Why I Chose to Attend Grad School

Monday, September 16, 2019

Graduate school application season is here, so I’ll be starting off my blog with a graduate school series! First up, I’ll be talking about why I chose to apply and attend my respective institution. 

I’m currently a PhD student in Computer Science at Cornell University studying Computer Vision and Information & Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD). As a young adult, I always loved the idea of attending graduate school but it took me a while to figure out the exact path I wanted to take. Fortunately, I had the privilege of participating in summer research experiences, mentoring groups, and preparatory programs that supported my journey to graduate school and I’m here to share this with you all!

How did you choose where to apply?

My mantra for applying to grad school is that I would only apply to a specific university I would attend if it happened to be the only place I was accepted to. I also wanted to attend a top program in computer science, so making my choices based on these two main criteria simplified my options pretty easily. In grad school, it is important to find professors in a specific field that you are interested in working with, so you can’t choose a school based solely on its name or reputation. I used a handy website (http://csrankings.org) to factor out university rankings based on specific areas within computer science and then found professors in those disciplines that I would want to work with. Also, I was not picky about location or climate (even though I would have preferred to stay on the west coast), but that is a major factor for many prospective students to consider.

Why did you choose to attend Cornell?

During the second semester of my senior year after a receiving acceptances from graduate schools across the country, it was time to make some visits! Due to my hectic schedule and having to finish up my senior project, I was unable to visit every school but I did make it to my top choices. During my spring break, I flew over 2500 miles across the country to visit Cornell and Princeton and knew that I would have a tough choice ahead. I knew that I would be happy with either choice, but these institutions are so different culturally and academically that it was important for me to take everything into consideration. 

Collage of buildings at Cornell and Princeton
Fortunately, my decisions weren’t based on weather because there was snow in March at both places! (top: Princeton, bottom: Cornell)

Princeton Computer Science Visit Day

I’m not sure much how this factored into my decision, but I visited Cornell first and it really set the tone for my subsequent visits. When leaving, I felt a twinge of sadness and knew that I wanted to come back. Even though I had never heard of Ithaca, NY a day in my life, my visit to the Computer Science department left me fulfilled and reinforced the idea that I could survive as a Black woman in a department where I would be one of few who look like me. I loved visiting Princeton as well, but I only saw one other underrepresented student at my visit (who I coincidentally met at a conference 7 months later!) and didn’t get to interact with current students as much as I would’ve liked. Most importantly, the faculty in the research areas I was interested in pursuing were a bit more established at Cornell and I knew it would be easier to switch or add research interests (which I ended up doing!).

Are you happy with your choice?

I can say that I’m extremely content with my choice to attend Cornell for graduate school! The graduate school here is unmatched in terms of support and opportunities and I couldn’t have chosen a better institution for this journey. I’ve had my struggles along the way, but the supportive communities I’ve cultivated across campus and within my department keep me motivated!

Have questions about applying to grad school, life as a graduate student, or Cornell in particular? Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or through email!

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