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What would make the UH ICS Masters program more interesting/useful to you?

Greetings, TechHuians,

As part of our ongoing review of our programs, we are interested in soliciting feedback from the local community on our M.S. program in Information and Computer Sciences. A description of the program is here:

http://www.ics.hawaii.edu/academics/graduate-programs/m-s-in-ics

We are particularly interested in the opinions of those who have not been in an M.S. program (including ours). What issues affect your interest in enrolling in an M.S. program? How could we change our program to make it more attractive and beneficial to you? If you simply think that an M.S. program and its degree would confer no career advantage to you, we are interested in hearing that as well.

Thanks very much for your insight! You can reply directly to this discussion, or you can contact me directly at johnson@hawaii.edu if you prefer to keep your comments private.

Philip Johnson
Professor
Information and Computer Sciences
University of Hawaii

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I was just chatting with some fellow developers about this at Manoa Geeks. A few points from the discussion:
A) Concerns about time - Many people have to work at the same time
B) Credit for work experience - Does a 15 year veteran DBA dev / admin need to take the DB class?
C) Questions about the affect of an M.S. in ICS on salary. Are there any stats available regarding this?
(A) Would evening/night classes help? Or online?

(B) There are two issues here: whether you can "place out" of courses in which you have professional expertise (in general, you can), and whether you can get actual course credit for them (in general, you can't).

(C) That's a hard one. In terms of my own experience advising both B.S. and M.S. grads, there is definitely a salary differential. But you're asking a different question, which is whether there's a difference in salary for a professional going back to get an M.S. My immediate reaction to this one is that there can and should be a difference in terms of *opportunity* by getting an M.S.: you should be able to acquire skills and experiences you wouldn't be able to get from your professional environment (just like there are certain skills and experiences you can get from a professional job that you can't get from academia). So, the real reason to go back to school is to not simply to increase your pay grade, but to change what you are able to do.

Philip
i hear this time and time again.. better connection with industry. people don't want to get a MS if they don't see it helping their current situations. that means more relevant classes, even more specialized classes, and more real world projects. unfortunately, from what i hear, getting a MS in ICS doesn't provide that relevant edge people are looking for.
Hi Aaron,

What about your own personal experience? You received both a B.S. and an M.S. in ICS. Would you have gotten your current job with only the skills you had with a B.S.? Are you saying that the experiences you had as an M.S. student (such as doing a thesis and thus improving your oral and written communication skills; having an internship with Jet Propulsion Lab in California doing cutting edge software engineering research) didn't provide you with a "relevent edge"? Do you think you would be better off now had you entered the workforce immediately with a B.S.?
Apart from Aaron's own experiences (which I think makes him the Poster Boy for Why You Should Get An ICS MS Degree :), let's also discuss his specific comments. This is not directed at Aaron in particular; everyones responses are interesting.

(1) More relevant classes.

Sounds great. What are examples of topics we should be covering.?

(2) More specialized classes.

Again, as an ICS faculty member, I can tell you that we *love* to drill down. What are examples?

(3) More real world projects.

Perhaps we already do this. A "capstone" project in which you are required to create some state-of-the-art technology is a mandated part of the curriculum. Our current faculty are doing many "real world" projects in a wide variety of domains (bioinformatics, electronic voting, high performance computing, virtual and augmented reality, etc.) M.S. students are encouraged to pursue these, or are encouraged to follow their own muse.

Perhaps part of the problem is that there is a certain amount of misinformation and/or simply lack of information about the M.S. program in particular and the ICS faculty in general. Making a better connection from the UH ICS department to local industry involves both understanding how to change and improve the ICS program, as well as dispelling misperceptions on the part of people in the local community about what is possible and what is already happening in our department.

I am hopeful that discussions like this can help move that process forward. Please join in the conversation, particularly if you don't know much about the ICS program but have "heard things" about it! It is helpful for us to hear from as many different voices as possible.
Hey Philip,
My M.S. experiences were a little of both. the focus of my MS degree is extremely relevant to where I am now. Perhaps, because I did my MS degree first, so it makes sense that i capitalized on what i've learned. and you are definitely right, i learned many invaluable skills and had totally awesome learning opportunities in CSDL. my BS and MS degrees from UH ICS has enabled me to have whatever success i have had and i think it was an awesome experience. but, that's just me. however, there were definitely parts of the program (other courses) that weren't as relevant and as beneficial. i think that the "other" courses is what scares people away. master level courses are a lot of effort and when it doesn't match someones interest or direction, its difficult to commit to that.

Do you think you would be better off now had you entered the workforce immediately with a B.S.?

No, I don't think that i would have been better off. my MS degree has definitely helped me succeed in the real world. But, after talking to a few industry people, its definitely hard to put in such large amount of effort into a MS degree when you already in the workforce. especially, if you are uncertain of the benefits.

Philip Johnson said:
Hi Aaron,

What about your own personal experience? You received both a B.S. and an M.S. in ICS. Would you have gotten your current job with only the skills you had with a B.S.? Are you saying that the experiences you had as an M.S. student (such as doing a thesis and thus improving your oral and written communication skills; having an internship with Jet Propulsion Lab in California doing cutting edge software engineering research) didn't provide you with a "relevent edge"? Do you think you would be better off now had you entered the workforce immediately with a B.S.?
Philip Johnson: Would evening/night classes help? Or online?
I was on the other end of the discussion (would you pay more), but based on what I was hearing I believe evening classes and some portion being offered online would be a big help.

Philip Johnson re: salary difference: ...you should be able to acquire skills and experiences you wouldn't be able to get from your professional environment (just like there are certain skills and experiences you can get from a professional job that you can't get from academia). So, the real reason to go back to school is to not simply to increase your pay grade, but to change what you are able to do.
Your point is well taken. The benefit is more likely to come from the ability to perform new types of tasks as apposed to getting a pay bump at your current position doing the same sort of work.

Philip Johnson: More relevant classes. Sounds great. What are examples of topics we should be covering.?
A few examples of skills that would be of interest to many employers: Expertise in application and database clustering using real world systems (popular DBs and app servers), advanced software system testing techniques and security expertise (all levels - app, network, etc.)

Philip Johnson: Perhaps part of the problem is that there is a certain amount of misinformation and/or simply lack of information about the M.S. program in particular and the ICS faculty in general.
A marketing campaign or grass roots PR effort featuring local techies such as Aaron that have clearly benefited from an M.S. degree in this job market would likely have great efficacy.
The only thing that really attracts me into going back to school (not necessarily to pursue a Master's in ICS) is the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research projects.

I'd imagine the Biology department would have a field day if there were a widely-known Stem Cell Research program, for example.

Similarly, back when I was in Middle School, I had the opinion that MIT was the ultimate place to go for Computer Science because they produced Logo, available for just about every computer at the time.

This may seem Vocation-specific, but have you considered a collaborative effort with GB Hajim? Maybe there's a way to incorporate a Maya 3D Rendering course at the Master's Level, and maybe there can be a public/private research collaboration between UH Manoa and his production crew?

Such a collaboration would certainly back your position that a Master's Program would provide opportunities above and beyond the undergraduate program. Those Maya skills can easily apply to Video Game development -- which (sadly) is the only substantially growing area seeking software developers.

It would also be a shining example of how Act 221 funded companies can better integrate with the academic fabric we're all trying to improve.
I got my MS at USC. I also worked full time while I did it, so I may bring a perspective that other professionals getting their degrees at the same time can relate to.

What issues affect your interest in enrolling in an M.S. program? How could we change our program to make it more attractive and beneficial to you?

As these are very much related questions, I'll basically write up what I liked about the USC program. I am not saying that these are things UH does not have or could not have, as I am not doing a comparison. I wanted to leave Hawaii for graduate studies, so UH wasn't a consideration. I also haven't kept up with what UH offers, so I apologize in advance if some things I mention are already there.

- Reputation. I looked up professors, projects people were working on, funding etc. USC has a great graduate program. The best part about it was USC had *tons* of information online so it was easy for me to sell myself. I emailed other students, asked them for their experience, etc. (I may not be typical in this regard, as I spoke to other USC students that just went there because it was a top X school and they got in. This leads to my next point).

- Name brand. While in high school I often heard it was a good university for engineering. In college I learned it was good for software engineering. A lot of people I met at USC basically went there because it was a "good school" that they got into.

- Money. I know their graduates get paid lots of money.. I suspect this is probably related to #1 as well as a sort of nepotism for fellow alumni. When I was asking around and applying, I learned a couple close friends of mine are USC graduates, and were getting paid boatloads of money.

- Ability to take classes in evening and completely online was the biggest thing that kept me in the program. After my first semester, I never went to campus at all except for group meetings in the evenings and the occasional exam (which they were willing to proctor at my work place for a fee, if I chose). They had some live video feed I could watch and then call in if I wanted, but I did not care for that much. I usually just watched the class the next day and emailed for clarification.

- Constant contact over email. My first week I emailed professors and TAs a few times and if I didn't get a response to each question within 24 hours, I dropped the course. Admittedly not the best heuristic, but better than nothing. Since I wasn't going to class it was crucial that they reply quickly to me. I doubt this is a problem at UH as I always had fast responses from my professors.

- "Hot" technology. We sometimes used esoteric products to learn about architecture etc. Largely however, we got to play with cool toys - various java web services frameworks is the first thing that comes immediately to mind. As long as the project write up showed we had applied whatever it was we were supposed to, the implementation could be whatever we chose (I did tons of J2EE to further my own career, I imagine Ruby on Rails would be chosen now since that's on the upswing)

- Projects over exams. Given the chance to review a syllabus, I would much rather do group projects than take exams. I would email professors before the course and ask them what percentage of the class grade was based on exams versus projects, what their emphasis was, etc. As a professional, I didn't want to take exams anymore. I would much prefer to be graded on an actual project. As a former TA, I understand this is harder to grade, but from a selfish perspective of a student, that really wasn't my problem.

I'm not saying I'm typical or that these should be anyone's primary concerns - these are just the things that affected my decision and went into course selection.
Laurence A. Lee said:

The only thing that really attracts me into going back to school (not necessarily to pursue a Master's in ICS) is the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research projects.


That's great news: we actually have an excellent program for that; it's called a Ph.D. :) I hope you consider checking it out at some point, and would be happy to answer your questions about it. Note that it is not necessary to live at UH in order to do a Ph.D; for example, one of my current Ph.D. students works full-time at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. I must be honest and say that it is certainly much easier to finish a Ph.D. if it's your sole priority, but people can and do work on them while having another job.

This may seem Vocation-specific, but have you considered a collaborative effort with GB Hajim? Maybe there's a way to incorporate a Maya 3D Rendering course at the Master's Level, and maybe there can be a public/private research collaboration between UH Manoa and his production crew?

This is a good idea and I've contacted him. That said, it's not the case that our department spends all its time in an ivory tower. For example, my research is partially funded at the moment by a collaboration with Expedia. One of my research projects was selected by Google for its Summer of Code program. Lots of other faculty have active collaborations with local, national, and international organizations.

One of the things I'm realizing from this discussion is that we really suck at marketing. It occurs to me that a short series of YouTube videos about the ICS faculty and our ongoing projects might be a nice way to get the word out. What do you all think about that?
Sid said:

I got my MS at USC. I also worked full time while I did it, so I may bring a perspective that other professionals getting their degrees at the same time can relate to.


Thanks, Sid, for these very insightful comments!

Reputation. I looked up professors, projects people were working on, funding etc. USC has a great graduate program. The best part about it was USC had *tons* of information online so it was easy for me to sell myself. I emailed other students, asked them for their experience, etc.

Very useful. We have made a certain amount of progress with our departmental website, and it's better than it ever was before, but it's clear we can do a lot more to be current and information rich for the prospective student. I will take a look at the USC website for inspiration.

In college I learned it was good for software engineering.

That's for sure. Barry Boehm and I have been colleagues for about 15 years now. Dan Port was a post-doc at USC and is now a professor in the UH Business School. I even gave a guest lecture to a USC software engineering course a few years ago.

Money. I know their graduates get paid lots of money

In a technical discipline like computer science, my experience is that your "pedigree" (i.e. the schools you went to) has a second-order effect on salary. The first-order effect is what you actually know, how effective and efficient you are, and how capable you are at innovation.

Ability to take classes in evening and completely online was the biggest thing that kept me in the program. After my first semester, I never went to campus at all except for group meetings in the evenings and the occasional exam (which they were willing to proctor at my work place for a fee, if I chose). They had some live video feed I could watch and then call in if I wanted, but I did not care for that much. I usually just watched the class the next day and emailed for clarification.

We can and should do better with respect to this issue.

Constant contact over email. My first week I emailed professors and TAs a few times and if I didn't get a response to each question within 24 hours, I dropped the course. Admittedly not the best heuristic, but better than nothing.

That seems like a pretty darn good heuristic to me!

I doubt this is a problem at UH as I always had fast responses from my professors.

Yeah! We're doing something right.

"Hot" technology. We sometimes used esoteric products to learn about architecture etc. Largely however, we got to play with cool toys.

I think we're doing fairly well in this area, although what might be "hot" for one person is "totally boring" to another.

Projects over exams.

I personally agree with you, and the majority of the grade in my software engineering classes is based on project work. On the other hand, exams have a purpose: I try to write my exams such that a fully participating team member will do well on the exam without a lot of additional study, while a "free loader" will have a lot of problems.

Thanks again for the time you spent responding---this is very useful to us.

Anyone else who went to a different school for their graduate degree?

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