Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why I Like Grad School

As I sit here in a momentary pause between one major end-of-semester project and another, at my dining room table because my office desk has become so piled up with 'to-do' stuff that I can't even use it until after the holiday clean-up, I can't help but reflect on my first semester of grad school.

Sure, the work can accumulate pretty quickly and unexpectedly at the end of the term, but here's the good part: this is the work that you pick out for yourself! Term projects, while they obviously have to fall into the realm of the courses they are assigned in, can be also related to anything you want.

Take my GIS class as an example. I could have chosen a project that would help me remember some of the material I learned in the computational geometry grad class I took in the last year of my undergrad. Or perhaps I could explore some interesting user interface programming and design. Or maybe learn a whole new data structure for storing massive amounts of spatial data. Instead, I decided to do a project that uses artificial intelligence techniques. It's an area that I've been somewhat intrigued by but know little about. I'll get into more details some other day, but the teaser is that I will be using Self-Organizing Maps to select relevant roads from a road network.

The other nice bonus about these projects is that you usually only have to choose a journal or conference paper and implement something described therein. In certain cases, this is a godsend, as it is slightly less dangerous (and hopefully less work) than researching something completely new. This is the route I took for the GIS class. On the other hand, you usually can go the research route and try something new. I did this for my other class on Entertainment Technologies, but I don't want to give any details yet on the off chance that I can actually go somewhere with that research.

All in all, it's not so bad being busy working on something you're interested in. Stressful, yes, but also kind of fun. Remember that when selecting a topic for your next school project.


Haz said...

Just gotta be wary of ambitions. I've spent weeks showing whats not possible and why with nothing productive to write up...

Ya, thats the sound of a 15 page research paper that hasn't been started on floating by...

Gail said...

I'm just relieved that I'm "done" the research oriented project, and that there is a lot of good open source stuff (at least stuff that looks good) that I can use for the next one ;)

Good luck on that paper man!

irwin said...

I actually like graduate school because I don't have to spend as much time on classes ;)

My algorithm for being a productive student is the following:

(1) Ignore classes and seminars unless they are interesting.

(2) Go to the library and work very hard on a problem.

(3) Put your solution in TeX.

(4) Go to (1).

leecarrot said...

Gail, thank you very much taking the initiative to organize the event for women in computer science this evening. I didn't think I would still be around in Ottawa today. The atmosphere was really nice. You and Melissa did a good job, and the discussion was very insightful :). Can't wait to go back to school again next winter, meet people and get busy...Three months break after graduation without being able to make any decision is way too much for me =p. Thanks again for event, and nice article about grad school :) - Jennifer

Gail said...

Hey Jennifer! Thanks for the comments! I am really glad you enjoyed the evening. I hope we will be able to do it again soon!

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