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2020 Application Evaluation / Seeking Advice


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Undergrad institution: big U.S. state school with decent math department 

Majors: Double Degree with BS in Math and BA in Econ

GPA: 4.0 / 4.0 (both major and overall)

Type of student: International (White male)

Courses taken:

Math:

  • Basic: Calc I - III (A/A/A), Linear Algebra (A), Ordinary Differential Equations (A)
  • Advanced: Abstract Linear Algebra (A), Abstract Algebra I - II (A/A), Mathematical Analysis I - II (A/A), Numerical Analysis (A), Intro to Partial Differential Equations (A), General Topology (A)

Stats: 

  • Probability and Statistics (A), Mathematical Statistics (A), Stochastic Processes (graduate credit: A)

Programming:

  • College courses: CS Java course (A), CS Python course (A)
  • Coursera online courses: C++ course, Algorithms and Data Structures, Machine Learning: Supervised/Unsupervised + intro to Hadoop/MapReduce/Spark

Courses will take:

  • Real Analysis (graduate credit), Mathematical Economics (graduate credit), Calculus of Variations (graduate credit), Differential Geometry

Recommenders: Math professors, well-known in their respective areas, with whom I have good personal contacts

Research experience: This is my weakest point, since I have not been able to do any particularly notable research as an undergrad. I applied and got accepted to REU this summer but could not attend due to family reasons. At the department level, I tried doing research with one of my professors in statistics, but he left soon after, so the paper was never finished. 

Work experience: Financial Analyst Intern (Summer 2018), Data Manager Intern (Summer 2019)

Awards: Economics and Math Department Scholarships, President's Honor Roll for every semester

GRE General: 157 (V), 167 (Q), 4.5 (AWA)

GRE Math: Taking this fall

School list: Need advice on where to apply. One of my friends suggested that I should apply to schools where my professors got their PhD's. But other than that I don't even know which tier to aim. My biggest concern is the lack of research experience. Masters is not an option, since I just can't afford it right now + I am on my national government grant.

 

Edited by MrSergazinov
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Hi all! 

I have found the following link from Carnegie Mellon professor to be very sueful when evaluating myeslf: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~harchol/gradschooltalk.pdf

The basic advise is that you should not apply to PhD unless you have a solid track of research experience. Unfortunately, I have not been able to engage in any serious research, besides my own forays into machine learning. However, I am still very interested in doing research at the PhD level (I pretty much know the topic I want to study: gradient boosting methods). So, I am still going to apply to see if I can get in. 

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51 minutes ago, MrSergazinov said:

Hi all! 

I have found the following link from Carnegie Mellon professor to be very sueful when evaluating myeslf: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~harchol/gradschooltalk.pdf

The basic advise is that you should not apply to PhD unless you have a solid track of research experience. Unfortunately, I have not been able to engage in any serious research, besides my own forays into machine learning. However, I am still very interested in doing research at the PhD level (I pretty much know the topic I want to study: gradient boosting methods). So, I am still going to apply to see if I can get in. 

Thank you so much for providing the link. I am reading it and really enjoy it.

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2 hours ago, MrSergazinov said:

Hi all! 

I have found the following link from Carnegie Mellon professor to be very sueful when evaluating myeslf: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~harchol/gradschooltalk.pdf

The basic advise is that you should not apply to PhD unless you have a solid track of research experience. Unfortunately, I have not been able to engage in any serious research, besides my own forays into machine learning. However, I am still very interested in doing research at the PhD level (I pretty much know the topic I want to study: gradient boosting methods). So, I am still going to apply to see if I can get in. 

This advice is a bit more useful for applying to PhD programs in CS rather than Math/Statistics.  These departments care first about mathematical maturity i.e. this is usually shown through the Math subject test or Grad level math/stats courses and perhaps even more so through your letters of recommendation.  Schools often assess one's potential for research rather than experience with it.   However, research experience is a great addition to an application on top of a good GRE/ Math GRE score and you will probably see more students with research experience entering top programs.  

 

I would say to @MrSergazinov you have a shot at strong programs like NCSU.  You may have a chance at some top programs like Duke.  I would recommend applying to one or two large strong state school programs (U Minnesota /Penn State) but depending on your letters of rec and Math GRE score I could also see you getting an offer or two at top schools 

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@MrSergazinov Research experience isn’t nearly as important in statistics PhD admissions. Does research experience help? Absolutely, especially for the highest ranked schools. But math ability seems to be the most important criteria and you are very strong in that area.

I went to visit days for several top 25 programs PhD programs and there were some admitted students there with no research experience. The admissions committees generally don’t seem to value applied stats research and there simply aren’t that many opportunities for theoretical stats research for undergrads. Don’t get me wrong, most admitted students (myself included) had research experience, but it was not everyone. 

Since you’re an international student at a school that’s not at the level of Harvard/Peking/ETH Zurich, you probably don’t have a shot at Stanford/Chicago/etc. But you might get admitted somewhere in the next tier down, like NCSU, Wisconsin, Penn State, especially if you do well on the GRE math subject test. With your math background at a good US university, I’d be pretty surprised if you didn’t get into at least one top 30 stats PhD program.

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What types of programs do you want to apply to? If you are applying to bio/statistics programs, it doesn't make any sense to apply specifically to schools that your math professors went to.

As the others said, the research is not a big deal.

Some of this depends on what you mean by a decent state school.  If you went to UIUC or something similar, I can see you getting in virtually anywhere, and I'd focus on schools in the 10-25 range.  I don't think any application would be a waste.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I want to thank all of you who found time to comment on my application.

It seems like the consensus is that I should aim for top 30-50 schools with more emphasis on bigger state school like PennState or NCSU. Also, what I found surprising is that research experience may be slightly less important going into Stats/Math Phd than it is for CS/Physics PhD. 

For now, my list of schools looks like PennState, Ohio State, NCSU, Purdue, Pitt, UW Madison, UM Twin Cities, and UI Urbana Champagne. I will update the list when I get my GRE Math Score. As of now the plan seems to be in order of priority:

  • Do my best to keep up the good work at school and retain high GPA
  • Prepare well for GRE Math (I am not good at taking standardized tests really, but I will try to do my best anyways)
  • Ask profs to write good and string rec letters 
  • Write personal statement highlighting some research experience that I had (personal research + unfinished research with prof)

I will try to keep this thread up to date with my progress just in case somebody later on could find all this info useful. Maybe if I dont get in in the first round, I may even use these steps later on to reconsider my strategies in the second round (reapply after one year). 

Again thank you all for your advice. 

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