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Visiting University of Texas at Austin CS Department

Austin is a nice town. It sees it self as a liberal mecca and in many ways it is. However I get an odd feeling that there may be a bit more don’t ask, don’t tell type attitude about things, meaning that although it is “accepted” people don’t openly talk about some thing. I don’t know if this is true, but I got an odd sense of that. That being said it is a really nice place. Lots of sun and nice weather some nice big parks inside the city. Also it’s a university town in many ways because although the student population is not a huge percentage of the overall population the city grew up around UT Austin in many ways.
Like I said in my last post none of this should be taken as factual information about anything especially UT Austin. It’s just my sense from spending 3 days in an around the campus.
  • Nice city. Feels a bit more like home than Philly. But in other ways I would prefer to be in philly.
  • Seems like a more connected department in the sense that faculty and students have more casual relationships. There would be some ability to walk into peoples offices and talk to them. It’s not PDX but it’s closer than UPenn I think.
  • The visit was a little more calm.
  • I really like Orc, however i don’t know how much real interest there is in doing a higher-performance implementation or even if it would be a good idea.
  • J. Misra is a very nice guy.
  • I find the work of Don Batory on code “synthesis” very interesting.
  • I feel like my work is at the intersection of more peoples interests and skillsets than at UPenn.
  • However there does not seem to be much type theory here.
  • Unless you get outside funding you have to TA to maintain funding. This can be quite a lot of work in some cases. However I do want teaching experience. However it can really cut into research time.
  • Like UPenn the faculty doesn’t seem to be willing to come in on the weekend even for the prospective students.
  • I could get involved in the Orc work directly and I could probably get publications out of that. It would be a lot work but that’s the way of publication.
  • Very few department clubs oddly enough. But there are lots of clubs on the rest of campus.
  • City is quite bikable. There are several grad students who ride everywhere. Not as good as portland but still nice.
  • Very strict police force in terms of enforcing traffic laws for bikes.
  • People love this place. However I’m a bit worried about finding actually like minded people. I’m sure they are there, but it may take a bit of searching.
  • Food is reasonably priced but a bit on the high end.
  • Housing is fairly cheap if I am willing to ride a few miles or have a share.
  • I really don’t know anyone in Austin.
  • An hour out of town you can get some nice astronomical seeing.
  • 4mo sunny days per year.
  • It seems that fire dancing is legal in the parks with a permit!

At this point I am leaning heavily toward UT Austin. However I’m not very happy with that. It will be very lonely to move to another city where I know no one. If I went to Philly I could visit all my old friends in NYC and that would be really nice; I miss them. However I think as far as being able to follow the research direction I want and enjoying my degree I think Austin is better.

It has also hit me how much I will miss Portland. In theory I could stay at Portland State and get my PhD here. It would be faster for one thing (since I could roll my Master’s work over into the first requirements for the PhD). However Portland State is not well rated or well known, and although I believe it is a good school (although there is no one here whose interests line up perfectly with mine, but that will be true to one degree or another anywhere) I have been told by many people that school reputation matters and this makes sense. When someone has a bunch of applications on their desk they need a way to make a first cut and where you got your PhD is one of them. However other people have said that publications are more important. Honestly I don’t know who to believe. The only thing I know for sure is that having a PhD from a prestigious university like UPenn or UTAustin would be nothing put positive even if it isn’t the only important thing.

So I am faced with a choice of school something like this:

  • Portland State: Very fun and nice department with many smart people though no one exactly in my field. But not prestigious so I would probably have to work harder to get a job once I graduate. I have good friends here.
  • UPenn: Less fun department but with lots of smart, nice people however again no one exactly in my field. However it is the most prestigious program of the three so I would probably have an easier time getting jobs. I know 1 or 2 people in Philly and I know a lot of people in NYC and I could visit them which would be so nice.
  • UTAustin: Middle of the road department in terms of fun; intense but open and seems to enjoy itself. There are several people in the department working on what I am interested in so I would not be working on a secondary research project. This is a very close second to UPenn in prestige so either would be a good bet as far as getting jobs. I know almost no one in Austin or anywhere near by. I’m sure I could make friends but it is very lonely to move to a new place and not know anyone.

The issue about prestige bothers me a lot. As I said I have been told different things by different people and I don’t know who to believe. In the end I am going to have to just choose one and no matter which I choose I will have lost some things and gained others. That is the thing that hurts the most for me is that I cannot “just follow my heart” since no matter where I go I will have lost some opportunity I care about.

However there is one thing I am very happy about. I don’t have to travel again for mouths. Being gone to another state for two weekends in a row was really exhausting. It’s nice to be home, so I can try to get caught up on things. Speaking of which I need to get my thesis committee setup. My stress level is high enough that I have been running a mild headache for a week. Life is not fun at the moment.

PS: Again, if you have any comments on either of these schools or towns or recommendations or random thoughts on the subject tell me. I’m looking for all the input I can get.

Posted in Grad School, Life (other than code)

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