It’s been a little more than a month for me here. How different is studying at the University of Utah (the U) compared to my alma mater, Rutgers University (RU)?
For one, both schools have a block letter as their symbol. Both schools are big on football. Both schools are public state universities. But yet, there’s a remarkable difference in the experience.
The School of Computing at the U is a lot more effective at communicating its success than the CS Department at RU. I found this in multiple ways. The departments at the U are so well-organized that it is really easy to have a basic understanding of where each focus group may possibly be. Additionally, the size and facilities in each group directly reflect information about their funding and prestige. When it came to RU, personally speaking, I found it a bit hard-to-find. The various labs and offices were hidden away in a maze in the CS building or packed away in a cabin on the other side of a parking lot (I’m talking about you, CBIM.) While that may stand true, it would be a mistake to underestimate RU in its research capabilities: both schools have great researchers and labs.
As a Ph.D. student, it is important to an extent to know about funding opportunities and grants. I was extremely surprised here at the U when I found out about fellowship workshops for the NSF GRFP fellowship award. It was pretty interesting: multiple workshops by different people in the school, all of them aiming to assist students to write better applications. This was really important to me: I did apply for the fellowship during my time at RU as well: I did have guidance from the amazing Dr. Arthur Casciato, who really helped me through it and receives credit for helping me get an Honorable Mention. But it does make a difference when you have multiple sources motivating you here at the U to shoot for the fellowship: Prof. Tony Butterfield from the Chemical Engineering Department, as well as the Graduate Funding Success (GFS) Fall Symposium that occurred a few weeks ago. This definitely helped me understand the fellowship and provided me with resources to work on my application this year.
Teaching is an aspect that matters to me personally. I was heavily involved in teaching at Rutgers, and there were amazing opportunities, from FIGS to LA programs. Moreover, with the concept of “recitations” in the CS department, Teaching Assistants had more opportunities to teach. This is not to say that the teaching assistants at RU did a great job, but there were opportunities for them to practice teaching. The PhD program at the U has a limited one-year teaching mentorship requirement, which can be utilized well if planned. But however, teaching opportunities seem a lot lesser compared to the plethora of options at RU.
Community at both schools is something incomparable: the U has grown on me as much as I felt that RU was home. I’ve gone for fewer events here at the U, but that can be largely attributed to my hectic schedule (twelve credits of graduate-level classes, along with wrapping up summer research can do that to you.) I no more find myself short of breath walking up slopes (excluding steep ones), and the isolation that clouded my first couple of weeks has diminished. RU was an experience, and U is going to be a hell of one too.