UMass CICS MS Advising

MS presentation S19


  • Are you my advisor?

Assuming the title of this page applies to you, then yes.  Keep in mind I am also the advisor to 320+ other MS students and it isn’t my full time job.  So while we won’t be taking long walks on the beach to talk about your life, I am here to try and help.

  • Can I meet with you?

Most professors work 9 months of the year on teaching, research, advising (and other service).  The remaining three months are spent on research (and perhaps seeing the sun).  During the semester I hold regular office hours (posted on my web page).  During the summer I am rarely physically in my office and am doing research and work elsewhere.  So I can’t meet you in person during the summer, but I try to answer email as best I can.

Tracks and Concentrations

  • I have questions about the research and professional track.

The tracks are completely informal.  They are just a set of general hints about what courses you might want to take.  You do not select a track formally and there are no requirements.  It doesn’t appear on your transcript or diploma.

  • I have questions about the Data Science Concentration or Certificate.

I do not advise students on the Data Science Concentration or Track.  You should contact Ben Marlin.

  • I have questions about the Security Concentration.

I do not advise students on the Security Concentration.  You should contact Brian Levine.


  • “No more than 6 credits may come from independent studies and/or pass/fail” . Does 701 count as an independent study?

Oddly enough, no it does not.  So you could take 6 credits of independent study (696) and 6 credits of 701.  701 also counts as a >=600 course.  701 requires two readers and 696 only requires one.

Picking courses And Registering

  • What are the requirements?

Your starting point for understanding the requirements is here: . Also make sure to read the sections on core courses and course requirements.

  • Which course should I take?  Can you help me pick courses?

Which courses you pick are entirely up to you as long as you meet the requirements.  Your choices depend on your interests, what courses you have taken so far that you liked, and courses you might think will be helpful to your career.

  • I am about to register for courses and I have planned out all 3-4 semesters.  Does this plan look good?

My best advice is to stop overthinking the problem.  You do not need to plan out you entire MS before you start.  My recommendation is to wait until the next registration to do any more planning.  Since you are just starting you don’t really know what you are going to enjoy.  You may find a faculty member you really like and want to take another course from.  You might find a new seminar or course, or something may not be offered when you want.  So take it one semester at a time at the beginning.

  • Is course XXX hard?  Is this combination too much for me?

Student abilities vary and it is very hard to predict what will be difficult for you.  Some students struggle with theory, some with systems, some with AI.  We do periodically survey grad students about how much time they spend on particular courses.  The most recent results are here.

Our one recommendation to MS students is to not take 611 (Algorithms) or to take it with a light load.  It is our hardest course (though most students also say it is our best).  Algorithms for Data Science tends to work better to satisfy the theory core.

  • What courses are available in the summer?

CICS has a few in security and affective computing.  Keep in mind that you can take courses outside of the department that can count (see the CICS webpages for guidelines on how many and what).  So if you can find courses at UMass in another department during the summer, those work.  To find courses you need to look in Spire as the list is constantly changing.

  • Why do you recommend international students take three courses and US students take two in their first semester?

Because Visa rules make us have MS students take three courses to be full time students.  Really we would love to recommend every student take two in their first semester to acclimate to graduate courses.  Graduate courses are typically twice as much work (or more) than an undergrad course.

  • Why do you recommend that the third course in the first semester be “non-technical”?

See the reason in the previous question. In your first semester we want you to get used to graduate courses.  “Non-technical” is probably a bad term though.  We just mean something that is less work.  A course in math or stats might be less work for you, but you just have to look at the offerings across the University and compare it to your skill set.

  • Can I audit/sit-in on a course (grad or undegrad)?

You should check with the person teaching the course.

  • What courses are offered and when?

You can get a general idea from here.  But ulltimately you will just have to look in Spire during registration.  Courses change, professors come and go or go on sabbatical etc.  So we can’t promise that any particular course will be taught when you think it will.

  • I am trying to register for a course that I want and it is full.  I really want to take this class!

As of Fall 2018 we use the SPIRE waitlist to manage enrollment in full courses.  Read about how to do this here:

When there is a lot of interest in a course we will often try to increase the size of a course.  I don’t personally know the details of ongoing changes in each course.

  • Can I take more than 12 credits?

Yes, though we *highly* recommend against it.  We don’t even recommend taking 12 credits.  The form to override this is here:


  • Ugh, I got a grade I don’t like.  The professor is completely unfair.

I do not have the power to change any grades or to force a professor to change any grades.  #1 thing to do is to go see the professor in person.  Email does not have all of the nuance of an in person conversation. I am happy to give you advice about how to speak with professors, and I would like to generally know about any problematic grading situations, but I am here to advise you.

  • Can I use the University’s grade replacement system to wipe out an F?

Unfortunately, no.  That is only for undergraduates.   You do need to have a 3.0 to graduate with an MS, but keep in mind this is a 3.0 across all of the 30 credits you are using to graduate.  If you have an extra class that was an F (which you can’t use for the MS since you need a C), it won’t count in that GPA.

Doing research

  • How do I start doing research?  How do I find a faculty advisor?

Every professor is different.  You can’t think of a faculty as a company where there is a set of rules or procedures for research.  In reality it works more like a club.  Start by identifying an area that you want to do research in, then see if you can find faculty members to speak with.  Some will offer independent studies to MS students, some don’t.  Some have 0 MS students they work with, some have 40.  Some will want to see you get an A in their course, some do not.  It is truly an individual experience, but generally you will have to take the initiative to find an advisor.

  • Research is great, how do I get into the PhD program?

Admissions for the PhD is separate so you will have to apply as normal.  Keep in mind that our PhD program is even more competitive than the MS program.  The thing that will really put you over the top is to have a faculty member say that you should be admitted to the PhD program because they want to work with you (really that should virtually guarantee admission).


  • Can I work to help pay for my degree?

There is a job board here.  You can work (Visa rules limit this to 20 hours per week for international students).  You cannot hold a research assistant (RA) position that results in a tuition waiver as was explained in your admissions letter.

  • Do you have a co-op program?

We do not.  You can do an independent research project in conjunction with a company, but it has to be supervised by a faculty member at UMass.

Visa/International issues

  • Can you tell me about the following visa issue?

US Visa law is really complex and I am no expert. Because the penalty for me being wrong is so high I would ask that you work with the IPO office to sort out any Visa issues.

  • Can I do a CPT?

Yes, but only after two full time semesters here.  If you start in the Spring, you can’t do one the first summer.

  • Can I do a CPT during the Fall or Spring semester?
It is virtually impossible to meet the requirements to do a CPT during the semester.   The rules are complex, and sometimes poorly defined, but our understanding boils down to:
  1. You must be full-time (9 credits)
  2. You can only take one course per semester that doesn’t require your physical presence
  3. You must take at least one course that requires your physical presence here (in presence faculty meetings for 696 would count)
  4. In your last semester you don’t have to follow rule #1, but you still have to meet requirement #2 and #3.
  5. You cannot delay your graduation.
So….if you are in your last semester this Spring and think that you can take 696 remotely and work at Amazon in Seattle, you can’t.  If you have no courses left to take, you can’t do a CPT because of rule #5.  You can work from Amherst remotely or at a local company, but in all cases we will have a conversation about exactly what you are doing and where.  Please do this before interviewing.  All of this is for your benefit to make sure you don’t run into serious problems in the future.
  • Can I stay for another course after I finished my requirements?

Unfortunately, no.  Once you finish your requirements we can no longer approve you as a full-time student for a student Visa.

  • Can I do 701 by taking 6 credits in one semester, taking an incomplete and then finishing the incomplete in my last semester?

Ad of Fall 2019, you should take 701Y (Y for year-long) which carries three credits in each of two semesters. You will receive a “Y” for the first 3 credits, and then you will receive a letter grade after all 6 credits are complete.  This does not affect your credit requirements for Visas.  But you could take 9 credits in a Fall, including 3 credits of 701Y, then complete 701Y with 3 credits in the Spring.  Since the Spring would be your last semester, that qualifies you for full-time status.