Ashwini Patil: A Masters’ in Branch-Switching

DoJMA caught up with Ashwini Patil, an Electronics and Instrumentation student headed for M.S. in Computer Science at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Read more interviews regarding M.S. Admits in 2017 here.

When did you decide to go for MS, and why did you take it up over other options like MBA or placements?

I chose to go for MS is my 3-1, which is when the whole thought process started. I didn’t chose MBA or other options because, frankly I am not interested in finance or business. Computer Science appeals to me, specifically machine learning. I felt that if I could study further in CS, I would really want to take that opportunity. That’s why I chose MS, there was a chance to learn more and get a degree in CS.


Which colleges did you apply to?

Usually, people apply to around 10 colleges. I applied mainly to places in California and some places on the East Coast. I chose California because of its proximity to Silicon Valley, which makes its placements better, and technological advancements reach faster when you are in the same state. So I felt that California was the place to go if I wanted Computer Science specifically. That’s why I chose mostly UCs in my list of applications over other colleges.


What criteria did you have in mind while deciding where to apply?

A: The UCs are public Ivy League-level schools. They have a reputation, and proximity to Silicon valley. I chose other colleges because of their reputation and I spoke to alumni about it. Seniors recommended some places such as CMU, NCSU, Georgia tech, UPenn, etc. I did apply to some of these places. The decision-making factor was how good the school is and how their machine learning department is.


What application procedure did you go through?

The procedure is quite long and very tiresome. Around the end of 3-2, I started looking for LORs, because you have to start contacting professors and figuring out whom you want an LOR from, whom you have worked hard with, and who will give you a good LOR. I told them I will keep in touch, and I came back in the middle of 4-1 (from PS2) to check out. Usually, each application requires three LORs, but you should always look for 4 to 5 people. I had four people, so it worked out well for me.

I took GRE in July, and ToEFL in September and the application procedure started after that. There is a lot of form-filling; it’s a mundane procedure. Then you start on your SOP. The best way to write a SOP is to take a paper, write whatever you feel will sell you to an academic committee, then take all of what you have written, put it together, and make it the right size. It should be honest.

got a CG boost because of PS2, so for the later deadlines, I added my transcripts after our PS2 grades were out. Apart from these, most of my applications were done by November. I got my UCSB admit in early March.


What were the strong points in your SOP which you think got you the admit?

I am not sure, but I made it very clear that I am very very interested in Computer Science and Machine Learning, both from a professional and a personal standpoint. I wrote about how it stemmed up in my life, and I had projects to back it up.


Your branch for B.Tech is EnI, why did you decide to go for CS?

Frankly, I never liked EnI; I was kind of stuck with it. I was not very fond of my CDCs for the past couple of years. In the beginning, I didn’t know which part of Computer Science I wanted, but after a couple of projects, I realized I want this particular sub-domain of CS (machine learning), and that Electronics is not going to play a role in my career as I am not interested in that. You have to make a decision- do you want be stuck with what you don’t like or go where your dreams are?

I knew it is tough to get into a C.S.  M.S.programme, and it is a hundred times harder if you are a branch change. You have to be persistent.


Did you have any prior experience in CS, like doing certain courses/ projects relevant to CS?

In my second year, I did a winter internship at a place called ZeroLabs in Pune. They work on signal processing and machine learning. After that I did a couple of projects on campus, based on machine learning. My PS2 project was also based on ML. Somehow it all just fell into place, and I decided ML was the way to go!


Did you face any obstacles in this process, apart from the branch change?

No obstacles. It costs a lot but if it’s what you want, it is worth it. I did not have any counsellor; I consulted alumni and my parents. I got my SOP checked by alumni I knew. I was in PS2 during most of this application process, and PS2 work is not very heavy. So you can sit with your applications after coming home from work.


Do you have any tips for students willing to follow in your footsteps?

Keep your grades up, because even if you are going for a branch change, you would want a respectable CGPA. Other tech activities and extra-curriculars are equally important as they add just as much value as your CG.