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I graduated from Dept A with a master degree, and then pursued a PhD in Dept B (which is applied math). But I left the PhD program in B this fall. I am now applying to some CS master programs (including some professional master programs and non-professional ones).

My research in Dept A used some computer programming and machine learning methods, although A isn't CS. In Dept B, however, most of my experiences were taking courses and doing TA, and very little research in stochastic processes.

I asked my previous research advisor in Dept A for a letter of recommendation. He politely say no, because we didn't have academic interaction in the last three years after I joined Dept B. Also I guess that the fact that I didn't finish PhD in Dept B may be another reason. Note that he recommended me when I applied to PhD program in Dept B, and he knew little about computer programming.

So I find some professors in Dept B, whom I took probability and stochastic processes courses from or was a TA for. I was wondering if their recommendation letter will help my application to a CS master program (including some professional master programs and non-professional ones), given that these are two different areas and my experience with CS was mostly from my master study in Dept A?

Does recommendation from my previous research advisor in Dept A really not help much, because our collaboration was too old, compared to recommendation from the professors in Dept B?

What if I am applying to PhD Programs in Statistics, instead of CS master programs?

  • The last line left me feeling confused. Are you applying to a CS masters program or a PhD in statistics? – Faheem Mitha Oct 4 '13 at 8:56
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    It might help if you told us what A and B are. (Unless you're at Indiana, which until recently actually had departments called A and B in the school of informatics.) – JeffE Oct 4 '13 at 11:02
  • @FaheemMitha: I now apply to CS master, but later I may apply to statistics or related (such as CS) PhD depending on whether I can retake my GRE. I still have the academic dream, but as an international student whose age is 33, I am afraid that the perspective of my job hunting after pursuing again a PhD might be slim. – Ben Oct 4 '13 at 13:33
  • Hi. CS and statistics are relatively far apart, though there are areas like machine learning that overlap. I know a little about both and have a PhD in statistics. I'm not clear what purpose would be served by a MS in CS followed by a PhD in statistics, unless you already have in mind a thesis topic that is related to both. It sounds like you should try to figure out what you want to do. I realise this isn't relevant to your question, but it is still worth saying. – Faheem Mitha Oct 4 '13 at 16:15
  • @FaheemMitha: You are right. I am not sure if I can go for a PhD in statistics, since I didn't finish my PhD in Applied math and statistics (where my study focus was on probability, stochastic processes and optimization, and a little less on statistics). I am 33 yrs old, and an international student in U.S.. I have been in a big dilemma. What job chance will I have even after I can finish a PhD in statistics? What kind of graduate school will admit me? CS master seems easier for me to find a job, but now my true love is statistics. – Ben Oct 4 '13 at 16:28
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When applying to graduate school (either PhD or Masters level), it helps to have letters from any past research supervisors or graduate programs. The fact that your advisor at Dept A refused to write you a letter means that you probably do not want that letter. Letters from people who only know you from class or teaching are not as useful as research letters, but they can still be helpful.

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