Information for Prospective M.Sc. Students

Prof. Alberto Cerpa, University of California, Merced

Thanks for your interest in our M.Sc. program in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. UC Merced is growing rapidly in the area of Computer Science in particular, and we certainly welcome your application to the program. Unfortunately, due to the volume of requests I get about our M.Sc. program, I cannot reply to everyone that emails me. Instead, I offer this Web page as a somewhat impersonal but more complete answer to your questions about the program and my research.

Please note that e-mailing me personally will not increase your chances of getting into the program. I am unable to respond to these emails, and would appreciate it if you would read the information on this web page instead.

To find out more about my research interests, please visit my Web page and check out some of my recent publications. I also encourage you to take a look at my colleagues in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program.

For more information on our M.Sc. program and for instructions on applying, please see this web page:

We only admit M.Sc. students through the regular application procedure, and individual faculty do not make admissions decisions. You should apply as an M.Sc. student in the School of Engineering, of which Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is a part.

You should be aware that M.Sc. students do not receive any financial support from the School and/or the EECS program. This doesn't mean that from time to time a TA or GSR position is available to a M.Sc. students, but this is the exception more than the rule. In general, financial support is provided for Ph.D. students only. As a rule of thumb, I do not offer GSR positions to M.Sc. students admitted into the program.

Please note that the M.Sc. program is a bit unique due to the small number of faculty involved in the program. Because of this, the number of graduate classes offered is smaller in comparison with other larger programs. However, this presents the opportunity to work more closely with some research groups in specific research projects that can be used for credit towards your masters degree. This type of hands-on experience is usually greatly appreciated in industry, where project experience is preferable to just taking classes. Moreover, there is a limited number of undergraduate classes that can be taken for credit for the masters degree.

Answers to some commonly asked questions follow.

Can I be your M.Sc. student?

Individual faculty do not decide who is accepted into the program. The graduate admissions committee convenes in the late Fall and early Spring to review all applicants when these decisions are made.

Do you have openings in your group this coming year?

I always have openings for talented students in my group, but in the case of M.Sc. students they came with the caveat of no financial support. Furthermore, I strongly give preference to students applying to the Ph.D. program instead. The exact number of students I admit will vary from year to year, depending on the strength of the applicant pool, and whether I am starting up new projects or not. Some years I may admit several students; in other years I may admit none.

What are my chances of being admitted to your M.Sc. program?

Unfortunately, I can't comment specifically on your chances of acceptance. UC Merced is small, but very competitive and we generally expect a combination of excellent grades and GRE scores as well as prior research or industrial experience in our applicants. There are always exceptions, however. Your best option is to simply apply to the program and let the admissions committee decide.

Why should I apply to UC Merced? Is UC Merced really serious about Computer Science?

UC Merced is a new research university built from scratch. We opened the doors to our students in 2005 (2003 for graduate students). As such, it is the first research university built in the XXI century, and this have its own pros and cons. As a new place, we cannot say we are famous or have the traditional reputation of more established institutions, in fact we are probably still an unknown quantity in the academic community. However, the small size of the UC Merced individualized graduate programs combined with UC Merced's interdisciplinary approach to learning fosters a unique foundation for students to explore the concepts and connections between related fields while they acquire mastery in their areas of specialization. This is quite unique, and a by-product of both the small scale and size, as well as a cultural change that is pushed both top-down, by hiring faculty that are interdisciplinary in their work; and bottom-up, by fostering collaboration among faculty in different engineering areas and even across different schools. The University truly encourages close working relationships between students and faculty in an informal atmosphere conducive to rapid learning and professional growth. UC Merced's programs are built on a foundation of interdisciplinary partnerships that allow exploration of concepts.

While the EECS faculty is on the small side (about 9 faculty members, and growing), we are very connected to other areas of engineering, applied and natural sciences, and other parts of the university. For example, my group collaborates with researchers at the UC Merced Energy Research Institute (UCMERI), with researchers in the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), as well as researchers in other fellow sister UC campuses, like the UC Davis School of Medicine, the UC Berkeley School of Environmental Design and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL). My group actively participates in UC-wide Centers, like the Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE). Other EECS faculty have diverse interdisciplinary collaborations, from Biology and Bioinformatics in the School of Natural Sciences, to close ties with the Cognitive Science program in the School of Social, Humanities and Arts. Some EECS faculty even have joint appointments across different Schools. It's a very collaborative environment.

Of course, Merced is also a great place to live (one of the least expensive places to live in California) and has the combination of a tranquil suburban place with some of the excitement of a vibrant university population. If you prefer the excitement of a big denser city, San Francisco is less than 2 hours driving, and Fresno is less than 1 hour driving. Merced is at the core of San Joaquin Valley, and has a fantastic abundance of outdoors places to visit. We are very close to some of the top natural reserves in the US and the planet, including Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings National Parks, as well as a multitude of other great systems of lakes and State Parks. During winter, we have a plethora of ski resorts close by on the West side of the Sierras that offer very convenient and cheap access. If you are into kayaking and rafting, there are plenty of level 3, 4 and even 5 courses. The 400-mile long San Joaquin Valley has marked its place on the world map by supplying one quarter of the food America consumes - long considered home to the greatest garden in the world.

I have another question about your program and your research...

Unfortunately, my inbox is overflowing and I generally can't reply to every message I receive. You should be able to learn all you need to know from the information above. If you are accepted into the program, we have a great visit day in the spring where all admitted students get a chance to visit and learn more about UC Merced and the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program here.

Good luck!

Alberto Cerpa.