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Why am I getting destroyed?


Isaac
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I'm a white northeasterner (so no affirmative action) but why am I getting killed here? I have a 3.95 GPA from an excellent liberals arts school, double major in Math & C.S, 600/800/5.0 general GRE, solid recs from math & CS profs, REU experience, some math research, grad math & c.s. classes, manager of the school's helpdesk, and am working on a senior thesis in abstract logic. I'm applying to top tier C.S. PhD progs.

I'm don't have any published papers, or long term research per se (besides working on my thesis, an reu and a semester of group research on adv. number theory) but I didn't expect to get killed. Instead it looks like I'm out of the running for at least half of my schools, with the rest TBA soon (but the stats don't bode well).

What gives, here?

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I believe for top tier cs phd programs, research experience is the No.1 criteria they are looking for. They might have screening on GPA/GREs but as long as you pass the bar, they become less important than publications and recommendation letters. just my $0.02

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i really do think this year there are very very few acceptances in top programs, as funding is down. top schools only like to accept students they can fund. take cmu, for example. they fund everyone, but i'm sure that means they are going to be more cautious with admits.

also, don't give up hope. it's not over yet.

it seems a lot of applicants that post here that are getting accepted have published. i have not published either. i honestly feel that many schools just dump people into piles without really considering them. in some sense, i hope they consider that we each paid very expensive application fees and that we deserve consideration because that is exactly what we paid for.

also, very few people have mentioned essays. but i think essays play a huge role in all of this as well - that is, if they even bother to read them (dammit). what did you write about?

i'm not hearing as many responses as i wished, but i'm in at least a few top 20 programs, so i am happy.

hang on and keep focused on the fact that a few spots ARE bound too open up and probably schools are starting a little conservative this year. don't give up quite yet. it's only february 12. you can officially start freaking out around march 1.

but even then, there will be a few spots open. and also remember, all it takes is ONE. ONE acceptance with good funding, and you're gold. i'm not in the position you are in, so i can't completely understand. but i do know that i haven't given up on schools i have not yet heard from yet.

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I'm a white northeasterner (so no affirmative action) but why am I getting killed here? I have a 3.95 GPA from an excellent liberals arts school, double major in Math & C.S, 600/800/5.0 general GRE, solid recs from math & CS profs, REU experience, some math research, grad math & c.s. classes, manager of the school's helpdesk, and am working on a senior thesis in abstract logic. I'm applying to top tier C.S. PhD progs.

I'm don't have any published papers, or long term research per se (besides working on my thesis, an reu and a semester of group research on adv. number theory) but I didn't expect to get killed. Instead it looks like I'm out of the running for at least half of my schools, with the rest TBA soon (but the stats don't bode well).

What gives, here?

I agree... the thing was research experience.

Don't be frustrated.

If you add a couple of papers to your application next time, you should be a star applicant like michigantrumpet.... :D

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one last thing. to be honest, there are a LOT of people with your stats out there. a TON of people. i'm sorry to say it. you would need something that really stands out.

if you think about it... at least for my specialty, each top-ranked school only has like three openings, IF even. there are 10 programs i would consider in my specialty. this makes approximately 20 or so openings out of thousands and thousands of applicants.

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Another tiny recommendation i want to make is....

Don't dive into the "computer vision".... :D

It turns out that it's so competitive.... (even in thegradcafe.com)

The opening is just about 1-3 on average each school... (no CV professor in Stanford)..

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I think what got me into top program was a first author publication while still being an undergrad and having two majors: biochem and CS. My gre was horrible (verbal 460), but quant is 800, and I didn't do subject test. So my little advice would be to apply to interdisplinary field and have a double major.

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From my experience, I can tell you that recommendations matter the most at top schools. I have one publication and two under review, a US patent, perfect GPA in grad school but still I got rejected at every place I applied to last year. This year I see it repeating.

I personally know people who got admitted to Washington/Berkeley/MIT because of strong recommendations. I can tell you that their profile is no match to leogk or other members here. One thing I noticed is that if the professor who recommends you is an alumni of a school you are applying to, then it helps tremendously - it's almost like a free pass in most cases.

I too am in a very stressful situation as you - right now, I don't know what I'll do. All we can do now is to believe that everything happens for good. :(

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sounds like you have a strong application, except unfortunately, as you pointed out, lack of research experience.

from http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/%7Eharchol/gradschooltalk.pdf:

"At CMU we receive hundreds of applications each year from 4.0 GPA students who have never done research. These are all put into the high risk pile and are subsequently rejected."

it's hard for me to imagine top-10 schools like stanford and washington admit applicants with no significant research experience.

best of luck still.

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I don't think you can state you're getting killed when you've only received rejections from the top 10 schools in your field...

I'll join the consensus opinion that it's lack of research. What math research was it that you said you did and who are you working with on that thesis of yours? The fact that you were manager of a helpdesk can't help and might hurt. How were your LoRs?

Are you trying to go into the theory side of CS? That seems to be the closest match with your background. Did you try applying to math departments too?

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from http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/%7Eharchol/gradschooltalk.pdf:

"At CMU we receive hundreds of applications each year from 4.0 GPA students who have never done research. These are all put into the high risk pile and are subsequently rejected."

That document is the best resource out there for how to apply to grad school in CS. I based my entire application process on it. I was totally clueless until I read that the first time...

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In my opinion, I'm not the kind of person who the admission committee like most.

The prototype of top candidates is (1) fresh undergraduate from prestigious schools (good US schools, some well-known foreign institutes like Tshinghua and IIT) (2) very close to the top in the class (3) promising research experience (a couple of papers is enough). You can see several examples in this forum.

I may have better research results than those guys for example, I have a lot of first-authored papers including an oral CVPR (acceptance ratio ~4%), but I may be beaten by those kinds of people.

I am older and have more experience than those guys , so it's not advantageous to have more research output. Otherwise, the oldest applicants would get best admission scores.

The admission committee wants to see your "potential" (I mean who you are gonna be after PhD) not your "current output" (Who you are now.)

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In my opinion, I'm not the kind of person who the admission committee like most.

The prototype of top candidates is (1) fresh undergraduate from prestigious schools (good US schools, some well-known foreign institutes like Tshinghua and IIT) (2) very close to the top in the class (3) promising research experience ( a couple of papers). You can see several examples in this forum.

I may have better research results than those guys for example, I have a lot of first-authored papers including an oral CVPR (acceptance ratio ~4%), but I may be beaten by those kinds of people.

I am older and have more experience than those guys , so it's not advantageous to have more research output. Otherwise, the oldest applicants would get best admission scores.

The admission committee wants to see your "potential" (I mean who you are gonna be after PhD) not your "current output" (Who you are now.)

I do agree, I also have a couple of first author research papers and very strong recommendations. But my school and my supervisors are not that well known. and I have not got anything but rejections so far.

I am not happy at the moment, but I know that it is not going to be the end of the world. If you really want to do research you can still do it out of the top 10 schools.

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why do you say that being a manager a computer desk might hurt?

Working at a helpdesk begs the question of why you weren't doing something more interesting. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. Either you weren't good enough to get a more interesting job or you just don't care, neither of which shows your potential for research in a particularly good light.

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dang. i don't think helpdesk experience will hurt. maybe it paid his/her way through college.

as long as you've done interesting stuff, it doesn't matter. else, you won't get it - but i don't think it boils down to helpdesk experience. it's more lack of other interesting aspects.

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If the person worked at help desk and did good research then it is good

Well of course, and if we were talking about an applicant that had extensive research experience then the helpdesk stuff would just get ignored and people would move on with their lives.

But so far everyone seems to be in a consensus that this applicant doesn't have enough research experience. In which case, the helpdesk experience, far from being something that should be used as a strong point in the application in my mind, can only hurt.

dang. i don't think helpdesk experience will hurt. maybe it paid his/her way through college.

Look I would say the same thing if the applicant was talking about working a cash register or being a low level tester in a big company. They're both just jobs for money... and while that's perfectly fine if you need the money and aren't in a field where job prospects have been nothing but stunningly and amazingly good over the past several years (up until only the last few months) then this would be fine. But he's not, we're talking about someone who has, in the one of the hottest job markets for his field in its entire history, chose to take a low paying job just to get by instead of one where he could learn, stretch himself and if you've been paying attention at all, get paid even more. (Which means that if you really did need a job to get by, there's still not an excuse to not do interesting work, it even pays better!)

Overall, if I was asked to assess the candidate's research ability based on this, I would assume lack of motivation or ability.

And yes, I understand this is a very harsh judgment, but... what do you think these schools employ? Favorable judgments with kittens and ponies? Of course it's harsh, these schools are harsh with your applications and they can't be any other way. They have to take a look at candidates skeptically, the OP was asking for indicators on his application that would be factors that might not be beneficial to him, this is one very small one of many.

It's not absurd to wonder why a candidate just didn't get a job in a research lab if he needed the money.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's no honor in working a job to get a paycheck, but if you've been in CS and you're doing that over the past four years in this job market? It doesn't show much motivation because you could be getting both a larger paycheck and be doing vastly more interesting work. Interesting jobs have been falling out of trees for anyone who can string two lines of code together... of course a good graduate program would want to know why the candidate hadn't done this. If there was a bunch of stuff in the app that showed the candidate had done a bunch of other interesting work, no one would care, but I'm not looking at the file, so based on what I've seen, that would be my first question.

as long as you've done interesting stuff, it doesn't matter. else, you won't get it - but i don't think it boils down to helpdesk experience. it's more lack of other interesting aspects.

Of course not, it's a very minor point and almost any other compelling factor will outweigh it. However, if it turns out the OP wants to reapply again later, when someone asks him why his application is distinctive, his helpdesk experience shouldn't be in the list. I'm not saying it shouldn't be on his CV, but by no means should it be emphasized, because it doesn't help his application and could, in some contexts, hurt it.

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i generally agree with belowthree, but let's even suppose the applicant never mentioned the job and let's not even consider his otherwise strong application, and consider this question:

what is the most important thing a phd student does for average 5-6 years? research right? (there are course-based masters programs, but i believe all phd programs are research-based.)

if the applicant has no research experience, the schools will have no idea if he/she will succeed as a researcher.

on gpa/recs basis, there are many other similarly-qualified and even less-qualified applicants. but they are able to prove that they can publish or if not at least can do research (1 year or more), and so they will be more-qualified overall.

you can see that explanation implied at many of the schools admission FAQs: "most successful applicants have 3.7 or higher gpa, but some have lower gpa." i am in fact one such example, my undergraduate in the last 2.5 years (i was a transfer) gpa is 3.4 ish (even had a b-), but i had two publications (one was second of 3 authors at a ~10% conference).

that said, as someone said before, you have been rejected by only 2 of the top-10 schools, so hopefully it's not going to be destroyed. good luck.

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Wow thanks for the flurry of information guys.

As far as helpdesk, it's just a college job. Last summer I worked as a software engineer in the UK, and all previous summers I've done research or REUs. I've also TAed three classes and play intramural frisbee.

If I had to guess, it's more a lack of established ability rather than working at helpdesk. Do you really think you get faulted for working a college job?

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If I had to guess, it's more a lack of established ability rather than working at helpdesk. Do you really think you get faulted for working a college job?

No, not much, I just wouldn't even bother listing it as something that supports your application except on your CV along with the rest of the things you did. Your research experience (or lack of it) is worlds more important.

I only brought it up because you need to clarify in your own mind what things do and don't help your app if you were to ever do this in the future so you can focus on the things that help the most. Whatever research experience you have should have been completely highlighted and explained in depth, in comparison to that a helpdesk job is irrelevant.

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