Officialization 5: Picking Courses

Along Lago di Garda.

Officialization TOC

Picking Courses

This is the part I hate most. Picking courses. It’s a delicate balancing act between fulfilling requirements, taking what you’re honestly interested in, and avoiding bad professors.

At the start of the semester, you are excited and keen to learn all the wonderful new topics that are on the roster. By the end of the first week, you’ve realized that half those topics are either lead by professors who don’t know how to explain anything, or the class conflicts with another requirement, or you just don’t have the background to tackle the course load.

This time around I also have to consider travel times between campuses. The CIMeC department, which I am officially part of, is in Rovereto, which is also where I managed to find a place to live back when I was rapidly searching for apartments. I knew I should have spent a little more time looking in Trento, but the place I found in Rovereto was really nice, and (mostly) affordable, so I was lured in.

Now I am beginning to regret that decision. The travel time to Povo, the place where the computer science campus is located, takes between 1 and 1.5 hours depending on the time (and some hours, there is no train). Until I got my “free circulation” pass, it also cost around 8 Euros daily. Italian language classes will take place at the humanities campus near the train station in Trento, as well. This means that there’s a lot of travel in my future, if I intend to stay in Rovereto. (I might consider moving once I get things figured out.)

In terms of course requirements, this year things are easier to decipher than last year, but no less daunting. I need:

  • 9 credits in anything (I did 6 extra credits last year and, luckily, they are carrying over into this year, so I don’t have to do the normal 15)
  • 15 credits for an internship
  • 30 credits for the master’s thesis itself

In terms of courses, I can take one course for exactly 9 credits, but the only 9 credit courses seem to be through CIMeC. Unfortunately, there’s nearly nothing for me at CIMeC. Everything there is cognitive science focused, with most classes not even having much to do with language. Cogsci is quite off target for what I want to focus on right now, even if it is not uninteresting. I am still not that strong in math and programming, and I really need to improve those skills if I want to work in computational linguistics.

The computer science department has a lot of interesting courses, on the other hand. So I spent all last week traveling an hour each way to Povo to sample as many of those as I could. As expected, most of them assume more background than I have, since I didn’t do my bachelor’s in comp sci, but I’m hoping that since I only need the 2 classes, I’ll be able to devote extra time to learning the things I need to know to manage that course. Specifically, my hope is to take machine learning, which is still relevant to what in doing, but it requires a lot of linear algebra, which I have never formally studied.  My second class will likely be a language technology class through CIMeC (the only relevant course in Rovereto for me). I’ve already learned most of the topics that the class will go over but it’s project based so hopefully I will still have the chance to do something interesting. The teacher said that the class may also lead to an internship, presumably if you do well. Hopefully I can find something else before then, but if not, maybe this will pay off.

In terms of the internship, it isn’t what we think of when we say internship. It’s actually a project with a report, probably cognitive science related, probably unpaid (unless you get lucky), and it is also meant to lead into your master’s thesis. This latter point is particularly problematic because the internship is meant to be done in your second semester, after you take your course requirements for the year. So if you are doing your internship in the second semester, when, then, are you supposed to actually do your thesis? Yeeeaaa.

So in general, the this doesn’t sound very promising; however, you are allowed to find your own internship, outside the department. So I spent some time a couple weeks ago applying to various external internships, focusing on the kind that are paid and which I could start a little sooner. I actually ended up getting an interview with a start up. They gave me a task to complete which involved some topics I learned about in my computational linguistics class last year. It wasn’t too crazy, but it did take a while to relearn what I’d forgotten about the algorithms involved. In the interview, the guy said that he wasn’t really looking for someone part time and remote though, so even if I did well, I don’t know if it’ll work out. Oh well, I guess I’ll just keep at it.

Anyway, another school year in a totally new place brings all new considerations.

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