Welcome back! Today, I am sharing detailed feedback by Melvin Thomas, who is pursuing MS EE from Portland State University and interning at AMD. This is what he wrote about the program in an email-
Feedback from MS EE student at Portland State University
I know that this is one the last options of many MS VLSI aspirants, if not an unconsidered option because of its unranked status. However, I would like to share few feedback from my time here that might help someone in our group in future:
- Digital IC Design was considered the best thing here and I also joined here for the same. But the Professor who was handling both the Digital IC Design courses has retired and it is no longer the flagship track here. As such Digital IC Design 1 and 2 are taught by a good professor only once a year and sometimes the first course will be taught by him only in Spring term which is the third term provided you join in Fall, and its pretty late to learn the core course then. Still, ASIC Design course is great and the Department are coming up with a separate Physical Design Course as well. ASIC Design will be taught in Winter and in Fall, before DIC1(by the best professor) in Spring and hence you may not be in a position to take advantage of his classes and take the succeeding courses with a systematic learning. But learning DIC1 is pretty manageable on your own irrespective of the Professor and that is what I did in my first term so that I can get the fundamentals early.
- Computer Architecture track is excellent here and have 4 courses for it and is taught by excellent professors and research scientists working in Intel. The questions asked for all the interviews are directly from the slides they teach even though they are application level question which you cannot answer without understanding the fundamentals. But the fundamentals are structured very well and even the advanced computer architecture courses are handled excellently.
- The in-demand red-hot winning track here is the Design Verification and Validation track and a high percentage of openings in the industry are verification positions and a large % of my batch mates, including myself, are working in Design Verification and Validation positions. It is excellently organized and taught and it is what fetches jobs here at this point of time.
- There are many professors who are not that great and few important subjects are taught by great professors only once a year. So making compromises with choice of subjects and professors are very common here to fit your schedule. This is one drawback but there is no other way around this.
Coursework, and Research
- The course offers great flexibility and you will end up completing multiple tracks by the time you graduate because one track’s core courses are another track’s breadth and depth courses. Few compromises have to be done to fit your schedule and planned coursework because learning systematically is very important. For me, staying ambitious with my courses has been vital and I have taken the risk of two tough subjects in one term just to leverage the options of being taught by good professors but that required full dedication in that term. Even while doing my internship I have opted for the course that adds value looking at the market, and not for the sake of taking a course to have a relaxed term. This is where many go wrong, but provided you work hard with total dedication, things are manageable and certainly rewarding with time.
- There is no research happening here. There is no funding for it. And there are only 2 or 3 “real professors” – others are adjuncts who either have strong industry experience with PhD or are instructors without a PhD – and it shows in the way they teach. But it doesn’t mean they teach bad, rather they teach differently as compared to a real professor. It then comes down to how much you want to learn and how much you try to learn from them and as long as you do it, you are still getting benefits – ultimately the learning happens but in a different way.
- Quarter system is really tough. There is no real time to grasp things as they are taught and also we don’t get time to do huge projects as compared to those in semester systems. Any slight slack off costs you so much as such and we have to be ambitious with projects and do additional projects during breaks to match our competitors.
- CS Department here is one of the worst. I strongly discourage anyone from joining PSU for CS. But ECE Department is glorious with respect to VLSI and especially Computer Architecture and Verification and it is going to stay so for the upcoming years. Also, the Embedded track here is not good. It is totally different from the coursework of other universities with courses that aren’t organized well and I strongly discourage anyone to join PSU for an embedded program.
- This is not an Intel place at least for the past few years. Intel is on freeze and very few have got any calls except the ones who have someone at a senior position to refer them. That being said, Intel is not the only company around and verification jobs are plenty in other companies.
- There are no career fairs here. Everything depends on your portal luck and mostly referrals help you. I got 3 calls through portals because I have a high CGPA (>3.9), and I am one of the few people to get this portal luck. Yet what is effective is someone to refer you and otherwise your portal luck never aids you mostly.
Scholarships, and Finance
- Getting a TA is totally dependent on your academic performance and rapport with the professors. There are many who had less GPA and who got an internship because they had someone to refer them in. But they could not get a TA because Professors do know your capacity from your grades and projects. I got 2 TA offers – one in my third term which is rare to be honest – and one currently and another Grader position. Being a TA covers nearly covers all the expenses of a term and paid me around $7000 for 3 months. Being a TA here is sometimes an easy task – you don’t have to take class, most of the time – rather conduct office hours and help them either then or via email and I never tried for an on-campus job – but no job could be better than a TA, especially when I am studying along and when it provides me flexibility with my timings.
- Portland is a fantastic place to live and study and its cheap. It is blessed with nature and for me with the right academics too and I truly enjoy being here. It was tough for me to make this decision because I was going to an unranked University but I decided to join PSU instead of UTD because of my financial situation. But my decision to join PSU quitting my job at HPE was one of the best decisions I made and I never regret coming here and irrespective of what people told me a year ago, I am doing my internship in a well reputed big shot company and alongside people from USC, UMinn, UPenn etc. – my journey is different, my route is different, but with support of all those who believed in me, including you, and with hard work and grace of God, I am on the right track well among the right mix.
- The academic standard of Indians studying here is poor. There are only a handful who are really ambitious and know things and do really work hard. So there is lack of competition here and all the terms I spend considerable time in figuring out how to say no to all the people approaching me for being their project partners. There are only few whom you can learn with. With that being said, I am working with people who graduated from UMinn, UPenn, USC etc. here in AMD and an unranked PSU guy is up with those people who are from the big brackets! – as you said, the reward of hard work irrespective of where you are.
Thanks for this honest feedback, Melvin 🙂 We wish you all the best always.
If I had to summarize, I would say that it is less about the school you attend than what you do there. If you know how to hustle, you can make it big from anywhere. Of course, starting from a school that helps you in moving towards your goal does put you at an advantage. But if you do not have a choice, do what Melvin did – made the best of what he had in hand and emerged victorious. I trust in you.
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