understand the way research is done, results are not always guaranteed.

9. This is a credit based system where one has to earn prescribed credits to get a degree. What is a credit? Say for MS you need 50 credits. Then each course will have 5 credits. Then in order to complete your MS you need to take minimum 10 courses. This varies from university to university. Hence there is much autonomy in choice of the subjects. As long as you are satisfying the minimum criteria of choice of subjects, and are able to justify taking a different course, you have autonomy to chose the subjects. So with your adviser's approval you can take a course in even psychology department if you can justify taking it would aid your MS. Such inter-disciplinary nature helps in overall development and gives you exposure in other areas other than engineering.

10. When you interact with people who are who's who in industry, when you discuss with people who are expert in industry, when you attend conferences, workshops where eminent speakers speak, the motivation and satisfaction one gets is beyond description. And you get to do all this because you are part of a prestigious institution. Because these people know the institution and the professors you work with personally.

11. Working on a design related feature in industry and being a master in it no doubt is commendable job. But the exposure still stays limited, as you miss this whole learning process. You miss the big game, the big picture.

MS contribution in personal growth:
1. If you are totally new to a culture, small small situations may turn out to be difficult to you for example looking for house. Its a whole new experience as you are expected to have different mannerism while you are visiting people. Its not as informal as it is in India.

2. Cooking.- You start valuing the food which was never a problem in India, as there was plenty around you if you had money. Here even if you have money, sometimes you do not get food or many times it is much expensive. You learn to respect the food. The feeling that there is nobody to cook for you and whatever you want to eat is by yourself is different altogether. The term "FREE FOOD" is very famous in US and specially in graduate schools. Food is always considered an incentive for getting people attend some meeting, show up on time etc. Parties where free food is served are always hit. You can literally see the crowd which was nowhere to be seen otherwise. As an example, your professor may tell you that, "I will sponsor your lunch today if you could explain the code to some of my other students" ...His logic, "Food as an incentive always works :)".

The food options available outside are US food, Mexican, Italian, Thai, Chinease, Indian. But once you have tasted most of it even though it is expensive, you kind of feel bored to eat it again. Food available in stores is mostly frozen. The part where All the software companies are located is termed "Bay Area (San-Fransisco BAY) and you get all type of Indian food there. But again the quality lacks and its expensive. That place is 35 miles from my town. So self cooked food is the best option you are left with. Out of this hunger comes different experimentations of varied dishes. Cooking recipes are exchanged at dinner parties. "Pot luck" dinner is very famous. Its a party where everybody gets some dish prepared by himself/herself (By the way in US there is also mention of a third gender as "Other" ) and thus there are many dishes to taste. You get to eat amazing food in such parties. Food related stories is an experience which can not be narrated in words. It is a general notion that "Grad students are always hungry".

3. Emotional strengths.- The first noticeable difference as soon as you land in any foreign country is that you FEEL the silence. You crave for peoples presence. You crave for listening to them. And if you are in a university where there are not many Indians, this could be a major problem as many times the emotional stress is so much that it eats into your mental strength. Again this is a feeling beyond words. On weekends the deserted look could become unbearable many times. But again, this depends on what place you are in. There are many universities which feel like mini India :). There are so many people around you in these universities, that you never feel away from home.

4. Getting adjusted to socialism and culture. People in US are very formal. They have individualistic attitude. That is why they can achieve so much. Many times you have to be aware of different customs and mannerisms, like if you are making noise in your house, say there is a party and suppose your neighbor is getting disturbed. He would come and bang on your door very hard a few times. That is supposed to be considered a notice to you to lower your noise and keep quiet. Different cultures have different attitudes to behave.

5. Open culture -
The culture around is very much free and open. People dress in all kinds of clothes. General observation is that if you are a girl, you wear clothes as tight as you can, accentuating your curvy figure as much as possible. Girls here are extremely beautiful and they are very much health conscious and fit. They are very expressive when they talk. Shorter the clothes better you are could be considered a rule for girl's dressing over here. In case of a guy, you would see him wearing lose clothing and often riding a skateboard. Well one can notice a stark difference in the way students dress, when they are in their undergraduate days. They are informal, trendy in clothes, sporting latest fashions. Graduate students (MS, PHD)are considered mature and professional and they behave in much more professional way and dress sensibly. So if you suddenly see stark naked girls and guys running around on streets, on seasons first rain, do not feel surprised. Many US universities have this tradition where undergrads run naked on various occasions. People here love to take off their clothes. Many of the students stay in live in relationships. Almost all of them have boyfriends and girlfriends. So its very common for you to overhear them saying to their professor that "My girlfriends professor says blah blah ..... ". Many of them are married. Divorces also happen equally fast in many of the cases.

Many times students get indulged in drugs, sex and similar things. This is very common. Does that mean that these things do not happen in India? The difference is, they are really limited to a very small section of society there and are considered a social taboo in general. Where as over here it is kind of very common and spread amongst a wide society and hence people over here accept it. Slowly one gets used to all of this and accept the existence of a different culture. Indian culture starts looking very conservative in front of this culture. In any university population of undergraduate student is maximum. As students turn into graduates and become mature, their ways of behaving changes slowly. They become more professional. But not all undergrads are like this. You would find lots of mature undergrads too, but they are rare. We can look at this as this. In India also, students get involved in different activities which are considered ok and natural at growing adolescent age, so these are similar to that but at much louder scale. That is why many times undergrad students have problems in finding an apartment to stay. People know that they are famous for mischievous activities. Having witnessed all this, you slowly start putting moral obligations on your own behavior, depending on the culture you belong to. But since you have witnessed all this you are mentally prepared for all such behavior and you are not shocked.

6. Transportation -
Transportation could be one of the major problems as everybody here owns a car and public transport is almost zero. So if you are a person who used to have your own motor bike in India (Like I had) dependability on public transport which is not so good, could be really a pain. So even if you have holidays but since you do not have means of transport, you develop different schemes to keep yourself busy and entertained. Ofcourse there are other alternatives like renting a car and going out on long picnics. But that is something you do once in a while and not so often. Overall you start being more patient and understanding. You start valuing the freedom of independent transport.

7. Strong feedback from professors - If you fail to do a work because of your laziness, your professor does not hesitate to show you that you are wrong. These people are much professional. They would criticize you strongly if you do not do good work in spite of knowing things. But would praise you equally well, if you do great work. They do not shy away from giving away credit to you, unlike many of the Indian bosses whom you meet in Industry, or those infamous strongly biased professors who used to give you less marks during your college days because of some personal issues. Those kind of incidents do not happen that much here. They do happen, but frequency is less. These people respect a knowledgeable person. They are eager to learn if you are willing to teach. They do not feel shameful to tell that they do not know a certain thing. You learn a great deal of professionalism through such acts. You learn how to mentor others and how to have professional relations. You slowly develop a great mindset.

8. Formality - Most of the population other than undergraduate students that you see is much professional and behaves with well manners. People here have the individualistic attitudes. So you would see a family with kids and husband wife. Kids move out mostly as soon as they start getting into colleges. The family culture misses most of the times or may be since I have not seen most of the US it could be present in other parts. People do not mix up and gel so fast. They do show lot of compassion and try to be informal but many times you feel it is fake. They really do not bother you in your business. So if you are kissing your girlfriend in a bus seat, nobody feels offended as it is none of their business. People respect and like each others privacy. They like to be in quiet surroundings. Appointments are must if you need to meet somebody. You can not drop in anybody's house just like that. You may be staying in an apartment but mostly you do not know who your next door neighbor is as the doors are mostly closed. Its much of an individualistic society where they value their privacy and they respect your privacy.

9. The opportunities - This is a country which provides you with lots of opportunities if you are ready to work hard, have patience and want to move ahead in life. This is a society which produces amazing technologies because it supports the necessary infrastructure for that effort. The other day I met a PHD student. She is in her 40s. She was a mechanic before 10 years. But she wanted to learn, so she enrolled in undergraduate degree, then now she is pursuing her PHD. Many times we think back in India, these students must be really rich to afford such an expensive education. No, They are not rich, they understand this system. They work hard. They have that passion to move ahead and prove themselves. So most of them do jobs like pizza delivery boy, waiter, shop attendant. They know how to support themselves. Their culture teaches them that. It teaches them to be independent. No doubt they have some support from parents. You can not raise all money by delivering pizzas. the money they get by doing such jobs is mainly to support their living expenses. But most of the times these students are independent and they support themselves. No doubt they do have their own problems because of so much of freedom and independence, but consider the good points for time being. Such opportunities are available only in this country. Because it has become their culture. I like the freedom they get. I like their independence. I take good values from them. I carry their good spirit to move ahead. Such things are not possible in India. Why? Because we do not have this culture and we will not get that so fast at least in near future.

The commercial culture which India is witnessing because of IT boom is not similar to this what I witness here. We are witnessing a different culture. People are getting money in India, but slowly that money is making them arrogant and lose focus of what they could really do. This is not the culture I am talking about.

11. Relations - When you are far away from your family, friends and loved ones, Unless you are of type, who does not care about relations and human touch (which most of us do crave for) you certainly miss your people. The close community which you have around you becomes your family. Here comes the real national integration where people from different regions like Bengal, Tamilnadu, Delhi, UP, Kerla start coming together and form close ties. Many times students who come for MS form marital relations during their stay. This mostly happens in universities which see a large number of population of students. People are emotionally vulnerable a lot. It is specially true with girls. So most of the girls who come for MS are either married already, with their husband working in some software company or they have a boyfriend who is also doing MS / PHD. I am not saying this is the general case, but in most cases it is true. People crave for the emotional touch. The entire atmosphere around you is based on relations where you see so many couples. Many times sudden feeling of loneliness creeps deep in your heart. Many times your fellow Indians are married, or engaged. So during social gatherings when such couples arrive together, a tender feeling of the emotions run deep into your heart. You miss your friends whom you left back, you miss your parents, elders. If you have a girlfriend back there, you miss her the most, because this atmosphere accentuates those feelings. Many times guys start drinking as it relaxes the stress, makes them feel better. People have different ways to combat different stages. Again these feelings are personal, they need that experience to understand their gravity. But overall people feel the need of emotions and somehow survive the rough patch they face.

12. Stress management -
Graduate studies are very stressful. There is so much to do in such a less time that you feel exhausted. If you keep crying for things which you could not do, chances are that you would miss next things too. So you gradually learn how to adjust to this system. You understand how it functions. Managing all the above aspects and performing well could be tiresome and many times the feeling to quit become prominent. Many times you face financial pressure.

Many times you feel exhausted after working very hard for long time without any results. The feeling of frustration starts building but at the same time when the work gets done, the feeling of triumph supersedes the pains you were going through. That one moment when you feel your hard work is getting paid off, is worth all the efforts. You literally see the stress coming, building on you, you see yourself getting depressed, you see yourself getting frustrated, you observe your own mood swings, your own happiness, your sadness. You start becoming aware of the changes happening in you. You understand the pattern of changes. You know what would make you feel good, and how to face the situation if it comes again. Playing with such stressful environments builds your emotional strength. It makes you tough. It build a new confidence in you. The stress is enormous. Life of a graduate student is bore in that sense. He does not get to enjoy things which other people enjoy. So when some holiday comes, many times the feeling that plenty of free time is available could drive you crazy as you are not prepared to this situation as you were always busy in studies. Slowly you get used to keeping yourself involved and busy in whatever work you do. Many times stress management workshops like "Art Of Living" are held on campuses to make students aware of how to handle the stress and do meditation and stay calm. They help a lot. Many students go through them and practice the mediation regularly. Stress could be your worst enemy if you do not know how to handle it effectively. And you get exposed to so much of that here that, you feel nothing could be worst in life than this. You are prepared to handle the tough situation in life.

Thus overall if you can summarize, this is a mix of both technical and social learning experience. You understand how different people behave, you pick up some good points that would make you a better person. You ignore and learn to live with the bad points. And there is nobody with you to take all these decisions. You are independent. You commit mistakes, you learn from them and you move ahead.

So overall you start becoming more patient, knowledgeable, open to new ideas and experimentation, understanding and start respecting the freedom and independence that you have got.

"With power comes responsibility" and you learn that really well over here.