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I recently completed an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and unfortunately didn't realize my interest in attending grad school until my senior year. This means that I neglected to take advantage of many of the research opportunities presented to me like REUs. I graduated with a relatively good GPA, but no research to speak of.

For the last 6 months I have been working in industry as a Site Reliability Engineer, but I feel that before I apply for a masters in CS program I should have some research experience under my belt.

I have looked around to find some research opportunities but it appears that they are usually scoped to undergraduates (REUs) or graduates, not much in the way of postbacc roles.

I recently found out about "Research Software Engineer Staff" positions at places like UMich or jobs at the national labs where I would be helping to implement research projects, even if not researching myself. My question is, would this be worth pursuing to get closer to academia? If I can't find any true research opportunities, I was thinking I'd attempt this, since I could imagine that this sort of experience might be appealing to programs.

Any thoughts on this approach or any other ideas about research opportunities post-undergraduate would be appreciated.

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  • Is this question about study in US? Or where?
    – Buffy
    Sep 18 at 17:51
  • US, Sorry for leaving that out. Sep 18 at 20:04

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For study in the US it won't hurt but isn't likely to be necessary or improve your prospects by much. Some, not much. But given that you need to do something between now and the start date, sure, do it.

Note that many masters programs in the US are not primarily research focused. They are normally too short for serious research to be undertaken with any hope of completion in a couple of years. Also note that most of the competition for slots in masters programs won't have much of any research experience either.

Admissions committees will look at your grades, especially in major subjects, and at letters of recommendation primarily. If you are asked for a Statement of Purpose that can be an important way to demonstrate your seriousness and goals.

A job such as you suggest might be a way to get a letter of recommendation, but if the job isn't especially "academic" then others with more knowledge of your academics would probably be better.

A boost, yes, but only a minor one. Better than slinging burgers somewhere, of course. If you already have a CS bachelors then a job that is probably programming focused won't give you many new skills. I'd assume you have those already.

One advantage, though, of such a job is that it might help firm up your goals; watching researchers and taking direction from them. And it might be a fun way to spend your time while you wait for decisions.


I realize that this sounds pessimistic - maybe a bit too pessimistic. Actually, though, I think you are in a good place for acceptance given the question and what you say. Just be realistic about the application process. Make a broad search for universities, including some that aren't in the "very top" rankings.

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  • Thank you for the response. I think your points are good. Could you elaborate on your point about masters programs not being enough time for serious research? I am specifically interested in those programs with a thesis option as preparation for a PhD. If I couldn’t get suitable research experience during a masters program with a thesis then I am not sure where else I would get it. I thought it was uncommon to get admitted to PhD programs without research experience. Sep 23 at 1:15

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