Queen's School of Computing

Questions About Graduate Study in CISC

What reasons are there for attending graduate school?

Graduate school gives you a chance to gain in-depth knowledge of an interesting area of Computer Science. You gain experience in working in a research environment and working on a large problem. Graduate students enter industry at higher levels than undergraduates.

Graduate school gives you freedom to study interesting problems in depth. Whereas an undergraduate student has many time constraints (lots of courses, each with assignments and deadlines), a graduate student has far more choice on how to spend his/her time, what problems to study, what type of work to undertake. When you obtain a graduate degree, you indicate to an employer that you are eager to work on interesting problems in a self-directed way.

How much will it cost me to attend graduate school?

Some financial support is given to all CISC graduate students at Queen's. The same is true for many universities in Canada and the United States. Financial support for top students is typically enough to cover tuition, books, and modest living expenses. Other students receive lesser levels of support. Students can augment the level of financial support by obtaining scholarships from NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarships), etc.

How long does it take to get a CISC graduate degree?

The CISC Master of Science program at Queen's typically takes four terms (16 months). Some students take longer, depending on the thesis topic and the nature of the work. For example, a thesis that involves implementation and testing of a prototype system often takes more than four terms to complete. Here is a sample schedule for a student who begins the Master's program in September. In the fall term, take three courses and find a thesis supervisor. In the winter term, take one course, do background reading in the thesis area, choose a thesis topic. In the summer term, carry out thesis research. In the fall term, write up the thesis, defend it, and graduate. (For several of these terms, the graduate student will also act as Teaching Assistant in an undergraduate course.)

A Ph.D. program typically takes another two to four years after the Master's program. Most of this time is spent on thesis research rather than course work. A Ph.D. prepares you for a very exciting and rewarding job: you can become a university professor! Also, you are well-qualified to work in an outstanding industrial research laboratory, such as Xerox PARC, Bell Labs, or IBM T. J. Watson Research Center.

I am really unsure about whether I should work in industry, or whether I should attend graduate school. What do you suggest?

Get information about research programs that you might participate in as a graduate student. You can talk to your professors about their research programs. Many faculty members post information about their research programs on the web. You can try to get a summer job working with a professor, to see what the work is like.

A combination of work and graduate school can be ideal. You could work for a few years between undergraduate and Master's study, or between Master's and PhD study. Work in industry gives you valuable experience and insight. However, an industrial position may not give you as much opportunity to pursue your own ideas as you would like. Graduate school does give you this opportunity. Many companies in the computer field will support your studies financially, if you wish to return to graduate school, and afterwards continue working with the same company. Several CISC faculty members (including Dr. Blostein and Dr. Dawes) worked in industry for a few years before finishing graduate school. We were very happy to obtain this mix of experience.

How do I apply for graduate school in CISC? What is the application deadline?

This year (2000), the deadline for applying for CISC graduate study at Queen's Queen's is March 1; please check the Graduate Student Handbook for the latest, most up-to-date information on the application procedure.

Can I apply for graduate school in CISC even if my undergraduate degree is in a different area?

If you have background in CISC as well as a first-class undergraduate degree in another discipline, you can apply for admissions as a preparatory student in the CISC Master's program. The minimal CISC background required for this program is as follows: you should know the material taught in CISC courses in the first few years of our undergraduate programs. This includes all of the required the first and second year undergraduate CISC courses, and a couple of third year courses.

Can I take a graduate course while I am an undergraduate?

A student in fourth year with a first class average may apply to take a CISC graduate course in place of a 400 level CISC course. The student must obtain approval from the department and from the course instructor. If the student later enters a graduate CISC program at Queen's, this course can not count toward the graduate degree.