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Michigan CS vs. CMU Robotics (PhD)


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After visiting all of the schools I got accepted to (except for a couple that just accepted me this week, I'm still deciding what to do about those), I think my decision's come down to these two programs.

I really liked both when I visited. At Michigan, there was a specific professor who stood out most. I felt like I got along with him well, he was trying to recruit me, and I really liked his research. I didn't get as much time to talk to his students, but they seemed nice when I met them. At Carnegie Mellon, on the other hand, I really, really loved the community and environment there. I've also spent time at Carnegie Mellon in the past (spent a Summer there in high school, nearly went there for undergrad, and worked there last Summer), and I feel kind of like I have a connection with the school and know that I feel comfortable there. On the other hand, no particular professors really stood out to me. There were professors that I liked and a lot of cool research in general, but nothing that jumped out like the one professor at Michigan. Part of this could be related to the timing of the two visits - there was a big robotics paper deadline coming up during the CMU visit, so most professors were busy with that, and they have a big advisor selection process in the Fall so most advisors aren't trying to actively recruit students during the visit weekend, while my meeting with the one professor at Michigan just happened to fall during a block when he had extra time - but there's not real way to know how that affected things. There's also the reputation factor - both are very good programs, but with CMU robotics being known as one of the top programs in the world in that field it's still hard to turn it down. Funding is similar for both and I like both locations, so neither of those are really factors.

So I think for the most part the decision's coming down to choosing Michigan for a specific professor/research (there are other professors and projects I like there, so if things didn't work out with him it's not like I'd have no backup, but he's probably the main motivation for going there) or choosing Carnegie Mellon for most other important factors (environment, community, the overall school). There's also the fact that my actual research experience in the areas I want to do is fairly limited, so I don't know for sure I'll end up liking the things I think I want to do, and Carnegie Mellon does have a bigger variety of topics I might be interested in to fall back on if that happens. I'm learning towards Carnegie Mellon, and I kind of feel like I'm just looking for someone to tell me that it's the right choice (even writing this I feel kind of like I'm worried about the idea that people might tell me to go to Michigan), but a lot of people say you should pick your school based entirely on finding a professor you think you'd like working with, and going that route Michigan seems like the better choice, so I'm still not sure. Any advice?

Edited by Quazifuji
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Go to CMU. Putting all of your eggs in one basket --having only one PoI-- seems unwise. Have fun in pittsburgh :)

Well, Michigan wouldn't really be putting all my eggs in one basket. There were still other professors there that I liked. The main downside is they only have a couple robotics people, but they also have some areas I find interesting that were less present as CMU.

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From your post I'm guessing that you want to go to CMU. If that's the case then you certainly don't need our permission, or seal of approval - CMU is a great school and is a fantastic option for you. It is true that the relationship and fit with your adviser is one of the most important things for success in grad school (at least in CS), but are there profs at CMU that you could see yourself working with and be happy working with? Perhaps you could spend a day imagining that you decided to go to UMich, then spend the next day imagining yourself at CMU. Which option would you be happier with? Which school would you more regret not going to?

Congrats on the admits!

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