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RogueTwo

Harvard SEAS Fall 2017 PhD

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Current PhD student in SEAS. I have one friend who got an email yesterday for an informal skype interview. This is the season when profs do this before the semester starts on 23 January. Last year, got emails about skype calls from Harvard profs on 1/5, 1/8. 1/9, and 1/12. So if you haven't heard anything yet, don't freak out, but this is the ballpark.

Edited by pterosaur

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Thanks. Could you please disclose which area your friend applied?

I assume it would be safe to say I should move on if I don't get anything till the end of this week?

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I think he applied under CS, but the prof is in biophysics/optics/SEAS. It's all very mushy and interdisciplinary.

I'd be more optimistic and give it past this week. Odds diminish with time, but different areas and profs may be operating on slightly different schedules.

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I'm not in the loop on the admissions stuff in robotics (since my advisor isn't taking new students this year), so I don't know what others are doing. My friend actually applied under applied math, not CS. (My bad.) In his interview, they said the only reason they were doing interviews is because they had fewer spots than usual because the endowment wasn't doing well. Otherwise he would have been accepted without an interview. So I don't know if that applies to other areas of SEAS/Harvard or what their interview situation is.

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Playfire: Congrats! hope everything goes smooth for you. Let us know how your interview went ;) did you talk to your PI before applying?

Pterosaur: - Do you know by chance a ) does it make any difference if one applies for Robotics under Mechanical, Bio, or Electrical? They all basically list same profs in the research section. b ) not having external funding alters the chance? 

- What kind of questions you were asked in your interview last year if you don't mind me asking?

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There aren't technically departments in SEAS, so things are fuzzy when it comes to profs. I think the grouping (e.g., robotics) ends up being more relevant for PIs talking with each other than the specific area. I applied under bioengineering, but the profs I interviewed with were 1 from bioengineering, 1 from mech eng, and 2 from CS. I ended up with the CS person, and they actually let me change my PhD area from engineering to CS. Also, "engineering" is one general area and the others are even less meaningful breakdowns within that, just to make it more confusing.

For funding, most external funding you won't know about yet (at least for the things I'm thinking of, which the US government-funded PhD fellowships). But they do like to see that you've applied. I don't know how much of a difference that would make in an application, though. I think it's better to think of it that having external funding might help your application, rather than having no external funding hurts your application. (Hey, I'm occasionally an optimist!)

I don't remember specific questions anymore. In general, though, it was a chance for the professors to tell you about what they're working on and get a better sense of whether your experience and interests fit with what they're looking for. From my first interview, my application got passed on to a different faculty member that the first interviewer thought would be a good fit, so they definitely talk to each other. Also, have some questions prepared to ask them during the interview (about the program and/or their research). For my first interview I didn't really have anything prepared and it was kind of awkward.

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Except the first and CS ones, you interviewed with 2 more people individually or at the same time? Did you mention all of them in your SOP?

How many days they normally give you for preparation to do the skype? 

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They were all individual interviews. Of the 4 people I interviewed with, 2 of them I'd mentioned in my SOP. One of them I'd sent an email to before I applied (but didn't get a reply to the email until he offered me the interview). The last one was someone whose research really interested me, but I didn't mention her in the SOP because I didn't think I was qualified for what she was looking for. That's the one the first interviewer referred me to, and she's now my advisor. Go figure.

For skype calls, I got anywhere from a day to a week or so. beforehand.

Edited by pterosaur

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@RogueTwo I contacted this professor after sending in my app. "Hey, I'm so and so and I have such stats. I do really relevant research. Please look out for my app."

I think it really helps that my advisor is pretty famous in his field. Gives my cold emails some weight. Got a Skype interview invite a few weeks later to "talk about my interest in grad school".

I'll give an update after my interview tomorrow morning! 

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Update: Interview was slated for 30 minutes and went a little over. First 15 minutes were more technical. I was asked to describe my interests, then I had several design challenges to respond to. Basically asked how I would approach problem solving, each question digging a little deeper. After the interviewer was satisfied, I had the chance to ask questions about the lab and program. This is where I could actually create a conversation and push back some. We had a good conversation and I was left with the impression that the interviewer was trying to convince me why the lab and university would be a better fit than other graduate programs I mentioned. 

Overall, a good balance of technical and general info. Interviewer mentioned that these "informal" interviews would proceed this month with decisions coming out early February.

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@playfire Good Sounds you've nailed it already!   

For design challenges, were you asked general questions or specifically related to their research? Did they want to hear abstracts or they wanted you to break it down?

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They were related to their research. The professor asked how I would create similar systems and solve similar problems to what they do. I began with a more abstract reply to what type of results I wanted to see, but the professor asked me specifically what I meant at least three separate times. At each time, I had to provide more technical detail. In the end I started pulling out coursework and previous knowledge to link together a detailed plan of attack for a research problem. Honestly, not sure if I said the right stuff, but my thought process and reasoning was pretty solid. I knew to ask experts for their advice, look at underlying causes for the problem, iteratively test with modifications from users, etc.

Maybe you don't know the exact answer, but I'd say make sure your thought process is solid and be ready to make use of all resources they have in the lab to find it.

 

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@hope2000 According to results from last year, they'll start sending acceptances early to mid February with rejections in March. 

At this point, I don't see how it could hurt to send emails to your POIs about research and apps. Maybe they'll see something in a well worded email. The window pterosaur indicated is closing. 

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Also, just as an FYI, I got accepted into Harvard SEAS last year without any Skype interviews because the PI I got accepted with just didn't do them. So don't panic and assume you were rejected just because you don't have any Skype interviews lined up - there still could be good news coming!

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I am also an applicant to this program and I am kind of worried about GRE scores and GPA. I have sub-160s quant score and 3.5 GPA. Aside from this, I have very good rec's, relevant research experience, and I have had 4 internships in industry. Just curious of how much of a reach this might be.

Edited by amperianengineer

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Extra Espresso makes a good point - some areas/profs might not be doing interviews. My friend applying for applied math was told that the only reason they were interviewing there was because they didn't have enough money from the endowment this year to accept everyone they wanted to.

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Advisor got back with the official. You should be hearing from your PIs soon since they've been authorized to share acceptance results now. Calm vibes to those of you waiting~~~

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