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BackPropagandist

Finishing my econ degree a semester early - want to go for a CS PhD

4 posts in this topic

First off, I've enjoyed doing research very much during undergrad, I have solid career goals which require getting a PhD, and I have identified certain topics in computer science that I want to work on, so I'm confident that a CS PhD would be a good path for me.

However, I'm new to the subject; essentially I have a minor in math and several courses in computer science to be completed this fall, as well as some fairly technical research experience in machine ethics. I also have enough credits to graduate with my econ degree this fall.

I could apply for CS Master's programs which would start this spring and hope to transfer to a PhD later on, but this will probably be too difficult because my spring GPA was low (3.1, bad semester), I haven't proven myself in computer science yet (I only had one CS activity in the spring, the machine ethics project; I skipped the entry level courses and am now taking mid level courses), and I only know one professor well enough to get a very good letter of recommendation.

Alternatively, I could apply for graduate programs starting in the fall. If that happens I will have proven myself through fall coursework. But should I apply for an MS or should I apply directly for a PhD? And if I do this, what should I do for the spring - continue my undergrad for another semester taking more relevant classes, or leave to do research and self study on my own, or take some kind of internship? (Do my plans matter for admissions or should I do whatever I find personally useful?)

There is a lot for me to apply to in a short amount of time so I could use some help in simplifying what I should do. Thanks.

Edit: some more background info:

Did freshman and sophomore year at a junior college, A.A. political science, 3.4 GPA

Junior year at private university was a 3.6 GPA in the fall and 3.1 GPA in the spring. Getting B.S. in economics

Got a C in multivariate calculus in the spring

Currently taking intro to algorithms, intro to machine learning, and differential equations, expecting a 3.5 at the very least

2210 on the SATs, have not taken GREs yet

Can barely code. But learning

Edited by BackPropagandist

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How do you know you want to do a CS PhD if you don't have any experience with CS? It probably makes sense to do more CS courses instead of graduating early.

You could try applying to both PhD and MS programs and see what you get into. There are some MS programs that are research-focused and may offer funding, but they are rare. If you have a specific area you're interested in (hopefully one that is related to Econ like Algorithmic Game Theory) then there may be lower-ranked PhD programs that have great people in that sub-area. If you are interested in the intersection of Econ and CS, you should check out Vincent Conitzer at Duke.

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Although I am not in CS, I think if possible, you should consider doing more CS courses in the Fall and then finish off your Econ courses in the Spring and potentially graduating. Another option is to do another year of undergrad and get something more substantial in CS, like a minor perhaps. This might cost more money but it could cost a lot less than a Masters program in CS. Also, it would really help to get letters from your CS profs if you are going to apply this year, so taking CS courses earlier would be better! They can at least write about your potential for CS materials.

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I would suggest you get more experience in CS before applying to MS or PhD programs. Most graduate CS programs require either a degree in CS or a related field, or significant coursework in CS. You'll want to take the core CS courses since these are usually the bare minimums a graduate CS program will accept. These are usually courses in algorithms, data structures, general computer programming/object oriented programming, operating systems, and system architecture. They also typically require a year of calculus (2 semester sequence or 3 quarter sequence), linear algebra, discrete mathematics, and a basic stats course. I assume with your Econ degree you probably already have the calculus and stats done.

That being said, just having these is probably not sufficient to get in unless you've done a significant amount of research in the CS field and you CS GPA is high. The reason is that you're going to be competing with people that have CS degrees who have done a lot more CS coursework and probably more CS related research. Also, if you do get in with just the basics you're probably going to have to take additional courses to the graduate courses you'll have to take. My suggestion would be to do the basics and also take as many upper level courses as you can before you graduate. Maybe take another year to do so which is going to be a lot cheaper than going straight for a MS.

Also, doing this will let you know whether you really want to do CS or not. It isn't for everyone. If you just want to write code and get a job as a developer, enrolling in a coding bootcamp would be your best bet. Much, much cheaper than taking another year to do CS courses and a helluva lot cheaper than doing a master's. If you go the coding bootcamp route and want to be a developer I would suggest you get on some open-source projects (or even start your own) and build your portfolio so you have something to show on your resume/CV (this goes double for applying to grad school as well).

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