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Fully Funded Stanford CS Masters vs Cornell Information Science PhD


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I have narrowed down my acceptances to two options: 1) a fully funded CS masters (stipend via TAship) at Stanford, and 2) the Information Science PhD at Cornell University.


The Information Science PhD at Cornell was not my top choice, but it was definitely one of my top-5 best fit PhD programs when I applied. Stanford would have probably been my first choice PhD program, but I didn't get in and instead got this funded masters. I just got the Stanford acceptance today. Until today, I was ecstastic about attending Cornell and I was pretty set on it. Now with this Stanford acceptance with funding, I have NO idea what to do.


Here is a little more context:


My senior year CS grades will be a little low, but I made all A's in CS courses prior to senior year. If i go to Stanford, I plan to make all A's at Stanford, since I can clearly do that if I put in the work based on my preparation and good grades from my undergrad (a top school). I would also have a lot more publications when I apply to PhD programs again after my Stanford masters. I had one unrelated low-tier journal publication when I applied this year. This semester, I will be publishing two more papers in higher-tier conferences, and I also expect to publish during my time at Stanford. This would give me the opportunity to have a much stronger PhD application (with the exception of senior year CS grades, which should be compensated by Stanford grades).


I am scared, though, that I will have put in all this work at Stanford and then not get into a better PhD program, which would suck because then Cornell probably wouldn't accept me again after I turned them down. So this is all a gamble. (BTW I also got into UIUC PhD in CS but after visiting, it wasn't as good of a match as Cornell).


So...what do y'all think? I honestly have no idea what to choose. Any and all opinions would be GREATLY appreciated! Thanks so much in advance.


(Side question: I won't get rescinded from either of these programs if I make a C in operating systems this semester, right?)

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If your end goal is Phd, go to Cornell. Otherwise, take the Stanford offer. 


The reason being, Cornell is already a great Phd program. If you got to Stanford, you will risk 2 more years before you get your phd. Also, during these two years or actually one year assuming you are applying before graduate, you have to find a professor who are interested in working with you, adjusted into the lab, and maybe publish some top conference papers. But at Cornell, you could be more involved with research as a Phd student. 

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Do you have to commit to being a TA at Stanford for the whole Masters?


I visited Stanford when I was accepted to the MS program and I wasn't that impressed. Both the students and professors seemed to treat it as a 5th year of undergrad designed to give students a higher starting salary when going into industry. The emphasis isn't on research, though I got the impression it wasn't impossible to go onto research if you wanted to. I also got the impression that professors there look down on MS students, so it might be hard to find an advisor for research there.


I don't think you'd get much out of the Stanford MS. If you're a TA you wouldn't have much time for research, and I don't think you can count on finding an advisor anyway. That said, if you do get two upper-tier publications this semester, then that would work in your favor when applying a second time (did you mention that you had these publications underway when you applied the first time?)


Cornell is probably your best bet. It's one of the best PhD programs out there anyway (assuming Information Science isn't that different from their CS program). At that level, your career in academia will be determined by your research, not which school you went to.

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Stanford said that I could convert my TAship to an RAship at any time if I found a professor who was willing to do so. I also didn't mention that these two publications were underway when I was applying because I didn't know I would be making these additional publications until this semester. So my second round PhD apps would already be stronger because of them.

The Information Science department at Cornell does all the applied CS research at Cornell. My prospective advisor, for example, has a joint appointment as a CS and InfoSci professor. However, I don't know how CS departments would feel about hiring an InfoSci graduate. The research at Cornell is amazing and the environment from visiting is also a great match for me. Tough choices....

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If you're seriously considering Stanford, then I'd suggest at least visiting before making up your mind. Find professors there that match your interests, explain your situation, and try to meet with them (mentioning that you have a funded TAship and have been accepted to Cornell for a PhD will make them more likely to take you seriously, but at the same time they'll probably just tell you to go to Cornell). If you can't go there in person, at least try to schedule a Skype meeting with them.


If you have a couple potential advisors at Cornell that you think would be a good match and who expressed interest in you, then I think Cornell is probably the better choice. Then again, I turned down a top-10 PhD program to pursue a MS at a tier-1 school, and it worked out well for me. I don't think choosing Stanford would be a bad choice.

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Err, can't say I agree with that advice, Icy. First, there are very few reasons to turn down a PhD in CS at MIT for a MS in CS anywhere, especially if that MS doesn't come packaged with a RAship. Second, I disagree that it's "extremely easy" to get a RAship. Professors there tend to have little time for students, even grad students, and generally look down on MS students.

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