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randommusing

Should I take a gap year or apply for a PhD for next year?

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Come this September, I will start pursuing a MSc in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. I eventually want to do a PhD in Natural Language Processing from a top-tier college. The Msc is a one year course. At the time of submitting my applications, my first semester results will not be out. And my undergrade grades are not great enough to get me through. 

I am quite anxious about losing a year, though

Will doing well in my Masters, publishing some papers, striking  a good rapport with my professors and getting a first in my Dissertation improve my changes drastically for Fall 2020? I'm also scared that the competition will only be getting more tough.

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You won't be "losing" a year. That year of your life will still be lived, even if you're just doing something else. And there are worse things to do than work for 1-2 years in the AI field, make some money that you can use as an emergency fund in grad school, and maybe get some experience that will aid you in getting a job after your PhD.

If you have mediocre grades from undergrad and maybe not a lot of research, then yes, an MS + papers + good recs + a good thesis can significantly improve your chances of admission.

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2 hours ago, juilletmercredi said:

You won't be "losing" a year. That year of your life will still be lived, even if you're just doing something else.

This! There's so much to life besides school. There's absolutely nothing wrong with giving yourself time to do other things: work/volunteer, travel, learn new skills, etc. There are certainly ways to use time away from school to make you a stronger candidate for PhD admissions, if that is your concern. I finished undergrad three years ago, and have just started my master's program; there are many, many people who have had longer gaps than that and still been successful. 

Also, since you're in a one-year program, it's worth considering whether you will have time to craft strong PhD applications while in school. Will you have sufficient time to develop good relationships with professors so they can write letters on your behalf? If, as you mentioned, you have worries about your undergrad grades, and the grades from your current program won't be included in your applications, that may also present a valid reason to wait before applying.

TL;DR: waiting a year or more is very common, and may work to your benefit.

Edited by slouching

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In addition to what the above have said, I'd also question, why do you want a PhD? A PhD is a big commitment, and will also drastically change your career options. I'd not only say this 1 year wait is common, I'd strongly advise you to do so. Going through the grad program and research will give you an idea if this is a path you wish to pursue up to it's PhD level, as well as giving you an entire years time to think. Don't forget to think ahead in terms of industry, you don't want to get a degree with little to no career options (even if it sounds cool). 

Finally, there is no rush or need to rush to get your PhD. In my program, there are ages as young as 23 up to 34 in their 1st year. There are people here just starting their lives, and there are people who have wives and even kids. 

Just as an example, I didn't know if a PhD was the right choice for me initially, so I did take a 1 year gap. In that time, I learned how the industry works, and my place in it. Not only that, I learned my future potential place in it with a PhD, and decided the life change and sacrifice is something I was willing to make for that future. 

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