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Everything posted by underscore_frosty

  1. Anyone else starting PhD with chronic illness?

    Well, I'm not chronically physically ill, but I am suffering from chronic mental illness and I'll be starting my PhD in computer science this fall. My mental health journey has been...an interesting experience to say the least. It started about 2 or so years ago when I was about half-way through my 3rd year of undergrad (this is my 5th and final year). As of right now my diagnoses are schizoaffective disorder (depressive type, mood disorder dominant), panic disorder, HPPD, PTSD, and Aspberger's/HFA. It's been difficult and there were times when it severely affected all aspects of my life, college and family included. There were times when literally everyone who knew about my condition was urging me to dropout and consider long term hospitalization (this came after, we'll just say, a credible threat to my safety). There were more times than I care to mention when I seriously considered giving up for good. But I pushed through and now here I am 2 years later about to graduate with a BS in computer science and well on my way to starting a PhD. I know doing a PhD is order of magnitude more stressful and difficult than undergrad, but I feel that now that I have matured some and learned to cope with my conditions I should be able to get through this.
  2. Well, Friday is fast approaching and I still haven't decided what I want to do. I'm stuck between choosing either employment or pursuing a graduate degree (where doesn't really matter at this point) When I was applying back in the fall, I wasn't really expecting to get in anywhere, let alone get in with funding. So, realizing that I'm graduating soon and need to have a plan, I start looking for work. I find out by word of mouth that a company I've been interested in working for is hiring. So, naturally, I sent in my resume, but again, I wasn't really expecting anything to come out of it. Well, a couple weeks later I get the job and have been working there for the last few months. Now I've got a job and some acceptance letters and can't decide on which I want to pursue. On the one hand a job offers stability and relieves a lot of stress about what comes after graduation. Not only that, but I have a lot of loyalty for the company I work for and they're pretty invested in me staying long term (why else would they pay for a certification and give me, an intern, a raise). Also, I've built friendships at this company and I feel like leaving so soon would burn a lot of bridges really fast. On the other hand, grad school is what I've been working towards for most of my adult life. To give up on it so soon is just crappy and I really don't like that my employer doesn't want me going to grad school. Again, I also feel like not choosing grad school would also burn bridges because I have connections at these schools that go back a few years and I feel like I would let these people down. Basically, they've also invested a lot in me. Yeah, I understand that I can always go to grad school later, and that's something I might take into consideration, but you know, how much longer would I have to wait to pursue my dreams? Also, I really like working for this company and would like to continue doing so, but they've made it clear I would have to either choose grad school or working for them, there would be no compromise. Of course, I could always come back after I finish my degree, but would they even want me back? Would they even be able to offer me a position in 4 or 5 years? There are just too many unknowns for me to make a definite decision right now and I'm going to have to do a lot of meditating on this. I've talked to coworkers and supervisors, half say to stay at the company, the other half say to pursue what I want and I'm not sure which side is more correct. I just really don't know what to do.
  3. It depends on the school. Some allow students who have little or no CS experience to complete fundamental courses before they can start on their masters coursework. Generally though, for students who don't have an undergraduate degree in CS, the requirements are that you have completed the requisite core coursework and have demonstrated proficiency in CS. For core coursework, this is usually an introductory programming course or two, a data structures course, an algorithms course, a systems programming/operating systems course, a software engineering course, a year of calculus, an introductory statistics/probability theory course, and a discrete mathematics course. That said, I know that at some universities they allow students who are deficient any of the core coursework to take those classes before being granted full status as a masters student. For LORs, it doesn't necessarily matter what field the letter writer works in so long as they can speak to your academic and research ability within the context of CS. However, it would be much better for your letters to come from CS professors provided they're familiar with you beyond the classroom. If you can't find those types of writers, it is much better to have someone who knows you well write you a LOR than someone who only knew you within the context of the classroom (those types of LORs are called DWICs, Did Well In Class and don't really say much as to who the student really is as a computer scientist). Research experience is not that crucial for a masters program, but it does help a lot to have some experience. Doesn't necessarily have to be CS research just so long as you're familiar with how academic research is conducted. Again, that said, much better to have CS related research experience. Here's my advice if you really want to pursue a MS in CS degree. I would take a few semesters to knock out the core coursework and if able to, get on a faculty member's current research project whether this is simply running the experiments and gathering data versus writing the experiments yourself, paid versus volunteer work doesn't matter. If your goal is to become a software engineer or information security analyst, there is really no need to take anymore classes than you need to and you don't need an undergraduate degree in CS. You can teach yourself the things required to be a successful software engineer or information security analyst. Teaching yourself the basic concepts and principles of information security is actually not a very hard task. The issue is demonstrating you have the requisite knowledge and this comes from either having various security related certifications or a degree in a related field like IT, MIS, or CS. The easiest route to take is to get the certifications. I would look at the CompTIA Security+, (ISC)2 SSCP, ECIH, and GCIH certifications. Study material for each is readily available. Hope this helps.
  4. Employment vs. grad school

    Well, working in information security is already stressful enough as it is, I can only imagine how stressful it is being the sole security engineer AND manager of of the security operations center as well. He's generally a nice guy, just very, very particular with how things are done or should be done. And when he gets angry, it's more of the 'disappointed father' type of anger than violently angry. Regardless, I'm confident I made the right decision.
  5. Employment vs. grad school

    Well, I've decided grad school, but I haven't told my employer yet. I'm trying to figure out a way to gently break the news to my direct supervisor, but I don't know if I would even be able to as he's a very serious and intimidating person. It's not that he's a terrifying boss, just that he has a very low threshold for things that annoy or anger him and I really want to avoid him becoming infuriated.
  6. Fall 2017 Applicant Profile and Admission Results

    Well, accepted to the PhD program at WSU. Talk about a nail biter though. Unofficial notification on the 14th, official notification on the 17th, needed to make a decision by 5pm on the 19th. Put me in quite the predicament as I had already accepted the offer from BSU since I wasn't expecting to hear back from WSU. I understand there are no legal ramifications of declining an offer after accepting it, but I really didn't feel that great about rescinding my acceptance and I really didn't like the idea of potentially burning bridges so early. But as I understand it now, while this isn't a common occurrence, it does happen and while it might make some people upset, they probably won't hold a grudge.
  7. Fall 2017 Applicant Profile and Admission Results

    UPDATE: WSU (PhD): Meeting with POI either in person tomorrow morning (he'll be in my neck of the woods tomorrow for a conference), or a chat over the phone on Friday. Getting a little excited about this. This is the same POI I talked with last year when I applied (but had to withdraw my application since my graduation was delayed by A YEAR ). It seemed like I made a good impression last year because he asked me, if they were able to secure some sort of funding for an REU type experience, whether I would be interested in such a position over the summer. To hear back from him again this year is a very good sign.
  8. Fall 2017 Applicant Profile and Admission Results

    UPDATE: BSU (MS in CS, thesis option): Accepted as of 4 hours ago with funding. Email direct from the Director of Graduate Studies who is also the Professor I want to work with. Area of interest here is formal methods in SE. WSU (PhD): Still waiting... EWU (MS in CS, thesis option): Still waiting...
  9. Anyone else feeling hopeless?

    @ThousandsHardships Oh, I know it's a numbers game, but I just couldn't afford to apply to as many schools as I could. There were 6 or 7 I was going to apply to, but I had to narrow that down to 3 for financial reasons. Not only that, but the CS department at my university is very small in comparison to the number of people taking CS classes or in the CS program, so my letter writers didn't necessarily have the time to submit quite a few letters (I figure there are at least a few more CS undergrads lat my university looking towards grad school). I think my game plan is going to shift next year and instead of shooting for all PhD programs like I did last year, I'll just aim for MS programs instead. I remember last year when I actually had an interview at one of the universities I applied to the interviewer said it was pretty ambitious to go straight into a PhD from a BS. But anyways, here's to hoping.
  10. Anyone heard from WSU or BSU?

    So, I applied to the PhD in CS program at WSU (Washington State University) and BSU (Boise State) about 3 or so months ago, but I have yet to hear anything from either. Looking at the results database I'm seeing that at least a few people have received admits from WSU for the same program. I know these aren't particularly high ranking or top choice schools, but I'm just wondering if anyone else who uses this forum has applied at these schools and if they have heard back yet, positive or negative. Thanks.
  11. Anyone heard from WSU or BSU?

    I mean, last year when I applied to WSU I had a phone interview with a POI in mid-February. I had to withdraw my application though since my graduation was going to be delayed by a year because I had to retake a few core classes. Perhaps they've received more applications than usual and it is taking awhile to review them. Still, 3 months without hearing anything other than, "We've received your application," is a little frustrating.
  12. Fall 2017 Applicant Profile and Admission Results

    Still waiting... Kind of frustrating and anxiety inducing when you are seeing more and more people receiving decisions from the schools you applied to, but you have yet to hear anything.
  13. Anyone else feeling hopeless?

    I can say I'm feeling more anxious than I am hopeless, but I still certainly do feel hopeless. I only applied to 3 schools and I have yet to hear anything from them other than the auto-generated email saying my application has been received and is currently being reviewed. I'm waiting it out, but as I'm seeing more and more people receiving decisions, I'm only becoming more and more anxious about the decision I'll receive, if any. It's not like I applied to high-ranking programs either, I applied to the PhD in CS program at a regional university, and then two MS in CS programs, one at my home institution (a lesser-known, mid-sized regional university) and the other at the university where I did my REU in my junior year. I felt that this year my profile was significantly stronger than last year, but I'm starting to think that is likely not the case. I was really hoping for something good to happen this year, but it is looking like that won't be the case. I'll give it another week or so before I call it quits and stop worrying about it. At least I'm not completely without a plan though should graduate school fall through. I have a pretty nice part-time internship right now and it is likely I'll be offered a full-time, salaried position very soon. So I at least have that to look forward to. But still, I'll feel pretty defeated if I'm rejected at all the places I applied to, especially if I'm rejected at my home institution.
  14. Fall 2017 Applicant Profile and Admission Results

    Academic profile: American male with a BS in CS from a comprehensive, state/regional university that is not well known. One, roughly 6 month REU experience (not to toot my own horn, but I received an extension to the award for my apparently excellent work) which resulted in a poster presentation at the NSF REU Symposium. Additionally, high marks in senior level CS electives (4 or 5, I'll have to take a look at my transcript) and high marks in a research oriented CS class (3 research projects + 1 lecture on a topic of our choosing). Experience: 4 years IT experience, currently employed as an information security analyst, 2 years tutoring in a dynamic, laboratory environment. Publications: 1 poster presentation at a national level conference/symposium (see above). GPA: 3.50 cumulative, 3.58 major. GRE: 158Q, 164V, 4.5W LORs: 3 strong LORs. One from my (former) advisor (former because I redeclared in a different catalog year which for some reason assigned me a new advisor), one from a professor who has continually encouraged me to attend graduate school (who also taught the research oriented CS class), and one from my REU advisor/mentor. SOP: Learned from my mistakes the first time round and definitely improved. Program(s): PhD, MS (thesis option) Schools: BSU (MS, where I did my REU), EWU (MS, my home institution), WSU (PhD) Areas of interest: Cyber/information security, logic/metalogic, computability logic, theory (particularly applications of category and object theory to computability theory), formal methods in SE (what I did my research in at the REU), social network analysis with memetics Decisions: None (?) so far, either good or bad. Around this time last year is when I received my rejections, but I have yet to hear anything back. That said, I noticed something curious when I went to audit my degree. Way at the bottom was a little blurb that said "Graduate Level GPA (GGPA): 3.00" with a date of 17 JAN 2017. This is for my home institution, and to my knowledge I haven't taken any graduate level classes, and if I did I certainly didn't receive the bare minimum 3.0 to pass. I was a little perplexed by this because I hadn't seen that entry prior to this morning. Searching around didn't yield any answers either. So this may be an unintentional indication of admission to the MS in CS program at my home institution, only the adcom would know. Reasons for applying where I did: WSU has a research center dedicated to researching the smart grid and IoT devices, and part of that research includes evaluating the security of such things. Also, WSU has a research center for network science which is related to social network analysis. I applied at my home institution as a safety school and because I currently work in the area (and there are rumors of a promotion in the works). Knowing all the faculty and being on good terms with them is also good. And BSU of course because I did my REU there and my former advisor there has already extended an invitation to continue work on the project I started should I be admitted. Furthermore, knowing that my academic profile is somewhat less-than spectacular, I applied at schools that were within reach (and I only applied at 3 because of funds and timing). Anything else: I'm just incredibly nervous right now because this time of year is when I received those oh-so-painful rejection letters. I'm always nervous when I check my email because I'm afraid of that, "Mr. X, We regret to inform you that...." This year feels different though. Even if I end up not being admitted anywhere, I have a kick ass job to fall back on (literally the only job I have really enjoyed). Anyways, good luck to y'all!
  15. Finishing my econ degree a semester early - want to go for a CS PhD

    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).
  16. NSF GRFP 2016-2017

    Yup, he is one of my letter writers. The only issue is that the research project I worked on was not related to my interest area of algorithms and theory. It was related to software security. That being said though, since my advisor/PI for the project has experience writing NSF grants, I do see how it would be valuable to at least get some tips from him about the proposal. Before I actually put my letter writers down on the application, like I said, I'm going to at the very least send out a rough draft of my proposal to them. I'll also check out that GRFP Experienced Person list.
  17. NSF GRFP 2016-2017

    Unfortunately, I'm coming from a comprehensive university so there is very little research that goes on (I do have research experience, but at another university at an NSF REU). That being said, there is one professor that does work in algorithms, but he is more interested in "big" data algorithms and biological algorithms. I could, as you suggested just sort of bounce ideas off of him. I also know there are math faculty here at my university interested in number theory at the very least, but I don't know any of them on a more than "hey, I took a class from you once" level. I actually sort of did this last night in regards to the project I feel would have the broadest impact. I took a step back and abstracted the idea to the most basic level (the project was related to memetic algorithms, so I just abstracted this out to just memetics/memetic algorithms). From there I spent some time thinking about what problems could be solved and questions answered using this sort of broad topic (in this case, how can I apply memetics and memetic algorithms to XYZ problem). This, I feel, helped me build a concrete project (or at the very least more concrete ideas about a potential project) which I'm going to type up a draft proposal for this weekend and then forward it on to my letter writers to see what they think.
  18. NSF GRFP 2016-2017

    So, I'm going to be applying for the 2017 GRFP with my primary field of study being Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering. I'm hitting a roadblock though regarding choosing a research topic for the proposal portion. I briefly skimmed over Alex Lang's website and he suggested picking a topic related to what you are currently researching if you're an undergraduate. The problem is that I'm not currently researching anything. Right now I'm just working on a host of small, personal projects broadly related to computational number theory and applied logic. I have done undergraduate research in the past related to software security, but I'm not particularly interested in that topic right now as I can't really think of a good project related to software security. I guess the problem arises from the fact that I have broad interests in my field. If it sounds interesting and I investigate it a little bit, usually just to a superficial understanding, then I usually end up becoming more interested in the topic and delve deeper into it. That being said, I have narrowed my interests down somewhat to more specific topics/potential projects. I feel I could write a good proposal for each of the projects I've narrowed my interests down to. The problem is that of the 4 projects I have in mind, 3 of them are more personal (i.e. solving hard problems) that don't really have broad impacts outside their topic, namely algorithms and theoretical computer science. So I'm inclined to choose the project with the broadest impact according to the GRFP criteria. But I'm still undecided. Also, for the one project that would have broad impacts, it's actually more interdisciplinary than strictly related to computer science (in fact it would bring in aspects of computational mathematics, computational psychology, and social psychology) which makes me still a little indecisive about it. What say you folks? Should I go with the project the broadest impacts that's somewhat interdisciplinary, or should I reevaluate my projects and determine which would best fit me?
  19. Should I even bother?

    Noob here so please go easy on me. I just finished my senior year and will going on to my "super senior" year, i.e. 5th year of study (more on that later). This past Fall I prematurely (and perhaps foolishly) applied to 4 PhD programs in computer science and was denied admission at all of them for obvious reasons. In particular I applied at Virginia Tech, UC Davis, Washington State University, and George Mason. I picked these 4 schools after shopping around a bit because I knew my GRE scores were not that good at all (314 overall, 160V, 154Q) and my grades weren't that good either (at the time I was applying and before SHTF I had a 3.56 cumulative GPA and a 3.60 major GPA), but I still wanted to be at a relatively good school. So I started the process, but about midway through the poo hit the proverbial fan, my grades tanked, and I was left with a severely sub-par quarter on my transcript (which I am working on partially rectifying by retaking courses). I now have a 3.38 cumulative and 3.57 in major. Right now I'm enrolled in a summer class, the last one I can retake, and my next academic year is full of upper division mathematics and CS classes (taking these purely to fill out my academic year because if I didn't I would only have 3 CS classes left to complete, each offered in different quarters, because I "technically" failed the prereqs for those courses). I also plan on studying my butt off for the GRE to bring that score up (planning on taking it in August or early September), especially the quantitative score. Also of note is that this summer I'm independently working on some projects in my areas of research interest, algorithms/theory to be specific and more specifically sorting and hashing algorithms and plan on putting some write ups on arXiv. As for the SHTF ordeal, what happened was actually downward trend and Fall quarter of this year was rock bottom. In Winter 2015 I began to have multiple mental health issues which began a downward, uncontrollable spiral in my grades. Somehow though I was able to get an REU, complete it, and present the results at the 2015 NSF/CUR REU Symposium in Arlington, VA. Like I said, Fall quarter of this year was rock bottom in terms of grades and mental health, severe depression (along with my 3 other mental illnesses), extreme suicidal ideation, and eventually a psychiatric hospitalization because of my mental health issues. I've since been getting better and my grades have significantly improved and are steadying out to the A's and B's I'm used to. My main question is, of course, should I even bother at this point? I feel like the 3 quarter downward trend, psychiatric hospitalization, mental health issues, and lack of research experience (to date I've only done the REU and some independent research) have caused irreparable damage to my academic profile which will damper or all together halt my ambitions of going to grad school. I know computer science is competitive and my stats, in my opinion, are not even close to being on par. If I do plan on going forward I plan on applying to at least 5 of the following: Virginia Tech Washington State University UC Davis University of Idaho Boise State University ASU Indiana University University of Colorado UNC Charlotte University of Rochester
  20. Admission denied based on LORs

    So, about a month ago I got my rejection letter from UC Davis' Computer Science PhD program which was honestly expected (going straight from a BS to PhD is ambitious/ballsy, and I had some mental health issues in the quarter that I was applying that caused severe detriment to my GPA and subsequently delayed my graduation by a year), but the reasoning for it was not. Specifically, the letter said I was denied admission on the basis of my letters of recommendation (though I suspect that was merely the main reason and that there were other factors at play as well). So of course my mind immediately thought that one or more of the people I asked wrote me a bad recommendation. But then I got to thinking again and I realize it was likely because of 1) the credentials of my recommendation writers (two of them only have MS degrees and haven't done much in the way of research) and 2) the fact that really only one of them had specific knowledge of my research abilities (two of them are instructors that I know well from taking quite a few classes from them, the other was my advisor/mentor at the REU I completed last summer). So, now I'm looking at others to ask and so far I've narrowed it down to 3 for future applications, i.e. applications for Fall 2017. Writer 1: Mentor from the REU I did last summer. We're on good terms and I will be working with him on another project, soon. Keen to use him as he knows the most about my research abilities (not to brag, but the project I worked on under his direction made it to the NSF REU Symposium). Writer 2: Professor I know fairly well who has a significant amount of research experience. I recently completed an upper level course taught by him that was highly theoretical and required 3 small research projects and a lecture on a course relevant topic of my choosing. Thinking of using him because he'll be able to speak to my academic ability as well as to my research ability (to a limited extent though). His research is also mainly focused in the area I hope to specialize in, algorithms. Writer 3: Professor I know from an entirely different department (geology to be specific). I know him on a mainly social/professional basis and a somewhat academic basis (I've taken a class from him). I'm thinking of using him as he'll be able to speak towards character and academic performance (to a very limited extent), but I'm not sure how much good, if any that will do. My main goals are to have writers that know me well and that have good credentials (i.e. PhD's, lots of research experience). My options at my university are limited however as the CS program is more focused on software engineering than pure CS and I barely know any of the faculty with good credentials as they rarely teach upper level elective courses (at least ones that I would be interested in taking). As an aside, I'm filling up next academic year with mathematics courses most relevant to theoretical computer science and my research interests (cryptography/applied cryptography and algorithms, number theoretic algorithms in particular), so I may have more options in the coming months. I also could potentially ask my supervisor at work (I work in IT). So what do you guys and gals think of those 3 writers? Are they good choices or should I look elsewhere? Thanks in advance.
  21. Should I even bother?

    Thank you for the encouragement! Anyways, to answer your questions, I did talk to my (former) academic advisor (I strategically redeclared under a different catalog year which caused me to be assigned a new advisor, but I can change my advisor whenever) about my previous application list and came to a consensus on the 4 original schools I applied at. Their input was that even though I had relatively good stats, my chances of getting into a really good school were pretty slim. Slim not necessarily because of my academic profile (at the time), but simply because the university I'm coming from simply doesn't have the prestige that other universities do (not to say that my university is bad or that the CS program is bad, just that the university itself is not well known in the academic world). They also mentioned that because the CS program at my school is geared more towards software engineering than pure CS, that puts somewhat of a damper on my profile as my education in the field did not incorporate particularly great amounts of theory/research. So their suggestion was to look at schools with good engineering and CS programs that have mid-range acceptance stats for CS, which I did, and then send them a list of schools that we would go over. Anyways, regarding my personal statement, now that I look back it was pretty weak. I was too personal and too generic when it came to the 'why this school/program, why pursue graduate education, what are your research interests, who would you like to work with, etc.' portions of the statement. So I'm definitely going to work on that, a lot. A year of postbacc professional experience would be helpful, but the jobs in my neck of the woods are limited and highly competitive. Typically, the jobs in my geographic area go to those who have the most connections, and I have very few industry connections. Sure, I could definitely look elsewhere, but I'm not too keen on moving somewhere unless I'm going to be there semi-permanently (as in 2 years or longer). I would hate to get a job and then a year later quit to attend grad school (though I know some companies will at least partially pay for graduate school, or at the very least encourage attending). Not to mention, but once I look outside my area at larger, more well known companies I will also be competing against more people and likely competing against people that are better qualified for the position than I am. Of note though, at one point I had offers from IBM (security analyst position), Google (IT resident position), and a local company (scientific/mathematical software engineering) on the table, but I had to give those up for the aforementioned reasons. What I hope to do with my degree is, well, research. Since beginning college I've desired to be a researcher, to answer questions in computer science and better understand exactly how computers/computation works. If you really want to boil it down, I basically want to be a professional thinker/philosopher specializing in the field of computation. Secondary to this main goal is that I also desire to teach. Teaching has always been something I've been drawn to and am good at (I tutor computer science in addition to working in IT, and tutoring is definitely a rewarding, but challenging experience). At what level I teach, elementary, high school, college, online tutorials, etc. doesn't really matter to me, I just want to teach and spread knowledge of computer science. However, if I did get to teach I would probably teach at the high school level. I think in an ever increasing technological world that it is in the students' best interest to have some familiarity with how technology works, i.e. some basic understanding of programming and the underlying concepts driving this technologically integrated world. If I decide not to pursue graduate education, that is actually one of my fall back plans. I would come back to my alma mater and get either a teaching endorsement or MEd at the secondary level and pursue a career in middle/high school education in computer science. Regarding the GPA and GRE thing, in my case it is sort of personal. I'm not necessarily a perfectionist, but after my mediocre performance in high school I feel like I owe it to myself to do well in college. It also has to do with looking at others' academic profiles and admission stats for school and seeing how I stack up. Being in the middle isn't bad, but it isn't that good either. Not to mention, but in my personal experience a lot of sites (aside from this one, though I'm new here) say you at need least an x GPA and a y GRE score to be competitive when applying to grad schools.