Image credit: University of Oxford

A Hard Decision: Oxford Fully-funded CS DPhil VS Columbia MSCS

In mid-June, I have already decided to go to Columbia University to do my master’s. I even booked an appointment at the London Office of US Embassy for my visa interview. Then, I was informed that my application to the DPhil in Computer Science at Oxford University was successful, which was the only doctoral application that I have made for fall 2017.

This program mainly focuses on the intersection between formal verification and machine learning. My background is a great fit for this position as I have one-year research experience in hybrid hardware/software co-simulation and the goal of this program is to develop tools for hardware/software co-verification. This studentship is fully-funded and will cover all my living costs and tuition.

While I was super excited when I knew the result, I was also trapped in a huge dilemma between Oxford and Columbia, as I always wanted to explore robotics after taking a course in robot learning in the last semester of my undergraduate. Here are some reasons why I finally pick Columbia.

  1. During my undergraduate study, I was mainly focused on computer architectures (CPU simulation, cache coherence, parallel architectures, etc.). I did not get the chance to do research in robotics and artificial intelligence, which I have a huge desire to explore. That is the main reason that I want to do a master’s - to give me the opportunities to study them and carry out good research. I believe after a master’s, I will be more happy and better prepared to do a PhD in a particular area.

  2. Formal verification is not the field that I am crazy about, even though I am confident to handle it pretty well.

  3. As for tech industry, the US is definitely on a higher level. I will finally land in America to start my career, so why not start with a master’s degree right now? Worst case I can easily find a job if my future PhD application does not work out.

  4. My girlfriend is going to Boston to start her master’s.

Undoubtedly, Oxford University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world with an amazingly rich and beautiful history. It has a world-leading verification group. But this program does not fit my future goals and I feel that I am more motivated at Columbia University. It would be better to not start than to start without full effort.

Two things I have learnt through this experience:

  1. While making a decision, do not rely too much on people who can not really understand the situation - for instance, those who do not know the computer science industry and acadmia. Do not be trapped by the fame of a university, which is not as important as your potential advisors. Their opinions are the least important. Talk more to the PhDs in Computer Science, especially the students of your potential advisors.

  2. As a matter of fact, whichever way you choose, there will be no difference if you spare no effort and stick with you choice. So, just go with the one which you think you will be most likely to try your best.