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MS in Robotics Fall 2017: CMU vs ETH Zurich

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I am incredibly excited to have been offered admission at CMU and ETH Zurich for MS in Robotics and MS in Robotics, Systems and Control respectively.

I am inclined towards computer vision and deep learning. However, I am also inclined to study/research on these topics with a good amount of mathematical rigor. I would not only like to apply these to engineering problems but would also like to come up with new/different approaches through a thorough understanding of topics like probability, linear algebra and optimization. I am interested in exploring different learning strategies - unsupervised learning, supervised learning and RL for vision tasks(possibly on robots). I plan on studying further and possibly doing a PhD but I would like to keep my options open (depending on funding during MS). Below I have listed pros and cons that I could think of.

CMU pros

  • Biggest, most well-funded robotics department (Robotics Institute[RI]) and large amount of professors and interdisciplinary work at RI
  • Great opportunity and extremely well integrated system with industry -> large amount of exposure (more than ETH?)
  • If I receive funding from the second semester onwards I will only have to pay for the first semester and therefore no need for a huge loan.
  • People working in my area of interest.

CMU cons

  • Would burn a hole in my pocket - annual cost-of-attendance ~65,000 USD
  • Trump and his erratic policies/laws affect immigrant students (i.e. could he stop funding for immigrants, etc.)
  • There is no guaranteed funding+stipend but most students say that 90-95% of MS in Robotics students receive some kind of funding from their advisor after the first semester. So in any case I need to pay the cost-of-attendance for the first semester from my pocket.
  • If I do not get funding, I will have to possibly think of doing a well-paid job to repay the loan (=cost-of-attendance for 2 years).

ETH pros

  • The cost of attendance is very low as compared to CMU. annual cost-of-attendance ~20,000 CHF (1 CHF ~ 1 USD)
  • The program is different from usual MS programs and is tutor-driven. It has a very flexible curriculum and will be designed based on my interest and discussion with my mentor/tutor.
  • I think ETH will have a less cut-throat environment as compare to CMU in terms of competition for resources/RA-ship (not sure though)
  • I will be looking for RA but if in case I do not receive funding, I will still be able to manage the expenses here easier than if I go to CMU and not get funding there.

ETH cons

  • From what I researched there's not a lot of research in areas of computer vision/deep learning as compared to CMU. They are more inclined towards control and classical robotics, if I am not mistaken.
  • Expensive city. (but still the total cost-of-attendance is much lower than CMU)

I had several questions I couldn't find answers to.

  • Are there any chances of a Research Assistantship at ETH that could pay my cost-of-attendance?
  • What are the chances of PhD in well-reputed universities/research groups and job opportunities at both places? From where would it be easier to get a PhD/research post at the lab of my choice after completing MS?
  • Will ETH be stronger on the theoretical basis standpoint and CMU on the practical standpoint respectively? Will there be a balance of both or will one university offer a better balance than the other? I personally have the impression that CMU will focus more on the engineering aspect and how to build solutions and on the other hand, ETH will be deeper into the theoretical aspects and less so into the implementation parts. What are your thoughts?
  • Will the election of Trump affect foreign students in terms of the flow of funding, etc? Or are those things entirely in the hands of the university?
  • Has anyone have had any experiences with ProdigyFinance? Good or Bad?

It would be great to know about pros and cons I should consider and have missed (in the above list) or any misconceptions I have about the two universities (from the above). Both being top universities I am finding it extremely difficult to separate the two offers and I would love to hear your thoughts on the same. Thanks.

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Hi there! First of all congratulations and I just want to say I'm waiting on my own round of results for Masters programs. While I can't answer any of your questions about the two schools themselves, I noticed you didn't mention if you want to build connections in the EU or the U.S. and which place you'd prefer to job search. You also mentioned a PhD afterwards, so if you do decide to go directly into a PhD it won't matter as much, but if you decide to work for a couple years afterwards for any reason, it's always safer to make sure you take a look at the tech scene in both communities as well.

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6 hours ago, siitrasn said:

Hi there! First of all congratulations and I just want to say I'm waiting on my own round of results for Masters programs. While I can't answer any of your questions about the two schools themselves, I noticed you didn't mention if you want to build connections in the EU or the U.S. and which place you'd prefer to job search. You also mentioned a PhD afterwards, so if you do decide to go directly into a PhD it won't matter as much, but if you decide to work for a couple years afterwards for any reason, it's always safer to make sure you take a look at the tech scene in both communities as well.

Hello and thanks for the wishes.

In my opinion I feel that major MNCs are active in both US and EU. I plan on doing a PhD but I do think that CMU and ETH will not be considered on an equal footing (more biased towards CMU) while applying for PhD to labs of my interest. I probably could be wrong here and want to know what you think about the above.

However, I would have to do a job for a couple of years if I do not receive funding.

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I've been accepted to CMU's HCI program as well and am currently waiting on a few other schools, so I feel like I understand where you're coming from. Tuition's expensive! I don't have a comp sci background, but my understanding is that CMU's robotics is really top notch, and ranks highly along with the rest of the computer science department with institutions like MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, etc. One thing that interests me about CMU is how well integrated it is to industry, with lots of people coming out of the Masters and PhD programs working in industry. This is perhaps the #1 biggest point for me, since I'm planning to work before possibly pursuing a PhD myself. As an American, I might be biased towards CMU but I would agree that it has a strong reputation in CS.

As for ETH, although it's a fantastic school I remember a Swiss friend of mine saying a lot of students in Switzerland end up going to Germany to look for work because opportunities can be more scarce in and around Switzerland. However, he's not an engineer/computer scientist so he may mostly be referring to jobs in areas like sales, marketing, management, operations, etc.

Edited by siitrasn

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Hey, congrats OP on the ETH acceptance! I'm currently attending the RSC masters at ETH, and can say that it's really great. Would just like to write that there are no ETH Engineering students going to Germany to look for work due to lack of work in Switzerland. There are plenty of companies hiring ETH students here, and they pay very well. Friends from the RSC program are doing (well-paid) internships at Facebook, Google, Bosch, Intel, IBM, Disney Research, etc.

If you're thinking of doing a phd after, ETH is a really great place to do it. Takes about 3 years after you finish the masters, and also pays very well (more than makes up for the cost of living). 

Edit: Can try to to answer some of your questions:

  • Are there any chances of a Research Assistantship at ETH that could pay my cost-of-attendance?

Yes. There is the ESOP program (which if you didn't apply for at admission, it's too late to apply for). I applied and didn't get it, but I asked my tutor if he would have any "research assistant"-like positions open, and they hired me. Working 15 hours a week in the semester, and I can work up to full time in the semester breaks (42 hours). It pays quite well.

  • What are the chances of PhD in well-reputed universities/research groups and job opportunities at both places? From where would it be easier to get a PhD/research post at the lab of my choice after completing MS?

You'll be able to get into PhD programs in the US with an ETH degree. It's well known and respected, and improving every year still.

  • Will ETH be stronger on the theoretical basis standpoint and CMU on the practical standpoint respectively?

ETH is much more theoretical than I expected for an engineering program. I took the Machine Learning course from Buhmann last semester and it was almost entirely theoretical and proof based. That said, there are many courses that offer projects. 

  • Will there be a balance of both or will one university offer a better balance than the other?

Work-life balance at ETH is hard. Much harder than at my previous Uni. But, I'm also working and studying at the same time, which is not as common here as in the US.

  •  I personally have the impression that CMU will focus more on the engineering aspect and how to build solutions and on the other hand, ETH will be deeper into the theoretical aspects and less so into the implementation parts. What are your thoughts?

See above. 

  • Will the election of Trump affect foreign students in terms of the flow of funding, etc? Or are those things entirely in the hands of the university?

Assuming this is about CMU.

  • Has anyone have had any experiences with ProdigyFinance? Good or Bad?

No, sorry.

Edited by rehab-robotics
answer questions

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On 3/1/2017 at 2:44 AM, gradschool_throwaway said:

I am incredibly excited to have been offered admission at CMU and ETH Zurich for MS in Robotics and MS in Robotics, Systems and Control respectively.

I am inclined towards computer vision and deep learning. However, I am also inclined to study/research on these topics with a good amount of mathematical rigor. I would not only like to apply these to engineering problems but would also like to come up with new/different approaches through a thorough understanding of topics like probability, linear algebra and optimization. I am interested in exploring different learning strategies - unsupervised learning, supervised learning and RL for vision tasks(possibly on robots). I plan on studying further and possibly doing a PhD but I would like to keep my options open (depending on funding during MS). Below I have listed pros and cons that I could think of.

CMU pros

  • Biggest, most well-funded robotics department (Robotics Institute[RI]) and large amount of professors and interdisciplinary work at RI
  • Great opportunity and extremely well integrated system with industry -> large amount of exposure (more than ETH?)
  • If I receive funding from the second semester onwards I will only have to pay for the first semester and therefore no need for a huge loan.
  • People working in my area of interest.

CMU cons

  • Would burn a hole in my pocket - annual cost-of-attendance ~65,000 USD
  • Trump and his erratic policies/laws affect immigrant students (i.e. could he stop funding for immigrants, etc.)
  • There is no guaranteed funding+stipend but most students say that 90-95% of MS in Robotics students receive some kind of funding from their advisor after the first semester. So in any case I need to pay the cost-of-attendance for the first semester from my pocket.
  • If I do not get funding, I will have to possibly think of doing a well-paid job to repay the loan (=cost-of-attendance for 2 years).

ETH pros

  • The cost of attendance is very low as compared to CMU. annual cost-of-attendance ~20,000 CHF (1 CHF ~ 1 USD)
  • The program is different from usual MS programs and is tutor-driven. It has a very flexible curriculum and will be designed based on my interest and discussion with my mentor/tutor.
  • I think ETH will have a less cut-throat environment as compare to CMU in terms of competition for resources/RA-ship (not sure though)
  • I will be looking for RA but if in case I do not receive funding, I will still be able to manage the expenses here easier than if I go to CMU and not get funding there.

ETH cons

  • From what I researched there's not a lot of research in areas of computer vision/deep learning as compared to CMU. They are more inclined towards control and classical robotics, if I am not mistaken.
  • Expensive city. (but still the total cost-of-attendance is much lower than CMU)

I had several questions I couldn't find answers to.

  • Are there any chances of a Research Assistantship at ETH that could pay my cost-of-attendance?
  • What are the chances of PhD in well-reputed universities/research groups and job opportunities at both places? From where would it be easier to get a PhD/research post at the lab of my choice after completing MS?
  • Will ETH be stronger on the theoretical basis standpoint and CMU on the practical standpoint respectively? Will there be a balance of both or will one university offer a better balance than the other? I personally have the impression that CMU will focus more on the engineering aspect and how to build solutions and on the other hand, ETH will be deeper into the theoretical aspects and less so into the implementation parts. What are your thoughts?
  • Will the election of Trump affect foreign students in terms of the flow of funding, etc? Or are those things entirely in the hands of the university?
  • Has anyone have had any experiences with ProdigyFinance? Good or Bad?

It would be great to know about pros and cons I should consider and have missed (in the above list) or any misconceptions I have about the two universities (from the above). Both being top universities I am finding it extremely difficult to separate the two offers and I would love to hear your thoughts on the same. Thanks.

What is the different between cost of attendance and tuition fees cause based on the study guide PDF it just 580 chf/semester which is only 2320 chf(estimated 2 year of doing masters),where did you get 20.000 chf number cause i'm curious.

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