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Hi everyone, I am a third year student in Australia who is preparing my phd applications ahead (or maybe I am late to the game already). Wish to ask some advices!

1. I follow the strategy of go big or go home. All schools that I wish to apply outside Australia are Tier A schools. I understand how ambitious this is, but if someone has to get in, why it can't be me? Schools that I am planning on applying include but not limited to Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard etc. How competitive it really is for those schools?

2. For these top schools, does my research experience have to be completely related to I/O or social psychology (considering both)? I have participated in a environmental psychology lab, and I also did my internship in a kindergarten where I observed the working style there.

3. How strong does my recommandations letter has to be? Will professor whose h index higher than 40 help? If their h index is around 20, is it still good enough?

4. I understand what I am doing may be a long shot, but I still have to give it a try for my dreams. I wonder how unrealistic I am at this point? My gpa is 6.2/7.0 in australia. I have built some relationships with research fellow/associate professor in my uni. I am still expecting my honour year, and have participated in lab research (though not in I/O division). If I successfuly get into a I/O professor (h index>40)'s lab, will that help a lot?

5. I hope I can get I/O research experience, however, not all professors that are willing to take me focus in such field... What should I do? I do need research experience and I am grateful. However, I do not wanna be the kind of student who use them and then say "Nah, I like you as a person, but we don't match up"

6. Applying to schools with big names is a dangerous move, so I need a safety net. If I ask my honour year's professor to write me a recommendation letter, I think he will not consider me still as a phd student as he knows he is not my first choice... How can I build a safety net instead?


I/O, social psychology and developmental psychology are all fun to me, I wonder which programme is less competitive?


In general, I am ready for devotion. Anything that I can do to get into these prestigious schools... Please lmk any thoughts from you!

Edited by Nomad_
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  • Nomad_ changed the title to FALL 2024 Psychology

Hello there,

First of all - being ambitious and aiming for competitive programs is not bad at all. If you feel you are competitive enough, why not?

However, there are other things more important for your future then where you went to school. Sure, having a grad degree from a prestigious school can open many doors, but so can many other less "prestigious" universities. It really depends what you want to do with the PhD after - are you going for an academic career? Industry? We could help more if we could get a sense of what your long-term plans are.

Also - applying to these programs is not just about ticking boxes - get a good GPA, get this research experience with famous prof., etc. You really have to have very clearly defined interests when you are applying and the relevant experience to match. For example, for UK PhDs you'll probably need a set thesis topic from the start; for a US PhD you need relevant experience in your PI's area of research and a degree of research productivity. How you talk about your experience is also important. Whether your lab supervisor has an h-index of 40 might be less relevant if they don't provide you with a strong letter of reference, or they don't recommend you strongly to their network. 

When you have a clear idea of what you want to do with the PhD, you might also realize that the best school for you might not be Harvard, but that it might be some state university with many grants and a strong research record or history of placing graduates in respected industry roles. And it's also important to note that you need to do a lot of research regarding the different academic systems where you are applying. Australia is different than US who is also different compared to UK or other countries. Do you want to stay in that country after?

And for your last question - professors are used to giving students reference letters and they understand that your dreams might not include their lab in the future - that is ok. However, if you strongly give them the impression that they are only a safety/ last resort, they might not be as enthusiastic to admit you to their lab. From my experience, as long as you work hard and show respect, many professors are glad to support students applying to other labs and happy for them when they get into a "better" program. 

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