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I graduated from university last year with a bachelors degree in Mechatronics Engineering. Good learning and GPA is quite good. I have planned to do a Masters degree from the US next fall with a focus on data science (I am very much interested in learning all of computer vision, data visualization, machine learning and using these to solve practical problems eventually - I have made some projects related to these in my undergraduate as well). Unfortunately, where I live in the third world, there are barely any work opportunities in this field and most which exist require years of experience and/or a PhD.

I have been working in a Fortune 500 company as a service engineer for the past 4 months. It's a bit stressful and the job feels quite menial because while there is quite a bit of work to handle, it's simple (replacing parts if a machine breaks down, sending emails, etc) and in terms of actual learning there isn't much. My manager told me this as well. I only get time to research and work on my personal projects after work. But because I have to travel and work overtime quite often, I tend to "miss" a few days which ruins my flow of learning. Case in point is when I was about 25% of the way through a machine learning book but then later hadn't touched in the past 2 weeks because of excess work. So I have to start all over again.

So recently I was thinking to quit and work an easier job I've been offered (which again is not too related to the field I want to get into, but nevertheless a job is a job) that gives me more free time. I even considered the option of not working at all and taking several MOOCs (I feel like there is a lot of good material there), learning as much as possible related to the field of study I want to pursue for the year I am still here. For the record, money is not an issue for me, although not working an actual job at all feels very degenerate and does look bad on the CV.

So my question is: what do the universities really want to see and what would help my chances of getting admission? Corporate experience? Should I sacrifice my "good" Fortune 500 job for an easier one to work more on my personal projects / research? Will this help more because I can mention more things related to my field of study in my SOP? For example I want to further improve some of the things I've made in undergrad but it's hard to find the time to do that with the job I'm currently doing.

Advice would greatly be appreciated. Please let me know if I have been vague anywhere as well.

  • In which country did you earn your bachelor's degree? Do you know if it is similar to a US degree or more like one from UK/EU? – Buffy Aug 23 '18 at 15:17
  • It is similar to a US degree. – rayanisran Aug 27 '18 at 19:20
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My suggestion is that you continue your job as Master's programs in engineering departments in the US (at least for many schools) value the experience in the industry before taking on a Master's degree. As for personal projects, it is always useful to be able to present a few in your application materials; however, don't feel like you have to learn everything about computer vision, machine learning etc. before you apply for the schools. It is what the degree is for.

Having done some amount of work is surely useful, as it shows your genuine interest in the field and being able to effectively articulate why you want to study a certain field in your application statement also carries some considerable weight when it comes to admissions. You can try to focus on a single, but a considerably impressive project on a related topic and present it in your application, rather than trying to take all the MOOCs out there (although Andrew Ng's courses are quite useful).

  • Hey. Thank you for your advice. I decided to continue the job for a couple more months, but I've recently found a research engineering position that aligns more with my interest. I've greatly valued the experience I had at my industrial job, from how to behave in a corporate environment to how to handle most tasks, but ultimately did not feel it contributed significantly to the career path I wanted to pursue. Helpful advice about trying to learn everything related to computer vision as well - I just feel I lack somewhat in comparison to many other candidates for a somewhat competitive program. – rayanisran Aug 27 '18 at 19:24
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This question basically comes down to a classic: Industry Experience vs. Personal Experience.

In my experience, there is no experience as valuable as Industry experience. Engineers often end up employed in positions that aren't quite what they want to do or study, because a lot of engineering now happens between the lines, instead of within them (for instance: I work with a lot of people who have degrees in Electrical Engineering but are employed as Software Engineers because our department does quite a lot of both, and in the real world, the lines are blurry at best).

When considering what programs are looking for, what they really "want" is evidence that you will be successful within their program, and that afterward you will be able to be successful, preferably within your chosen field of study. The more successful you are, the better that looks for the educational institution you are attending. That is why they use statics like, "6 months after graduation, 87% of our graduates are employed, with 89% of those being in their field of study." to attract new students.

You are currently employed as an Engineer. That is a huge bonus, even if it isn't the right type of engineer. It proves that you are employable, and competent, in a real working environment. That speaks volumes more to your capability than any amount of personal projects ever could. Personal projects are nice, and can show where your passion is, but the ability to hold down a solid, paying job is much more important.

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