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Coffee With Shriram Srinivasan about life at TAMU

28 July 2008 17 Comments

Hey All..

Today, we have a very special person on CWS!! The person I am talking about got a 1480 in GRE, which was a record in NIT Trichy for almost 8 months.. This walking dictionary was mechanical engineer @ NIT Trichy.. Its my pleasure to introduce Shriram Srinivasan.. was christened as GREram for heroics in GRE.. To be honest, GREram was one of the best students in mathematics our batch.. If you are considering to apply to TAMU.. you *must* read this interview..

Without further ado, Over to GREram..

Coffee With GREram

*Brief Intro about yourself..
Before I begin, I must say I am not having coffee with Sundar, or anyone for that matter. I never drink coffee since I do not like it…:-) So lets settle for Badam Milk with Sundar. But thats too rustic a name and he will lose all his readers with that one, so perhaps to keep him happy I will just go along and watch him have the coffee πŸ˜› With those insightful comments, let me introduce myself :-)’

My name is Shriram Srinivasan. I finished my B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Trichy in 2006. So as you can guess, I was Sundar’s batchmate, and later on “wingmate” too, as we called it. I am here in TAMU since Fall 2006, pursuing my MS and PhD in the Mechanical Engineering Dept. I am working in Mechanics applied to fluids which entails mainly theoretical/modelling work.

* Entry Criteria:

To talk of TAMU, I will choose my words carefully, because this is no longer an intra-college document where I can speak the way I normally do without mincing words, so some tactful statements are in order πŸ™‚

To give a brief overview of TAMU in general, its a very big university with a whole lot of departments. The best departments, in my view, are aero, industrial, petroleum, and civil engg. Of course I take the highly ranked nuclear dept with a pinch of salt because there are hardly a handful of colleges in US with nuclear engg! πŸ™‚

First a few words abt each of these depts are in order.
Aero – Consistently ranked highly, aero in TAMU is a great department. They only offer selected admits with funding, and dont deluge their department with Indian students the way Mech or Industrial does. All their research divisions are well funded, though some of it is for US citizens only. As a result , their selection criteria is far stricter than others.

Civil engg – It has sub-departments, Structures, Materials, Ocean, Geotechnical, Transportation, and Environmental. Materials group is probably the best in the US after UIUC, and they are extremely well funded along with Transportation. Ocean engg is something very few Indians go for, but it is an excellent place all the same. Structures is not well funded, though highly ranked. Geotech I do not know much about. Environmental gives out many Indian admits, and their selection process is not very stringent I would say.

Industrial – They are poorly funded, so much so that they fund only their PhDs and rest do an M.E rather than M.S to finish early. They offer an admit to practically whoever applies (for MS that is) since they don’t have funding, and last year they gave out some 60 Indian admits.

Petroleum – Probably the richest department on campus. I do not know much about their admits, but they wallow in dollars πŸ™‚ And with Houston having so many oil companies, the students wallow in money too πŸ™‚

With that I will now come to the Mech Dept. The Mech Dept shares its USP with that of TAMU – the best education at the cheapest price :-). They offer a 50% tuition waiver to practically every student for the first two semesters. Take that with the fact that TAMU is one of the cheapest schools, and its no surprise to see so many students trying for TAMU. The downside is of course that the dept has a selection policy which is, to put it mildly – “less stringent” the way I see it. Last year, in fact , every year, we have a lot of admits from Hyderabad, Bombay, Chennai, and interspersed are admits from NITs and IITs. The NIT crowd, am happy to see is growing πŸ™‚

– Approx CGPA range

Based on the tone of my writing, it will be very easy to get deluded into thinking that TAMU admits are given out to everyone who applies. I would hasten to add that it is not so. A common trend I find in all admits to engineering departments is that students often seem to be top rankers or atleast high scorers if they are from private colleges in Bombay, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore etc. There are many people from IITs/NITs with GPA close to 9, in fact, most of the NITT students here (excluding me :-D) have CGPA in 8.5 – 9.0 range. So I would think that academic performance in undergrad is given importance. In EEE specially, I find there are lots of people from BITS (Pilani).

Since I had a GPA of just above 8, I would think that is a reasonable requirement for admission πŸ™‚ Looking at my case I would surmise that students with lesser GPA generally make up with high GRE scores…
The reason TAMU can give so many admits despite having such selection parameters is due to the sheer number of people who apply. It is that large pool of applicants that allows the admissions committee to give out so many admits without significantly lowering student quality.

– Research Experience at undergraduate level.

Almost everybody here seems to have done the usual things and to be at par with the rest, it would be advisable to do some research at the undergraduate level itself.. For many people, it helps in finally clinching the deal with professors – the fact that you have shown interest and worked. However, I would hasten to add that this seems to hold true only for the younger faculty. The very senior professors are never swayed, and they dont really bother about your research experience at undergraduate level.

– Gre & Toefl scores range..

Its a difficult question to answer. I know of scores from 1200-1500. But on an average I would say its 1300+. TOEFL is just a cut off criteria and not important for selection.

– Does the university require subject GRE?

Not that I know of.

* 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.

Generally everybody is offered the out-of-state tuition waiver for 2 semesters, which amounts to almost 50% of the tuition. Many PhD students, and some exceptional MS students come in with a TA. Students coming in with RA is a matter that depends on the prof. Many profs would like to see how you work etc. before putting their money on you.
Since TAMU is a huge university, you have positions called GANTS (graduate assistants non teaching) in some departments which will pay your tuition and give you a stipend too. These could be, for example, doing some web programming/matlab work in the dept of kinesiology, or some data analysis in the dept of entomology, or work in the helpdesk of the computer centre. Such positions are advertised, and interviews held before selecting a candidate. So in general chances of aid brighten after the first semester. Without quoting figures, I would say that most people find some form of aid by the end of 2 semesters. Web programming/ webmaster type of positions are quite common. However it mostly benefits the cse/eee guys rather than mech πŸ™
The campus jobs have got tougher with the huge influx of Indians every year. As we all write similar things in the CV, and most are quite proficient in English, it really is a lottery applying in the dining services or as an office assistant πŸ™‚

* how much money should one shell out for the entire course if it completely unfunded..

Considering you finish in 2 years, i.e., total 4 semesters (summer not included), and assuming you pay full tuition and fees, you pay $6000 per sem….thats $24,000 for the whole course..living expenses extra… to contrast this….scroll down below and take a look at figures my friend Vikhram has quoted for UIUC in an earlier post. πŸ˜€ And if you get the 50% tuition waiver which most do…that makes it only $12,000 for the whole course. You will now understand why there is a stampede to apply to TAMU. Its certainly not the best university around, but you get good education and great jobs at the cheapest price! πŸ™‚

* What are the living expenses?

I am not very sure about this – lets say $600 per month. The point is if you get any on campus job you will always cover your monthly expenses. Its only the tuition and fees that you should worry about.

* Career opportunities after the course?

Personally, I often feel TAMU is somewhat like NITT in the sense that when you do get a job you often wonder if you are actually worth that much :-D.. To clarify, I certainly wondered when Tata Motors gave me a job! πŸ˜›
On a more serious note, people are fond of bandying big words like recession etc. I dont know what it means and I dont really care at this point of time. But I do know, that if you are in the non-circuits, i.e, civil mech, chem, IE, chances are you will most likely be working for an oil company or some energy services company, because every second office in Houston is that. Recruitment in the US is zone wise rather than country wide as in India, so sometimes it can be a problem. Most biomed/biotech companies are in California, hence it becomes a little difficult for those departments. CSE/EEE depts rake in the money as usual πŸ™‚

* Typical Money made during internships?

I dont know about this. Depends on whether its a circuit or non circuit. But it would certainly help you pay the fees for the next sem.

* How easy it is to switch departments?

Quite easy. I know lots of people who do that. If you have found a guide/advisor who is a prof in another dept, then his approval is enough. In other cases too changing departments is not that big a hassle.

* switch from Phd to MS?

It is done sometimes due to extenuating circumstances, like if a student loses funding, or due to personal problems he/she cant continue for a PhD. But to address what the question is actually getting at, please do not apply for a PhD just for the lure of funding if you are not sincere about it. Its also fine if you have a TA and then you switch. But once you are being funded by a faculty member, its expected that you be upfront about what your aims actually are. If the prof is irked he can do great damage to your career. So to sum it up, please dont try to fool people.

* Any other issues/ inputs which will be helpful.

The Mech dept has many research groups in it. I will just mention the ones which are particularly notable. The turbomachinery group is very well funded and well known. It has profs working in rotordynamics, heat transfer, seals, etc.

The materials research group is also well funded. Mechanics, both theoretical and computational though not as endowed with funding as some other groups, has some of the best professors in the US. This covers material modelling. viz, elasticity, plasticity, viscoelasticity, fluid mechanics, as well as FEM and computational methods. However, the design aspect is almost nonexistent and we hardly have a couple of profs working on that.So students interested in design, TAMU Mechanical engineering is not the right place.

Another thing I feel quite strongly about is choosing advisors. Getting stuck with the wrong person can sour your experience. I know it seems like a great thing coming in with an RA, but you really dont know what kind of person he is till you come here and find out. And sometimes it doesnt turn out well. So in a place like TAMU, where expenses are not that high, I would suggest that students should not be in a hurry to choose advisors. Spend your first sem taking courses, seeing what you like. By the time your first sem ends, you would alteast know whom to avoid πŸ™‚
Another reason is that when you finish undergrad and come here, the areas you thought you liked may not be the ones you actually want to work on. Often you take a graduate course and you might be completely bowled over by a different subject, or a prof in a different area. So its a good thing to keep your options open for a semester so that you choose right. I personally came here thinking CFD and fluid mechanics were synonymous,and that CFD was what I wanted to do. But my first course in continuum mechanics changed all that πŸ™‚

Before I end, I must quote some words of wisdom I was given by a senior of mine, who told me that its not a great feeling studying in an Ivy League school with zero funding, trying to finish your courses fast, because you lie on your bed before you sleep thinking of that 15lakh loan and the interest that’s accruing even as you sleep. ;-(
Graduate school is a very enriching experience, and I do wish for every student that you are able to feel the wonder of it, get the best out of it, without letting that student loan in India dictate your decisions. πŸ™‚

Wish you all the best!!

GREram, Thank you soo much for these amazing responses… All best with your doctorate..Readers.. as always.. hope you benefitted from this discussion.. For previous episodes of coffee with experts, click here.




  • Ravindra said:

    very useful .. as it helps see some nuances more clearly and a subtle touch…..

  • Bhaskar Prabhakar said:


    Its an amazing peice of information, well written. For all you readers of CWS, I think it was GRERAM and Vikhram
    (UIUC) who made the job so simple for us during our time of admission into US. Of all the people whom I know, I must admit that these two were sole responsible for goading us throughout. Also if you have time, do take some time out to read through ROTGAD, their compilation of the admission procedure for MS/PhD in the US.
    Kudos to Sundar for a wonderful job in getting people on your site.

  • Vikhram said:

    quoting “….. I do wish for every student that you are able to feel the wonder of it, get the best out of it, without letting that student loan in India dictate your decisions……” reminds me of decisions taken b/w 2 geeks about UMich & Stan πŸ˜‰

    Over publicity for TAMU.. hoping for people to get more creative with their apps.. good post though, couldn’t find any technical faults..


  • Swetha said:

    Great job sundar..keep going πŸ™‚

  • Venkat said:

    Hey Sundar ,,I think u got poor Grerams score off by 100 points ! πŸ˜‰

  • Subhodeep Moitra said:

    I kind of agree with srirams view on student loans. I had been for a summer internship to France and I was living on a tight stipend.

    Life could have been a lot easier and a lot more fun, if I did not have to squint every time i reached for my wallet. I certainly want to enjoy my graduate experience and I dont want to think twice if i want to have a coffee. πŸ™‚

  • shriram said:

    No Venkat, he didnt!![:D]….

  • venkat said:

    oh! ..sorry abt that …thought it was 1580 as it state a college record πŸ™‚

  • Abhinav said:

    gre score is 1340 toefl expecting 100+ 10th 83,12th 71 CBSE B.tech around CGPA 8.8 from NIT Kurukshetra Civil Engineering presented 2 papers in Tech symposium….. Have 2 years of IBM Software dev experience in java,scjp certified but applying in MS in Environment and GeoSpatial Engineering as B.tech in Civil…

  • Priyanka Upponi said:

    Hi ,

    This blog post was really helpful I plan on doing an MBA from the US and am considering TAMU as one of colleges and the info given here was really helpful.
    Thanks a ton..

  • Priyanka Upponi said:

    Hi ,

    This blog post was really helpful I plan on doing an MBA from the US and am considering TAMU as one of colleges and the info given here was really helpful.
    Thanks a ton..

  • pankaj gupta said:

    buddi ghodi lal lagam

  • SRIMAAN said:

    Hi i am Srimaan Doing my final year B.E mechanical in PSG college of technology, Tamil Nadu .

    my CGPA is 8.12 and my GRE score is 1240 (740q and 500v). toefl score is 101. pl suggest my chances of getting in for 2011 fall for m.s in mechanical Eng

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