Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Application (‘Apping’) Saga – The Dream Turns Tedious

Welcome back. Picking up from where we had left off, you will also have to decide whether you wish to pursue an MS or a PhD. That took a while as I was, and still am, not quite sure what I want to do in life. So I decided on pursuing an MS first up as that would give time to decide whether I am PhD material or not. Also I wasn’t quite sure of spending the next 5 years of my life in some place I have never seen and working under someone I have never spoken too. It sounded too daunting. Pursuing an MS would give me a feel of research in the US and help me decide my field of interest. Basically I felt I could make a more informed decision during the MS program. About leaving after your masters, in the case of an MS-PhD program. It is not ethical in the first place and secondly it is illegal in some cases. The university may not give your masters degree at all or may blacklist you from doing a PhD anywhere in the US.

Now for the stuff needed from your undergraduate institute. You will need sealed transcripts of your grades. That created some confusion for us, as the form had some weird questions. Problem was solved through emails and phone calls and two days of unwanted tension. The second thing needed will be reccos from your profs. Now that can be a pain in the wrong place. First you have to decide who will be your recommender. That decision is based on how well the prof knows you and what he will write about you. Rank of the prof is not as important as the former two points. How well he knows you, depends on the number of years he has known you, subjects taught and projects supervised. Fairly clear. Now the point is what he will write about you. That cannot be known as the correspondence between the prof and university is supposed to be confidential. You will have to trust him and hope of the best. You could do your part by not choosing your enemy as your recommender. But what if your favourite prof isn’t so kind and generous with praise for you in his letter?

(Click on picture to enlarge.)

Is there any way to read the profs mind? Yes! Well not exactly. There is a way to read what the prof will say about you. You ask him for paper reccos for some universities. Ask for one university which you will not apply to, along with the required ones. Open that extra one and see what he has written. If he hasn’t written anything good, you can ask him to shove it up where the sun doesn’t shine. But that is not morally correct. Both, taking the extra recco and the shoving part.

Anyways I didn’t do this. I took all my reccos online and hoped for the best. Another couple of points on the subject. Approach the profs well in advance and if possible take the reccos before the rush season of November December. Different universities take online reccos at different times. Meaning some universities accept reccos anytime after you have started your online form while some accept only after you have submitted your form. So adjust accordingly. Maybe it might be easier to take paper reccos and send them yourself although some univs like Gatech and UTA have no paper recco option.

Now for the mother of all apping ingredients. The SOP! Well this statement or essay is supposed to talk about your research experience, goals, reasons for choosing that university etc. There are tonnes of articles on this and you can check them out yourself. I’ll just mention that the essay should have a ‘flow’ in a certain direction. It shouldn’t be random like the path of an auto in Bangalore. Also refrain from repeating stuff from your resume. Instead of describing your project, talk about what it taught you or what skills you acquired through it and how it is related to the field you’re applying to. All your projects should somehow appear related to your field. For example tomatoes and blood are related by the fact that both are red. Now the connection has to be stronger than that. Anyways I hope you get the point. As far as possible, the SOP should be customized with respect to length and content for each university.

Sigh! When will I see the end of this tunnel?

To be continued..


  1. u took pictures on campus,thinking you would someday write this post ??..but the blog is pretty informative!!

  2. Deciding about PhD after completing MS does make sense. But I think some of us have seen the flip side of this decision. Most of the profs who have mailed students are offering aid only for PhD, and a blunt no to MS applicant. So cost of procrastination can well be the tution fees of the college!
    Another point that I would like to mention over here. UTA and Gatech, both, allowed for hard copies after I contacted them. But as luck would have it, I didnt apply to both.

  3. @aviator.. dats d flip side of MS.. no funding.. but i m pretty sure it will be really hard 2 grind out fr 5 yrs if u dont like it.. n supposedly its nt guranteed that u get ur PhD after dat 5 yrs.. basically its ur work dat gets u d PhD.. nt d time u spent doing it.. and thanks for correcting d facts bout UTA n Gatech..

  4. deciding between MS and PhD is difficult... I have an admit in both and am having a hard time... i really like the work being done by the prof with whom I wanna do a PhD, its interesting, new-age and fascinating... but there is still that little doubt- what if my interests change after going there? what if i am unable to finish the PhD in that 4-6 years time...can't really continue studying for all my life! (right now 5 years does seem like my entire life)

    and UCSD clearly stated that they don't consider hard copies of recos beacuse there admission comittee sees only the online application material... but they did take the hard copy for me.. so i guess contacting the university is the best option

    ..btw ur posts will help juniors :)

  5. Hey Danny ! Nice post ..u can now be appointed as one of the moderators on bits2msphd !:P ...as for the post never had the doubt between MS/PhD but unexpectedly had trouble choosing univs ..may be u can talk abt tht in ur next post ..and must say really nice pics..how d hell do u find so much time !!

  6. @Nalini

    If your interests change after coming here, you can change your advisor too. I am doing it as well.

    You won't be able to continue the PhD for more than 6 years in most universities. They do whatever is in their power, to graduate you then. ;) :D

  7. hey bro..
    donno wht u like MS or the PHD .. but surely i did like the part where the sun doesnt SHINE...