Housing and Transportation
Hello Incoming CSE Graduate Student!
Welcome to the University of Michigan! We (the student organization for grad students in CSE) are glad you chose to join us in Ann Arbor. To make the transition into the grad program as smooth as possible, we want to provide you with some helpful information about the program, about the department, and about Ann Arbor.
First, you should join the Facebook group for incoming grad students: https://www.facebook.com/groups/237539559779778/ This group is for both incoming and recently added students, so it should be a good place to ask any questions that you have.
An important first concern is where you are going to live in Ann Arbor next year. If you are seeing this email, and do not currently have a place to live for the coming year, you should start looking immediately. Ann Arbor is a college town, and most of the rentals revolve around the academic school year. As such, many leases are signed in October for the following September.
Ann Arbor has several main neighborhoods where grad students and undergrads live. We will highlight each by general location, methods to get to the CSE building, and neighborhood style.
- North Campus. Generally the area around the University's North Campus and Plymouth road. Accessible to campus by walking and Ann Arbor bus. Usually a cheaper area to live in, and desirable because it is easy to get to campus. Pretty quiet after 9pm, as most restaurants and bars are downtown, although a campus bus runs downtown until around 1:30 AM on weekends. North campus also includes Northwood, which is run by the university and convenient to rent, but generally not regarded as a great place to live. There are also housing options just south of North campus which are closer to downtown.
- Old 4th Ward and Kerrytown. Box formed by Glen, Huron, and Main streets, and the river to the north. Accessible to campus by Michigan blue bus and Ann Arbor bus. Nice neighborhoods, but not cheap. Think $900+/month for a single, $700+/month/person for a two bedroom. Quiet, easy walk to downtown, and not terribly hard to get to CSE. May be a little tricky to find a place this late in the rental cycle, but bedrooms in houses are often available.
- Downtown. William, Liberty, Washington, 5th, 4th, and Main St. area. Ann Arbor bus or drive to campus. Probably the most expensive area in Ann Arbor, roughly $1200+/bedroom/month (but there are cheaper places if you can find them). Best for food and nightlife.
- Geddes. Area just south of Nichols Arboretum. Michigan blue bus or drive to campus. Nice place to live, but more populated with undergrads so likely to be a little louder. Not a far walk to the main central campus bus stop. Pretty easy to get downtown (Ann Arbor isn't that big).
- South. South of South University street. Michigan blue bus or drive to campus. Generally where undergrads live, although the residents tend to get older as you go south (away from campus). Can be tricky to find a nice place to live, as many of the houses are clearly undergrad houses.
- Rest of Ann Arbor. Basically you have to drive to campus. Cheaper and more options, but not great for student life. Not highly recommended, but grad students do live outside of the above areas.
- Ypsilanti. Drive. Cheaper yet, but nobody wants to drive out there, particularly in the winter.
To help, here are a couple websites that people have had luck with when finding a place to live in Ann Arbor:
A Google Maps apartment search is also very useful.
Most grad students do have a car (or get one eventually), but you can get by without one. It's not uncommon for students to arrive without knowing how to drive, and some students spend their whole Ph.D here without ever getting a car. However, having a car can make it more convenient to get groceries, get to the airport, or get to campus when you are late for a meeting. If you want to visit surrounding areas (such as Detroit) it is pretty much needed.
If you don't get a car, the university buses (Blue Buses) can take you between north campus and downtown, as well as to a few grocery stores (see more details here: http://pts.umich.edu/transit/). City buses will go farther out, but run much less frequently, so keep that in mind when choosing housing. A bike is a good option when the weather is nice, but keep in mind it can snow heavily in the winter. Also, note there’s a river basin between Central Campus and North Campus, so the bike ride is uphill both ways. Still, many people do choose this route and enjoy the exercise.
On the topic of transportation, you may often find yourself traveling to/from the Detroit Airport. The recommended transportation between Ann Arbor and the airport throughout the year is AirRide, which is much cheaper than getting a taxi. (See https://campusinfo.umich.edu/article/and-airport.)
Stay tuned for another email next month about taking classes as a graduate student. The basic guide on that front, however, is https://www.cse.umich.edu/eecs/graduate/cse/CSE-Brochure-2016-08.pdf (particularly sections 3 and 6, and the course matrix at the end). Plan on 2-3 classes per semester, and don’t worry about wait-lists keeping you out. Almost all Master’s and especially Ph.D students will get overrides during the first week of classes. If in doubt, email the instructor.
Hopefully this will help you get started. If you have any questions we encourage you to post on the Facebook group so as many people as possible can see it and can answer. These emails will also be posted to our wiki (https://wiki.eecs.umich.edu/cseg/index.php/Main_Page) so they can be referenced there.
In part two of our series we're going to go over some of what you need to know about taking classes as a graduate student. It's a pretty easy process, but you must register for classes at some point before the first day of classes and having time to think about it and ask other people doesn't hurt.
If you haven't yet, you should join the Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/237539559779778/). Also, all of these emails are posted here: https://wiki.eecs.umich.edu/cseg/index.php/Info:welcome_emails so if you have missed any just check there.
The defacto resource for fulfilling course requirements is this guide: https://www.cse.umich.edu/eecs/graduate/cse/CSE-Brochure-2016-08.pdf. Now, that guide can be hard to parse so hopefully what follows will give you some intuition about what classes you should take.
Classes fall into four categories: software, hardware, AI, and theory. Ph.D. students must take at least one class in three of the four areas, and Master's students must take at least one in all of them. Most of the 500-level classes follow a similar pattern: most of the course and lectures center around reading and discussing research papers, and the end focuses on a small-group based open-ended project. The 400-level courses vary from rather intense project based courses to weekly homeworks and a couple exams style courses.
Some classes are worth noting:
427 and 470: These are both major design experience classes for undergrads, and both have substantial projects (~1 month of full-time work) attached to them. If your interests lean towards hardware, it can be very useful to take 470 (427 leans more towards EE), but just know ahead of time that it does require substantial effort.
482: The undergrad OS course is regarded as a very useful course, but sometimes graduate students get tripped up because while the undergrads focus all of their effort on classes, graduate students are often trying to balance research activities. If you have experience with thread- and network-level programming you should be fine.
573: This hardware class is often chosen as an approachable and educational breadth course for students with little to no hardware background. It is a classic paper-reading class, with a semester-long design project.
592: This AI breadth requirement has an interesting history. It was formerly 492 as a combined undergrad/grad class, and bears similarities with its undergrad class heritage. Many students complain that it is not research paper based, doesn't provide a practical intro to machine learning, and largely instead goes over classical AI. Others appreciate looking at AI topics besides ML. Usually those with substantial prior algorithms and AI background think of it as tedious, and those with less prior background enjoy it.
Ph.D. students generally take 2 classes a semester (rarely more than that) and fill all remaining credits with research credits (699). Look to take classes that interest you or would help with the research you plan to do. Also, it's highly recommended to ONLY take classes that will check off a requirement towards advancing to candidacy. Be sure the classes you take will help you progress towards your degree. If the material in a class is highly relevant to your research it may be worth taking, even if it doesn't fulfill a requirement. When registering online for 699, there will be an individual class section corresponding to the research adviser you work with. It can be hard to find sometimes, but if need be you can ask your adviser for the section code to make the search easier.
Masters students generally take 2-3 classes a semester, and should also focus on classes that meet requirements (unless a timely graduation is less of a priority). Research credits don't provide much benefit to graduation, unless you are looking to continue on to a Ph.D., where having the relationship with an adviser can be very beneficial.
The official requirements for advancement and graduation are in the brochure linked above. Note that it is common for Ph.D students to get a Master's along the way basically by just taking an additional breadth course (Master's thesis not required).
Asking other students what classes to take (particularly students in your field) can be extremely useful, but for actual requirements consulting the guide or Ashley is a much better bet. Faculty members are usually not a good resource for class advice, as they focus more on undergrad education than graduate student courses.
Faculty (and other students) are good people to ask about when a class will be offered in the future (Fall/Winter), for help in planning out your long-term course schedule. Some are offered every semester, some once a year, and some only every few years. The classes that meet main requirements are usually offered regularly, however.
It is not unusual for some or all of your registered classes to be wait-listed. Sign up anyway. Professors will go through the wait list and waive many of them anywhere from a week before classes start to even a couple weeks after classes start. (You will probably get an email from the professor about his or her procedure about a week before classes start.)
Part of the reason for this approach is that many students will register for more classes than they will actually take. After attending the first couple of lectures during syllabus week, they then pick which ones to stick with for the rest of the semester. (This approach also provides a backup plan in case you don't get in to your preferred classes.) Thus, professors will adjust the wait list and registered slots to suit the students who actually show up to class. Ph.D. students generally get first priority (so if you are one, then you'll almost certainly get into any class). Master students come second, but usually make it in as well, depending on the class.
Moral of the story: Show up to the classes you want, but having a backup plan never hurts.
This is a pretty brief overview, but hits some of the highlights that come up often.
tl;dr: You can't go wrong taking classes that meet requirements, and don't take all of the hard classes in the department at the same time.
This is the last email of a three-part series letting you know about life here at CSE and UM. Here I’ll be giving you a little info about student life, and specifically CSEG, the student organization that underlies much of the activities that happen around here outside of classes and research. (Again, these emails are all posted here: https://wiki.eecs.umich.edu/cseg/index.php/Info:welcome_emails so if you have missed any just check there.)
Extra info on classes
Before getting into CSEG, there are a couple useful bits of information remaining about classes, which a few people have said they wished they knew earlier on, that come from the Rackham side of things rather than EECS.
First is the grading system. UM uses a +/- system for letter grades, which many people haven’t encountered before. The particular nuance to know is that both an A and an A+ count as a 4.0 for a course. So why bother getting an A+? Well, it turns out that while there is no difference between an A and an A+ for a semester grade, that + will contribute what one might call bonus points toward your overall GPA. The max GPA is 4.0, but this means that it is technically possible to not have straight A’s and still graduate with a 4.0, if there are enough A+’s to counter the non-A’s.
Still, many people actually advise that if you’re getting straight A’s in all your grad classes, it means you aren’t spending enough time on research. (no joke!) Don’t let that stop you from putting your best into whatever you undertake though! :)
The other item is that Rackham requires pre-candidates to take at least 8 credits per semester to be counted as enrolled full-time (or 6 credits if holding an assistantship). This mostly means that if you aren’t doing a GSRA or GSSA, you should double check that the courses you’ve signed up for total at least 8 credits.
Now some info about CSEG!
CSEG is the acronym for the Computer Science and Engineering Graduate Student Organization. It’s not like your average student org, in that there isn’t some sort of special membership process, or things you have to do as a member. All CSE graduate students are automatically members of CSEG, and all that means is that there are a group of CSEG officers whose job it is to represent you and mediate between you and the department, as well as to organize activities and resources that improve everyone’s experience here at UM. (Being a student org means we can apply for funding for various things.) Welcome to CSEG!
There are several things CSEG regularly does or provides that you should know are available to you:
- Wednesday Social Hour (“Tea Time”)
Every Wednesday at 4:30pm CSEG hosts a social hour (which everyone calls “Tea Time”), that is open to everyone. It’s basically free food and a chance to meet new folks. Usually it takes place in the alcove by the 3rd floor elevator of Beyster, and sometimes on the 4th floor balcony when the weather is nice. Each week is hosted by a different volunteer(s) from among the students, who bring the snacks of their choice, reimbursed by CSEG.
- Monthly Activities
CSEG also tries to organize special events every month or so. For example, in the past we’ve had volleyball tournaments, bar crawls, ice skating, and kayaking.
- Game nights
Every Thursday night around 7:30pm there are also board games in the Beyster atrium. Sometimes there are snacks!
- DIY Lunch Meets
Those who pack their own lunches each day sometimes gather on the 4th floor balcony in Beyster around 12:30 to eat together (or in the grad lounge on bad-weather days).
- Beginning/End of Year BBQs
At the beginning of every fall semester, the students hold a welcome BBQ for everyone. This will probably be the first student-run event you encounter, as it’s become part of the CSE welcome week and orientation schedule. Keep an eye out for it! Then in May, we hold our annual End-of-Year BBQ, at which time we also hold CSEG officer elections for the coming year.
The grad student lounge is by the stairs on the 2nd floor of Beyster, which has some TV equipment and a few games available for you in addition to tables and comfy chairs. That’s also where CSEG stores our volleyball, which CSE students are free to use on the sand court that’s just outside the building. (Just return it when you’re done with it! :) )
The lounge is also the home of Chez Betty, a student-run 24/7 snack distribution center. You can make an account and add money to it to use in buying all sorts of pre-packaged foods and beverages at a good price. It’s great for late night projects when all other places are closed!
Other things CSEG has done are provide a couple of ping-pong and foosball tables that live in Beyster for students to use. We’ve also brought student concerns to the department and been active in catalyzing a few course requirement and offering changes. That’s part of the purpose of CSEG, so don’t be shy about sending us messages with any concerns or ideas! Your CSEG officers are always available to answer any questions you might have.
If you want to contact us in general with anything, you can always reach someone using our group list: firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you soon, and Go Blue!