Denison Grads in Grad School: PhD in Computer Science

Andrew Read-McFarland

Andrew Read-McFarland

Denison Graduation Year:  Class of 2017
Denison Majors:  Computer Science; Math
Graduate Degree Type:  PhD in Computer Science from University of Rochester, Class of 2022
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Describe the process you went through while selecting your graduate school and career pathway: what impacted your decision?

I had opportunities to engage in research while I was at Denison, and I loved doing it, so it seemed natural to go pursue a PhD. I went for theoretical Computer Science as it was a good mix of my two majors, and was the subject that interested me the most. My favorite classes I took at Denison were on that subject as well.

What challenges did you face on the way to or during graduate school, and how did you overcome them?

Deciding on which graduate school to attend is perhaps an even bigger decision than choosing where to do your undergraduate. The main difficulty I had was in deciding where to go. I found that visiting the institutions I was accepted into really helped a lot with this, as I got a sense for the environment and could actually meet my advisor. Also, you’ll likely be moving fairly far away, so it’ll be like coming to college all over again. You’ll have to make new friends, and find new activities to do. Luckily for me the environment in the department helped a lot with this, so I was able to get my social life going quickly, but in general, this should be a concerted effort new students should make. If your entire life is school, it won’t be a good experience.

What has been your favorite part of your graduate school experience so far?

I really enjoy the ability to solely focus on research. I got a taste of that when I did research at Denison during the summer, and I get to do that year-round at Rochester! It’s exactly what I came to graduate school to do, and I’m really enjoying it.

What are your professional plans post-graduation?

Right now I think I’m most likely to want to go teach at a university once I graduate.

What advice would you give a current Denison student considering a graduate program like yours?

PhD programs are a big commitment. They take a good while to complete (usually at least 5 years), and are a lot of work. This shouldn’t discourage you from applying, but it should be something you are sure you want to commit to. Your main focus will be research, so you should enjoy doing research. If you don’t, you will not enjoy the experience. If you decide that you are interested in pursuing a PhD, visit every school you get accepted to and are seriously considering. Make sure that the environment is something that you want, and you get along well with your advisor. While your main focus in a PhD program is your education, it’s still part of your life, and you should enjoy it. My advisors at Denison pushed me to visit and it really affected my decision of where to attend. Finally, treat the program like a job. Most of your work will be fairly unstructured. That is, you can work on it whenever, and there’s really no set “completion” of the work. It can be really easy to fall into working almost all of the time, but work-life balance is important. So treat it like a job, and put in good work, but make sure to give yourself free time.