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I realized something about grad school yesterday. - Lindsey Kuper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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I realized something about grad school yesterday. [Nov. 12th, 2005|11:39 am]
Lindsey Kuper
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Up until yesterday, I had been basing my concept of computer science grad school on the way the University of Chicago does it. What's wrong with that? Nothing, except that the U of C doesn't offer a graduate program that's intended for people like me. They have the master's program, which is designed for computer professionals with no formal background in CS, and then they have the Ph.D. program, which is for people with a very strong formal background in CS/math/linguistics who want to do independent research in a highly competitive environment.

Up until yesterday, every time I've thought about grad school, I've tried to fit myself into one of those two compartments. And I never quite manage to fit into either, so I just get all freaked out and start thinking that grad school is just wrong for me, and forget about it for a while...until a few months later, when the whole cycle begins anew. I finally realized yesterday that instead of trying to fit myself into a system that is wrong for me, I should find a system that fits me, that lets me do what I want to do -- namely, just take classes and learn stuff that builds on the stuff I learned as an undergrad. A system like this one.

I feel like I missed out on a lot, slamming through the Grinnell CS program as fast as I did; I spent so much time playing catch-up and trying to get through the prerequisites (to the prerequisites to the prerequisites to...) that I hardly ever had time to explore something in depth. I remember sitting in Operating Systems, not understanding a damn thing because I hadn't had the math yet, but I wasn't going to be the kid to raise my hand and say "What's a digraph?"

There was only one time that I felt I really had a chance to study something for a semester, let it sink in for a while, and then come back to it and study it more later. It was program verification, and by the time I was done with it the second time, I fully rocked the verification show. Unfortunately, by then it was time to graduate and leave. That's what I want out of grad school -- the chance to come back to things and study them more. Imagine what might happen if I could do algos again!

If I did the master's program at PSU, I could finish in three and a half years, taking one course per quarter and continuing to work. (I could finish in a year and a half if I went to school full-time, and maybe that's an option for later, but for now I want (and need) to keep working.) I wouldn't have to do a thesis if I didn't want to; if I felt I wanted to continue and go for a Ph.D., I'd want to do the thesis, but I wouldn't have to make that decision right at the start. And (unless I forgot to carry the two) last night I figured out that I'd be able to do all this for about $300 a month. Which isn't pocket change, but to someone coming from Grinnell, that's an amazing deal. I might have to stop saving, and I probably don't get to buy any more instruments for a while, and the PowerBook's going to have to last for the whole time I'm in school (what up, AppleCare warranty). But I can totally swing $300 a month. I can totally do it.

This is amazing -- two years of freaking out about grad school, over. Yesterday I went from "Holy crap, what I am I going to do?! Should I go?" to "Here's where I'm going to go, here's how much it will cost, and here's how I'm going to pay for it." It's just another example of how much easier it is for me to do things here. I'm finally getting things done -- not in the Merlin Mann sense (sorry, Will, Matt, and Jim!), but in the starting-a-band ("Recent Scars": better with Ariel Godwin), learning-to-cook (stir fry: better with peanut oil), figuring-out-grad-school sense. Or actually, maybe that is the Merlin Mann sense.

Yay!

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sonetka
2005-11-12 09:27 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you're on your way - that's great!

And $300/month? I think Grinnell warped my sense of tuition as well, because I'm here thinking "God, would that even cover the cost of the meal plan?" (Not that you have a meal plan in GS, but you know what I mean :)).

And what IS a digraph? It sounds like a mythical animal; maybe a warped, brightly coloured variant of a giraffe which would hang out with Rocs and Sphinxes. Actually, I like that version better than I probably would the real one.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 10:50 pm (UTC)
Are you sure it wasn't stacked up?

*RUNS*
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 11:27 pm (UTC)
Does it seem to you that a lot of problems in computer science arise from having to flatten things that don't want to be flat? Like data structures?
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 11:48 pm (UTC)
I was thinking mostly of stack-based memory management. So ugly. When are they going to come out with those computers that work like our brains?
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-13 01:42 am (UTC)
Me either. =)
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 10:40 pm (UTC)
About $300, yes. You need 45 credits to graduate. I'm envisioning a plan in which I attend school for 15 quarters (that is, 45 months), during which I take 15 3-credit courses. It costs $795.50 to take three credits during a given quarter. So: 15 x $795.50 = $11,932.50. Add a nice round $3000 for books, and it comes out to $331.83 a month over 45 months. Which doesn't include the cost of food, coffee, PowerBook upgrades, much-needed psychotherapy, etc. But hey, what are credit cards for? ;)

The more credits you take in a given quarter, the less it'll cost, so if I swap four 3-credit courses for three 4-credit ones, it'll cost a little less. Or if I manage to take more than one course at a time, even less. royhuggins could probably speak more authoritatively on the real cost of grad school at PSU.

Quoting Wikipedia: In graph theory, "a graph is a set of objects called vertices joined by links called edges. Typically, a graph is depicted as a set of dots (vertices, nodes) joined by lines (the edges)." (This kind of graph, by the way, is completely different from a graph of a function, which is another mathematical use of the term 'graph'. Anyway.) If you draw some dots on a piece of paper and connect them with lines, you'll have a visual depiction of a graph. Now, if you direct each of those lines from one dot to another, which is usually depicted by making them into arrows, you'll have a drawing of a directed graph, also known as a digraph. Both regular graphs and digraphs have all kinds of applications in computer science and lots of other areas; the traveling salesman problem is one famous example. Here's some pretty pictures.
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[User Picture]From: royhuggins
2005-11-12 10:51 pm (UTC)
The other advantage of taking full time credits is you get the basic health coverage automatically. If you don't have health insurance (which I'm betting you do) it's worth buying the extended coverage from PSU. It actually covers a lot (the advantage of being in a group plan with thousands of 18-24-year-olds.)

Also, make sure you've lived here long enough to be a state resident if you plan to take full-time credits. You can't attain residency so long as you are attending school and the out-of-state tuition cost skyrockets at full time. (and PSU tuition is already frighteningly high. I know, it's hard for Grinnellians to accept that. It took me a year to get that through my skull. ;) Plus be ready for the indignation that comes from paying way more tuition than undergrads who use way more resources than you do. :)
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 10:59 pm (UTC)
I noticed that about the health insurance, yeah. Luckily, I already have it through work.

And yep, I also noticed how nonresident tuition is much higher if you take nine or more credits, which wasn't really surprising, since that's exactly what you told me when you explained your school situation to me. I don't expect to be taking more than six or seven credits at any point, though, and I might never be taking more than three, so I don't think that's going to be an issue.
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[User Picture]From: stingmeyer
2005-11-13 12:36 am (UTC)
In the traveling salesman problem, for example, the relationship is 'connected to'. In this case, the diagram of the city is not a digraph, because if street A is connected to street B, then street B is connected to street A.

(Though for variants of the travelling salesman problem where the cost is different depending on which direction the street is traversed, a digraph would be needed.)

A relationship that would result in a digraph is 'parent of' because the people you're a parent of aren't your parents

Not only is it a digraph, it's a directed acyclic graph (DAG). In general, digraphs are not necessarily acyclic.

O~
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[User Picture]From: sonetka
2005-11-13 04:50 am (UTC)
Thanks very much for the pretty pictures and the explanation - A. has mentioned the traveling salesman problem before but it's one of those things where I can hold every fact in my head for about three seconds before getting confused. That link should be very helpful.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-13 09:17 pm (UTC)
Sure. In my experience, the thing about graph theory is that there's a sharp learning curve right at the beginning, because it uses a lot of ideas that don't really get much use in any other branch of math -- or any other branch that one is likely to have studied before getting to graph theory, at least. =)

The nice thing about it is that everyone's at the same level when they begin studying graph theory -- their previous math experience isn't likely to do them a lot of good. The drawback is that it makes it really hard to talk graph theory with someone who isn't a graph theory person -- regardless of how math-oriented they are otherwise. There are lots of math problems that can be modeled as graph theory problems or as other kinds of problems, and it's always interesting to see the different mathematical factions' takes on what amounts to the same problem.
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[User Picture]From: moonbeanjo
2005-11-13 03:15 am (UTC)
Yeay, exciting! I'm glad you're figuring out how to make grad school work.

I'm just entering that "holy shit, how the hell am I going to do this?!" phase. It's interesting how different all the programs are. I'm still trying to figure out if I can balance wanting to learn the basics of planning so I can be effective with wanting to learn progressive concepts and practices so I can be innovative instead of a drone. It's the same thing as CS with city planning grad schools (or city and regional planning, or town planning, or community planning, or whatever it gets called by whatever department): Track A) Learn skills so you can be a professional, or Track B) Learn research so you can be an academic. I have NO background in planning, so I'm not ready to choose yet! And it's really hard to figure out which schools do an acceptable job merging those tracks.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-13 07:38 pm (UTC)
City (or whatever it is) planning is fascinating to me. I thought I wanted to be a city planner for quite a while, after I started reading Jim Kunstler's stuff, and I still think it's something I want to be involved in someday, although probably not academically.

Do you know Andrew Greenlee from our class? He's in grad school at Iowa for urban and regional planning right now. I don't believe he had any background when he started, either, although he had a Chicago Park District internship back in the day. I remember that because when I was working for the Grant Park Music Festival, my job fell under the headings of both the Park District and the Mayor's Office of Cultural Whatever, so there was a lot of bureaucracy, and he and I spent a lot of time railing about it. Anyway, he might be a good person to talk to about choosing a school and so on.
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[User Picture]From: cerulicante
2005-11-13 05:01 am (UTC)
JOIN US, LINDSEY, JOIN THE RANKS OF THE ACADEMICALLY MASOCHISTIC


WE ARE LEGION
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-13 07:38 pm (UTC)
So I've heard.
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[User Picture]From: leadsynth
2005-11-14 12:03 am (UTC)
Overachiever. =p
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