NCSU Information [FAQ] : Fall 2009  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in ,

Its the time of the year when students aspiring to pursue Masters in the US are in a dilemma in finalizing a university. Some may haf finalized the university. Whether you belong to the former or the latter, you are sure to haf many Qs racing in your mind. I've been getting a lot of emails, wall posts, messages etc. regarding information about North Carolina State University (NCSU). The questions are all the same. Hence I decided to write a FAQ which will answer most of the Qs. Hope you find this blog post useful.

Q. Are there any chances of financial aid at NCSU for international students (Masters Students)? [This is the most popular Q]

A. NO. You need to be born with a golden spoon in your mouth to be funded at NCSU; be it in the CS or ECE department. There is almost absolutely NO funding at NCSU. If you are banking on funding for your MS then just forget about this university!

[Update] This was not to discourage anybody. The point is that nobody can guarantee your funding/scholarship being thousands of miles away. I have not seen a single person in ECE/CSC get scholarship right during the admission process. Most of the scholarships are awarded when the students work with a Professor for at least 1 semester, where the Professor gets to know the student and his/her abilities.

Q. How is the financial aid scene like at NCSU this Fall?
A. There are rumors that the university has cut some percentage of TA and RA funds. Hence getting funding at NCSU this semester would prolly be much much much and much more difficult now, if at all there are any.

Q. Does work experience help?

A. It surely does. Having an industry experience helps in academics, in projects students work for [under professors], while applying for internships, jobs etc. But it cannot be generalized that people with no work experience are left out. That is not true.

Q. How is the career fair like, at NCSU??
A. NCSU Career Fairs are organized at a pretty large scale. Its a big event and a huge number of companies and students [from many other universities, as well] participate in it. You can see biggies like Intel, AMD, Google, MS, Siemens, Cisco, IBM, Qualcomm, Broadcom, nVidia, NetApp, Mentor Graphics, Harris, Lockheed Martin etc. in the event. However, due to recession the job scenario for students [esp. the international students] is nothing to write about, currently.

Q. How about on-campus jobs at NCSU?
A. There are a few on-campus jobs. That is however, subject to availability. A lot of positions are held by the current students which may be vacant by December (when many students will graduate). Arriving at NCSU as early as possible may help [in the sense that you will haf lesser competition among your new-comer-peers]. But that doesn't mean you will get a job for sure.

Q. Can I change my major from CS/EE/CPE - Networks to CS/EE/CPE - General or from CS/EE/CPE - General/Networks Non-Thesis to Thesis option (or any combination thereof EXCLUDING BRANCH CHANGES - CS TO ECE AND VICE VERSA)?
A. Yes, one can do that. It must however be done asap [last day for change is before your second semester ends]. However at the time of change, if your CFR (certificate of financial responsibility) is older than 6 months, you will need to produce a fresh one as you will be issued a new I-20 due to change of major.

Q. How is the CS/ECE Networks department at NCSU?
A. AFAIK the Networks department is the best in the whole of the US. Almost the whole syllabus has been structured by companies like Cisco etc.

Q. How is the current internship/job scenario?

A. Not so good. Internships and jobs have taken a hit thanks to the recession. Its worser for international students as compared to the US citizens. However, everyone predicts that things should be fine in an year or so.

Q. How many courses can/should I take in the first semester?
A. Depending on the course difficulty and the individual's capacity one can take up 3 or 4 courses. The fee for either of them is the same. Be aware, though that the minimum number you are required to be enrolled in to maintain full-time student status in the US is 3 courses. This rule is relaxed only in the last semester where-in you may haf only 1 or 2 courses left for the completion of the 30 mandatory credit hours.

Q. Can I get books from my home country?

A. You most certainly can, if you've decided on the courses and emailed the course instructors asking them which books they'd like the students to refer to.

Q. How many credits do I need to obtain an MS degree? Can I delay my MS?
A. You need a minimum of 30 credits. Each department has specific requirements (you need to take certain courses which will enhance breath and depth in your field of study - true in ECE department, not sure about CS department). If you complete all those requirements then you will need to graduate (whether you complete all the requirements in 1.5 years or 2 years). For more information download the Graduate Handbook from your department's website.

Q. Any tips for CS/ECE/CN students?

A. Certainly! Work on your C/C++/Data Structures skills. You gonna need an unlimited supply of these capsules! Once you get here, you will be busy with projects during which time you will not get an opportunity to brush up these skills. Now that you are back home, utilize this time to dust off your programming skills and make it bright and shiny!

Q. Should I pay my first semester's fee by the due date indicated on the NCSU website?

A. The due date (usually July 31st of every year) mostly applies to the current students. New students might not haf even arrived by that date. So its better to mail the NCSU cashier's office and let them know of your arrival and request a later date for fee payment.

Q. How much is the average living expenses at Raleigh?

A. Including rent, food, utility bills it comes to about $550-600 per month. It also largely depends on your lifestyle.

Q. What about the medical immunization form?

A. Make sure you get a complete health check-up done before you come here and get the necessary vaccination done. The immunization form must be completed and signed by a registered medical practitioner (RMP). The form can be submitted after you arrive in Raleigh even though the due date mentioned on it is much earlier (But make sure you email the university and let them know that you will be submitting it after your arrival).

Q. Any useful links?

A. Of course!
Maitri: Indian Student Association [Contact them for airport pickup/temporary accommodation]
NCSU Bluwiki: A nice compilation of useful information
NCSU Newcomers Y! Group: A group to interact with your seniors and peers

If you are reading this post you may be interested in the following posts too:

MS in the US, a guide: Part ONE - Exams - GRE and TOEFL
MS in the US, a guide: Part TWO - Reporting scores and applying to universities
MS in the US, a guide: Part THREE - Reporting scores and applying to universities
MS in the US, a guide: Part FOUR - Applying for a VISA
MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE - Booking your tickets and packing your bags
MS in the US, a guide: Part SIX - Traveling to the US and initial days of stay
NCSU Specific Information

MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in ,

After a long gap I am here to complete the penultimate part of the series which deals which pre-departure information. I've decided to split the fifth part into two articles as I feel there is enough material to be penned down.

5) Booking your tickets and packing your bags

When done with the VISA work the next major task is to book your tickets and pack your bags. All this is to be done to make your initial days in the US a not-so-horrible-experience. Beginning the article with booking your tickets, if you are traveling to the US in Fall (July-Aug) you are most likely to come across a student discount offered by most of the airlines. Be sure to check with the airline or your travel agent about the discount. Be wary of some travel agencies who levy heavy taxes on the ticket. Also most airlines will allow you to carry 3 pieces of check-in (cargo) baggages if you show your I-20, which is proof that you are a student.

It is best to visit the airline office (or call them up/visit their website) and enquire about the tickets, discounts and baggage allowance. One thing you need to be careful about (and clear with your airline) is that if your port of entry in the US (the first point you touch in the US) is not your final destination (meaning you need to take a US domestic flight from that point to your destinaiton) you may be required to pay for your checked-in baggage. In domestic US flights, only the carry-on (cabin) baggage is free; not the checked-in ones. While some airlines may issue you a US domestic ticket with an airline that is their partner (and hence you won't be charged for baggage), in other cases however you may end up paying almost about $100 USD. Clarify everything before you book your tickets. Most of the airlines will allow you to block your ticket without paying anything. You are given up to a day (usually) till which you can confirm your tickets. One important thing to remember is that you may not enter the US before 30 days of the date of start of your graduate school.

The airline you choose to fly with may haf certain baggage restrictions (dimensions, weight etc.). You may check up their website, call them or visit their office to confirm this. Most of the airlines allow up to one 12 kgs carry-on, a small backpack/laptop bag (also carry-on) and 23 kgs check-in per piece (2 or 3 depending on the airline). If the bags exceed the dimensions or weight you may end up paying penalties. It may also so happen that you get through in your international flight but are made to pay heavily in the US domestic flight. So make sure you take care of this. Also, locking your checked-in baggage is not preferable in the US. The security authorities (TSA) may break open your baggage anytime. Hence, do not use normal locks/number-lock on the bag. Instead you can buy TSA approved locks (these locks can be opened only by TSA and you). You can get these locks in showrooms selling American Tourister, VIP etc. branded bags. They may cost anywhere between Rs.100-700 depending on the lock. Be careful about not packing any liquid/gels/toothpaste/deo in your carry-on baggage which is more than 3 oz (ounce).

Before you board the aircraft make sure you get your complete health checkup done, take all vaccinations (its better if you plan this as early as possible as some vaccinations will require you to haf a gap of 2-3 months), get your dental, eye etc. checkup done. Medical services are expensive in the US. Some universities will also haf a medical certificate to be filled up by a registered medical practitioner (RMP) declaring that you are free of diseases. Contact your university for any such requirement. Secondly, many universities require you to haf a health/travel insurance till the first day of classes (from where the university's health insurance takes over). Get an insurance if there is any such requirement (in any case it is a good idea to get a travel health insurance till the first day of your classes).

If you haf an Indian Driving License, get it along. In fact, if you can apply and get an International Driving Permit its a good idea to get it as well; tho some states may not recognize it. If you can get a letter from your car insurance company indicating that you've never claimed an insurance it may help reducing the insurance you pay in the US when renting/buying a car (tho this may not hold good in every case).

The next step to do is to obtain more information about the Indian Student Association (or any student association which takes care of new-student-arrival) and contact them. In my university, the Indian student association (aptly called "Maitri") is very active and helpful to the newcomers. They arrange airport pickups and temporary accommodation for the incoming students. You may wish to contact the association and avail of any such facilities if available. If there is no such association/group try to get in touch with students studying there. You may get this information from the department website. Try to get in touch with someone who can help you with your arrival and initial setup.

The next couple of paras will give details about what to carry and what NOT to carry. Stuff to get from India:

1) Food items - Bring all the masalas (garam, chat, sambar, rasam, haldi etc.), rice, dal enough for 2 people to last for at least a week. You may want to bring these items in sufficient quantities since they are are a bit harder/costly to get in the US - jeera powder, red chili powder, cilantro seed powder (dhaniya), spices etc. Carrying Pav Bhaji masala, chole masala, pani puri masala is also a good idea. You may also wish to carry read-to-eat stuff, dry snacks to survive during the first few days. Though you get all the stuff in the US, getting them with you saves you the hassle of hunting the Indian store during your first week of stay when you haf other things to worry about. Make sure you seal all the packs and put them in the check-in bags. You are better off not carrying salt and sugar. Do not carry any perishable items with you either. You may be fined otherwise.
[BTW, the food on the right looks yummy! Hafn't had such food since long! :(]

2) Utensils - The only utensil I'd suggest you bring is a pressure cooker (for 2 or 4 people, as the case may be). All other utensils are available here. Be sure to get extra gasket and weights for the cooker and also any spares applicable. A non-stick set is available for as less as $20 USD in Walmart. This is almost the same as what you get in India. It saves you the hassle of carrying all the weight. You may however opt to bring a small non-stick pan (flat bottom only!) for quick cooking during your initial days. You will also need at least a plate, bowl, wooden spatula, spoon-knife-fork, tumbler, small knife, peeler. Make sure the cutlery is 'microwaveable'. If possible get melamine ones instead of porcelain to cut down on the weight.

3) Clothes - Get casuals. People usually dress casually for classes here. They are mostly in Jeans, cargos, shorts and Ts. Do not get too many formals as you will hardly need them (you may need them when you attend Career Fairs and/or during your internships, if the company follows a formal dress code). Get information about the place of your study, the weather pattern. Its not a good idea to get heavy woolens from India. One reason being those woolens won't be sufficient if you are in a place which experiences heavy snowfall. Second, being they hog up all your space in your bag. You may however wanna get Thermal wear and sweater/jacket if need be. Get some shorts if the place sees 'hot' weather. You may also want to get sweatshirts/pullovers with hood. Getting a set of traditional Indian clothing to wear during Indian fest celebrations (if any, by the Indian students in your university) is a nice idea. Don't forget to carry an umbrella. You may also considering bringing blankets if you wish (linen).

4) Electronics - The frequency and voltage of power outlet in the US is different from India. So most of the electrical appliances (anything with a conventional transformer) won't work. However, some electronic items (like the cellphone, laptop, digicam battery charger etc. which haf digital circuits/ICs for power conversion) will mostly work. Make sure you get a round-to-flat-pin converter/adapter for universal voltage appliances (which can work at 60Hz 110V). You can also get appliances which use normal AA or AAA batteries. You can buy batteries and charger for cheap here. A recent tri/quad band GSM cellphone will work just fine in the US. You can also buy one here at discounted prices with the connection.

5) Books - If your university already has put up the list of courses and you've decided which ones to enroll into, then it makes sense to email the instructors of the courses and ask them which books they'd want the students to refer to. If the reading material is available in India then it may be cheaper to carry the books with your than getting here. You may want to get in touch with the seniors and get information on how to obtain good deals on text books in case they are not available in India. Also carry some stationary - pens, refills, eraser, clutch pencils and leads.

6) Misc. Items - You can also get some medicines for common illness (like cold, fever etc.) or if you are on medication along with prescription from your doctor. In case you wear specs or contacts, its a good idea to haf an extra pair in case of emergency. A swiss-knife could be of immense help. Carry a small sewing kit (neither your gf nor your wife will sew the button on your shirt here! :P). You may also wanna get an extra pair of lace for your shoes. Don't forget to keep any cables that you use for your gadgets (cellphone data cable, digicam USB cable, laptop/cellphone charger etc.). Optionally you may also get your calculator that you used during your engineering (not strictly a necessity but doesn't hurt to haf one).

Ending this part here. The next (and hopefully the last) part will feature Travel and Post-arrival information.

If you are reading this post you may be interested in the following posts too:

MS in the US, a guide: Part ONE - Exams - GRE and TOEFL
MS in the US, a guide: Part TWO - Reporting scores and applying to universities
MS in the US, a guide: Part THREE - Post admit work to be completed
MS in the US, a guide: Part FOUR - Applying for a VISA
MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE - Booking your tickets and packing your bags
MS in the US, a guide: Part SIX - Traveling to the US and initial days of stay
NCSU Specific Information

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Sourceforge Community Awards 2009 and Mac4Lin  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in ,

Do you use Mac4Lin? Do you like the Project? You can show your appreciation for the project by nominating it for the Community Awards 2009. Just click the nominate button below or on the right hand side. Select an appropriate category (e.g Best Visual Design etc.), leave any comments if you wish and Submit the nomination.


I thank everybody for their continued appreciation and suggestions. Your feedback is very important for the project development.

California calling.. 20 miles to go...  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in , ,

This is a song from Enrique's album - Seven. The song is apt for this post. Landed in San Diego, California yesterday. San Diego is the second largest city in CA and rated as the finest city of the US. Well, I could see that yesterday, why!

The San Diego International Airport is located just by the bay. So when the flight lands or takes off you can see the harbor along the side. Magnificent view! The photo expresses the details stronger than words (Click to enlarge. Photo courtesy: Google) I wasn't able to click any pics as it was just too cloudy yesterday. This airport is the busiest single runway airport in the US. Its astonishing to see how every take-off and landing is managed in this single-runway airport. Flights are seldom delayed.

The city is beautiful with palm trees all over the sides on every road. High rise buildings dot the city. The place I live in is called La Jolla. Its a suburb of San Diego. The place is pronounced 'lə-HOY-ə'. This place has a lot of Spanish influence; streets, buildings etc. mostly haf a Spanish name. We are yet to explore the area.

The climate is pleasant now with temperatures hovering about 15-16C. Summers are hot but not as hot as Raleigh, NC and so are the winters. Climate is somewhat closer to Bangalore (though winters are much colder).

A lot of technology companies exist in this area. I would be interning with Qualcomm Inc. in the Graphics Division for the next 3 months. They are responsible for development of GPU for mobile devices. The work would be interesting as it is related to my field of specialization.

More to come as we explore California...

Voting in India...  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in , ,

Its election time in India and polls are held state-wise. Being in the US I neither had the opportunity to vote nor to nullify my vote (well, if not for me I'm sure noticing my absence at the polling booth some smart@ss must've cast a vote in my name!). I remember the last time I got my finger 'inked'. I'd voted when in Bangalore just a month before I left for Raleigh.

This time I'm eager to see what the results would be since its a 'bigger' poll. Did you cast your vote? If yes, then what was the scene like at the polling booth? If not, then what was the reason for the abstinence? Did you not wanna vote or were you unable to? If you didn't wanna vote, did you know that you could nullify your vote? You can leave your comments to this post :)

On a lighter note, here is something which I couldn't resist posting. Haf a look at the Bachchan family in the pic... I fell off my chair when I first saw it! :P

Source: The Hindu