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IISc CSA - MSc (Engg) Interview

13th April 2014
IISc; CSA; Masters; Interview

My written test and interview was to be held on 6th June 2014 in "The Longest week" . I had been intimated by the institute almost a month in advance (12th May) so I had ample time to prepare for the interview and test. I was also made aware in the same communication that there would be a 30 minute, 10 questions written test followed by an interview if shortlisted.
CSA department at IISc has primarily 3 specializations :
• Theoretical Computer :: Algorithmic Algebra, Algorithms, Data Structures and Algorithms, etc.
• Computer Systems and Software :: Computer Architecture, Distributed Computing, High Performance Computing, Operating Systems,Power-Aware and Real-Time Software etc.
• Intelligent Systems :: Data Mining, Machine Learning, Pattern recognition etc.

We were asked to choose one among the 3 to specialize in and the interviews / research area / guide and courses that would follow would be based on the specialization you select. Given my background at work in Operating Systems / Computer Architecture and my interest aligning to this I chose Systems specialization. I mostly spent my last few weeks before the interview reading the Design of the UNIX Operating System by Maurice Bach (I simply adore this book), Computer Organization by Hannesy and Patterson and brushing up my Math and previous GATE study subjects.

On the day I showed up at the Instutite at 9:00 AM along with a handful of 25-30 others. We faced a pretty simple straight foward written test (Seemed like a warmup). The questions if I recall were:
1. a simple C code output
2. question based on Bayes Theorem
3. question based on logical inference and set theory
4. longest path problem and it being NP Hard
5. another question in probability
6. question based on a graph theory and graph algorithm

I don't quite remember the rest at this moment of time. Anyways, we waited outside the department heart-in-mouth anxious for the results. I remember them being courteous enough to provide tea and coffee, but I was too anxious to have any. After about 25-30 mins they annouced the names of students for interview and based on specialization we were directed to different panels and almost 75% of people who attempted the test were shortlisted. I was 4th inline to be interviewed by the order they annouced. The 3 who went before me completed their interviews in about 15-20 mins. Entering the room, the panel consisted of 4 profs who were warm and welcoming and I sort of remembered their names from the faces on the site. They were R C Hansdah , Uday Reddy , Murali Krishna and one other prof I didn't recognize. (EDIT: The 4th prof was Y.N Srikanth)

After a brief intro into who I was, my motivation and work-ex etc, I was asked the following questions and provided a whiteboard to write and explain if needed:
-->   How do I maintain top k numbers in a sequence of n numbers? What is the complexity (Min Heap,n log k)
-->   Given a sequence of consecutive 0's followed by 1's write an efficient program to find the location where 0 becomes 1 (I wrote my own algo that looked like a modified version of Binary search. Watch for corner cases where the algo might fail! )
-->   How do you explain mathematically big-Oh of a function and some follow up questions with examples to check if I really understand the concept
-->   Write a program for topological sort and some varitions of it later (like without destroying the adjacency list representation etc.)
-->   They asked me about my 2 favorite Math subjects - I said Linear Algebra and Set Theory.
-->   Given an integer write a C program to determine the number of 1's in its binary representation
-->   Mathematically and geometrically explain principle of Linear Independent Set of vectors, the prof continued asking me various questions on this topic to clean up my not so clear boardwork on Linear Independence.

The professors were friendly and gave hints when I was stuck on occassions. The interview lasted well over 1 hour (close to 1h 20m), and by the time I was out I was overwhelmed by the basic questions I had been asked, though on hindset they were trying to quiz me on fundamentals. I enjoyed being in that room and having that discussion with the professors that day. Most of all I enjoyed the serene lush green campus.
A word of advice to all research IISc aspirants out there, know and revise your fundamentals however they twist it, be confident and calm, do your homework of the profs and specialization you want to align yourself with and study the background subjects needed for them. Revise and be good at ATLEAST a couple of Math core topics.

A weeks later it was the most memorable day when I was shortlisted for admission into the research program. I will be joining as a student at at CSA Dept. at IISc for MSc (Engg) Research course and looking forward to my second stint in my academic career. I am hoping for a longer stretch as I try to aim for a PhD thereafter :-)

Also read the article on Preparing for GATE and beyond. My cliched 2 cents on this topic!

EDIT 1: Here is a detailed doc about CSA research interviews scope and process that I found to be extremely useful while preparing. It's possibly been taken off from the CSA servers but I fortunately managed to get a copy.

EDIT 2: I've got lots of questions via emails asking for selection process for M.E in CSA and SSA, MTech / M.Sc in SERC departments in IISc. So here is a quick summary for you reference. IISc publishes its GATE cut off scores for each department and corresponding GATE paper stream on the admissions webpage. Do refer that.
M.E at CSA Department
Direct admission for GATE CS paper. The cut off for GATE CS paper 1000 to 911.
M.E at SSA Department
Direct admission for GATE CS paper. The cut off for GATE CS paper 911 to 909.
M.Tech at SERC Department
There is a written round followed by a general interview. The cut off for GATE CS paper in 2014 was 700.
M.Sc(Engg) at SERC Department
This process is identical to the CSA M.Sc(Engg) admission process. SERC has 2 streams (a) Computational Science and (b) Computer Systems. There is a written round followed by an interview in one of the stream chosen by you. The cut off for GATE CS paper in 2014 was 700.
The research in Computational Systems includes Bio-molecular Computation, Computational Electrodynamics, Computational Photonics, Medical Imaging, Numerical Math & Scientific Computing, Scientific Computation, Structural Biology
The research in Computer Systems includes Computer Architecture, Database Systems, Distributed Systems & Applications, High Performance Computing, Image & Video Analytics, Information Systems & Security, Middleware & Runtime Systems, and Visualization & Graphics

The good thing about IISc that I have observed over the past 1 year is that students are allowed and encouraged to take courses in other departments. So students in SERC take up courses in CSA and vice-versa to complete their course credit. Many of the faculty are joint faculty of both CSA and SERC which adds to the intertwined nature of the 2 departments.

EDIT 3: Due to the overwhelming hits this article has been getting, a good friend of mine has obliged to walk us through her written tests and interviews for MTech/M.Sc admission in IISc and IIT Madras in 2015 (GATE Rank 323, Score 765).

EDIT 4: Over the year 2016, there were 2 changes in IISc.
(1) MSc(Engg) is now called MTech(Research)
(2) The academic wing of SERC is now called CDS (Computational and Data Sciences), SERC will function as the facility provider for compute to IISc while the academic degrees will be awarded from CDS.

Some more back links to similar posts regarding post GATE experiences: ankitrokdeonsns, Arpith-MSc(Engg) at CSA, 2016 batch.

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Comments (55)

April 7, 2015

Thank you. A very informative post.

April 8, 2015

I would like to understand the difference between the MSc(Engg) offered by CSA and SERC dept. Can you write a blog post stating the difference b/w them??

April 8, 2015

Hi Prashant,
MSc(Engg) in both departments has multiple streams from which you can choose to specialize in. Both the courses are of the same duration i.e. between 2-3 years.
In this blog above, I quickly summarized the streams offered in each dept. For clarity by streams, specifically they mean a set of topics (or research labs) that belong to the same principal area.
SERC streams - Computational Science & Computer Systems
CSA streams - Theoretical Computer Science, Computer Systems, Intelligent Systems
There is a requirement to complete 12 minimum course credits in both the dept. for the course. These courses can be taken from courses offered by either SERC or CSA dept. dependending on your interest. SERC takes about 10-15 students while CSA takes about 15-20 MSc students per year. As you see already see there is overlap in Computer Systems domain and hence there are joint faculty like Prof. Jayant Haritsa, Prof. R Govindarajan, Prof. Mathew Jacob in this domain between the two departments. Also there are joint profs from ML, NLP and data mining like Prof. Parth Pratim Talukdar. Apart from that the admissions to two departments are almost identical.

April 8, 2015

Thanks, Adarsh.. One more thing I want to ask.since I am more interested in the field of Computer Systems, So while applying I made SERC- Computer System as my 1st pref then CSA, will I get call from both dept or only the 1st pref? Since you mentioned some faculty is common for both the Dept. so I am assuming there will not be much diff in course structure. Still based on other aspects which dept is better? (GATE 2015 Score : 841 AIR : 116)

April 8, 2015

With your GATE score you should expect/will get a call from both SERC and CSA for M.Sc(Engg) regardless of your preference in the application. However if you crack both, your preference of dept. will come into play. For systems domain, I would say that an admission in either department gives you equally excellent opportunities for research. All the best!

April 8, 2015

Thanks Adarsh. You have been a great help! :-)

April 23, 2015

I got my interview letter for research program (phd) and quite confused from where should I start. please help me ..

April 24, 2015

Hi Luvpreet,
First congrats on getting the call - you've crossed the first hurdle. Coming to how to go about preparation, as I mentioned above there are 3 streams in CSA for research - Computer Systems, Intelligent Systems and Theoretical Computer Science. You would have to choose one of these streams to work in. For this you can visit the CSA Research page. The page has links to various research labs and faculty who work in these areas (you don't have to choose a faculty/lab, just a stream. You have ample time to choose a research advisor and lab once you get an admission). Depending on your chosen area you would be interviewed on topics relating to this field. I am assuming that you have a masters degree already since you have opted for the PhD program. Even otherwise in general for a PhD research course they look for self-motivation of the candidate to pursue research. Any paper published would be an added advantage. Also read up on all your fundamental concepts in algorithms and data structures. Mathematics is a MUST for all tests / interviews at IISc so revise all topics of engineering maths. Expect them to grill you on atleast one of the Math topics of your choice in the interview. All the best!

April 11, 2015

Hi Adarsh,

I have got a call in M.Sc for both the CSA and the SERC departments. As per the call letters, mathematics, data structures and algorithms are the only requirements for the entrances. Nonetheless, could you please confirm if any other subjects' preparation is needed for the written test and the 1st round of oral interview.

Soumya Biswas

April 12, 2015

Hi Soumya,
The syllabus for CSA written round includes GATE CS syllabus for the following topics: Engineering Mathematics (all subtopics included), Programming and Data Structures, and Algorithms. The interview will be based on the research topics background subjects you choose to specialize in. Take a look at this document for further details.
The SERC M.Sc(Engg) written round will consist of questions from Programming in C, Data Structures, Algorithms, Discrete Mathematics, Probability and Statistics. You would find this document useful for further details about interview.
Basically the admission process is to test your fundamentals at an undergraduate level. However don't be surprised if you get an application question based on above topics into other topics. All the best!

May 10, 2015

What are the career opportunities available after MSC at CSA.

May 10, 2015

M.Sc(Engg) is a master by research program with an average duration of 2.5 years for completion. You would be required to publish atleast one research papers (in some cases 2 papers) in tier 1 conferences and conclude the course with a thesis, colloquium and defense similar to a (half) PhD.

M.Sc (Engg) gives you equal opportunities for campus placement as your fellow ME / MTech counterparts. You have a choice to sit for placements ONCE either in 2nd year or 3rd year depending on your progress of research. If the companies are willing you can sit for placement in the 2nd year and complete your thesis / research work and join slightly late. IISc not only gets 100% placements but also provides opportunities to choose from ample number of Tier1 companies, with profiles ranging from R&D to core development teams. However in M.Sc (Engg) since you would have worked within a single domain as your core research area you would more likely be targeting companies (and vice versa) which are closest to your field of work rather than writing any and every company during placements.
If you would like to convert to a PhD at IISc you can do so by simply giving a letter to your research advisor anytime during your first year. If you would like to continue with PhD course after M.Sc(Engg) you can do so by submitting a letter to this effect withing 15 days of submitting your thesis. IISc also has a very good name for producing quality research and many students who want to purse PhD in other aboard universities have been extended offers during the conferences they attend when they publish papers and journals.

May 18, 2015

Fresh out of college am not sure if I am fit for a research course like MS. What made you decide for taking MS course over MTech. What are the career prospects after MS?

May 18, 2015

First let me give you some statistics. The current batch of M.Sc (Engg) at CSA has about 40% students who have some work experience and rest are fresh out of college like you. There is a good mix of people with work experience and fresh college graduates in the senior years as well. If you show enough potential and background knowledge in your chosen field there is no doubt that you can make it as well.
Since M.Sc(Engg) is a masters by research course and you would be required to read, understand and explore your field of interest by yourself. You would be guided by your research adviser all through and the courses you take will help facilitate that line of thinking to a certain extent, specially in IISc where the focus is on research. Most of all you need to be self motivated and have a passion to explore as you would be under no obligation or in direct competition with people around you. Your field of research is your own and what you work on will most likely be understood by a select few. You can still bounce ideas of other areas.
Personally my 2 cents is that I have learnt quite a bit in my short 2 year career at the industry but given today's resources you could pick up those skills while in bachelors as well.
As for career prospects, please refer to my reply in the comment earlier.
The placements scenario is similar in IITs as well where the companies are open to both ME and M.Sc(Engg).

May 20, 2015

so there were no apti like questions as specified by your friend on your site here : http://adarshpatil.in/timewarp/blog/post-gate-admissions-2015.html

May 20, 2015

Depends on what you mean by aptitute. Some of the basic mathematics questions about the circle can be called an aptitute questions. Also, There were totally 30 questions. These are a sample of some questions that appeared in the test.

May 20, 2015

Hi I got call from Research Program IISc SERC CS Stream. I am a graduate and will be taking MSc program (not PhD).In the interview brochure, it has been specified that there will be a written test followed by first interview on Basic Area Subjects which are Programming in C, Algorithms and Data structures. Then there will be interview on Advanced Subjects corresponding to the area chosen. I want to know how much emphasis is put on the Advanced Subjects. Since some of the advanced subject listed are Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning which I never had in my syllabus.

Also CSA sub areas include Combinatorial geometry, computational gepmetry, game theory...which am unaware of

May 20, 2015

For advanced area subjects in the oral interview of SERC you are expected to have some background in atleast one subject pertaining to the lab you are aspiring to work in. This is done to make sure that the candidate is aware of the area he is getting into, you are not expected to show zen level skills in it. Even simple BE/BTech projects will help to get some background. However, make sure you nail the basic area subject questions.
In CSA, the sub areas you mentioned "Combinatorial geometry, computational gepmetry, game theory" are not the topics that will be tested. Those are research areas you can work in if you get selected. The background subjects (refer table 1 in CSA brochure) for these topics is what you will tested on in the interview. Once you choose an area of interest from column 2, you should prepare the corresponding background subjects for the interview.

May 22, 2015

I am also going for an interview at cense department iisc Bangalore, can you brief about the maths questions please , in the interview ?

May 23, 2015

I don't know a whole lot about the CeNSE department at IISc but usually the norm for any grad course in IISc the mathematicsk knowledge expected is fundamental Maths and Engg. Maths (All that you studied for GATE). There's not a whole lot they ask outside of that and there is nothing to be afraid of it either. What I would say is - expect to be questioned in Maths, so prepare these topics. Here are 2 questions from Quora that may help you:
What topics should be read for an interview for the research programme in nanoscience and engineering at IISc Bangalore?
What's your experience of attending M.Tech (nanoscience and engineering) interviews at IISc Bangalore?
All the best!

June 14, 2015

Hello Adarsh. Are you aware of when the offer letters be given to the candidates who are shortlisted ? On what basis the final list is prepared or all the shortlisted candidates get the offer letter ?

June 14, 2015

Aman - Congrats on making it. Usually offer letters are sent out to all of the short listed candidates. It's just an administrative formality where the admission department verifies your application, number of seats, hostel capacity etc. The offer letters are usually sent immediately following the announcement of the shortlist. You should be receiving the offer letters sometime this week.

June 14, 2015

Thanks for the prompt reply :)

June 16, 2015

Hi Adarsh, I was shortlisted by the CSA department but the final list prepared by the Admissions department doesn't reflect the same. Little confused on what went wrong. I chose Machine Learning and NLP as the choices. Is there a wait list system that they maintain. Please let me know if you have any information.

June 17, 2015

Aman - I am not aware or have visibility into a final list being prepared by the Admissions department. The usual course is that once you are shortlisted in CSA, within a few days you get an email from the Academic Registrar with your offer letter and further admission instructions. If you've not recieved the email yet I would suggest waiting for a day or two and then dropping an email to ar@academic.admin.iisc.ernet.in asking for the status. A few of my friends who were shortlisted at CSA have started receiving offer letters starting Monday evening. I can only speculate that they would be send out in batches but I am not the authoritative source for it.

June 17, 2015

Thanks Adarsh. Will wait a few days as suggested and then mail the admissions department. Thanks again you have been a good guide :)

June 20, 2015


I am short-listed by CSA for research program. I haven't got the offer letter yet. when I contacted, they told me that i am in waiting list.
Perhaps 14 people are there who haven't got offer letter yet, while other have been called for admission.
so my question is, what are chances for wait-listed candidate to get offer letter??
can you let me know about research program intake for 2015.

@aman......did you get offer letter now or you have the same condition??

June 20, 2015

@krishn : I didn't get it still. On contacting, I was also informed the same - to be in the waiting list.

June 20, 2015

@krishn @aman: I donot have visibility into the waitlist. However, I can give you are some statistics about number of seats available from past years at CSA Department (these numbers are including ERP, defence and TEQIP quota candidates)
2014 research admissions : 17 M.Sc(Engg) and 10 PhD students
2013 research admissions : 11 M.Sc(Engg) and 11 PhD students
I believe you will get an offer, if someone drops out from the list of candidates who have currently been extended offers. I can also tell you that the last date for confirming / rejecting the seat for the offered students and paying fees is July 3, 2015. You should wait untill that date. All the best!

June 20, 2015

Thank you adarsh for giving detailed information.

June 25, 2015

I am short listed by CSA for research program. I haven't got the offer letter yet.
So my query is where can I find the merit list and number of people called for admission.
Can anyone please let me know if you get any updates.
Thank you.

June 26, 2015

As I said earlier, I doubt that information about merit list / waiting list status is available publically. The only way to know your admission status is by sending an email to the academic registrar. Tagging @krishn and @aman to answer your above query and update you if they have further information.

June 26, 2015

@pavan : You can not find the waiting list candidates, but you can get your status by calling to Registrar(acedemic) on 91-80-22932210. Those who haven't got offer letter have been put in waiting list. After first set of admission, the waiting list would be operated.
I have the same condition like you. you can drop me mail(krishnkant.dumca@gmail.com), so if i get more information, i will let you know. Thank you.

July 1, 2015

@Adarsh and @Krishn, thanks for the information.

October 16, 2015

Hi... This was a very important information and this will be very useful for the preparation of GATE exam. I have been reading your blog for a long.

November 4, 2015

Hi.. I got a call letter for PhD interview for mid year entry from SERC. My interested area of research are computational sciences, Simulation and Scientific visualization. Can you please help get an idea how the interview process is going to be. How should i prepare for it?

November 5, 2015

Hi Akhil, You can read this article here for more information on MSc(Engg) admissions at SERC. There will be a written test followed by an interview. Your interests are in line with Prof. Soumyendu Raha for simulation and Prof Vijay Natrajan for visualization. You will have to prepare topics from (but not limited to) basic mathematics, linear algebra and have basic knowledge of programming.

November 7, 2015

Thanks a lot for your reply Adarsh. I'll keep everything you said in mind.

March 4, 2016

Thank you, Adarsh, for your quick reply.
A few of my details in short - from Gujarat. completing B.E. Electrical this year from a mediocre college. keen interest in microprocessor and digital electronics.
So, is it possible/advisable for me to pursue masters and beyond in the field of neuroscience? I think artificial intelligence/machine learning/ neural networks etc. are fascinating areas. But, as you see, I am not acquainted with these subjects yet.
P.S.: I've designed my own primitive infancy-level 4 bit microprocessor (at least, simulated)

March 4, 2016

Firstly, let me try to answer your question about neuroscience. Neuroscience is an inherently inter-disciplinary field. The Center for Neuroscience(CNS) department of IISc admits people from all Science and Engineering undergraduate streams. You can write GATE EC or EE paper and you will eligible for interview process if you are above the cut-off score (usually Gate score 600 is the cut-off). Futher more, they donot expect you to have any prior knowledge in this domain but only expect a good knowledge of the undergrad curriculum. More details about the program and admissions are here. However CNS department offers a PhD program only and it will be helpful if you spend some time as RA in the department under a prof to get an idea of what the department really works on rather than just going by the buzz word. There is also Indian National Node for Neuro Informatics which is an emerging research area at the interface between information technology and brain research which deals more with Computational Neuroscience. There are other smaller institutes like NBRC that have masters program in Neuroscience
Secondly regarding AI/ML/NN areas, at IISc these areas are covered by the departments of CSA and newly formed CDS (erstwhile SERC). Again these departments accept GATE EC scores and have masters programs by courses and research. More details about admissions on this blog above.
Hope I answered your question. Good luck!

March 11, 2016

Hello, I have read your blog posts and comments on how to get into IISc and their interviews and the things. I am inclined to take a career in neuroscience. I am a B.E. Electrical final year student. But, now, the very obvious and striking question that many parents pose against aspirants like me is : what are the job perspectives and salary (in or out of India) after completing an M.S. in neuroscience (being a B.E. Electrical). Could help me with this?

March 15, 2016

I am not the authoritative person to answer your question. However from what I hear, there are leading pharmaceutical companies that hire from that department. Also, there are several neurological medical research labs in the US that you can join e.g: University of Maryland School of Medicine, Neurology center at Thomas Jefferson University etc. You should talk speak/email students of that department for more info.

March 15, 2016

Thank you. As one more favour, could you please site any names/references/contacts of your acquaintance in neuroscience, if any?

March 15, 2016

I don't know anyone personally but the lab websites at CNS have students (PhD, interns) names. Some of them have profile pages and emails. You may find the right wisdom there. Here are the links Dr. S P Arun lab, Chairperson Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath lab, Dr. Balaji lab, Dr. Aditya Murthy lab

March 15, 2016

Ok. I will search these things. Thank you very much for your kind and quick support.

March 18, 2016

Hi Adarsh,
I have answered GATE 2016 but I'm not sure if I'll manage a score good enough to get into IISc. Hence, I'm planning to take a year off and prepare for GATE as well as get a better understanding of the possible research areas. Is there a downside to opting for a gap year? Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

March 21, 2016

There is no downside of taking a year gap at all at this stage when you have completed your under graduation provided you use the year to do something useful. There are plenty of avenues to hone your skills in the meantime while you are preparing. You can take up a job, contribute to an open source project or be a Project Assistant at the lab of your interest at IISc/IITs if there are openings to get some exposure into the area you are targeting to pursue your masters in. Contact the concerned Profs webpages for this.

March 23, 2016

Thank you for taking the time out to answer my query. Will definitely keep in mind everything mentioned by you. Thank you once again.

March 29, 2016

hi adarsh!!
i got 112 rank in gate 2016 BT. Could you please tell me If there are chances to get call from deptt. of computational and data science,iisc? if so when they conduct written test and do they give time for making arrangements to reach iisc???

March 30, 2016

Hi Raman
Call for interview is based on your GATE score. I believe the cut-off for a call for interview from CDS department is 700 for both MTech and MSc(Engg) [now called MTech(Research)]. IISc usually posts the previous year cut-offs on the admissions webpage so you can cross check from there.

April 1, 2016

Okay!! Thanks for reply. I think I lost my chance.

April 19, 2016

thanks a lot. I am a non CS guy and trying to get admission in SERC. This article really helps.

June 11, 2016

I had been called for the interview held two three days back for MTech Research Interview. I have not cleared the interview. Did i will be allowed to attend the interview for Jan - Feb Admission ?

June 12, 2016

Yes, you can re-apply with the same score for the mid-year research interviews. However the respective departments will call for interviews only if there are vacancies and the interviews are held in Oct-Nov timeframe. There will be a list of available seats in each department put up before hand. Also, the GATE cut off scores will almost remain the same, so you are almost assured of an interview contingent upon seat availability.

June 12, 2016

Thank You for replying to my post. Please tell me is there any CSA Research Interview in Oct - Nov Session.

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