Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most commonly asked questions and guidelines for the application process, admissions and general program information.
Questions about the MSAS program
What kind of automated equipment will we use in the Automation Lab course?
Students will be trained in a state-of-the-art automated science Laboratory that contains the below under a computer controlled sterile enclosure that avoids contamination and provides containment for safety.
- liquid handling (pipetting) robot for creating plates with samples for further analysis
- incubator for allowing cell growth
- carousels for storing plates before analysis
- plate reader for reading total intensity of each well in a plate
- automated microscope for collecting transmitted and multi-color fluorescence images of multiple fields within each plate
- nucleic acid extraction robot for preparing DNA or RNA
- robots for plate movement and management
What are the skills that will be taught in the program?
There are three types of expertise required for building systems to do automated science. The first is familiarity with the various types of experimental methods used in a particular field and with the operation and characteristics of the current equipment that can perform those experiments on a large scale and under computer control. The second is experience in constructing and using statistical and machine learning methods for constructing predictive models from experimental data. The third is expertise in active machine learning methods for using predictive models to choose future experiments that are expected to enable the accuracy of the models to grow as rapidly as possible. The program will provide these skills through both theoretical and practical instruction, culminating in a capstone course in which real world problems are tackled in collaboration with industrial and academic partners.
What topics will be covered in the Machine Learning for Scientists course?
A solid introduction to machine learning is provided, including deep learning methods. It is equivalent to the introductory machine learning course for master students that is taught by the Machine Learning Department (it is taught by a former instructor of that course) but the lectures and homework problems will use examples drawn from biology and medicine.
How will summer internships be arranged?
We have compiled a list of automation companies who have expressed interest in providing paid summer internships to our students (including companies who have offered internships to our students in the past). We create a PDF with resumes of all students seeking internships and circulate it to these companies early in the spring semester. Our students have also found internships through their own efforts as well.
What careers are available to students after graduation?
Scientific Automation is widely used in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and agricultural industries. MSAS graduates are qualified to select, configure, customize, and operate the hardware and software necessary to automate essential tasks in scientific research and engineering. These skills are relevant to positions with titles such as: Automation Engineer; Platform Engineer; Scientific Computing Engineer; Laboratory Automation Specialist; Lab Manager; Analytical Automation and Informatics Scientist. Salary estimates for positions like these are in the range of $80K to $150K per year, depending on location and experience. You can search for current jobs by geography and keyword here.
Will I be able to take courses from other departments at Carnegie Mellon?
We have designed a full two year curriculum to provide thorough and rigorous training in areas relevant to automated science. There is one restricted elective for those taking the Professional option, which can be any Computational Biology course. However, students may petition to take a course offered by a different department for this elective. Students who place out of 02-601 or 02-680 may also have the opportunity to take electives in other departments (such as Machine Learning). There is also one free elective in the fourth semester for all students; this course can be taken from any department.
Why does the curriculum include courses such as Computational Genomics?
A central requirement of Automated Science is the ability to construct predictive models from currently available data so that active learning can be used to decide what new experiments would best improve the model. Courses like Computational Genomics and Computational Methods for Proteogenomics and Metabolomics cover the important ways in which such predictive models can be built from data on genome composition, RNA and protein expression, metagenomics and metabolomics, etc.
Are M.S. students able to serve as Research Assistants (RAs) or Teaching Assistants (TAs)?
Yes, qualified students may be able to find work as either research assistants (RAs) or teaching assistants (TAs). Our faculty hire some students as research assistants paid on an hourly basis during the academic year. Once you arrive on campus in the fall, you are welcome to contact any of our faculty about the possibility of obtaining a paid position. We strongly advise that students wait until the second semester to begin work as a RA or TA. Note that the number of RA and TA positions is limited and we do not guarantee that you will be able to find a job. Both RAs and TAs work on an hourly wage and do not receive a monthly stipend. For international students, the number of allowed work hours for wages is determined by their visa regulations.
Is the Masters of Science in Automated Science: Biological Experimentation Program a good alternative for students primarily interested in [Computer Science, Machine Learning, Software Engineering, or Data Sciences, etc]?
No. Our curriculum is designed to train people in the use of automation in science. Students interested in other fields should apply directly to those programs.
What are the differences between the MSAS program and the MS in Computational Biology (MSCB) Program?
MSCB focuses on purely computational algorithms and methods for analyzing and modeling of biomedical systems. The MSAS curriculum covers many of these methods, since constructing predictive models is critical to the fundamental task of automated science: using AI on models to decide what additional experiments are needed. However, the MSAS curriculum spends less time on modeling and adds training in AI for driving experiments and on fundamentals aspects of the laboratory automation that is used to execute them. The goal is to enable students to become leaders in this emerging field of automated science.
The programs share some training faculty and three required courses (02-712, 02-750, 03-709), but the intellectual content is distinct. Both programs prepare students for jobs in industry or additional graduate study in competitive PhD programs.
What if I am interested in continuing on to a Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon?
Near the end of the first year, research option students will meet individually with the Advising Committee to discuss their research interests and the most appropriate area for Ph.D. studies. They receive advice in preparing Ph.D. applications, and the opportunity to apply for early acceptance into one of the participating Ph.D. programs (Computational Biology and Biological Sciences). If admitted, their curriculum for the fourth semester will be adjusted to include some coursework required by that Ph.D. program. This will enable them to begin Ph.D. studies not only with excellent preparation from the MSAS curriculum but with advanced standing in their Ph.D. program. They will be encouraged to begin M.S. Research in the summer after the first year (rather than doing an internship) and the advisor would typically be chosen from the faculty of their target Ph.D. program.
All students accepted into one of our Ph.D. programs receive fellowships for stipend and full tuition.
General Application Questions
Is there an application fee and when is the application deadline?
Early deadline, noon (12 p.m.) EST November 30: If you submit your application and pay the required fee by noon (12 p.m.) EST November 30, the application fee is $75 for one program and $50 for each additional program. At 12:01 p.m. EST on November 30, the application fee increases to $125 for one program and $75 for each additional program. The early deadline does not imply an early decision. You may continue to edit your application until the final deadline of noon (12 p.m.) EST December 10. For more information click here.
Are there required forms or formats for the online recommendation letters?
Yes, online recommendation forms are automatically e-mailed to recommenders once a student has submitted the application.
What should be included in the three online recommendation letters?
The three letters of recommendation should be written by professional or academic references. Recommenders should know you relatively well and be able to evaluate the quality of your previous work. At least two should be from faculty or recent employers.
What information should be included in my statement of purpose?
Your statement of purpose should be a 1-2 page essay describing:
- your motivation to enter the field of Automated Science,
- any relevant experience you have (including your role in those projects/positions), and, if applicable, any publications.
- your reasons for considering the MSAS program here at CMU for graduate work.
Your statement must be written in your own words. We use software to detect plagiarism in personal statements. Any applicant that submits a personal statement determined to contain plagiarised material will be rejected immediately.
How should my statement of purpose be formatted?
Prepare a concise one or two page essay in PDF format that describes your primary areas of interest, your related experiences, and your objective in pursuing a graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon. Your essay should be specific in describing your interests and motivations. When describing your interests, you should explain why you think they are important areas of study and why you are particularly well-suited to pursue them. You should describe any relevant education, research, commercial, government, or teaching experience. If you are applying to more than one program, you may (but are not required to) submit a separate Statement of Purpose for each program. If you are submitting different statements, please upload as one file. Include your name and User ID on the essay.
Your User ID can be found as you fill out the application, for more information on that, please go here: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/masters-admissions.
Admissions Requirements & Test Scores
How do I get my transcript evaluated and GPA calculated?
International applicants should submit their transcripts in English, but do not need to hire a credential evaluation service as long as the degree is equivalent to a US degree and the transcript has been translated to English.
Are international students accepted?
Yes, the program is very diverse and welcomes international students. The numbers of foreign-born applicants, accepted students and matriculating students vary each year.
What are my chances of being accepted to the M.S. program?
Only the admissions committee can judge if you are qualified for admission. The Admissions Committee is selective and only considers those applicants who have the potential for a successful career in industry or academia. Your chance of acceptance depends upon both the size of the applicant pool and the strength of your complete application.
Are GREs required?
No. Neither general nor subject GREs are required for acceptance into the MSAS program.
Note: When submitting your application, you may be asked to enter the date you expect to take the GRE. If this happens, just enter any date in the future. We ignore that field.
Is there a minimum TOEFL score?
Carnegie Mellon University has a minimum overall score to be considered for acceptance of 84. Individual TOEFL score minimums are: Listening – 22; Reading – 22; Speaking – 18; Writing – 22.
Because students with higher English competency have typically done better in our program, we consider TOEFL scores as one factor in admissions. 90% of students admitted to masters programs in the School of Computer Science have a TOEFL speaking score of 20 or higher and an overall TOEFL score of 96 or higher.
We do accept IELTS scores as well. We use the following site to convert IELTS to TOEFL scores: https://www.ets.org/toefl/institutions/scores/compare.
NOTE: Scores must be no more than five years old
Questions About Required Background
What background do I need to pursue the MSAS program at CMU?
We admit students with a wide range of backgrounds. An undergraduate degree in any life science or any quantitative field (e.g., computer science, mathematics, statistics) is desirable. Interest in biomedical research is a must, and some prior coursework or research experience in the life sciences (especially cell and molecular biology) is a plus. Some experience with computer programming and a desire to learn more is a must, and prior coursework or research experience in computer science, machine learning is a plus.
Do I need to have any previous programming experience?
No, but students with limited programming experience will be provided with introductory programming materials and expected to go through them during the summer before they enter the program.
Do I need to have any previous coursework in Biology or Chemistry?
No, but students with limited background in the life sciences will be required to take an introductory class. Also, for applicants with little or no background in biology or chemistry, we strongly recommend that you explain why you want to study scientific automation in your Personal Statement.
Do you admit students in the spring or summer semesters?
How much is tuition?
For the 2020-2021 academic year, tuition is $50,320. Room/board and other costs are not included within this total. A complete list of graduate tuition and cost of attendance information may be found at www.cmu.edu/sfs/tuition/graduate/scs.html.
Is there financial support for graduate students?
It is advised that you review Carnegie Mellon’s Enrollment Services Web site for external sources of financial aid. International students should check with their home country for additional funding opportunities and private loans.
Carnegie Mellon participates in the GEM Fellowship program that provides stipend and tuition support for American students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields (African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans). Please see https://www.gemfellowship.org/students/how-gem-can-help/. Note that the application deadline is in early November.
Is health insurance provided?
No, students must provide their own insurance. Carnegie Mellon requires full-time, degree-seeking students to enroll in the university’s contracted student insurance plans or request a refund of the premium by completing a medical insurance waiver form on which they verify that their alternative insurance meets the university’s mandated requirements. Information about the insurance options available for purchase from Carnegie Mellon is found at the Student Health Services Web site.
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