Yash Deshpande is a second year student with the CDS MS Program and he is the president of the Leadership Circle. We spoke with Yash about admissions, life at CDS, living in NYC and much more.
November 25, 2019 | 10:36
Tim Baker (the host): [0:00] Welcome to the Center for Data Science admissions podcast. I’m your host, Tim Baker. This week, I’ll be sitting with a second year master student at the Center for Data Science, Yash Deshpande. Okay, so if you could just introduce yourself, let everybody know what program you’re in, and what year you started, that would be great.
Yash Deshpande [0:20] Hey, I’m Yosh. I’m a second year Master’s student. I started in 2018. And I am doing the Master’s in data science.
Tim Baker [0:27] So since this is for people that are applying right now, and you’ve submitted a successful application, what advice can you give applicants as they’re putting together their application?
Yash Deshpande [0:38] I would say do extensive research about the departments of the courses that you’re applying to, about the faculty, about the professor’s and reach out to them. It’s never a bad idea. And think about what level of flexibility you want in terms of the kind of electives that you want to take. And then make a decision.
Tim Baker [0:57] When you were putting your application together, you had to reach out for letters. What was your process for collecting letters? You know, what kind of things did you ask of your letter writers? Who were the letter writers? How are they related to you?
Yash Deshpande [1:10] So when I did my research when applying for my Masters overall, a lot of lot of the things that I came across online said that it’s better to have somebody who’s worked with you closely, right? Because they can really speak to your abilities and your extracurricular extra academic abilities as well. So my letters of recommendation were geared towards that. Two of them were from my professors. One of them was from my thesis guide during my undergrad. And one of them was a direct supervisor at work. And the way I went about that was I reached out to them, they asked what I wanted to be included in the letters, and I gave them a brief outline of the kind of skills that the program will be looking for, and asked them to sort of tailor it to that and also talk a little bit about my extra academic qualities.
Tim Baker [2:01] Excellent. Great. And so you had mentioned that you were working prior to applying. What was the transition of going from industry back into an academic arena, especially like an MS program?
Yash Deshpande [2:14] There’s two parts to that answer. I was still new to the industry. I was only working for two years so I feel like the transition wasn’t rough. I liked it, because I didn’t really like the work culture at the company that I was at. So having the flexibility and having the structure of academia is something that I really liked. That transition was smooth since at my job, I also dealt with large amounts of data, but it was more of an analytics role. So more front end, in terms of the transition from that to data science. That was something that took a little getting used to because data science tends to be more exploratory than analytics.
Tim Baker [2:51] Okay. And then so when you came to CDS, you’re already living in New York at the time?
Yash Deshpande [2:56] No, I moved here two weeks before the program starts before.
Tim Baker [3:02] And that was your first time living in NYC?
Yash Deshpande [3:02] Yeah
Tim Baker [3:03] How did you go about finding an apartment?
Yash Deshpande [3:06] So it was actually really difficult in the beginning to find an apartment. What I was thinking of doing was finding an Airbnb for about a month and then coming here and scouting for apartments, because I didn’t know who I could trust and I didn’t want to make any payments. So I had a difficult time finding an Airbnb. And eventually I got lucky because Asia my flatmate was also on the program she reached out on Whatsapp group asking for a third, flatmate. So that ended up working out.
Tim Baker [3:33] Okay, so there was like a Whatsapp group that everybody from the new admits we’re using with each other?
Yash Deshpande [3:40] Yeah, yeah. So Catherine creates the LinkedIn group for the admins. So we created a group and posted it there and everybody ended up joining. So that was something that we used to keep in touch.
Tim Baker [3:50] And that did you find that to be a valuable resource?
Yash Deshpande [3:53] I think is very valuable because it’s important to keep in touch with people that way these days. Even to this day, we use that group for a lot of stuff. And it’s been helpful.
Tim Baker [4:03] Okay. And so you’re an international student. How did you find the visa process? I know some people have had difficult times… other people, it was smooth sailing.
Yash Deshpande [4:11] It really depends. In terms of specifics to CDS and NYU, the process is seamless they will help you all the way. As for the US visa process itself, it will depend on the country that you’re from, the consulate that you’ll go to for your visa interview. Mine wasn’t very bad. It was pretty seamless..
Tim Baker [4:30] You know, once you got to New York, what was it like getting accustomed to New York? Were you from a big city before this or… ?
Yash Deshpande [4:37] I was from a big city. I think getting accustomed to New York didn’t take a long time. Yeah, one of the things that I really like about New York is that it’s very, very diverse. And often times when I’m out on the street, I’ll hear languages being spoken other than English, and I’ve heard that more often than I’ve heard English. Yeah. So it’s kind of like this multicultural, diverse city, which I really like.
Tim Baker [5:05] Excellent. Cool. And so now you’re at NYU, you’ve been here for this is your second year, right? So you have a pretty good idea of what the life of a CDS MS student is like, can you expound upon that a little bit?
Yash Deshpande [5:20] So your first semester will be settling into the program, getting culturally adjusted to New York, in the states if you’re an international Student, and it will be a breeze. But once it picks up, once you start actually working with data, once you start figuring out what domain you want to work in with your data science degree, what age do you want to take that to, what do you want to specialize in? That’s something that happened in the spring semesters on my second semester, and that’s something that can be very exciting. So in that way, the journey of CDs has been figuring out some of the some basic stuff that I need to do and then figuring out, oh, here’s what I want to specialize in, and then working towards that goal. And everybody at CDs is very helpful with that.
Tim Baker [6:10] Awesome, cool. So one of the things we pride ourselves on is creating a good social community for everybody. Can you speak a little bit about that? And if you could also speak about it from the perspective of the leadership circle, because you’re the president this year, you were part of it last year. So sort of how those two things go hand in hand, maybe?
Yash Deshpande [6:29] I think socially my cohort and the cohort that’s coming next year are doing great. A lot of us know each other, a lot of us have mixed more than previous cohorts. It’s primarily because our cohort sizes are almost twice as big as the last cohort. And I think CDS and the leadership circle have really made an effort to connect with students. For example, making slack channels, making sure that people’s concerns are addressed on the leadership circle. Levain just being available all the time for any queries, students having all of the admins available for anything they need for the rooms, for the floor access, things like that. So that’s been really nice.
Tim Baker [7:14] Excellent. So are you doing research now?
Yash Deshpande [7:19] I did research over the summer.
Tim Baker [7:22] You did. Okay. Yeah. And and that was through CDS?
Yash Deshpande [7:24] That was through CDS. It was the research fair that we had early in the Spring. And I was doing two part time research things. One of them was with a doctor at Langone, and another was with a professor at the Claremont Institute. Both of those were quite seamless. There was a lot to learn. And I think CDs really helped with putting me in a place where I got the chance to work with those professors.
Tim Baker [7:49] And it was relatively easy to secure those type of opportunities through CDS?
Yash Deshpande [7:54] Yes, it was. So I went to research, spoke to a bunch of professors, gave them my resume. I had a short interview or meeting with them, and then it ended up working out.
Tim Baker [8:06] Awesome. Okay. So we’re coming towards the end. And there’s a couple of questions I’m asking everybody. So why did you end up ultimately choosing CDS?
Yash Deshpande [8:15] Two things… When it comes to the core structure for the MSDS itself, I really liked how flexible it was in the choice of electives that you had. And I liked that it was a two-year program as opposed to a lot of DSR analytics programs that are one-year, which is a big hurdle for international students. Plus, if it’s just one year, you don’t get to learn as much is what I feel. And the second thing, it was that because it’s New York and I’ve always wanted to come here.
Tim Baker [8:48] Awesome. So speaking of New York, what is the one thing that everybody should do when they come to New York?
Yash Deshpande [8:57] NYU gives you free access to almost every major museum in the city and not to mince words, you’re an idiot if you don’t take advantage of that. It’s a cliche, but seeing some of Van Gogh’s art, inches away from you is really something.
Tim Baker [9:15] Yeah, definitely. Okay. And last question. What is something that you wish that you knew during the application process, and now that you’ve gone through it all? You know, you’re in the program and think back to when you were doing your application… what’s something that you wish you knew then that you know now?
Yash Deshpande [9:20] I wish that I knew the way academia was structured here, where people – professors, admin staff – are all very friendly. And if I had known that, I feel like I would have been a little more lax in my statement of purpose. I was very honest in it, and that’s some that’s advice that I would give to anybody applying. But if I had known that, I think it would have taken some of the pressure off of me when I was applying.
Katrina Evtimova – 2nd Year PhD student
Tim Baker (host) [0:00] Welcome to the Center for Data Science Admissions Podcast. I’m your host, Tim Baker. This week I’ll be speaking with second-year PhD student, Katrina Evtimova.
Katrina Evtimova [0:13] Hi, everyone. I’m Katrina. I’m a second year PhD student at the Center for Data Science and also an alumnus from the master’s program. I started the PhD in 2018 and graduated from the Masters in 2017.
Tim Baker [0:32] Entering the PhD, was that your first time applying for the PhD program?
Katrina Evtimova [0:36] Actually, it was the second.
Tim Baker [0:38] Okay. So that’s good, because you’re the first person that we’ve had that that situation with. So what do you think that you did different applying the second time?
Katrina Evtimova [0:48] Ah, that’s a good question. Um, I think it mostly comes down to showing more research experience and maybe presenting my recent agenda in a more structured way. The first time I applied, I was still in the master’s program and I feel like I was still figuring things out. At the final Spring of my master’s program, I got involved more closely in research, which I think played a role in having a more successful application the second time around.
Tim Baker [1:24] And so you had a bit of an interesting journey because you graduated. And correct me if I’m wrong – you graduated and then you went into industry and then you came back?
Katrina Evtimova [1:30] That’s correct.
Tim Baker [1:36] So how did you find the process of going from industry back into a PhD program? Or I guess into a PhD program back into academia?
Katrina Evtimova [1:44] Yeah I mean industry and academia bit different. Like, when I was working in industry, I had like a research engineer position, and I still had it in the back of my mind that eventually I wanted to enter a PhD program and start working towards my doctoral degree. But, I think the experience I got working in the industry was valuable to give me a perspective on how data science is applied in the wild. As I came back to the PhD program, I think one thing I’ve tried to keep going from having worked in the industry is to keep a schedule from nine to five, to be in the office early in the morning, etc.
Tim Baker [2:39] So you’ve been able to, like strike a work/life balance, basically by having that sort of a schedule?
Katrina Evtimova [2:44] Um, I’m trying to.
Tim Baker [2:46] Yeah well, I guess it’s difficult, right. It’s a lot of work.
Katrina Evtimova [2:51] Yeah a PhD is a commitment.
Tim Baker [2:54] Yeah, definitely. So when you’re putting your application together, how did you reach out to people for letters? Like what was your process of contacting people?
Katrina Evtimova [3:06] So, I initially thought of a list of people that I thought would be suitable and provide a good recommendation letter and people who know me well. And I basically sent a bunch of emails and I found that people usually respond very quickly to those kinds of requests, especially if you’re close to them.
Tim Baker [3:29] So usually, you’d recommend going with people that you’re close to and as much as possible?
Katrina Evtimova [3:33] Yes, like people who know you well and can speak well of your like abilities.
Tim Baker [3:38] But did you like build relationships with CDS faculty and let them know that you are going to be applying? How did that work for you?
Katrina Evtimova [3:45] Yes, I actually did. So I worked closely with one of the professors at the CDS. I did an independent study with them and then during the application process, I asked them for a recommendation.
Tim Baker [4:01] And then prior to submitting your application for the PhD program, did you reach out to see the faculty that you were interested in working with?
Katrina Evtimova [4:10] Yes. In fact, I did. I had some conversations before I applied. I think it was helpful to get a sense of like, what the research environment is like and like what I would be doing.
Tim Baker [4:23] You already lived in New York for a while, when you came to the PhD program, but did you live in New York before you started the MS program?
Katrina Evtimova [4:31] Yes, I was already in New York. I moved to New York right after college after college. Okay, um, then work for two years and then applied for the masters.
Tim Baker [4:41] Okay. And where were you coming from when you move to New York?
Katrina Evtimova [4:45] I was coming from Boston.
Tim Baker [4:47] Ok, but it was your first time in New York?
Katrina Evtimova [4:48] First time living full time.
Tim Baker [4:51] How did you find that transition from living in a city like Boston and coming to a bigger city like New York?
Katrina Evtimova [5:00] Boston is great. Yeah, but I also love New York. New York is a pretty unique place. Yeah, it has its own particularities but I was able to find housing through friends. So I certainly recommend accessing your network like asking friends of friends, someone might know someone is looking for a roommate. I think it’s more like a quick market but you need word of mouth.
Tim Baker [5:39] Yeah, definitely. It’s a tough city to break into. It feels intimidating.
Katrina Evtimova [5:45] Yeah it feels intimidating. But I like living here. I love it. It’s so diverse and it can be so impactful both professionally and personally. Like there’s so many things to do.
Tim Baker [6:00] Yeah, cool. So once you were here, were you able to , through CDS, get all the equipment you needed to get set up for your research? How does that process work?
Katrina Evtimova [6:16] Um, so thankfully the CDS provided a generous stipend and a generous initiation package, which provided for basically like getting a computer and like all the equipment that I needed.
Tim Baker [6:32] Okay, cool. So what is life like for a PhD student at CDS? I mean, you’ve kind of touched on it a little bit, but you know, what is your day to day like?
Katrina Evtimova [6:42] Well, as I said earlier, I try to keep a regular work schedule, like being in the office early in the morning. Personally, I find myself like most productive in the morning, and getting some work done before all the meetings come into place. Like I usually have a bunch of meetings with my collaborators or like other students. And I attend some of the CDS events. Like there are a lot of like guest speakers who come to talk here, which is super interesting. I participate in some reading groups where people read on a particular topic and they present some like, recent papers from different disciplines.
Tim Baker [7:39] Okay, and then you’ve been on the leadership circle, you’ve been the president of the leadership circle. Can you speak a little bit about the leadership circle and what it means to CDS?
Katrina Evtimova [7:51] I am really fond of the leadership circle. It’s a student organization, which organizes events for the CDS community. It helps students engage with each other, get to know each other, interact with faculty. I think it’s a great way for people to feel more part of a community. And like one of my favorite events that we organize is the CDS Academy Awards, where students can get recognized for the work and the projects that we that they do during their studies.
Tim Baker [8:30] It’s a good event. I enjoyed that last year. What’s one thing that you would recommend everybody do when they get to New York City?
Katrina Evtimova [8:39] There are so many things to do. I mean, I love exploring New York on foot just walking around different neighborhoods. Like, NYU is so strategically located in such a nice part of the city. Like sometimes I just take a walk into West Village and it’s super relaxing and super interesting to see all the different businesses there, the atmosphere…
Tim Baker [9:12] It’s fun, right? There’s all these weird little crannies, tucked away streets that you don’t even know exists.
Katrina Evtimova [9:16] And another thing is I like comedy a lot. So there’s a big comedy scene in New York and I really recommend going to the Comedy Cellar, which is very close to Washington Square Park. Like I’ve seen like great shows there with some world famous comedians. And you never know who will you’ll get.
Tim Baker [9:41] People always drop in.
Katrina Evtimova [9:42] Yeah they just drop in.
Tim Baker [9:44] So can you tell us a little bit about the research that you’re doing? You know, you don’t have to go in depth, just like an overview.
Katrina Evtimova [9:58] Sure. Generally speaking I work in representation learning. And it deals with learning representations of data. In my case, it’s visual data. And the goal is to use large amounts of unlabeled data and extract like some structure or like a representation of that data that can be useful in downstream tasks, such as classification.
Tim Baker [10:25] Do you find that you have a lot of interaction with your faculty advisors while you’re working on the research?
Katrina Evtimova [10:31] Oh, certainly. I have regular meetings with my advisor, and he has like a bigger group of postdocs and students so I interact with the group a lot.
Tim Baker [10:48] Great. And what are some of the benefits of doing research at CDS?
Katrina Evtimova [10:54] I think it’s the fact that like CDS has attracted really top faculty and students, people who are really the top of their field of research. Also the fact that CDS is so interdisciplinary and allows for ideas to flow from one field to another.
Tim Baker [11:21] I guess ultimately, why did you choose CDS?
Katrina Evtimova [11:26] Back in the day when I was applying for the master’s program, I was really impressed with the whole philosophy behind the master’s program, the way it was designed. First, it’s really cool that it was the first data science program ever. And second, it had some really prominent researchers who were involved with the program, like Yann LeCun being the founding director of the program. Also the Center for Data Science received support from the Moore Sloan Foundation, which I thought was a very positive sign. And the fact that it’s in New York.
Tim Baker [12:17] This wasn’t on the original list of questions I sent you. So if you don’t want to answer you don’t have to. But you had a real interesting internship this summer. Do you want to talk about that at all?
Katrina Evtimova [12:26] Sure. This summer, I interned at Facebook AI research, which is a special department at Facebook so it feels like an academic department. Like the people who work there are involved with just academic research, they publish papers. So I basically moved like my current office to the office Facebook, but I was doing the same work that I’m doing here but for Facebook.
Tim Baker [13:04] That’s awesome. Last question. If you could go back in time and talk to yourself as you’re doing your application, what’s the one bit of advice, the thing that you know now that you wish you could have told yourself back then?
Katrina Evtimova [13:15] Maybe not to overthink things. Just to keep a positive attitude, and don’t feel overwhelmed, just try to speak about your strengths and have a clear view of why you want to be here.
Tim Baker [13:40] Okay. Awesome. Great. Thank you so much.
Tim Baker [13:42] Thank you for listening to the Center for Data Science Admissions podcast. If you have any questions regarding the admission process, please email us at email@example.com. The music for this podcast was composed by the instrumental artist Cryptic One. You can find his work on his bandcamp profile.