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!

 

 

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.

Procrastination- The struggle is real

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

Graduate students often have more independent work than the amount of classes they take in a semester. This gives them ample time to do research or work on their classes but this is also very tricky. There is a lot of time, but making sure you don’t waste a lot of time is not something that I was great at when I started school. The biggest problem I faced was that I felt the work I had needed only so much time so I could get to it when I am closer to the deadline. That is the #1 mistake that any student can make as our brain says that the tough part can be done later and for now you could watch some Netflix or hang out with your friends. There are tons of things that people do without realizing they are procrastinating, so I felt as a Master Procrastinator I could point out some of those in hopes that you don’t end up doing the same.

#1 Untidy House: I sit down at my desk to start working on my thesis proposal and I look around to see that my house is suddenly very untidy. My head says you can’t work with an untidy house so first finish cleaning up and then get to your work. I start doing that and end up being very tired by the end of the day and just go to sleep. Yes, I know keeping your house clean is very important but I bet the house has been like that for a couple of days and I didn’t bother cleaning it because I wanted to watch Netflix instead.

#2 Netflix/YouTube: The funny cat videos on YouTube are just the beginning of a marathon of useless videos that I start watching before I get to my work. My heart sometimes subtly starts hinting that I am running out time and approaching the deadline but my head tries to convince that I am a genius who just needs a fraction of time projected by everyone else to get the work done. PS: I am definitely not a genius.

#3 Social Media: My friend tags me in a post and there starts another marathon of me reading all my friends posts and realizing how long it has been since I met some of them. Now I message them in hopes to reach out to my friend from middle school who probably doesn’t even remember me. But wait the bottom line is not that I miss my friend, my head just needs to convince me that friends and family are more important than the impending deadline. I know family and friends are important but I am pretty sure they could wait for a day if they waited all these days.

#4 Sleep: When I sit down to do some work and get some work done I realize that I am sleepy and remember I forgot to get my 6 hours the other day. Suddenly the sleep debt becomes the most important thing and I need to get a couple of hours before I get back to my work. Also, chances are the reason I didn’t get my 6 hours is because I was busy binge watching The Office.

#5 Grocery Shopping: I am working and I realize I am hungry so I got my kitchen and open the refrigerator only to realize that I ran out of groceries and that becomes my priority.

#6 Emails: I have to check my emails and make sure that I have answered all of them

So these are only like 6 out of a hundred things that I do on a daily basis and I think that you understand the bottom line. I realize I am not being productive, my head convinces my heart that all these things are very important. Although they are important, there is a time for getting them done and that is not when I have my proposal due in a day.

PS: I had to submit this post 3 days ago but guess what I procrastinated because well like I said, I am a Procrastinator.

An Electrical Engineering MS Student on Co-Op

by Mudit Pasagadagula, Electrical Engineering MS student

(Mudit is currently on co-op at ANSYS, Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA as a Research and Development Intern. In his role, Mudit is responsible for developing independent projects and designing benchmark projects for rigorous testing of electromagnetic solvers developed by the HFSS-Solver development team. He is also responsible for simulating the designed projects, organizing the results, and analyzing them to make sure they agrees with theoretical/measurement expected results, and for finding defects and verifying fixed defects in Ansys Electromagnetic Desktop software.)

Being an international student in the US is rewarding. However, getting an opportunity to experience working as a full-time employee for an external company, as a part of your coursework, is the cherry on top.

Choosing Rochester Institute of Technology as my graduate school was a well calculated decision, based upon a combination of my capabilities alongside a vision of what I wanted to learn and how much of that RIT could offer. All I was concerned about was what I was going to study. What I got was more than “what I wanted,” and in ways I could have never imagined. Cooperative Education is one of the best way to learn what you exactly want to work with and I am glad I choose one of the best Co-Op schools in the country.

It’s not just the theoretical and practical knowledge I gathered from my classroom lectures and project works that helped me prepare for my co-op interview with ANSYS, Inc, which I applied online for. It was also the overall learning experience I gathered from the places I worked on campus, the useful informal conversations I had with the professors I worked with and the hard working student community which always keeps me motivated when I am at school.

Getting to experience a professional and technical work environment in a company listed in FORTUNE 100 Fastest-Growing Companies, with a global footprint. ANSYS, Inc. has operations in 40 countries, which is a big learning opportunity for me. I am thankful to RIT’s Cooperative Education program for making this possible for every student who is curious enough to explore and learn.

What is a Co-op?

Picture from my Co-op during Summer 2016

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

“What is a Co-op?” is probably one of the most frequent questions I get from prospective students so I thought I should be writing a short article explaining what exactly is this word Co-op that RIT staff and students use a lot. Co-operative Education or as we love to call it, Co-op, is similar to an internship that can be done during the academic semesters (Fall or Spring) and is a practical experience that add values to your degree and can be done anywhere in the world. It is the best way to get your foot in the door of your favorite company and also gives you a great experience.

For an opportunity to be considered as co-op it should be full time (35 hours or more per week), paid, and relevant to your field of study. Employers love the co-op program at RIT because it gives them a chance to assess a student’s skill set before they offer them a full-time position at the company. Students love the co-op program because they get to do the same work as a full-time employee and sometimes even pitch new product ideas, which adds great value to the company. One of the perks of being an RIT student is that unlike many schools that require their students to pay for certain credit hours to be registered for a co-op, RIT doesn’t ask its students to pay anything. RIT recognizes that this co-op brings a lot of value to the student and also helps them financially so they encourage their students to complete a co-op before graduating.

The Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education has absolutely the nicest people who are always there for students to help them prepare for their interviews, try to bring a lot of companies to the career fair for students to meet employers, review resumes and tons of other services. I personally have done one co-op and it was the best experience ever and was lucky enough to get a full time offer too. So to conclude this short article, a co-op in simple language is just an internship done during academic semesters.

More information can be found on RIT’s Career Services website. 

RIT’s Secret Amenities

by Josiah Bonifas, MBA student

In my last Blog I spoke about the importance of being active and taking care of our bodies. This week I would like to highlight some of the facilities and healthy, fun opportunities that are available at RIT.

On top of the various clubs that students create and the multiple physical education/health classes taught, there are some hidden gems in RIT that I have found during my time here. First off, for a motivated individual, they supply you with everything that you would possibly need. I have always been an advocate for working out and have visited many gyms, so believe me when I say that RIT has an excellent fitness center. They cover over machine and free weight necessary, while also providing an open exercise area on the upper level for CrossFit workouts, or stretching. There are multiple indoor and outdoor tracks if you’re one of those crazy running people as well. Working out alone can be daunting, but the staff are more than happy to assist in spotting you or even giving advice. Now to the hidden gems.

RIT’s Wellness Center has a sign-up option where you can work with a trainer to carve out a workout or fitness plan/diet. This can provide anyone an excellent advantage and expert guidance. They can also check your weight, body fat, and ranges of motion as you set goals to improve all those functions. This can save you a lot of independent time and research.

Another cool hidden gem that every student should know is the free chiropractic care that RIT students are available to use. The Rochester Health Center, Affiliate of New York Chiropractic College on, 1200 Jefferson Rd, Rochester, NY 14623, offers all RIT students free treatment. It is an excellent training facility that I have been using since I found out about it. Chiropractic treatment can be beneficial to anyone, and is an awesome advantage to have while at college.

Some final gems that current or incoming students might want to keep in mind are, the Red Barn Rock climbing center, the Wave pool (lazy river) section of the aquatics center, the hot tub, the sauna rooms, the ice skating rink with public skate hours, the indoor racquetball courts, and the outdoor tennis courts which have multiple public hours. A lot of times we want to do something different and fun, but aren’t sure what to do. These are just a few ideas of things available.

I’ll rap up with this. As you’ve read along, this can easily sound like a cheesy infomercial where I end the speech saying, “All of this can be yours for only $19.99!”. But that’s not my goal. I have always operated under the opinion that the more you know, the more you’ll do. When I graduated from undergrad I looked back and was a disappointed to find out about some things that I didn’t even know existed. I always had a few regrets of things that I wished I had tried at the time. This Blog is just to highlight some of the great opportunities here that might interest you. Give it a shot. You never know if you’ll find something you might truly enjoy.

P.S (Here’s the links to the Facility hours and the Chiropractor College)
https://www.rit.edu/~w-criw/schedule.php
https://local.yahoo.com/info-92436627-new-york-chiro-clg-health-center-rochester