The first week of this August I participated in the Cornell, Maryland, Max Planck pre-doctoral Research School concerning Emerging Research Trends in Computer Science.

I first heard of this from a friend of mine who attended the 2019 edition. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school took place online, unfortunately. However, I really appreciated how the organizers took care of making it possible for us attendees to not only attend lectures but also socialize with other students and professors through a careful organization of breakout rooms and virtual meals - and this is where my German ancestry became useful, having no issue dining at 18.30, which is much too early for Italians.

The school lasted six days and comprised lectures on game theory, information systems, computational geometry, robotics, human/computer interaction, programming language theory and adversarial attacks to deep learning architectures. Moreover, a poster session was held in which PhD students and researchers exposed us to the research issues they were tackling, which ranged from consensus in the blockchain to adversarial policy poisoning in reinforcement learning. Lastly, two extremely insightful panels were held concerning why we should (or should not) pursue a PhD in computer science and how to go about applying to graduate school.

I really did not expect to learn so much in a week. For example, the school led me to discover that one of the issues I was trying to solve while writing the patfinder for GemRB is actually a very hard problem in computational geometry. It allowed me to understand what should I look for in a PhD program, to how many I should apply, how to pick an advisor and write a statement of purpose. It also got me in contact with other very motivated students and allowed us to discuss our doubts and ideas about research, as well as professors who were eager to answer our questions, or honestly even just chat. We’re all people after all, and scholars tend to be very interesting to chat with.

A disclaimer is to be made here. I’m not going to lie, the school is demanding. There is a reason why admission is competitive. Even online, lectures start at 14 and end at 22 and they deal with complex and interesting topics at the frontier of research. Every night, my head was dizzy from all the information and discussions - which indeed helped go to bed and rest well for the next day. But trust me, it was worth it.

The bottom line of this whole article: if you’re majoring in CS and even vaguely interested in a research career, apply for CMMRS next year. You won’t regret it. Oh, and it will hopefully be held in-person, so you can actually go have a beer outside with the people you’ll meet! That helps keep things more fun :)