PhD in Computer Science: How and When?

My child is graduating from a pretty good undergrad program in CS and Math this spring and has applied to CS graduate programs both in the US (PhD) and in England (MS).

The long-term goal is a career in higher-end academics.

Of the 12 schools applied to (10 in US and 2 in England) we have only heard from 6. While it may be late to hear positive news from the remaining 6, we are happy that there have been two acceptances, one in the US for a PhD and one in England for an MS (apparently the British schools do not allow for application to their PhD programs until you have a masters).

My question is this: is it possible to defer the acceptance to the PhD program in the US in order the get the masters in England first?

While my child is anxious to “get on with it” with the PhD, I think after a rigorous Covid-infested 4 years of undergraduate studies, a 1-2 year experience in England to broaden oneself (and get a masters) before embarking on a 5-6 year PhD program sounds like fun to me.

Anyway, I wasn’t sure what was customary and with grad school admissions in CS getting so competitive, I don’t want to miss a chance at a top PhD program even if a masters would also add to an academic resume.

Any thoughts?

I think you’ll need to ask the school and soon, but I suspect most will allow it.

A PhD degree in the US typically includes a non-thesis based master’s degree along the way, if a PhD candidate so chooses. I don’t see a reason for getting a master’s degree elsewhere unless your C wants to apply later to a better CS PhD program than the ones s/he currently has offers for.

I seriously doubt a school will give her more than a one-year deferral. Also, if she really wants to do something “fun” in between, has she considered working for Google, Apple, or Tesla (for example) for $100k+/year?

I agree we will need to do something soon.

The masters in England would be more of a broadening experience, and selfishly it would be more fun to visit. As there are only one or two US programs in our child’s CS academic specialty that are ranked higher than where admission has already been granted, I am not sure that anyone is looking for a better offer.

That being said, perhaps a better offer is one what would allow deferral.

My child want to wait to ask for the deferral until all the options can be considered.

In the CS PhD world, given it is mid-march, if there are 6 schools we haven’t yet heard from, does that suggest bad news for those programs?

In some of those schools she may not be on the first list of admits. But it’s a bit too early to throw the towel. The more important thing she should probably start thinking about is who does she want to do a PhD with? A place with 2-3 faculty whose research program she’d really enjoy should have a lot of value in her mental ranking.

Since your C is going to get a PhD degree, a master’s degree isn’t going to add anything, unless it’s a research master in a different subfield that also requires a thesis (in which case it’s likely to be at least 2 years). The additional cost incurred for a standalone master’s degree also doesn’t make sense (a master’s degree granted while pursuing PhD is typically funded).

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Just spoke to C and the decision deadline for the admitted programs is April 15 so we have some time.

While the PhD program is 5 years with all expenses paid, I am not sure if the masters program is funded.

Does anyone know if 529 accounts can be used for graduate programs at non-US universities ?

If the department/university also grants master’s (almost all of them do, but check with the university), it should be, as long as the student is pursuing his/her PhD.

The deadline to defer and the deadline to accept admission might not be the same. I know of at least one top CS school where the deadline to defer is earlier, requires some paperwork and is not guaranteed. At least do a quick google of the policy at your school.

Also the results section of gradcafe is a good resource to check to see what is going on with your other six schools. Students post dates of acceptances and rejections and you can filter by school and major.

While grad schools may give your kid a one year deferral, they will likely not give a two year deferral, and they will definitely not give a “one to two year” deferral.

Furthermore, why? What benefit and what added value will a non-thesis masters in England have for your kid? If taking courses in a highly competitive university is your kid’s idea of “fun”, they have no need of a year off, they are ready to go. There is absolutely no reason to believe that classes are any more fun in England than they are in the USA.

I mean - if they consider taking two years of courses in one year to be fun, why do they need to take a break after their undergrad? They evidently just had a fun-packed four years.

If your kid feels that they need to take time off between their undergrad and PhD, have them do something really different, from getting a high paying job, as @collegebownd suggests, or taking a trip. But going to do another degree at a highly competitive university as a “break” between two other degrees? I fail to see how that makes any sense whatsoever.

My question is this: is it possible to defer the acceptance to the PhD program in the US in order the get the masters in England first?

Maybe! It depends entirely on the PhD program. Some allow deferrals; some allow them but only for specified reasons (my program only allowed it for military service or medical reasons), and some will ask you to reapply. They’ll have to ask them. Most likely, though, schools will not allow a deferral of two years. You can wait until closer to the April 15 deadline, but not too close.

However, I’ll say that deferring (or turning down) a PhD program for an MS is not necessarily a great idea. He certainly doesn’t need an MS before doing a PhD - it won’t necessarily benefit your kid much. An American PhD program will provide the MS material in the first 2ish years of the program. If they mostly wants to broaden themself, they can do that by taking a few years “off” - I wouldn’t pay for an MS for that purpose. I also don’t think an MS is a breather, especially not if he wants to go to a PhD program.

There are tech companies in Europe, and I agree that working abroad (or even volunteering abroad) would be a better option in the interim. Your kid would get valuable work experience and it would be less expensive.

In the CS PhD world, given it is mid-march, if there are 6 schools we haven’t yet heard from, does that suggest bad news for those programs?

It’s not the greatest, but it could mean that they’re on the list B of candidates - if any of the first list turns down the offer he might be next. Or maybe the pandemic is slowing things down. Who knows?

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Thanks to all that have responded. My child has become very independent in the almost 4 years of undergraduate and is unfortunately not asking for advice from parents. Child is also not driven by making money, so the tech industry path (like older sibling has followed) is of little interest. Career goals are to be a college professor in CS.

Extremely happy with the programs that have already offered acceptance. It was my child that suggested that a masters at Oxford was a path that some peers had taking before beginning their PhD programs.

My fear is that too many things are trying to be squeezed in and by doing so, something may get lost. Would hate to fumble a fully-funded 5 year PhD program by trying an unnecessary masters program even if living in England would be fun.

Only 2 of the remaining 6 schools we haven’t heard from could change the direction we are headed. The waiting is killing us. That being said, the PhD admissions process is much less stressful than the undergraduate process (which we have been thru 3 times).

Will post what ultimately happens.

The numbers game suggests that someone aiming for a tenure track faculty job needs to consider alternative plans in case they do not get such a job, or do not later get tenure. While the numbers game is probably less unfavorable in CS than in many other subjects (where research and student demand are shrinking, as opposed to growing in CS), there are still probably many times more CS PhDs granted than new tenure track faculty jobs each year. Fortunately, the alternatives are much better in CS than in many other subjects. Note that industry does have research jobs that would be more what a PhD graduate may be looking for.

However, it varies greatly depending on the PhD graduate’s area of specialty within CS.

It does seem to be something my S has seen frequently in the policy area at DC think tanks, where the international experience is seen as helpful. He’s certainly thinking about the possibility (partly because we are British and still have relatives there). But I’m not sure the same applies in Computer Science.

I guess my question would be how many of those people received funding for the masters vs paying for it. For example if you received a Marshall or Rhodes scholarship I think it would be a no brainer to take it over starting a PhD immediately at a US university.

Since the majority of CS PhD go into industry, the situation is actually pretty good for faculty positions in CS.

Before she moved, my wife ran a monster search at UIC where there were looking to hire 7 faculty members at once. They were unable to fill all of their positions.

Now while it isn’t MIT or UIUC, or another of the very top CS programs, it usually holds on at the bottom of the top-50 or close, AND it is in a city which is very popular.

Also, in CS even more than in other fields, PhD programs tend to look down on any CS department that isn’t in a research university. Mostly because teaching is not considered that important (in many universities, CS is one of the few programs which does not require students to be a TA for at least a semester before graduating). So, when my wife was doing her PhD, the idea that a CS PhD from UIUC would go to teach at a liberal arts college was shocking, even if we were talking about Harvey Mudd. Only research was valued.

This provides wonderful opportunities for CS PhDs who are looking for a job in a teaching university.

So, unless things change drastically in the next five or six years, and they definitely can, getting a faculty position is not that much of an issue in CS. Well, unless somebody really wants to only teach at a very top research university. But if that is not a requirement, academic jobs from CS PhDs are still pretty available.

Nearly every college is competing for them, even the top research universities. All of them want to expand their CS programs to accommodate, at least partially, the huge increase in demand in the last few years. Not only they’re hired but they’re also on the faster tenure track. How long the trend will continue is anyone’s guess.

One of mine was going to get a master’s in Europe before applying for a PhD. Circumstances changed plans (medical issues). Different field but…

My kid ended up in a US PhD program that had a master’s along the way, fully funded from the start. In the end this path saved a lot of money as well as time versus the European masters and US PhD originally planned.

I would think consistency in curriculum and faculty mentorship might also be an advantage with the PhD direct entry. And most likely teaching experience from the start as well.

I have another kid who majored in CS and has worked in industry for 14 years with just a BS. None of his co-workers have more than a BS but they are all talented.

I always assumed that university professors in CS would have substantial industry/work experience, but I guess in a research university CS might be more theoretical-? I am actually curious.

Not necessarily. Faculty hires are expected to have lots of research experience and publications on top of all the theoretical trainings. Many CS faculty members at research universities do consulting work for industry and some even hold dual positions in both academia and industry. They’re in demand.