Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

MS Advising Frequently Asked Questions

MS Advising Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who is my advisor?

Elizabeth Parolski is the academic advisor for all Masters of Computer Science students.

If you are pursuing the Data Science or Security Concentrations Elizabeth is your advisor, but you can receive advising from the directors of the two concentrations.  For the Data Science Concentration Professor Ben Marlin can answer questions. Professor Brian Levine can answer questions about the Security Concentration. 

Can I meet with my academic advisor? How do I meet with my advisor?

Yes! Elizabeth would love to meet with all the MS students! You can set up an appointment here. You can also always email Elizabeth!

Which courses should MS students take?! Can the advisor help me pick the classes?

Which courses you pick are entirely up to you as long as you meet the requirements for the MS degree.  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. Ask your peers in the program what classes they have liked and learned a lot from! Your peers are your best resources! 

How many classes should I take each semester?

It is highly encouraged that students take THREE, THREE CREDIT CLASSES, (9 total credits) a semester. Many students will take fewer classes in their final or fourth semester. 

Can I take more than 12 credits in a semester? 

Yes, you can, but IT IS *HIGHLY* DISCOURAGED/NOT RECOMMENDED! The department does not recommend taking 12 credits.  The form to override your number of enrolled credits can be found here.

Is course XXXX hard? Is this combination of classes 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. 

The graduate program occasionally surveys graduate students regarding how much time students spend on specific classes. The most recent survey can be found here

It is highly encouraged that students take THREE, THREE CREDIT CLASSES, (9 total credits) a semester.

What courses are available in the summer?

CICS has one or two courses in security and affective computing.  Keep in mind that you can take courses outside of the department that can count towards your Computer Science MS.  Therefore, if you can find courses at UMass in another department (Isenberg, the business school, offers a large number of summer) during the summer, you are able to take those classes.  

Can I take classes outside of CICS?

Yes, you can take graduate-level classes out CICS. Here is a list of the pre-approved non-CICS courses. If you want to a class that is not on the pre-approved list, please contact Professor Mark Corner via email, and state why you want to take the class, include the course description, how the class will benefit you/further your education, and if possible attach the syllabus. 

Do 600 level seminar courses help fulfill the needed 600 level course requirement for the MS degree?

Yes, absolutely! Seminar courses that are 600 level or higher do fulfill the 600 level requirement for MS students. Many MS students enjoy the smaller, more hands-on approach of the seminar classes and take quite a few seminars during their CICS career. 

How do I start doing research?  How do I find a faculty member to work with?

Every professor is different. Start by identifying an area that you want to do research in, then see if you can find faculty members or Ph.D. students to speak with. Some will offer independent studies to MS students, some don't.  Some have zero MS students they work with, some have 40.  Some will want to see you get an A in their course, some do not require you to take their course.  It is truly an individual experience, but generally, you will have to take the initiative to find research opportunities. You also may be able to work with Ph.D. students in their labs, too!

Does the Master's Project, COMPSCI 701, count as an independent study?

No, COMPSCI 701 is not counted as an independent study. This six-credit research project does require two professors to serve as readers/graders. 701 also counts as a >=600 course.  701 requires two readers and 696 only requires one.

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

As 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.

I am very much enjoying research and want to get into the Ph.D. program. How do I do that?

Admissions for the Ph.D. is separate so you will have to apply to that program. Keep in mind that the CICS Ph.D. program is even more competitive than the MS program. The thing that will really put your application over the top is to have a CICS faculty member say that you should be admitted to the Ph.D. program because they want to work with you. Approximately, 2-3 MS students are accepted into the Ph.D. program every year.

Can I audit a course?

Yes, you can audit a class. When you audit a class you will be able to sit in on the class, participate, have access to the online materials, but you will NOT EARN CREDIT for the class. The class will show up on your transcript, with the AUD in the grade portion. There is a fee associated with auditing a class. Instructions on how to audit a class can be found here.  PLEASE NOTE:  Once you've enrolled in a course as an audit, you can't change back to a letter grade.

Can MS students use the University's grade replacement systems to wipe out an F in a class?

Unfortunately, no. That policy is only for undergraduates. You do need to have a 3.0 GPA 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 will not count in that GPA.

How do I take a class Pass/Fail?

For graduate students at Umass the pass/fail is known as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, professors and students use both terms. Your transcript will state SAT/F, not pass/fail.

This is a discussion you have with the instructor of the course. Graduate student policies are different than undergraduate Pass/Fail and audit policies.

 Steps you need to complete for Pass/Fail:

  1. Ask your course instructor if they will permit you to take the course for a SAT grade which is recorded as SAT (satisfactory) or F (failure) on your transcript. Your instructor is under no obligation to say yes. Your instructor may tell you it is too late in the semester for a SAT grade option.
  2. You must complete the requirements of the course.
  3. Remind your instructor at the end of the course about your agreement so the correct grade is entered in SPIRE. 
  4. Your instructor is under no obligation to retract the p/f if you request it at the end of the semester.

You do not need to contact the Graduate Program Manager about earning a SAT grade or auditing a course.

NOTE- Students can only take SIX credits Pass/Fail. If a class is taken Pass/Fail it does not meet the core requirement. Core classes must be passed with a B or higher. Additionally, NO MORE THAN SIX CREDITS CAN COME FROM PASS/FAIL & INDEPENDENT STUDY.  This means if you take one class Pass/Fail and one independent study you cannot take another class Pass/Fail and/or you cannot take another class independent study and then have those classes count towards your MS Degree. 

How many classes am I able to take as Pass-Fail?

CICS MS students are able to take up to 6 credits Pass-Fail.  NOTE- Spring 2020 Pass/Fail courses are a separate case, and do not count toward the total number of pass/fail classes you have taken. For graduate students at Umass the pass/fail is known as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, professors and students use both terms. Your transcript will state SAT/F, not pass/fail.

If I take a class Pass/Fail do I still get credit for it?

Yes, if you take a class Pass/Fail and pass the class you will still receive credit for the class. This class will count towards the 30 credits needed to graduate with your MS. 

Can I/How do I drop a class after the Add/Drop Period?

Yes, you can drop a class after the Add/Drop Period. However, doing so will result in having a DR (for dropped) on your transcript. You can drop the class in Spire. You must also complete this form- https://www.umass.edu/graduate/form/adddrop-form and have your professor sign it.  You will not get your money back for this course after the Add/Drop period ends. 

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS- You must be enrolled in 9 credits every semester except for your final semester. Therefore, if you are an international student, you cannot drop a class if that would being your enrollment down to less than 9 credits. The only exceptions to this are explained here on the IPO website- https://www.umass.edu/ipo/iss/exceptionsftenrollment. Read these carefully and consult with IPO if you believe they apply to you. 

Am I able to take more than 30 credits during my time as an MS student?

Yes, you are able to take more than 30 credits as an MS student. However, only 30 credits are counted toward your MS degree. Students do take additional classes, especially during their last semester. 

I am an international student, who will meet all degree requirements in three semesters, am I forced to graduate after semester three?

No, you are not forced to graduate after semester three, even if you met all the degree requirements. All international students are allowed one part-time (less than 9 credits) semester, so your part-time semester will be your fourth, and final semester. In this final, fourth semester, you NOT able to do CPT and you must be enrolled in at least one course that meets in person. 

Where can I get career advice?

CICS has a whole office dedicated to supporting graduate students in the job search process! CICS Careers can help every part of the job and internship process. CICS Careers can assist with resume review, interview preparation, negotiating offers, and finding positions. Plus, they put on tons of events for students like the Tech Fair (career fair), AMA's with employers, and workshops, and more! Set up an appointment with CICS Careers today! 

Where do CICS Alumni work or do after they graduate? 

CICS Careers, every year, puts together a destination report. This allows you to see where your peers are working and what they are doing after graduate school! https://www.cics.umass.edu/careers/articles/destination-report-2019

Can students do a Curricular Practical Training (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, but have to be provable)
  4. In your last semester, you don't have to follow rule #1, but you still have to meet requirements #2 and #3.
  5. You cannot delay your graduation.
    1. You cannot even APPEAR to delay graduation. 
    2. You cannot do CPT in your final semester if you have already earned 30 credits/completed the MS requirements before the final semester.

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. Check out CICS Careers Guide to CPT and OPT. 

Fall 2020 CPT instructions and more can be found here.

When can I do a Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

Yes, but only after two full-time semesters as a student in the United States. If you start in the Spring, you can't do one the first summer. If you were an undergraduate student in the United States you may be able to do CPT earlier.