So I’ve finally reached the end of my four years here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I’ve certainly made a lot of memories here and I’ll be sad to see it all go.

My last year on campus was spent doing a masters, and I wanted to reflect on that to also add my thoughts on completing a masters degree in computer science.

Why did I do a masters?

The most important distinction in my reason to get a masters was to merely have an extra year at school. See, I finished my Bachelors faster than the average degree because of high school credit. 3 years on campus felt too short, and I wanted to experience a variety of internships to have a better idea of what I wanted to do after college, hence a 1 year masters program (without research)

How were graduate level classes?

I discovered soon after I started my masters that grad level courses (CS 5xx classes) were far more research-oriented than what I wanted. The average courseload is a lot easier and the grades were higher, but I didn’t feel like I learned many practical skills compared to my undergraduate years. It felt more like: read this paper, discuss some concepts around it, and rinse and repeat.

Now, I think part of the reason I felt this way is due to completing my masters degree at the same university as my bachelors. My mindset didn’t really have to adjust between years, and I knew almost everything about the school already so I knew what to expect.

Had I done a two year masters program at a different university, I believe I would have spent time adjusting to the new atmosphere and been overwhelmed (in a good way) by everything around me.

What’s a masters degree without research?

That’s a good point. A really good point, in fact. The most important thing I realized during my masters is that classes are secondary to research. Classes, at least the ones I took, are meant to supplement your curiosity in that specific subfield of your focus area. They teach you how to read more papers and hone your analytical skills in extracting relevant information out of a complex study.

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TA vs RA

If you aren’t doing research under a professor, the upside is you get to teach with a professor, under a teaching assistantship position. This was the most enjoyable part of my year on campus by far. I’ve already been interested in computer science, so teaching it to a group of students was the natural next step for me. I really enjoyed having the responsibility to help students by answering their questions, holding office hours, and teaching discussion sections.