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Phani – Life at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – Computational Nanotechnology

21 May 2014 6 Comments

Hi All,

I would like to introduce Phani Sudheer Motamarri, who is doing his PHD from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to talk about life there.


Sundar Rajan G S

* Brief Intro about yourself

Currently PhD student at University of Michigan Ann Arbor working in the area of Computational nanotechnology. Prior to this I worked as a researcher at General Motors India Science Lab in Bangalore. I have a Bachelors and Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from NITK Surathkal and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore ( IISc) respectively.

* Entry Criteria:
– Approx CGPA range:
Folks admitted to Umich have CGs greater than 9 out of 10 for PhD Applicants and greater than 8 out of 10 for MS Applicants

– GRE & TOEFL scores range:
Median for GRE is usually around 1400 out of 1600 and for TOEFL Median is around 110 out of 120.

– Research Experience at undergraduate level:
Matters a lot for PhD applicants. It does not matter at all when applying for MS.

– Does the graduate program favor PhD applications more ?
In a big school like University of Michigan there is no such bias. But schools which are smaller in size and highly ranked like Caltech do favor PhD applications more. RPI which is a medium ranked school is also another example which favours PhD applications more.

– What are the general strengths of the departments ?
Highly ranked universities in the US have world class faculty and state of the art facilities. Courses are up-to date with the latest trends in industry and in research. Further, departments provide ways and means to hone entrepreneurial skills of individuals so that research ideas can be incubated leading to small start-ups.

– Any advice for writing statement of purpose ?
Be honest, do not use too many superlatives, avoid writing stories in your essays. You should be able to gain attention of admission committee the moment they have a glance at your SOP (usually admission committee spends not more than 1-2 minutes on each essay).

– Any trend in the amount of Indians in the graduate program in the department ?
The number of Indians gaining admission for MS program in all departments is increasing these days. Atleast 10 to 20 percent of enrolled students are Indians in engineering departments. Usually graduate programs in engineering departments will be full of Asians. You will find very less Americans.

– Is it advisable to email professors prior/during applying ?
It may not help much in the case of MS applications. But for PhD students it will definitely help. Infact I had applied to only those schools from which I heard back prior to my application procedure and got admits from all of them.

* After you get in:
– 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.

This once again depends on the university. Usually MS admits from top tier universities like for e.g. University of Michigan are not funded. Chances of aid are very slim after coming. However, there is a chance that MS admits from medium tier universities are funded if your credentials are great (like GPA, GRE scores, reputation of your undergraduate school). One can find work around campus very easily however the remuneration will only suffice for your daily living expenses like food, rent, books etc. PhD admits usually come with financial aid for at-least 1 year and this funding is usually renewed subsequently. Exceptional PhD applicants get funding assurance from university till they complete their PhD either in the form of fellowship, RA or TA.

– how much money should one shell out for the entire course if it completely unfunded.
At University of Michigan it is very very expensive you need to shell out atleast $23K per semester including living costs. Universities in California are also very expensive. However universities in Texas are relatively cheaper.

– What are the living expenses?
At Michigan, living expenses turn out to be 600$ per month if you share an apartment with two other friends.

– How easy it is to switch departments?
At University of Michigan, PhD applicants may find it easier to switch departments if your work is highly interdisciplinary.
But for MS applicant, you need a very very strong reason to switch departments. However, you can always take courses in various departments.

– switch from PhD to MS or vice-versa?
It is definitely possible to switch from MS to PhD. I know many friends who have done it. Identifying one’s research interests and then doing very well in relevant courses is the foremost thing. Next, one can identify few professors of their choice and can choose to work under them by doing an “independent study”. This way you can can impress a faculty member and can easily switch from MS to PhD. However, this depends heavily on funding scenario under a particular professor.

Switching from PhD to MS is also possible under compelling reasons. Since PhD admissions in most universities come with financial aid, this is a bit tricky. If you have already started working under an advisor, you will have to discuss your plans well in advance with him/her and there is a risk of losing your funding if your idea of switching to MS from PhD is not beneficial for the adviser. Moreover, it gives a negative impression on the student and may affect admission of candidates having a similar background in future (same country, same undergraduate institution).

– Availability of public transport ?
Ann Arbor is well-connected with public transport. This is usually the case with all university towns. As a graduate student you can easily manage in and around campus without a car. Further, most university towns including Ann Arbor has a zip car facility where you can rent a car on hourly basis and cars are available at various locations throughout the campus.

– Any big concerns for weather ?
For a limited time period its not a big concern. In winter, all houses and universities are well-heated and moreover if you equip yourself with enough winter clothing, its not at all an issue to move outside for 20-30 minutes.

– Any Indian activities or Indian associations?
Indian student association at University of Michigan is very active. It also helps lots of incoming students to allow them settle down in the first few days of their arrival in the US. It also organizes a number of events during popular Indian festivals.

* After the course:
– Career opportunities after the course?
There are definitely good opportunities after the course. One needs to be very patient and build a good network with companies. University of Michigan helps in this process by organizing two huge career fairs where 200 to 300 companies participate. They also organize mock-interview sessions, resume critiquing events, networking events with recruiters which help graduate students a lot.

– Typical earnings during internships?
I do not have correct information in this regard.

* Personal:
– What is your area of specialization?
I work in an interdisciplinary area with focus on Computational nanotechnology. I develop computational algorithms and methods to understand material properties using quantum mechanics.

– why did you choose to pursue the course abroad?
Focus on interdisciplinary research is not much in India. Though it is picking up these days in places like IISc and JNCASR in India. Further research funding and facilities for research in top US schools cannot be matched with top Indian universities. However I should point out with complete confidence that the level of training a person receives for a masters degree in places like IISc, JNCASR , NCBS, TIFR is comparable to that of top US schools.

– What is your driving force to earn a MS ? Is it joy of learning or monetary options or both?
To be frank, driving force for most people ( not all) who intend to earn a MS degree in US is monetary benefits. Variety of opportunities available after graduation is another motivating factor. Sometimes both joy of learning and monetary options also can be a driving force. Students who really would like to pursue MS for joy of learning should give an attempt to enter top notch universities in India too .

– Can students contact you direct, if so, can you provide your email id for public?

Yes as long as questions are not too mundane for which answers can be found on Internet. My email ID is phani.255@ gmail.com

– Any other issues/ inputs which will be helpful
My final words of wisdom ?? Make sure you choose your schools which are ranked good in your specialization. (Top 30 -40 in the US) else it is completely a waste of time to do MS in the US. US news rankings , ARWU rankings can give you a rough idea as to where your university stands.

Thanks Phani.



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