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Coffee With Raghavan about life at Rice University

2 September 2008 20 Comments

CWS is now back in full action after 2 days of outage (especially for people who use airtel broadband) Its my pleasure to welcome Raghavan, alumni of NIT Trichy to share his thoughts about life @ Rice University

Coffee With Raghavan

* Brief Intro about yourself..

I did my bachelors in Computer Science from REC, Trichy. Then I went on to do a Masters from IISc in Computer Science again. After my masters, I joined Microsoft IDC, Hyderabad where I worked for just more than 2 months. I had to give up that job since I didn’t get the work that I expected. Then, I joined a start up company called Synfora in Bangalore, where I worked for a couple of years. I joined Rice University for my PhD program during fall 2007.

* Entry Criteria:
– Approx CGPA range
My CGPA in RECT was 9/10. And at IISc 6.9/8.
Most good universities would consider anything above 3.5

– Research Experience at undergraduage level.
I had done very little during my undergrad. I did a little bit of research during my masters at IISc. It always helps to have some research experience, but it is not a necessity in many universities.

– Gre & Toefl scores range..
My Gre scores were Quants:800, Verbal:490. Toefl:>100 I think the Gre and Toefl scores are more of a formality, atleast for a PhD admit. (I couldn’t have got in otherwise).

– Does the university require subject GRE?
Rice doesnt need a subject Gre, atleast not the CS dept.
Most of the universities that I looked during my admissions listed subject Gre as more of a recommended item. Among the ones I looked at only Rutgers asked for a subj Gre score. I would suggest people to give subject Gre. You can add that in your application if you get a good score. Then it would work to your advantage.

* Aid scenario – #number of ppl who come in with aid, chances of aid after coming in, more details on RA/TA/small work around campus.
The CS dept at Rice gives admission only for a PhD program and that always come with full aid, i.e., a tuition fee waiver and a monthly stipend. We are expected to TA 5 courses as a part of our PhD requirements.
This actually varies with department and university. Most universities that give admit for Masters these days, do not give aid. Only students of that particular dept and univ would be able to give an idea of the situation there.

* how much money should one shell out for the entire course if it completely unfunded..
It could go from around $20000 per annum to $60000 per annum. Rice had estimated the average cost of a student to be $46000 per year (Houston is considered to be a relatively cheaper place).

* What are the living expenses?
I am assuming you wanted to know about how much we spend on various expenses. Typically people here at Rice spend about $400-$500 for rent (incl amenities), $200-$300 for groceries and food (the more you cook, lesser will be the expense), $50 for mobile. If you have a car, which is almost a necessity in cities like Houston, then you would need to spend around $150 per month for gas and insurance. Of course, this is excluding your tuition fees.

* Career opportunities after the course?
The chance of getting a job in a research lab in a good company (in India and US) is pretty good, atleast here at CS dept in Rice. It would help if you work under a professor who has some industry contacts.

If you are looking for an academic position in the US, then there is very little chance that you may get into a univ ranked < 40. And even if you get in you will need to work as hard as you can for about 6 years as an assistant professor to get a tenure. Typically people do Postdoc for about 2 years before they take up an academic position in the US.
A PhD in the US (top 20 univ) is good enough to get an academic position in India (even in IITs and IISc).

* Typical Money made during internships?
PhD students in CS would get about $5000 a month during internships in the US. I have no idea about the money you would make if you do it in India.

* How easy it is to switch departments?
Administratively, I think most universities don’t care which dept you are working in as long as you have an advisor to support you. In a PhD program, the dept supports you for the first year, and from the second year it is the advisor who pays your tuition and stipend. So the univ will allow switching departments as long as you have somebody to support you.

* switch from Phd to MS?
I have seen people who come here for PhD drop out after Masters. That probably will be allowed if you have a valid reason. Anyways, the univ can not force you to continue. But typically here in the CS dept at Rice, you are expected to complete your PhD.

* Any other issues/ inputs which will be helpful.
I would advice you to strongly consider having a very good reco and a decent sop that shows your enthusiam. I feel these two were the clinchers in my case. I had always projected Compilers as my area of research in my sop and also showed how I have been preparing myself for it during my Masters and job. Also I had recos from Profs at IISc who were well known in my area of research.
Getting an admit is only the start of a journey. You should be motivated enough to work for 5 years (sometimes even more) to get a PhD.
All the best.

Thanks a lot Raghavan for sharing this invaluable information. All the best for your Phd.




  • skeptic said:

    Hello Sundar,
    Is there honestly somany NIT-T-ians who want to be
    research scientist/faculty ? If they donot see themselves
    in either role, I think going for a Ph.D will endup in a
    disillusionment. You also ask about dropping out. Most
    serious students will drop out of a Ph.D program to
    take it up at another school.

    AFAIK 90% of new graduates from NIT-T or elsewhere
    who come to graduate studies at American universities
    are looking for a job.

    In anycase I’d highly recommend students pickup a
    masters degree before going for the Ph.D.


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