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An Interesting Conversation

Today I spoke with the POI from one of my top choices, if not my top choice, by Skype. I would have loved to have heard right off the bat, 'We're going to accept you', while I feared that it would have been an inquisition that would determine whether or not I got accepted. Needless to say, I was nervous :rolleyes:

The talk, and I'll say 'talk' rather than 'interview', was a lot closer to the former than the latter, with the POI telling me at the end that he was 'confident' that I would receive an offer later this week. I'm guessing this means that I've been recommended for admission and that the offer just needs to be approved by the grad school - that's a fair assumption, right?

The chat lasted about 30 mins and we talked about his interests and mine and how they overlap. He also gave me the opportunity to ask him questions, and I asked him about a couple projects that he is working on that I'm interested in. I also made sure to point out that I'd met one of his grad students at the conference I was at in December and worked in a mention of the paper that student presented on. He also asked if I like programming and about my mathematical background - nothing specific or technical, he just wanted to make sure I didn't have a fear of Maths, as he put it. He also repeatedly made it clear that all PhD students are guaranteed funding for 5 years - it almost seemed like he was trying to convince me that this school would be a great place to go to (as if I needed any convincingsmile.gif). Since I'm from a tropical country, he made a joke about the winters at this place and asked how interested I'd be in coming - seemingly gauging my interest in attending.

He also described the process to getting a PhD, in that there'd be coursework for 2 semesters and I'd be expected to start research by next summer. I asked if it would be possible to start research earlier and he said I could start from day 1 if I knew what I wanted to do right away. He explained that once I was admitted I would be free to choose any advisor I wanted, but also said that I could contact him before the fall for reading material or any advice I wanted. While pointing out the importance of selecting the right advisor, he made the analogy that is often made here, that selecting an advisor is like getting married to someone, since you're going to be working closely with them for several years.

Somewhere along the conversation he switched saying 'if you get an offer' in describing the process to 'when you get an offer'. Then at the end he told me I should look out for the offer later this week since he was confident that I'd get one.

I'm thrilled at the prospect of attending this school and I'm eagerly awaiting the official offer.

UPDATE (Feb 16): I received an email today saying I've been recommended for admission with funding at this school. An hour later, I received another email of admission with funding from another school I applied to. I'm living a dream.



So, I got an email this morning from a POI at one of my top choices asking for a chat tomorrow via Skype. The prof said he has been looking at my application with great interest.

He used the word 'chat' rather than 'interview', so I'm not sure if it's a formal interview or not, but in either case I'll be preparing for that.

Does anybody have any tips? I've done job interviews before, even interviewed people for jobs, but I haven't had a grad school interview before.


Bring On February!

Firstly, let me say congrats to everyone who has received an admission in January, I really am happy for you. With that said, I'm ecstatic that the month of January is over.

I to hear from my schools in January based on when results were reported last year. Even so waiting is incredibly frustrating. My heart almost stops every time I get an email that has a subject line remotely related to grad school (that's not from theGradCafe). Recently I got a call from an area code that I didn't recognise and immediately composed myself, mentally preparing myself for a call from a POI or from a school. It was a false alarm. That prompted me to find look up the area codes of the schools I applied to. Is that obsessive?

One of my schools sent out an acceptance last Friday and again yesterday. I hadn't expected to see results from them so soon since last year they apparently sent out their results in March. What does it mean that they've sent out at least 2 admits so far and I haven't heard from them since they said my application was sent to the program in early January? Does it mean anything? Part of me is excited that they've started sending results earlier this year, since I feel pretty good about my chances of getting in to that school - it'd probably be 3rd or 4th in the pack of 10 schools I applied to in terms of how good I think my chances are. If I don't get in there though, does that mean I'm pretty much done for at the more competitive schools I applied to? At this point, I'm just hoping that they're going through the applications and mine will come up tomorrow, or the day after that.

From the results reported on the gradcafe from last year, the next two and a half weeks will have a lot of activity from most of the schools I applied to. I hate thinking about things in hyperbole, but the next few weeks could be life changing for me. It's not every day that you have the opportunity for a long held dream to come true, and every day from here on out until I hear from my last school will be such a day. So that's how I'm going to look at tomorrow - as a day for my dreams to come true. And if it doesn't, then there's always the day after that.

Here's hoping that your February is as good as I hope mine will be.

PS. I was going to name the title of this post 'dear lord, i HAVE gone insane' as a play on inafuturelife's post from last month. But the thought occurred to me that a school could google who I was and come across this post and I didn't want to leave any ambiguity about the state of my cognitive well beingbiggrin.gif. And if there does happen to be someone from an adcomm who comes across this post, then please pick me! Pick me! Dear Lord, please pick me!!!


Officially Waiting...

I know I'm a little late to the waiting game, since I had a January 15 deadline for one school, but here I am. As I wait, I plan on reading up some more on academic papers in the field as well as reading a book I got at the conference I went to last month. Reading the tea leaves (and by that I mean looking at when the schools I applied to gave out results last year on the GradCafe's survey page) I figure that I probably won't get any news until the middle of February at the earliest.

From the self-reported results on the GradCafe's survey page from last year, the 10 schools I applied to all sent out decisions after the second week in February 2010. 8 of them had sent out some decisions in February while the remaining 2 sent out their decisions in March and later. More importantly (for me), none of the schools I chose sent out any rejections (at least based on the self reported results) until the middle of March, meaning that for the 4 weeks from mid-February to mid-March, all reported decisions from my schools were acceptances, while after that period, there were probably twice as many rejections as admits. This is not typical of grad schools, or even of Computer Science programs, since I myself got 3 rejections last February, but if this trend holds for my schools this year, then any contact I get before the end of February should be good. If I don't have any good news by mid-March, then the odds will definitely not be in my favor.

I've also been looking through the departmental calendars for the programs I applied to, since I remember last year people found calendars that had times reserved for things such as 'Admissions meeting'. Sure enough, one of my schools has dates between Jan 25 and Feb 21 marked 'Hold for interview' and has Feb 24 marked 'Faculty meeting to discuss candidates' and Feb 28 'Faculty-wide Admissions Meeting' - this was one of the schools that gave out decisions after February last year.

So for me it looks like it's on to February, maybe I'll get an interview invite before then, but I'm not expecting to hear anything until next month at the earliest.



Ok, it's not the breakthrough I really want, in a fully funded admission, but it feels pretty close to that at this point. My letter of recommendation writer who hadn't finished uploading them to all the schools I'm applying to earlier this week. The day after I wrote my previous post he submitted a couple and then he submitted the rest earlier this week. What this means for me is that some of the schools with Dec 15 deadlines I applied to received that final LoR 1 week late while 3 received it 3 weeks late (!). The schools that had January 1 deadlines would have received that final LoR a couple days late while I have 2 more schools for which the deadline hasn't passed as yet.

I cannot express in words the relief I got when I saw the email confirmation that the LoRs had been submitted. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my back. It's one thing to have your application rejected because you weren't good enough, it's another to have it not considered at all because someone you were depending on didn't submit a letter. As it is, I'm not sure if my applications at the 3 schools that received the LoR 3 weeks late will be considered with the other applicants', but the remaining 7 should be (I hope). If I'm able to one day become a professor, I hereby resolve to always be punctual with LoR requests!


I have a LoR Problem...

So, I have submitted 7/10 applications so far and should be finished completely later this week (the remaining 3 apps have deadlines in January). Unfortunately one of my LoR writers hasn't submitted any letters yet and 5 of my schools had deadlines on Dec 15th. Every day that passes is making it more unlikely that those 5 apps will be properly considered. Honestly, I'm a bit blindsided by this and figure that the prof must be really busy at this time, because he has submitted references for me more than once before and he's always been very supportive and dependable. He even gave me advice earlier in the process this time around. I've reminded him via email and when I saw no progress and didn't get a reply I was able to get in touch with him by phone this week and he assured me he would send them in. I've let him know the urgency of the situation, but until I see those letters submitted I'm almost dying of anxiety. Any advice in this situation? I thought waiting for results was bad, but this is much, much worse!


So this weekend I'm off to Vancouver for NIPS 2010. I won't be presenting but I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to meet people in my field. More than that however a few of the professors that I am interested in will have papers at this conference. I've been in contact with a few of them and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to meet with a couple of them at the conference.

I've been reading up on articles of how to make the best of conferences and perhaps the best that I have come across is this one from ProfHacker at the Chronicle. Among the things it suggests are to make sure to participate the panels, to use Twitter to interact with other conference attendees, to mingle, to introduce yourself, to stay at the conference hotel and to plan your networking ahead of time. Of course, I'm also looking forward to seeing the sights in a city I've never been to before.

What tips do you have to make the most of attending conferences?


A Rant About My Transcript

Well not really a rant, since I'm not much of a 'ranter', but it's a close to a rant as I get.

I'm scanning my official transcript to upload it to my applications and I'm noticing that it says my GPA is 0.00!!

I graduated before my UG instituted a GPA system, and I graduated with honors. At the time they used an A+, A, A-, B+, B, B- etc system. Two years after I graduated they implemented a GPA system and if that GPA system were applied retroactively, my GPA would have been about 3.93. I guess they don't want to put an official GPA on my transcript since there wasn't a GPA system when I was there, but come on, 0.00!?! Couldn't they just have left the GPA field blank? What's worse is that the transcript itself says nothing explaining why the GPA is 0.00. Each course has the grade points I earned beside it as well as the credit hours, but the total GPA at the end is 0.00. It's like they went half way to converting my grades to a GPA, but left the final score at 0.00.

I know that schools will look at my transcript for what it is and obviously wouldn't take it that my GPA is 0.00, but 0.00 does not look good at all on a transcript.

Should I include a cover note explaining the situation when I mail my transcripts? I could also send a link to the GPA conversion information on my UG's website.


My War Room

My "war room" is a google docs spreadsheet that I have been maintaining since about March of this year. In it, I have a sheet with over 60 schools that I looked at initially. Being a numbers person, I assigned a grade to each of the schools based on their reputation, their research (how much they matched mine) and their location. I then multiplied the totals of these by an estimate of their admission rates (some schools publish this data, for others I had to try to guess based on admission results in thegradcafe.com's survey), and by their funding rate (again an estimate in most cases based on what they say on their websites). I used those results to come up with my final list of 10 schools. I didn't automatically choose the top 10 schools by my rating, but ended up choosing the top 5 as well as 5 more from the top 20 schools on my ratings. Incidentally, I put the 4 schools I applied to unsuccessfully last year into the spreadsheet and they would have ranked in the bottom 20 or so of my options (primarily due to their very low acceptance rates).

Having selected the 10 schools I would apply to, I pulled those into a separate sheet where I have columns that track information such as the open date for the applications (I've filled out as much as I could as soon as I could on the application sites), the application deadlines, links to the application sites (some schools have a department application and a separate grad school application), contact information for the department (emails for questions and address for mailing transcripts), GRE codes, application fees, the number of transcripts required, the number of recommenders required (a couple programs only required 2 rather than 3), the length of the SoP as well as any information about a personal statement (or diversity statement), if required. I also have columns with links to the sources for this information.

Another sheet has the list of POIs from each of my applying schools with links to my gmail email conversations that I have had with them, links to their webpages as well as a column with any notes I've made about them. Soon I'll be adding a sheet and/or columns to track the pieces of my application that have been sent in, such as the LoRs, my transcripts and GRE grades etc.

Needless to say this took a little time to put together, but it has been very helpful in keeping track of my applications. I learned this the hard way last year when I was frantically looking up information on the night of the application deadline. It also pays to start to fill in the online application form early, not only to avoid having to do this at the deadline, but also because 1 of my schools asked that applicants request an ID number and put this ID number on their SoPs. It took about 2 weeks for them to respond back with my ID number - I can't begin to imagine the panic that would have ensued if I had only discovered this shortly before the deadline.


In this TED talk, Derek Sivers argues that by sharing our goals with others we are giving ourselves a feeling of getting it done, when in fact, we are no closer to actually accomplishing our goal. This feeling of getting closer to your goal hurts your chances of actually reaching your goal since you find yourself less motivated than you should be, thinking that you're closer than you actually are. Listening to this talk got me thinking about my immediate goal of getting to grad school. Does sharing that goal with others make me feel closer to my goal, when I should in fact be working a lot harder than I am to get to that goal? I don't know, but thinking about it definitely makes me want to work harder at what I need to do to get it done (like finishing my SoP and preparing for the GRE subject test). What do you think?

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As I am in the process of writing my statement of purpose from scratch, having decided that my SoP from last year was simply not good enough, I've decided to put together a blog post with some of the best advice on writing SoPs I've found in the last year or so of thinking about applying to grad school and perhaps the advice below from various sources can be useful to people putting together their statements now. Some of the advice is related to my field, Computer Science, but I believe that it is general enough to be applicable to most, if not all, fields. The SoP after all, is probably the most important part of your application that you have direct control over.

What is the SoP?

The first thing to consider is what exactly is the Statement of Purpose? Matt Might from the University of Utah advises that even though some places might call the SoP a 'personal statement', the SoP should be all about your research;

Use this statement to answer the following question in essay form: "Why should we, the admissions committee, believe that you, the applicant, have the potential do research in field X?" and "What kind of research could you see yourself doing and why?"
The fact that you always dreamed of working in your field since you were 12? Your childhood love of science, maths, books, etc? Forget about it. Not relevant, plus the vast majority of applicants would probably be able to say the same thing. He continues stating that a really good SoP will discuss research you've done and any publications you have. If you don't have any publications he writes that "You have to convince the person reading your application that you have theinterest, experience and potential to do research." and that "You should treat the personal statement like a letter to the professor at the top of your preferences list, because there's a reasonable chance that's what it is." BTW, Prof Might also has an awesome illustrated guide to getting a PhD.

How should you begin the SoP?

This is often the source of much debate and many differing view points. Some, like Arun Vasan, from the University of Maryland, College Park, says cut to the chase: "State upfront who you are and what you want. One should not have to search using a word processor whether you want an MS or a Ph.D."

While others prefer having an interesting, attention grabbing opening, also known as 'the hook'. David Rubin from Emory says [.pdf]

You want your statement to open with a bang! You want to begin in a way that pulls your readers in and makes them want to read more. This is called a “hook.” To develop a good hook, you’ve got to be creative and original. Neither cliches nor generalizations will do the trick.

He also suggests that the conclusion can tie in with your hook, providing a bookend to give your SoP a sense of coming full circle. Perhaps a hook followed by a sentence or two stating upfront what exactly it is you want to do?

More controversial, though, is the use of quotes as the hook. Berkeley has an annotated SoP from a successful applicant which comments that "The writer begins with a vivid quote that grabs the reader's attention right away."

The aforementioned Prof Might cautions however, "If you use a quote, make sure it's witty, relevant and one that the reviewer has never seen."

I opened with a quote last year and looking back it was probably too famous a quote (in my field at least) to do me any good.

Arjun Vasan flat out doesn't like quotes

Avoid quotations. You may have "miles to go before you sleep", "chosen the road less travelled", or "your-favourite-cliche-quote-from-high-school-here", but it ain't a personal statement unless you are quoting yourself, is it ?

I guess the moral of the story is, if it isn't a fantastic, witty, obscure quote that will grab your readers attention, then you're probably better served not having it.

What about the body of the SoP?

Here is where you will generally discuss a few things in paragraphs that flow naturally from one to the other. Generally you want to mention your background, research experiences, why you would be a good fit at the school you're applying to and your future plans. intextrovert from thegradcafe.com summarises that and with 'Focus', 'Fit' and 'Future'smile.gif

Focus. Like it or not, they want to be able to categorize you. You can have secondary interests, but they have to be clearly secondary and bear some relation to your main Focus.

Fit. Everyone tells you this, but it's true. I spent a lot more time really researching profs on the websites, then looking up and scanning through a few key articles, and skimming through the courses they taught. It really gives you a better idea of whether their interests and methodologies ACTUALLY fit yours, or whether it just looks like that on paper

intextrovert tailored the SoP to demonstrate how each school matched well with his or her interests, then focused on the future, saying that the

best advice I got for my SoP was that you should think about demonstrating that you are capable of conceiving of a larger project; whether or not you end up doing that project is irrelevant, as you probably won't and the adcomm is well aware of that - the point is that you are CAPABLE of conceiving of a future direction for yourself.
BTW intextrovert's post is one of the best I've ever come across on theGradCafe. You should read it if you haven't already.

Some other great advice for fleshing out your SoP that I've seen on this forum was provided by jasper.milvain who says

Show, don't tell. This is an old piece of writing advice, but an excellent one. Instead of telling them that you're an ideal candidate ("I am an ideal candidate because of my experience, my passion for research, and my dedication to the field"), SHOW them those characteristics through your writing.
(emphasis mine)

One way of showing them those characteristics is to talk about your research experiences in detail: "Explain a select few projects you did in gory detail and why that got you interested in research."

Ideally, there wouldn't be any gaps or shortcomings (such as a low GPA) on your application. If this is the case, however, you may have to spend very valuable SoP space that would be better spent on your research, to explain the aberration. Berkley advises: "If there is an aberration in your record, explain in positive terms what happened with that particular course or semester."

The Fit Paragraph

As inextrovert pointed out, demonstrating how well you fit in with a particular program is pretty important to your SoP. Some prefer having the fit paragraph towards the end, some prefer having it earlier in the SoP, so the readers will see right away which profs you're interested in working with. Either way works well I think as long as you weave it into the narrative of your SoP and demonstrate how your interests, experiences and skills will be of benefit to the department. As rising_star from this forum 'You have to show the department that they are the right place for you to study. If you can't do that, why should they accept you?'


As for the conclusion, which can give people fits [see perhaps David Rubin has an excellent idea with the bookend to pair with your hook. I tend to like mims3382's answer in the linked thread though.

hey no one is looking for a novelist!they won't want to be made to laugh, learn the secrets of the universe, or who dunnit.

you dont even need a clincher to end it. just something pleasant enough to leave a nice and unobtrusive aftertaste.

I think its universally agreed that after having done all of this, you should solicit feed back from friends, advisors, professors and lather, rinse, repeat until you have an SoP that you are pleased with. This has been a long post and thank you for bearing with me to reach the end. Perhaps a better writer could have written this in fewer words. What about you, though? What's been the best SoP advice that you've come across as you write yours?


In preparing myself for this year's application season, I went over all the things I did wrong last year, so that I could improve my chances for this year. Here, I think, is where I fell short last year. Consider it a list of things to avoid for those who are wondering what to do to apply to grad school.

5) I underestimated how hard it is to get into grad school . I'm smart - shouldn't that be enough? Yeah you are, but so are a few other hundred applicants. I didn't do the GRE subject test last year because it was just recommended at some of the schools I was applying to, not required. I failed to realise that it is extremely competitive to get into grad schools and if you have the opportunity to improve your application, even if by just a little, grab it.

4) I procrastinated. I watched September pass by thinking I'll get started in October. Then I watched October pass, while thinking I can get it done in November. I did a lot in November last year, but I could have used my time a lot better and my application would have been much stronger for it. I was literally finishing up SOPs on the day before the deadline. Don't wait, start now if you haven't already!

3) I didn't cultivate enough of a relationship with my LOR writers. Now, I had been out of my undergraduate for 7 years last year, so I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do a research project like someone in their senior year would have had. Fortunately my LOR writers remember me as a strong student who had some research experience (with one of them), but I realise now that that alone is not enough. A strong LOR will speak to your ability to do independent research and will describe you as a driven individual who will be successful in grad school. Perhaps if I had finished my SOP early in the process and solicited their feedback would have helped, which leads me to...

2) I wasn't focused at all in my SOP. Its painful to look back at my SOP from last year just because I know that it was so unfocused, which was partly a product of 4) above. My interests described in the SOP were too vague and furthermore I didn't present a streamlined approach to show how my past experiences and my current interests would lead me to be a successful grad student.

1) I chose the schools I would apply to poorly. I chose the schools I applied to last year primarily because of their prestige and their location. I didn't spend nearly enough time looking at how much of a fit they would be with my interests. I didn't take the time to contact professors or programs beforehand (looking back I didn't even know I should have until too late in the application season). I chose to apply to two schools because they were highly ranked prestigious schools that sent me emails soliciting my application since I scored highly on my GRE. A word of warning when you get these emails (you check whether you want to allow schools to see your scores when you sign up for the GRE) : If they come from a prominent school, don't be flattered by them. The school would have only seen your GRE scores which they are not going to consider very much when you actually apply, so you have to know if your application is strong enough for the highest ranked schools. I also didn't do the math. By which I mean, I ended up applying to 4 schools that have acceptance rates of less than 10% each. In some cases their acceptance rates were less than 5%. So basically, I gave myself more than a 60% chance of not getting in anywhere - so it really shouldn't have come as a surprise when that's what happened, because I gave myself such bad odds in choosing the schools I applied to.

I hope everyone reading this doesn't make the same mistakes I made last year. It's still pretty early in the process, but time is going, so if you haven't started your SOP yet; start now. If you haven't contacted your LOR writers yet; do that now. If you're not sure yet about which schools to apply to; do your research now.


Hello World!

Being in computer science, the title of this post was an obvious choice for me (fellow geeks will understand). I am probably not the typical grad school applicant in that I've been out of school for a few years now (actually 8 - I finished my undergraduate in 2002). I always intended to go to grad school, but life got in the way as they say, and I decided at the time to put off my desire to go to grad school until some undetermined time in the future. After finishing my undergraduate I taught high school for 4 years, and while I enjoyed working with teenagers (who doesn't?), I felt I wasn't learning enough and needed an environment where I could pursue my passion for learning, especially related to my field of study. It was that desire that led me to my current job as an IT professional. I do enjoy my current job, but there is still that unfulfilled yearning inside me to go back to grad school and have the opportunity to both teach and learn in my field.

Pursuing a career in academia has long been an ambition of mine, and my dream job is to some day be a professor. This is not the first time that I will have applied for grad school, five years ago I got the quixotic notion that I could have a chance at a Rhodes scholarship. And last year I applied to four very highly rated programs. Needless to say, none of those endeavours ended very well (at least for me). Earlier this spring, each rejection I received hardened my resolve that even if I didn't get in for Fall 2010, I was going to apply again. Having learnt a lot about the process (mostly from fellow applicants on this site) I believe that I can make my application a lot stronger this year. I am fortunate that my letter of recommendation writers believe in me enough to be writing letters for me again and my transcript is good enough - I graduated with the highest honours at my school, which didn't use a GPA system at the time (I'm an international applicant). I know my application is limited by the lack of extensive research experience (I worked as an undergraduate on a research project a prof leads, but have no publications), but I am doing everything I can this year to get to pursue my dream. I decided to go with 'Going All In' as the title of this blog because I intend to put everything I have into applying this year, for two reasons really 1) I really, really want to go to grad school and 2) I don't want to face getting rejections all around again next spring.

I'll close this initial post with a tweet from Cory Booker I came across earlier this year that helped to lift my spirits:

Every setback offers you the opportunity to despair or to reaffirm hope. Be stubborn. Be relentless. Be irrational. Choose Hope.