An Interview with Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan (CEC 2011), MS from University of Birmingham, UK.

Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan belongs to the 2011 batch of CEC, and has been instrumental in the activities, inter alia, of Training and Placement Cell of CEC during her time in the campus. She talks to CEC Blog on her journey to the MS degree in Computer Science (majored in Artificial Intelligence) from University of Birmingham, UK.

Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan

Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan-CEC-2011

Why did you decide to pursue an MS degree after a couple of years of industrial experience? Did you think of doing post graduation when you passed out from CEC?

Doing a master’s was always on the cards but the question was whether to do it right after college or after couple of years in the industry. I chose the latter as I thought I should get to know the corporate world and realize for myself how I fit in there. This proved to be a good decision for me as I started to enjoy the work and knew that I would be definitely moving into this career path after post graduation (I was better off with industry than academia ).  Since I knew it was industry it even made it easier for me to narrow down the courses and choose one that had a good balance of coursework and research. For people aspiring to find work in the UK after their post graduate studies, I would say that it is a better option to have a bit of work experience.

How do you find the CS courses in India and in the UK different? What makes the latter of higher quality?

From the little knowledge that I have about this, courses in India emphasizes a lot on the theory whereas in the UK it is about hands on exercises. The courses here are updated nearly every year and hence you can be definitely sure you are not wasting your time on outdated stuff. Compared to India the number of subjects that you study in the UK is less (speaks for the lesser duration too), but I believe the option to choose the areas/subjects that one prefers makes it more useful than going through a lot of subjects. The higher quality of education in the UK is also attributed to the higher quality of faculty and facilities. It is a totally different experience when you interact and learn from the best minds.

University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham
Credits: Wikipedia

Hope GRE was not required for masters in the UK. How’s the admission then? Please brief us on the application and admission procedure. Please share your whole experience as that would be beneficial to the future applicants.

Yes, GRE is not required for masters in the UK and it is just the English language test (TOEFL or IELTS) that one has to do before applying. The admission procedure here is entirely dependent on your profile and statement of purpose. I was told that they would look into your academic performance during high school and undergraduate and also relevant work experience if any. Statement of purpose is the most important part of your application to the UK universities and this is where you can convince the school to consider your application.

Applying to the UK universities is an easy task compared to the US universities. All you require to do is the English language test and this would require a month and a half from the date you register for the exam to the date you get the results. I had done the exam right after my college and hence did not have to go through it while application which made things easier for me. Due to the work and the lazy routine that I was following, I started my research on universities and courses a little late around October and completed most of my applications by January. Most of the universities in the UK do not have a closing date for the applications but the earlier you apply the better the chances for admission and funding. I got my admission results in a month from applying. And the biggest advantage is that you can save time and money as most of them requires only an e-copy of your transcripts during the application stage and yeah, there is no application fee.

 Are all the UK MS degrees approved by Government of India? Do you have any idea on this?

This is where it gets little difficult. From my understanding, AIU says all Masters that are of less than 2 years are deemed unequal or not valid as a degree. A student returning from a one year PG course in the UK will be faced with this issue only while applying for a job that asks for an equivalence certificate, i.e. either in academia or in government jobs. So if your future plans after masters are in either of this, it is a better option to dig deeper into this topic before making a choice before committing to any university that offers a one year PG degree. Having said this, although majority of the universities in the UK offer a one year PG degree but there are also some really good universities that offer a two year courses which are valid in India.

How did you brush up your CS topics before going to the University? What would you suggest such candidates do before they undergo masters in CS abroad?

To be honest I did not do any brushing up before starting here and I am sure that did not hurt me much. All I would suggest is to go through the subjects the university offers and have a clear idea on what you would like to take.

University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham
Credits: Wikipedia

How has CEC been helpful in current stance?

Frankly, not much apart from some basic knowledge on CS, some organizational activities that went onto the CV, opportunity to join Cognizant and the reference letters.

How did life in the industry help you excel as an engineer?

Working in Cognizant for two years helped me tremendously. It was a great platform to start my career and it gave me tons of opportunities to build my skills both technical and personal.  Amazing people, great work, crazy deadlines and a lot of fun is Cognizant for me. And I’m sure that’s the case for most of the people. It has also given me ample stories to tell for all my competency interviews J . In short, it was a great learning experience and something I would cherish for a long time.

What are your areas of academic/research interest?

I focused on Artificial Intelligence and brain computer interfaces.

How’s life at Birmingham and the institute campus?

Birmingham is an easy place to live and to be honest it just felt like home! It’s the second largest city in England and has a buzzing city center, beautiful towns and some great food.  It is located in the center of Britain and amazingly connected thus travelling around just gets easier. Well the climate can get slightly tricky as you have no idea what to expect (well that’s the case with most of England!).

University of Birmingham is a delight in itself! The tallest standing clock tower in the world or Old Joe as we call it is the pride of the campus. The red brick university with its old world charm, beautiful campus and amazing facilities, slightly away from the city and the crowd is a wonderful place to be in. The multicultural nature of the university just enhances the whole experience.

University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham
Credits: Wikipedia

How much is the expected expense for the entire course? How do you fund it?

The total cost (including tuition and living) came up to 25 lakhs. I was on a studentship from the school of computer science so that paid for a portion of my tuition fee. I chose not to try for a part time job as it was just a year course and most of my vacations were loaded with assignments and projects. However, the university itself provides tons of jobs throughout the academic year for anyone who would want to make some extra money.

Anything else you would like to tell young CECians, who aspire to do an MS in the UK?

The question that frequently disturbed me while considering a masters degree in the UK was the job prospectus here. To be honest it is little difficult but definitely possible. My only suggestion is give yourself a month to settle down and start applying from the second or at least the third month as most of the deadlines for applications (ie. Graduate schemes) close very early.

She can be contacted at her Gmail ID: laks120689

Arunanand T A
CEC 2010