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Robotics PhD Applicant - Out of School 6 Years


Gus_W

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I graduated from a reputable (though not top tier) university in 2006 with an undergraduate degree in Bioinformatics (CS and Bio for all intents and purposes). I did not participate in any research.

 

I started a development and IT firm after school and have had success with it. On a bit of a whim, I applied to Carnegie Mellon's Robotics PhD program in 2008 but was not accepted. However, I am now decided on pursuing a Robotics PhD and am going to go through a more serious round of preparations for the GMAT and whatever else is necessary to be accepted. I will also apply to more schools than just CMU next time.

 

Can anyone advise me on how to become a strong candidate for a top-tier robotics program in my situation? One piece of advice I saw in the forums that rings true to me is that acceptance is more likely when your research interests and overall profile are a match for the school you're applying to. Aside from this, though, I wonder whether I'll have much of a chance without prior research experience and without recommendations from college professors.

 

I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice.

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What's your work experience like? (Assuming that you've been working for the last 6 years.)

 

The common factor between successful PhD applicants at all the top universities seems to be research experience (whether that's in academia while studying or in industry). Ideally this has to be relevant to the area you're applying to.

 

See these two links for more information.

http://matt.might.net/articles/how-to-apply-and-get-in-to-graduate-school-in-science-mathematics-engineering-or-computer-science/

http://idleprocess.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/why-go-to-graduate-school-and-how-to-get-into-the-program-of-your-dreams/

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Thank you for those two links. I especially like the summary at the top of the first one, "The one-word version of [my] advice is: PUBLISH."

 

To answer your question, my work experience has been to start a business technology services firm after graduation, providing development and IT services to companies.

 

In my situation, is there any way to conduct or participate in research aside from getting an intermediary masters degree?

 

I still live nearby to my undergraduate university, and I had good relationships with the CS faculty. The school does not have a Robotics PhD program, but I could do a masters there in a robotics-related field like CS, ME, EE. There is a professor in the CS department whose research centers around machine learning (clustering and the k-means algorithm). However, I don't know to what extent machine learning would help me get into a Robotics PhD program. I see that at Carnegie Mellon, for example, machine learning is not under the Robotics Institute.

 

Lastly, given that I have a Bioinformatics (CS) undergraduate degree, any thoughts on the complementary masters that would be most desirable to a robotics program? One worry I have with doing a CS masters is locking myself into the software side of robotics (machine learning/AI/etc). I'm not exactly sure of my desired research areas yet, but I do know that I will do best in areas with both software/theory and a physical manifestation such as aerospace robotics, motion planning, human robot interaction, etc. This makes me think the masters I should then go for is ME or EE..?

 

Appreciate any thoughts.

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It might be possible to get involved with a group at your undergraduate university - it's worth getting in touch with a professor there. (I'm in a similar situation - doing some research in my spare time with my former supervisor from my undergraduate university. It's hard to find enough time while working full time though - maybe an internship is a better option?)

 

Unfortunately I don't know enough about robotics departments to comment on your last question. It made me remember this group at Harvard though - http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/ssr/

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  • 1 month later...

I used to work at RI at CMU and I still work at CMU. It is true, having publications and research experience is the number one asset. There are various ways to accomplish this. One way is to work as a research assistant or research programmer. That way you get to know the faculty, the research and you can participate.

 

Having said that I won't want to paint a rosy picture, CMU has lots of applications that come in and they can essentially pick whatever they like. The best way to make a difference is know the specific research of the faculty and make sure your own research aligns with that.

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Gus_W I am in a similar situation to you and OP. I would really appreciate if you can tell me what your application journey looked like, and what it is like to be back in school after you enroll. I am shooting for next year Fall. 
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It might be possible to get involved with a group at your undergraduate university - it's worth getting in touch with a professor there. (I'm in a similar situation - doing some research in my spare time with my former supervisor from my undergraduate university. It's hard to find enough time while working full time though - maybe an internship is a better option?)

 

Unfortunately I don't know enough about robotics departments to comment on your last question. It made me remember this group at Harvard though - http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/ssr/

 

I am doing exactly as you - doing research in spare time while working full time, and it is really hard to keep up!

 

I used to work at RI at CMU and I still work at CMU. It is true, having publications and research experience is the number one asset. There are various ways to accomplish this. One way is to work as a research assistant or research programmer. That way you get to know the faculty, the research and you can participate.

 

Having said that I won't want to paint a rosy picture, CMU has lots of applications that come in and they can essentially pick whatever they like. The best way to make a difference is know the specific research of the faculty and make sure your own research aligns with that.

 

Just wondering - how many applicants does CMU get to the "normal" CS PhD track ( no specialization ) ? 1000? and for how many spots?

Wasn't able to find that information on the web.

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I used to work at RI at CMU and I still work at CMU. It is true, having publications and research experience is the number one asset. There are various ways to accomplish this. One way is to work as a research assistant or research programmer. That way you get to know the faculty, the research and you can participate.

 

Having said that I won't want to paint a rosy picture, CMU has lots of applications that come in and they can essentially pick whatever they like. The best way to make a difference is know the specific research of the faculty and make sure your own research aligns with that.

Is it easy to get hired to a lab as a research assistant. I will be applying next year but I don't have enough research so I might not get in. So, I was thinking if there are chances to work (not as a Ph.D. student) at a university lab and gain research experience that way.

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@compiler_guy: the average acceptance rates are about 5-10 students per year per department, that represents anywhere from 1% to 6% of applications. I don't know hard numbers but that's what I see come in every year and those are the rough percentages I hear about.

 

@ChristN: Most universities have very good job pages you can search. There are tons of jobs that can help you get research experience. Also internships are really good ways to start. Getting into a university on a job is different, you need relevant work or educational experience, but since the pay can be low you might have a better chance to get in because a lot of people go for industry jobs that pay better.

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