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Its been long since I wanted to share my journey towards my graduate school and what things transpired before the start of my Masters of Science in Robotics Engineering program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester MA, USA during Fall 2017 - 2019.
I share my preparations, my understanding of prerequisites for pursuing a graduate degree in robotics and the resources that helped me prepare for the program and last through the tough times as well.
MOTIVATION TOWARDS HIGHER STUDIES
I can summarize my undergraduate education as an experience that gave me the opportunity to explore robotics and related technologies. It made me believe that a career in robotics was what I wanted for life. It gave me ample exposure to educational and technological advancements across the globe and I acknowledged how robotics was the amalgamation of these developments and I wanted to be in the thick of things.
Towards the last few months of my junior year in the undergraduate program, I was fairly convinced to aim for higher education after graduation, preferably a masters degree, in robotics from outside India. While there were several countries with some reknowned universities and programs in robotics; universities in the US were the default preference owing to the popularity of high standards of education in the US as well as some uninformed notions I had developed without enough research. I
I was fairly confident of getting through the admission process and through to the top universities I wanted to study in. I aced GRE and TOEFL tests required for admission to the universities. Finally, it was time to apply to the univerities.
THE APPLICATIONS PHASE
My list of universities that were offering a masters in robotics included Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, Oregon State University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Pennsylvenia, University of Calfornia San Diego and Northwestern University.
Conclusion of the strenuous application procedure for each of these universities in January 2017 brought meant the onset of anxious times while waiting for the results from the universities. To my sheer disappointment, I started getting rejects from several of these universities and it shook me out. I confidence and self-belief about my skills and knowledge was shattered.
The most disastrous blow was a reject from CMU, my dream university - a university whose research work, professors and the robotics labs I had been following for long. Probably, everyone who wants to study robotics definitely knows CMU is a pioneer in the field and is one of the highly covetted robotics learning institutions in the world.
Eventually, I got an admit from Worcester Polytechnic University - the only university to get me an admit for the MS in Robotics Engineering program. My admission application to WPI was more following the tradition of applying to some top-ranked difficult-to-get-in universities, some mid-profile universities and some easy-to-get-in universities. WPI was somewhere on the border of a mid-profile to easy university.
The admit was like a slight reassurance that I was not dumb and my technical knowledge and credentials were poor but not completely useless. However, I was always determined to only study at CMU and thus the WPI admit, which I received on March 31. 2017, was merely a moral victory and I wanted to wait another year, work on my skills and apply again for CMU, next year.
But destiny had other things in mind and a fortnight later, on the last day of the admission acceptance deadline, I accepted the offer and decided to join WPI in Fall 2017 and not spend an year with uncertainty.
PREPPING FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL
The admission process had already sent me into an introspection spree where I aknowledged my mistakes and also the gaps in my skills. I had invested considerable time into learning computer programming, common robotics concepts and a few related tools and technologies. These main topics included Python and C++ programming, control systems and linear algebra.
I graduated out of the undergraduate program in May 2017 and had 3 months until July end to hone my skills and prepare before dealing with the dauting coursework of graduate school. While this time feels enough to get everything sorted, a fairly challenging task before starting school was choosing the courses for the Fall 2017 semester.
SELECTING THE COURSES FOR FALL 2017
Worcester Polytechnic Institute requires completion of 30 credit hours towards obtaining a Masters in Robotics Engineering degree. For my non-thesis program, it required taking 15 credits from core RBE(Robotics Engineering) courses, 3 credits from engineering context courses (related to management/leadership/entrepreneurship), 3 credits from a directed research/capstone project or practicum and the rest 9 credits could be from other courses.
Selecting courses for the Fall 2017 semester, meant acknowledging how important was it to select the correct courses that taught me what I wanted to learn actually. Robotics is an insanely broad field that spreads across electrical, electronics, mechanical and computer engineering. Thus, while there are certain vital concepts in robotics that involve robot manipulation, mobile robotics, robot control, robot kinematics and dynamics and robot perception; it is only incumbent upon a student to narrow the choices to a select few.
WPI offered a mix of in-class and online courses spread through core robotics courses and courses from the computer science department. The common courses included robot control, deep reinforcement learning, deep learning, foundation of robotics, parallel walking mechanism in robots and many more. I
Acknowledging the gravity of this
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