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Interested in research, not in coursework

Course Queries Syllabus Queries

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( 3 months ago )

I am in the last semester of my undergraduate degree in computer science. I plan to apply for masters and PhD positions thereafter. I did not have a good classroom experience in my bachelor's programme – I did not find my professors to be great (in terms of knowledge, research or teaching). As a result, I soon lost interest in my courses [1]. To be fair, many of my peers enjoyed the very same courses and excelled in them due to their interest.

Due to these experiences, I am not interested in doing courses further – I also realised that I learn much better on my own and while doing research. On my own, I don't have to stick to a curriculum decided by someone else and can move in and out of material, as required by my research, which would otherwise span a wide variety of courses. Thus, I am partial to programmes offering full-time research opportunities with little to no coursework.

A large part of my research has involved reading papers on new techniques and figuring out how these techniques worked, how they were implemented, reimplementing them myself, etc. This required a fair bit of figuring things out by myself, which I found to be very different from coursework – where you had a professor, TAs, tutors, office hours, etc which provided an extensive support system.

My question is, how closely are research and coursework linked in academia? Would it raise eyebrows if I were to say to someone in academia "I like doing research, but dislike doing coursework"?

Now as I understand, through my SOP I have an opportunity to convince the admissions committee about why I am a good fit for this programme and vice versa. In such a scenario, I am very tempted to include the following points in my argument, because they are absolutely true and form the crux of why I am interested in such programmes (primarily applying in the US):

  • I dislike doing coursework.

  • I have quite a bit of research experience where I have performed well without doing coursework.

  • I learn better on my own and while doing research, as my research experience shows.

  • This programme will allow me to pursue research uninhibited by distracting courses, which is exactly what I want.

But this is where I am confused. Will this unabashed honesty work in my favour? This is primarily because the vast majority of researchers I have interacted with happen to be professors – and as such have been very involved in teaching courses. Moreover, since they do spend a fair amount of their time teaching, they also invite students who do well in their courses to join their research. Now I understand there are also independent research organisations who are not directly involved in teaching, but the ones which I have had the experience of working with have invariably been associated with a partner university and involved in sharing of researchers, professors and students.

[1] Due to the vast number of questions on this site regarding grades, I wish to categorically state that this question is not about addressing bad grades. Indeed, I don't wish to address this issue at all because although I was not very excited with my coursework, I made average grades and directly dived into various research endeavours. This allowed me to accumulate substantial research experience and include impressive research positions on my resume, including a prestigious scholarship. This, I believe, already compensates my not-so-good grades (as I have received offers from reputed research institutes based on this profile). My question is only about the aspect of 'not liking coursework'.



( 3 months ago )

You would certainly be an exceptional case. Some would interpret that as a difficult case. When you don't fit the expected mold it is harder to evaluate you. That doesn't mean that you are at a disadvantage, necessarily, but you would be at some places that aren't very flexible.

I think that a research focus at the MS level is more typical in Europe than in the US, however, so you might consider location as you look for a position. In some fields in the US research is also dominant, of course.

But even in the US, if you can make contact with a professor or two at the graduate level who might be willing to give you a close look, you might be fine. However, many programs have fairly strict rules about things. You might, be able to do independent study to cover many of them, but that can be intensive for the faculty, so don't expect too many concessions unless you are exceptional in the positive sense as well.

Your real problem, however, is that if you don't follow the "accepted" course of study you are liable to miss some things that it is valuable to know. The advantage of coursework is that someone has seen the bigger picture and has selected topics that are useful and given thought to how you can develop skill in those areas. Missing that can be a long term disadvantage, so tread carefully and seek advice on your personal academic journey.

what's your interest