Frequent answers to questions


This page contains important information for students (including prospective students) trying to contact me (Daniel Hsu).

I try my best to keep up with e-mail, but sometimes that is not enough. So on this page, I have provided answers to some frequently-asked questions. I will likely not reply to questions already answered on this page (at least, not beyond a link to this page); I apologize in advance for the curtness.

Advising for Barnard students

For many more answers to frequently asked questions, see the FAQ page maintained by the CS department.

  1. I would like to declare Computer Science as my major. Can you sign my major declaration form?
    • Congratulations on this decision! Yes, I can sign your major declaration form. Please come to my office hours (see above) to get the form signed.
  2. How many credits should I sign-up for?
    • The minimum is 12 per semester, but you are encouraged to sign-up for 15 or 16 per semester in order to graduate on time.
  3. I would like to do study abroad, or take courses at another institution. Will these courses count towards the CS major?
    • You will have to find the instructor of a comparable course offered at Columbia, and ask them if the course at the other institution is an acceptable substitute.
    • Also see this entry in the FAQ.
    • Also, talk with Associate Provost Giorgio DiMaoro from the Barnard provost’s office.
  4. I would like to choose the Combination track for the CS major. How do I do this?
    • You should write a proposal for your desired combination of CS and another academic discipline, using the format given in this document.
    • The proposal should be submitted by September 30th in your 3rd year (after having declared the major) to your CS faculty advisor.
    • The proposal will be reviewed by a committee shortly after it is submitted.
    • The committee will recommend either to approve or reject the proposal; I will generally follow the committee’s recommendation.
  5. Does the “one D rule” apply to Barnard students?
    • Barnard does not allow D grades to be counted towards a student’s major.
    • Because other CS majors (at Columbia) are allowed to count a single D grade towards the major (the so-called “one D rule”), we will count the course in which one has received a D grade towards satisfying the major requirements, and we will use a different course (not already used for the major but with a higher-than-D-grade) to make up for the credits.
    • Contact me and your Barnard advisor if you need to apply this rule.
  6. What is the “senior capstone”?
    • As part of the General Education Requirements, every student “participates in a senior capstone project or a thesis project through her major.”
    • For CS, a senior capstone project is accomplished by taking a project-oriented CS course.
    • You can choose which course will count towards this capstone requirement as long as it has a significant project component (i.e., something more substantial than a regular homework assignment). Feel free to ask me if a certain course is likely to count.
    • At some point, you should let me know what course you are choosing for this purpose (perhaps during the semester in which you are taking the course).
    • I will ask the course instructor for the “grade” to assign to you for this “senior capstone” (e.g., “pass”, “pass with distinction”, …).
  7. I am on the waitlist for a class. What can I do about this?
    • Many classes have enrollment limits for a variety of reasons, ranging from room size to teaching staff capacity. Unfortunately, the demand for these classes may be higher that the allowed limits, and hence you may be put on a waitlist if you try to enroll in such a class.
    • You can always e-mail the instructor about how the waitlist is manged. (There is no single rule that applies to all classes.)
    • The instructor may tell you that they are not the ones managing the waitlist. If that is the case, it is likey the CS admin staff who manages the waitlist.

Applying to Columbia

  1. I am interested in applying to a computer science degree program at Columbia. Should I do so and what are my chances of getting in?
    • Please see the CS department’s webpage on admissions. There, you’ll find information about all aspects of the application process (e.g., deadlines, your chances of being admitted), as well as information about the academic programs themselves.
    • Some frequently asked questions, already answered for your convenience: M.S. Program Application FAQ, Ph.D. Application FAQ.
    • You may also be interested in academic opportunities through the Data Science Institute, as well as the NSF IGERT program “From Data to Solutions”.
    • I work on research in algorithmic statistics and machine learning. This work involves algorithmic design and mathematical analysis, as motivated by problems in (applied) machine learning and statistics. I am looking to recruit highly-motivated PhD students with strong backgrounds in algorithms, probability, and statistics to work with me on these research topics. If you are such a student, please mention this in your application; this is the best way to draw my (and others’) attention to your file.
    • Unfortunately, I do not generally have time to reply to inquiries from prospective students.
  2. Do you have any internship positions available?
    • I do not have internship positions available.
  3. Can I do a research visit with you for \(n\) months? My company/government/self will cover all of my expenses; I will not require a stipend.
    • Due to time constraints, I cannot commit to hosting external students or visitors whom I’ve never met or worked with. If you would like to apply to a degree program at Columbia, see above.
  4. Can I do a postdoc with you?
    • I do not have any open postdoc positions.

Advising for Columbia students in MS programs

  1. I am a student in the Computer Science MS program interested in machine learning. What classes should I take? Am I on track to graduate?
  2. I am a student in a CVN degree program interested in machine learning. Are you my adviser and what classes should I take?
    • I am not involved with the CVN programs.
    • I do not know if/when courses will be offered through CVN.
  3. Do I have sufficient mathematical and computational background to take a machine learning course?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for Columbia students

  1. I would like to get your approval for CPT. Can you sign my forms?
    • First, please read the CS department’s webpage on CPT.
    • If I am your faculty advisor, and you are seeking approval for CPT, submit a Fieldwork application form, along with the official employment offer letter and a short proposal, to me over e-mail. In particular, the employer must have signed off on the “Fieldwork Instructions”. If everything is in order, then I will approve (over e-mail).
  2. What is the CPT report I have to submit?
    • You must write and submit a five-page report at the end of the internship, describing your work and what you learned in the process.
    • Use this Google Docs template for the report. (You should use your LionMail account to access the template.)
  3. When is the report due?
    • It is due two weeks after the last day of your internship.
  4. How do I submit the report?
    • One of your internship supervisors, or someone with similar authority, MUST approve the report before it is submitted to me. Use the cover sheet provided on the CS department’s webpage on CPT. It is your responsibility to obtain such approval before the report is due.
    • Use this Google Form to submit your report and cover sheet as a single PDF file.
    • After you have submitted the form, e-mail me alerting me of this fact. (Do not attach the report/cover sheet on the e-mail.)
  5. How will the report be graded?
    • If you follow instructions and make an effort to write a high quality report, you will receive full credit.
  6. My supervisors have not approved my report because they are on vacation (or otherwise unavailable). Is it okay to submit the report anyway?
    • You MUST have the report approved by a supervisor or someone with similar authority. Someone at the company has to read and approve your report and make sure you are not in violation of non-disclosure agreements and the like.
  7. I will submit the report late because my supervisors cannot approve the report until after the deadline. Is this okay?
    • A late report will be detrimental to your COMS 6910 grade.

Research opportunities for Columbia students

  1. Can I join your lab as a research assistant?
    • I advise a group of students who work on research in algorithmic statistics and machine learning. This work involves algorithmic design and mathematical analysis, as motivated by problems in (applied) machine learning and statistics.
    • If you are a current (or already admitted) Columbia student and are interested in discussing a project with me, please feel free to get in touch with me (via e-mail or office hours). Please send/bring (i) an up-to-date CV, (ii) a transcript highlighting your background in algorithms, probability, statistics, and learning theory, and (iii) a brief description of your research interests and the types of problems you are interested in working on.
    • If you do not have at least an advanced undergraduate background in algorithms and probability, I will likely ask you first to acquire this background knowledge before working with me. (Some statistics background also helps.)
  2. What are some examples of projects you’ve worked on with students at Columbia?
  3. I am interested in applying (deep) machine learning to application \(X\). Can I work with you on this?