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Rejected


Halp

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I applied to five PhD programs this year and didn't receive any offers. I'm looking to get some opinions on my next move.

I'm pretty sure I know why the main reason I didn't get in anywhere. I don't have any research experience. I knew it would be a problem before applying, but I thought my GPA, GRE scores, and working in the field for a few years would make up for it somewhat. After browsing these forums I see my GPA and GRE scores are not that great at all.

I've come up with a couple of options:

  1. Go back to school for a certificate program. I found a few that require or have the option to do a research project. This seems like a decent solution except for the time and money.
  2. Lower my standards and apply to some lower tier programs. I didn't apply to top programs before, but I didn't apply to really crummy programs either. I was trying to avoid taking a step back from my prior universities.
  3. Try to get a job as a research assistant at my local university. This seems like it might be impossible. Plus if I did land a job I'd be there for less than a year. I doubt anyone would knowingly hire me for such a short period of time.
I'm leaning toward option two at the moment. I found a few universities and programs that I'd be moderately happy with and I think I could get in. Then again maybe I'm under estimating the competitiveness. How bad off am I without research experience? Do I have a chance anywhere at all? Also maybe I shouldn't be going to a school unless I'm extremely enthusiastic about it.

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it's hard to tell if you don't shed some light on what kind of program/area you want to work in. For social and biomedical sciences, I'd go with option 3. You can look for jobs outside of the university too. BY the time you apply, its true that they'd only have known you for 3, 4 months, but if you worked hard and tried to interact as much as possible, it's possible to gain something out of it. I was able to ask for a good LOR from a part-time job at a well-known lab I worked over the summer.

And if you're in life/biomedical sciences, RA jobs actually pay a bit better than social sciences RA jobs, so why not stay for 2 years? I guess it wouldn't work if you have a pressing need to get your degree, but I've always wished I gained more experience before starting grad school.

Also, I hope by "top program" you mean the principle investigator, or at least the department (of the field you want in), because that's what matters more in academia (vs undergrad). Like many many people here will tell you, it's also about fit, even though from personal experience, I have to say the fit doesn't have to be absolute. As long as you have some appropriate experience and a clear, definite desire to research some (not all) of the topics that that lab is working on, that's a good fit.

If you feel confident that you won't resent yourself later for lowering your standards and not pursuing the best, and if you think simply being able to do the research you like is more important than prestige and all the apparent benefits that come with top programs (as well as the severe competitiveness to get in), then I don't think there's anything wrong with applying to some less well-known, but otherwise talented, faculty members.

Edited by nhyn
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  1. Go back to school for a certificate program. I found a few that require or have the option to do a research project. This seems like a decent solution except for the time and money.
  2. Lower my standards and apply to some lower tier programs. I didn't apply to top programs before, but I didn't apply to really crummy programs either. I was trying to avoid taking a step back from my prior universities.
  3. Try to get a job as a research assistant at my local university. This seems like it might be impossible. Plus if I did land a job I'd be there for less than a year. I doubt anyone would knowingly hire me for such a short period of time.

Number 3! It might not be impossible, but it might take a lot of work to find a position. Network the %&$# out of your university. Send emails, set up meetings, get recommendations from others on who to contact.

I wouldn't lower your standards. A PhD is unique. You aren't (shouldn't be) in this process for the degree, it's the education. Don't get trapped into attending a school you are unhappy with simply to get that PhD. Attend a school that will give you the education you are happy with.

And life certainly exists beyond rejections. There are many wise members of this forum to confirm that. Good luck!

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My field is communication.

And really, number three? You think getting a job as a research assistant would be better than going back to school and doing my own research project? I just looked up jobs at the college nearby and I found a research assistant position. I think I could qualify but based on the description it seems like mostly data entry and recording. That doesn't seem like it would add a lot of value or research experience to my application.

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My field is communication.

And really, number three? You think getting a job as a research assistant would be better than going back to school and doing my own research project? I just looked up jobs at the college nearby and I found a research assistant position. I think I could qualify but based on the description it seems like mostly data entry and recording. That doesn't seem like it would add a lot of value or research experience to my application.

Well, you would be making money and gaining research experience as a research assistant. Taking out loans to get a similar experience doesn't seem like a good choice to me.

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I would say 2 and 3.

If you were able to get a research assistantship it would definitely help your app. Perhaps they may not be willing to hire you for a year, but you might be able to get the opportunity to get some experience on a summer project. If you're not able to get a research assistantship, I would suggest you use the upcoming months to read the academic literature in your field and nurture your interests. By doing so, you'll get a more focused idea of what you want to do in grad school and when it comes to writing your SoP for next year, you'll have a lot of material to draw from about what you want to do.

As for the schools you apply to, I would suggest that you expand your search for good programs. Still go ahead and apply to your dream schools, but make sure you seek out schools that are strong in your area, but may not be as competitive as 'dream schools'. That way, you're likely to have better options come next year.

Best of luck!

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My field is communication.

And really, number three? You think getting a job as a research assistant would be better than going back to school and doing my own research project? I just looked up jobs at the college nearby and I found a research assistant position. I think I could qualify but based on the description it seems like mostly data entry and recording. That doesn't seem like it would add a lot of value or research experience to my application.

There's a lot of 'grunt work' involved with research. What will distinguish you is your ability to write about how your data entry or recording fit into the bigger picture of the project. Even if you just did grunt work, describing a clear understanding of the project and how you contributed to it will help your SoP for next year. Perhaps you would even have the opportunity to make suggestions and contribute, in some way, to the direction of the project.

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Thank you all for the input.

It's funny, my family has been saying they think the first option is best. They say it'd be good to at least have a certificate in the event I never get in anywhere. Also it'd give me a chance to try to publish or at least I'd have publishable paper for my portfolio. I have good writing samples now, but as I said none demonstrate original research.

Before this thread, I was leaning towards the second option. (I feel bad about my choice of words in my first post. I shouldn't have said "lower tier" or "crummy.") I found two more schools where I think I'd fit and are more my league. This first time around I didn't apply to a wide enough range of schools. My safety schools weren't safe enough.

Now everyone has me thinking about becoming a research assistant. I've never been a research assistant. Maybe I'm underestimating the value of the experience, but the description of the work doesn't sound like it would make me that much more desirable.

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Thank you all for the input.

It's funny, my family has been saying they think the first option is best. They say it'd be good to at least have a certificate in the event I never get in anywhere. Also it'd give me a chance to try to publish or at least I'd have publishable paper for my portfolio. I have good writing samples now, but as I said none demonstrate original research.

Before this thread, I was leaning towards the second option. (I feel bad about my choice of words in my first post. I shouldn't have said "lower tier" or "crummy.") I found two more schools where I think I'd fit and are more my league. This first time around I didn't apply to a wide enough range of schools. My safety schools weren't safe enough.

Now everyone has me thinking about becoming a research assistant. I've never been a research assistant. Maybe I'm underestimating the value of the experience, but the description of the work doesn't sound like it would make me that much more desirable.

I don't get it, if you've never been an RA (even undergrad one), how do you know if you'd like research?

Yes, grunt work sucks, but it also gets research going. In any area/industry, you'll have to pay your dues before you get anywhere :D I can't say I like the grunt work but I can say I learn a lot of useful skills and get talk to a lot of people with useful information. Also, working on other people's studies, even if you can't design the study itself, you can learn from it and develop your own ideas. Take initiative, then you'll get somewhere.

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