Five Reasons Why: US Education

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS student

If you are expecting this blog to be another clichéd post raving about how advanced, revolutionary, and state-of-the-art higher education in the US is – it is not. It is meant to be a dissection of my experiences outside the classroom for the better part of a year that has led me to morph into a better person. Most international students come here for a world-class education and some want to stay back for the proverbial cherry-picked life and the fat paychecks. I came here for the same reasons too but if I do decide to stay here, it would be for the great people around me, diversity in ideas, freedom to express myself in every way and the opportunity to make a noteworthy difference in the lives of everyday people. Now, let’s dive in.

Decisiveness – In my opinion, the most important quality that I could acquire. It taught me to always be open to a new train of thought and never be afraid to try new things. We are only limited by our fears and tactless indecision. Try out a new sport – something you have never seen before. Try out an exotic cuisine. If you like it, try to make it yourself. See how far you can push yourself.

Break those walls – Appreciating everyone for who they are and acknowledging that there is always a bigger picture to everything. If you really want to be a well-rounded person, understanding why some people or somethings work differently than you are accustomed to would be the first step. Never be afraid to initiate a conversation with someone totally different from you. You might find you have so many things to talk about over a nice cold beer! The only thing worse than failure is never trying.

Respect and equality – Treat others the way you want to be treated. Everyday out here reinforces this idea in me. You will never be singled out for what you decide to wear, eat, talk about or who you love. Race, age, occupation, sexual orientation, special challenges are a way to divide us rather than bring us together. I have had the privilege to meet and interact with deaf and blind students at RIT and they are without a doubt some of the toughest nuts I have ever seen and a great company.

Circle of life – We are merely travelers passing through this realm and this world is what we make out of it. I always try to stand out, take on new roles and do not shy away from challenges. The fact that I’m an engineering grad student and penning this piece is enough to prove it! Being a go-getter is much more rewarding than it seems and this place has instilled the belief in me.

Humility – Ever wondered what the creator of a facial detection algorithm in our phone cameras is like in real life? Just like any of us – loves listening to 80’s music, enjoys Chinese food and owns a 2014 Honda Civic. Being humble is truly a virtue that does not take a lot of effort to master. It makes people instantly like us and this kind of also stems from the fact that everyone here is deemed to be on the same pedestal.

If you have made it this far, I am grateful and hope you could relate to some of your own experiences reading it. If not, there’s no better time to start a new journey! Visit an art museum, learn rock climbing, dive into a crazy research problem. Knock yourself out. Make some headway in the circle of life. We miss a 100% of the shots we don’t take!

 

#myRITstory – Zach Mulhollan

Graduate Program: Imaging Science PhD (second year student)

Last Wednesday Zach Mulhollan, current RIT student, presented the company he founded, and a business plan to grow it, at the Saunders College Summer Startup Investor Demo Night. His company Tiger CGM is a personal glucose monitor for patients with Diabetes. The monitors provide an empathetic and user-friendly approach to measuring real-time glucose levels 24 hours a day, while also providing its user actionable information that can be used to guide healthy choices. The goal of Tiger CGM is to deliver self-assurance and security to those who need to manage their glucose levels.

Says Zach of his experience with the program, “The Saunders Summer Startup Program quickly taught me intangible skills that compliment both my academic and entrepreneurial careers. The coaches provided my team the constructive criticism and support we needed so that our company will continue to grow after graduation.”

You can read more about the Saunders Summer Startup Program, and the other student-led companies, in our recent RIT News article.

 

Life as a Summer Intern in NYC

What is it like to live in New York City? What is it like to work in midtown and downtown Manhattan? Living this kind of life seemed out of reach to me before, however, it’s hard to believe that I have been doing it for 2 months now.

This summer, I got an amazing co-op/interning opportunity to work as a multimedia designer with a global media agency network, Mindshare. As an international student, the internship was my first full-time internship working in the U.S., and I found out that I was the only international intern among about 40 interns that my company hired this summer.

During the internship, the company created a competition called “Battle of Interns” for all the interns to work closely with their fellows to develop a media plan which involves Media Planning, Digital Investment and Marketing Science. I personally think this is a great learning opportunity, especially for people who are new to the Media Planning & Buying World. My major responsibility in the company is to assist the Mindshare Creative Director on various projects supporting the Mindshare business, including Video and Audio editing, building styled templates and other visual design projects.

The most challenging part of this experience, for me, is the work-life balance. Life in New York City can certainly get super exciting: museums, concerts, amazing places to eat and drink, famous attractions, and the list goes on. Every morning I take a subway (often crowded) for about 20-30 minutes to get to my company, work for 9 hours including a one-hour lunch break, and then do the same thing again in the evening. I sometimes get pretty tired of dealing with crowded platforms and trains, and thousands of tourists and passersby, especially as my company was located close to Time Square (then we moved to 3WTC in downtown). So during the weekends, it’s important to find a balance, to help myself fully rest up, but also not to miss out the fun stuff going on in the city. It’s definitely hard, but I am trying my best.

One of the most important takeaways that I got from the internship is: there are so many different things and skills to learn in an internship setting compared to working in an academic setting. When in school, I mostly work with myself, classmates and professors, and everything is based on an academic setting. We do learn

a lot in school, but I don’t know if my projects are going to perform well in the market and the industry. However, during an internship, I got to experience organizational and professional cultures that are very new to me. I have direct contact with people who do different works, and I also get frequent feedbacks from my workplace supervisor about my performance which reflects how the projects actually work and support the company’s business. It feels really good to see how users react to your design projects in the real world, instead of just getting feedbacks without testing out the performance and usability.

Another key takeaway is that: always be yourself, and always learn from the individuals you meet in the office. I was really lucky to be surrounded by super nice team members and managers. My supervisor and I have similar backgrounds, and we constantly talk about our design concepts and thoughts on certain design projects. I also appreciate that my supervisor trusts me as an independent individual and offers me a lot of room for flexibility and creativity. I am so glad that I am not only gaining valuable applied experience, but also making connections in professional fields, which will guide me and impact my future career path.

Finally, I am very thankful for this summer internship opportunity. I was lucky to sit next to a super nice team, which mentors and managers who taught me a lot at work. I got valuable feedbacks which I would never get in an academic setting. And I am also glad that I got to do this internship in New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world. Although living in the city on an intern’s budget is a bit challenging, it at least gives you an idea of how it feels like to live and work in NYC and also expand your life experiences! Whatever the future may bring, I would look back on my time here and appreciate the skills and knowledge I gained.

Between the Hours: Dealing with graduate school

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS student

Whether you are contemplating grad school, about to begin a new program, or already there, this post is for you. It is about the place where one discovers his true self through an exhausting journey of successes and failures which often brings many to their tipping points. But, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up”.

Deciding to pursue a graduate education is an important step as we have to ask ourselves many questions – is it really the best way forward for me, am I ready to spend the next 2 years or more working on really specific problems? Does the research track enthuse me to work tirelessly on it? Is the advisor I am looking to work under a good fit? Even after we plan ahead, enter grad school and take the beast head on, it does become overwhelming and impossible sometimes to break off the vicious circle. During these times, it is important to remember subtle things like staying focused and time management which prove as invaluable tools to tame the beast.

Just one of those days…

The worst enemy of any grad student is procrastination. Time and again, we find ourselves in a position where we have to complete our thesis proposal, devote hours for teaching assistant duties, complete assignments and projects for the courses, and work on publishing a paper for a research conference all together. Though sometimes, it is not entirely a student’s lackluster work ethic, most times it invariably is. We love to live under a delusion that our responsibilities are trivial and can be done in no time. Closer to our deadlines, we come to terms with reality and make our lives a mess. Eating at regular intervals, maintaining personal hygiene and completing daily chores go out the window!

Appreciating baby steps is a proven motivator!

Having said that, a grad life is rigorous and challenging. Managing a healthy work-life balance becomes increasingly complicated, more so for PhD’s. Discovering a favorite past-time or hobby becomes more essential than ever, just to blow off some steam. Be it watching Netflix or playing a random instrument – trust me, you would need  it. Also, never hesitate to ask for help/advice when you need some. You have to always find solace and encouragement from the fact that many around you have endured the same phase that you are going through. At least at RIT, help is always one email away!

 

RIT: Transcending boundaries and making great minds meet

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS student

Ever wondered what kinds of engineering goes into making of a run-of-the-mill cellphone? Well, there is no definite answer. In fact, in the deeply interconnected world that we live in, every engineering marvel that is seemingly so obvious is the result of people from various parts of the spectrum coming together, sharing ideas and putting all the pieces where they belong. RIT recognizes this and has been trying to instill the same spirit in research as well as in the coursework that students take.

Being a graduate student in the Computer Engineering department, I can vouch for the broad base of courses that I am allowed to take as a part of my degree. I have already decided to take a course from the Electrical Engineering department and hopefully another from the Computing Security department. Taking relevant courses from outside our department not only broadens our knowledge base but also brings about an interdisciplinary area of expertise which both the research community and the industry requires.

Much like this bridge which connects the College of Computing (left) with the College of Engineering (right), RIT students go beyond disciplines to innovate and collaborate!

RIT also encourages you to mix with faculty and student researchers from other disciplines. It is not mandatory for you to pick a graduate advisor from your department. I have personally known many graduate students to align with an advisor outside their department because they either had common research interests or some relevant background which made him a good fit. For instance, a friend of mine from Computer Engineering chose a Professor from Computing Security to be his advisor because he was looking for security as his focus area and his communications background made him a good fit for the Professor who was working on wireless security for IOT devices and vehicular communications.

This approach has been very well-admired by companies that come to hire RIT students during the career fair. Companies across the board, from Amazon and Google to Microsoft, as well as numerous local industries based in the Rochester area are impressed by the talent and preparation of RIT students. Our graduates are well-prepared to hit the ground running. Alumni return to their alma mater and further encourage students to participate in cross-disciplinary projects and research collaborations.

The greatest piece of advice from myself to other students considering RIT is to never be afraid to ask questions – to others and to yourself. It is going to be your greatest asset and a tool not only in your time as a graduate student trying to explore a research problem but also in the later stages of your career!

 

 

You Paid Your Deposit: Now What?

by Kexin ‘Coco’ Wang, Visual Communications Design MFA student

If you have already paid the deposit, congratulations! Your spot in your program at RIT is guaranteed. But now what do you need to do next? Here are some steps that you need to follow.

First you’ll get a chance to create your personal RIT computer account. It’s a student Gmail account that will become your preferred email address in the school system. And this Gmail account will help you get all sorts of information from New Student Orientation, Student Financial Services, Housing Operations, Financial Aid & Scholarships, and academic departments, etc. You could visit Google Apps at RIT to access your account.

All new incoming students attending RIT are required to submit the Health History Form and Immunization Record via the Student Health Center Portal at least 30 days before classes begin. And again, you will need your RIT Gmail account to login to the system. For more information, please visit: https://www.rit.edu/studentaffairs/studenthealth/about/forms.

You’ll also have to submit your final official transcript once you finish all your current classes. If you are attending or have attended a school in the U.S., you should have the registrar to send your transcript to you following the instructions and then you can mail it directly to RIT’s Office of Graduate Enrollment Services. If you are from an International school, an official degree certificate in both English and the original language with the transcripts is required. And you may have this transcript and degree certificate forwarded directly to the office as soon as you have completed your undergraduate study.

If you are an international student, you need to provide additional documents to apply for a student visa. you’ll then need an original bank statement showing the amount available for their education, as well as a letter of support from the person owning the assets (if the funds are not in the student’s name) to RIT. More details can be found via this link: https://www.rit.edu/emcs/ptgrad/pdfs/International_student_visa_info.pdf

You will be encouraged to attend New Student orientations: graduate orientation and International orientation. Activities and further details can be found via the links. You’ll just need your RIT username and password to log in and complete the registration information. Orientations really do help set the tone for your transition into the next level of your academic career.

And if you are interested in finding housing (both on and off campus) before coming to school, the international student services have provided some good resources on their website, which could also be helpful to the domestic students. And the link is here: https://www.rit.edu/studentaffairs/iss/life-at-rit/housing

The very last step before you start your school will be to pay your bills and authorize access to RIT eServices. Usually, the bill will be generated during the beginning of July, and you’ll get different payment options. You may visit Student Financial Services for more information. And there are also various types of graduate student funding that you could find online, including graduate scholarships, graduate assistantship, campus jobs, cooperative education, and educational loans, etc. Check out this website for more info: http://www.rit.edu/emcs/ptgrad/apply/costs-funding

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you will find this information helpful and good luck with your preparations for new semester at RIT!

#myRITstory – Syed Sajjad Haider

Program: Electrical Engineering MS, expected graduation fall 2019

From: Islamabad, Pakistan

Syed learned about RIT through his local EducationUSA Advising Center, where he was researching prospective graduate programs in robotics and artificial intelligence. His search for the perfect program and research opportunities led him to RIT’s Engineering and Computing programs. He ultimately chose RIT because of its strong emphasis on Co-Operative Education. (You can read more about RIT’s Co-op program online.)

In July Syed will begin a six month co-op placement at Abiomed in Boston, Massachusetts. He was hired as Lifecycle Electrical Engineer and will work on the design and analysis of testing automation for various Abiomed consumer products.

Says Syed about his search for a co-op position – “I found a Co-Op in Boston, MA through the Handshake platform RIT just introduced. All students in RIT are strongly encouraged to attend the two career fairs organized by RIT each year and to apply for various opportunities on the handshake platform. The Office of Career Services at RIT is very helpful and useful. I got my Resume reviewed from them and also participated in a mock interview event. These small things really help you prepare for the real interview.”

Syed will return to RIT in January 2019 to complete his MS program. In addition to his coursework and extracurricular activities, Syed has also worked part-time for RIT Dining and for RIT’s Reporter Magazine as a staff photographer.

 

 

Bird’s eye view of on-campus employment opportunities

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS student

As a student, managing your finances can be an arduous task at the very least. International students have their work cut out when it comes to this. To be honest, we all love that little extra inflow of cash to help pay for housing or just simply to buy that fancy pair of shoes which all our friends rave about. Whatever the case maybe – RIT has got you covered!

RIT is unique in a way that students essentially are one of the most important cogs in the wheel that they paid for. Almost all departments and offices employ student workers to ensure smooth operation. There are over 9,000 on-campus jobs to be found and anyone who wants one does not have to look far. One of biggest department that is run almost entirely by student employees is the dining services department. RIT has a plethora of on-campus dining options and all of them require student workers. Just some of the dining options include Gracies, Salsaritas, Crossroads, Ritz, Ctrl-Alt-Deli and so on.

Gracies Dining Hall

Roles may involve cutting and slicing of meat and veggies, servicing the dishwasher, cooking, maintenance and upkeep or that of a cashier. FMS or Facilities Management Services is another department that hires a lot of student workers. Responsibilities here include mostly everything related to building maintenance like inspecting doors and windows, replacing faulty light bulbs or checking if locks work the way they should. There are loads of other jobs like lab assistants, front desk assistants and so on. The list is endless.

How do you find such jobs? While you can look and apply for jobs on the RIT job portal

Crossroads

Handshake (which is obviously a great source), there are many jobs which are not explicitly advertised. The mantra to find that job is really simple enough – go and ask in person! I have seen so many of my friends getting a job from the unlikeliest of places on campus because they went ahead and asked about it directly.

 

Graduate Assistantships are also a great way to earn money which is more technically and academically oriented. While these positions are not as many as the other options many students do get offered the positions of a Research or a Teaching Assistant. A paid RA position depends upon your graduate advisor, his funding status and your area of interest. TA positions are always paid and they require you to be in the right place at the right time. In all the engineering departments, you can TA an undergraduate course if there is an availability and you have a sufficient background in that area. Talking to a Professor of a course you would like to TA for would be a good idea in this case. The other way to grab a TA position is having taken a course prior, building a solid background in it and informing the instructor you are interested if there is an availability.

All in all, RIT is a place where you can always earn a little pocket money if you need to and is one of things I admire about my University. So buckle in and enjoy your time here – it is a great place to be!

MS Computer Science: Bridge courses

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student 

Every year, one of the most common topics that is on an incoming MS-CS student’s mind at RIT is bridge courses. These are a set of three graduate level courses that the CS department requires every student to be well-versed with before proceeding with other graduate courses. They “bridge” the gap in knowledge.

These courses are in place because the department probably saw that a number of CS graduate students were not up to the mark when it came to fundamental programming skills. Nowadays, almost every admitted MS-CS student who has not obtained an undergraduate CS degree from a US university is required to complete these bridge courses.

The three courses are “Advanced Object Oriented Programming (using Java)”, “Computational Problem Solving (using Python)”, and “Foundations of Computer Science Theory”. If a student is assigned to any or all of these courses, the only way to let the department know that they already possess the technical skills offered in the course(s) is by taking up and passing the corresponding bridge waiver exams successfully. So if a student feels that they were assigned a particular course by mistake, they must take and pass the waiver exam(s).

These waiver exams are held on the day of the department orientation, are of 1 hour each in duration, and cover all the topics that would be taught in the course itself. The syllabus and timing of each exam can be found at https://cs.rit.edu/orientation/bridgeexams. The exams would be a combination of multiple-choice, short answer, medium answer, and long answer questions. They would test a student’s knowledge on the subject thoroughly.

I had a non-CS background coming in to the CS grad program here so I needed the bridge courses. In my experience, most students who took up the bridge courses felt like they benefited from the practice they got by solving the weekly assignments and studying for the midterms. The coursework of these courses definitely helped in my interview process.

Many incoming students would hear that these bridge courses are extremely difficult to clear. Although I did not take up the option of sitting for the waiver exams, I believe that one of the major reasons why a small number of students clear the waiver exams is because of the clear gap in knowledge and maybe the fact that most students end up either taking the waiver exams lightly or do not even turn up for them.

Every incoming student would love to clear one or more waivers since that would mean saving on the cost of those courses. However, I feel that by trying to clear all three in one go, students end up not doing well enough in any. Unless a student is extremely confident in their abilities and knowledge of a particular bridge course, I would honestly recommend students to pick and choose their strongest course and put all their efforts into clearing that.

The ‘American’ life: In the eyes of an international student

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS Student 

What is the American life? I used to think it was utopia on Earth – the ever illusive ‘good life’. The kind of place where you turn off the lights and wake up to a perfect morning where all your problems have magically disappeared. Wading through the deceptively clear waters of a semester here has led me to realize how wrong I was. Stick around till the end while I describe an intriguing process of self-discovery and introspection.

It was on a freakishly cold day when I arrived in the land of the free and home of the brave. Being used to the other extreme of the temperature scale it was a surreal experience for someone who had never seen snow before. A 5 minute wait for a cab out in the open to take me to my apartment felt like ages. But I was still completely oblivious to what was in store for me. My heart kept telling me that the proverbial bling life was still to come.

Reaching my apartment, I was excited to meet the new roommates with whom I would be spending the winter with. I was starving after an exhausting journey but they said it would be another couple hours before food would be made. Without knowing how to get around town, I snacked on leftovers from my journey. Tired as I was, I had to clean up my room before I could get any kind of respite as the the guy from whom I subleased it left it in a mess. In a few days, reality dawned on me. Pampered since childhood with never having to worry about my own well-being for a second, I had to look after everything now. Some days were bearable while some days were not. Coming home weary-eyed and zoned out after a long day, you suddenly remember that it was your day to cook or do the dishes and you have an assignment due the next day which is still incomplete.

A picture worth a thousand words.

But as all dark clouds have a silver-lining, my story had one too. I had some of the most wonderful professors who guided me through every step of the way. Sometimes, we would engage in enriching conversations about my progress that not only helped me to focus on areas I was weak in but also develop a new perspective of the course. At times when I needed to blow off some steam, I would just drive off into the pristine countryside. Life is way different in smaller towns and ranches and feeling those vibes were just what I needed to recharge my batteries.

So, what exactly is the American life? Is it having all you ever wanted at your fingertips? Is it the peace of mind to never break a sweat about anything? To me it is the freedom to carve your own fate and be the master of your own destiny. The power to make your own choices and the undying spirit to see it through no matter the sacrifices. The unwavering grit to hold on to the values of mutual respect and inclusiveness despite the threats. As the Statue of Liberty says – “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”.