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americanJosh

Start-up Seeking Grad Student Perspectives

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Hello everyone,

I am a master's student who is attempting to build an app that serves as sort of a Match.com for PhD applicants and Research professors.  The idea is to get students and professors better acquainted BEFORE applying,  using the web for students who do not have the resources to meet in person, and to avoid phone call/email conversations that can be impersonal and makes building chemistry difficult.

The questions I'd like answered before I move forward are:

Would an app like this have helped make your search more efficient?

Would you find this helpful?

What sorts of fields would you find most useful for the app to deliver? i.e. current research, personal information, etc.

What recommendations would you make for this app that would maximize the utility to both yourself as a prospective student and to PhD's that you've interacted with?

Any input would be greatly appreciated!  I'm not just looking for input from those that have been accepted, but also from those that have been denied (like myself), because I want to create a method that will maximize the potential of those applying of getting in!  So please help out me and all those struggling to get accepted.

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Wait, doesn't this also depend on having professors allow you to have their profiles up on this website? Or are you going to data-mine without their permission? (In which case I'd find it invasive, and would think of it as a glorified RateMyProf type site..)

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Hi, Josh!

I think this is a stellar idea! It would certainly make prospective grad students' search much more efficient which will be very helpful, in my opinion. Information on faculty research can be vague and it would help if there is more disclosure on that end. Also, if there was a way for students to be able to identify the faculty members who are looking to recruit PhDs (for research and such) from those that aren't because I imagine it can be disheartening for a faculty member's research summary to pique a prospective student's own interest only for them to contact the faculty member find out that he/she isn't looking to hire grad students for the time being. Hope this helps!

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I agree with @fuzzylogician that this will only work if both parties put information on their profiles (like Match.com). However, at least in my field, it is fairly easy to identify the professors but much harder to make meaningful contact because of how busy the faculty member are. For these busy faculty members, they aren't going to spend time updating their profile if they already do not update their own webpages.

I think if your service was more to help identify similar research interests rather than a true match-up, it might be more helpful for an applicant. For someone new to the field, there are hundreds or thousands or researchers. One real way that applicants find potential PhD advisors is to search up papers or conference abstracts. From the perspective of a former grad student, I would say that if your service was able to mine the meta-data of journals and conferences in order to suggest papers (or even people) that might be interesting to the student's profile, that could be a great starting point for an applicant to build a list of potential advisors.

One "dream tool" I envision from an applicant perspective would be a service where I can upload (or link to) a set of journal papers. Your service reads the meta-data and generates a list of all the articles cited in the paper and also articles cited BY the paper. Then, it searches through all of the names and affiliations in every one of these papers and presents a user with a list of person and affiliation. To be useful, the service must be able to filter them in some way. Perhaps the user can select which references to include (since not all references in a key paper will be relevant) or limit institution by country, etc. Note that the first part (finding the articles cited in and cited by) already exists from many other article databases so you could just use that output and apply the filters. This "dream tool" would be helpful to me now (as a postdoc) and also helpful to me when I was a graduate student, so it's more than just for applications!

Although I am not a faculty member, one faculty member perspective I could think of is what would motivate a faculty member to sign up for your service and spend the time curating yet another online profile. In general, applicants are much more interested in finding a faculty member than the other way around. Especially when you get to the top tier schools, these researchers often already have plenty of good people applying, so how will this service provide value to professors who already have plenty of connections?

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Yes, of course professors would have their own profile; like I said it would resemble Match.com with both parties making their own profiles.  I came up with the idea for the same reason mentioned by @Islamahmed, because faculty research is difficult to access particularly for those without the resources to get academic journals or access to JStor.  

Another reason the app might be useful is to cut out all of the inefficiencies involved in the process.  For example, faculty have told me of the many useless emails they get from students that are not a right fit; wouldn't it be helpful to have an app to narrow the search focus, and dispose of all this waste? And yes @TakeruK the whole point of the site is to match research interests, but additionally to match personalities.  It does no good to have common interests if there is no chemistry.  Again, it's about EFFICIENCY.  

I agree that faculty would need incentive to join.  The appeal of reducing waste might entice, but that would depend on participation.  That is why your feedback is so crucial, so thank you for your input, and please keep adding!

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2 hours ago, americanJosh said:

Would an app like this have helped make your search more efficient?

No. Between Google Scholar, faculty maintained websites, and departmental profiles, I had zero trouble finding folks in my area.

 

2 hours ago, americanJosh said:

I am a master's student who is attempting to build an app that serves as sort of a Match.com for PhD applicants and Research professors.  The idea is to get students and professors better acquainted BEFORE applying,  using the web for students who do not have the resources to meet in person, and to avoid phone call/email conversations that can be impersonal and makes building chemistry difficult.
 

Would you find this helpful?

I would, but it is not clear what the supposed benefit to faculty would be. Now professors get to waste time with prospective students before students even apply? Yippee! Also, short of someone perfecting teleportation technology or offering free plane tickets, I do not see how you could offer a medium more conducive to building chemistry than phone conversations.

 

2 hours ago, americanJosh said:

What sorts of fields would you find most useful for the app to deliver? i.e. current research, personal information, etc.

(a) Research openings (b) Skills needed (c) Type of support envisioned (short-term/MS, long-term PhD). You know, the stuff faculty already put in their vacancy announcements.

 

2 hours ago, americanJosh said:

What recommendations would you make for this app that would maximize the utility to both yourself as a prospective student and to PhD's that you've interacted with?

What @TakeruK said.

1 hour ago, TakeruK said:

I think if your service was more to help identify similar research interests rather than a true match-up, it might be more helpful for an applicant. For someone new to the field, there are hundreds or thousands or researchers. One real way that applicants find potential PhD advisors is to search up papers or conference abstracts. From the perspective of a former grad student, I would say that if your service was able to mine the meta-data of journals and conferences in order to suggest papers (or even people) that might be interesting to the student's profile, that could be a great starting point for an applicant to build a list of potential advisors.

One "dream tool" I envision from an applicant perspective would be a service where I can upload (or link to) a set of journal papers. Your service reads the meta-data and generates a list of all the articles cited in the paper and also articles cited BY the paper. Then, it searches through all of the names and affiliations in every one of these papers and presents a user with a list of person and affiliation. To be useful, the service must be able to filter them in some way. Perhaps the user can select which references to include (since not all references in a key paper will be relevant) or limit institution by country, etc. Note that the first part (finding the articles cited in and cited by) already exists from many other article databases so you could just use that output and apply the filters. This "dream tool" would be helpful to me now (as a postdoc) and also helpful to me when I was a graduate student, so it's more than just for applications!

I also second @TakeruK's point that faculty would have almost no incentive to participate in this service.

The starting point for this venture should be conversations with faculty members or college/department representatives to identify what tools/processes would help them better sort through thousands of applications. I know that this is in fact a real problem. My old advisor once joked that she would have liked the department to attach OCIS codes to applicants. Honestly, I thought she was onto something.

Getting schools/faculty involved is the basically the whole ballgame. It is clear that you have not really looked at this scheme from their perspective. Be open to the idea that the solution to their problems is not a cell phone app.

 

 

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It seems to me that we've now found the crux of the matter: getting faculty to participate is going to be the real challenge, much more than getting students to participate. The faculty who you might get to participate are probably the ones who already update their websites anyway, so students can already get all the relevant information about them by visiting their website. The rest probably won't invest in an extra website because they don't even maintain their own personal websites. So you might end up with a very skewed picture of availability and profiles of professors in any given field. Unless you can get past this problem, I don't think there's much of a point in asking students what content they'd like to see in said website/app. The real question is whether faculty see any value in your app, and I'm not entirely sure that will be the case. There's already a move to stay away from platforms like academia.edu and the like, which attempt to charge faculty for viewing their own content (and the content of others).  

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I never dreamed that I would get such cynical reactions from such intelligent people.  Yes, I wanted to get some capital in order to fund INDEPENDENT research, because institutional arrangements have been hijacked, and I thought I could help people along the way. I didn't mean to offend anyone.

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1 hour ago, americanJosh said:

I never dreamed that I would get such cynical reactions from such intelligent people.  Yes, I wanted to get some capital in order to fund INDEPENDENT research, because institutional arrangements have been hijacked, and I thought I could help people along the way. I didn't mean to offend anyone.

I wasn't offended. But you did ask for input, both good and bad, and I didn't think it would be helpful to lie to you and say that your idea was a good one when I think there are significant problems with your approach.

I think you have definitely identified an actual problem students have and I think it's great that you are looking for a solution. But I think you need to realise that you have only experienced one "side" of the problem (the applicant's side) and others here provided input from the perspective of faculty members, others who have advised students and current grad students. I think your approach treats applications in the wrong way and your solution focusses on the wrong thing.

I get what you are saying about personality matching and I completely agree that a good match between advisor and student is very important. But it sounds like your tool is to be used at the "deciding on where to apply" stage and personality matching is not important here. No one is going to get accepted to a school based on a great personality match. I always recommend applicants seek out places to apply based on research match and major personal needs match (e.g. geographic location, rural/urban, etc.) first. Everything else comes later when you are visiting places you have been accepted to.

From both advisor and applicant perspectives, there is little use to learn that you're a good personality match with each other if there's actually no chance for you to work together. But after the admission decisions are made, there number of choices are small enough that it's easy for both advisor and student to figure out if they are a match. Also remember that some schools don't require students to have advisors until the end of the first (or sometimes second) year, so these people have months or years to figure out if they're a match. 

In addition, something you may not realise: many faculty members already have the maximally efficient method (for them, but not for students). They do nothing before applications (i.e. ignore or just give canned responses to all applicant emails) and they still get good students every year. 

On the other hand, I think the most daunting challenge for applicants is first coming up with a long list of names that might be good advisors. I started with almost 100 names and narrowed it down to about 25 (and applied to the 8 schools where they worked). You see tons of threads on these forums asking for tips on how to get to this long list of names. I was lucky and had great advisors/mentors that helped me find names I wouldn't have thought of. I also came up with a lot of names by reading papers and bibliographies. I think this is where a data driven tool could be really helpful. It was very tedious to track everything and there are way better metadata now than 8 years ago when I was applying for the first time. This is why I suggested what I had suggested. In addition, this tool would be of interest to people at many stages of their career!

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The problem with intelligent people: if you ask for feedback, they'll eventually find every loophole and scenario in which your idea does not work. This is a good thing. Nothing improves if no one disagrees. 

It sounds like you need to decide who this app is for as professors and applicants are affected differently by this issue (and approach solutions differently). I don't think a match.com style would work here. On dating websites, people join because they see the potential benefit to them. As others have stated, you've made a potential benefit for students clear, but haven't really offered anything compelling for professors. If you want a match.com experience, you need to reach out to professors and see what issues they have with the current process (and preferably reach out to professors in many departments and different schools). 

If you choose to focus on the student side, data mining journals and creating an easy-to-search list of professors and their research interests could be beneficial to help students be more targeted in their early-stage application process.

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4 hours ago, americanJosh said:

I never dreamed that I would get such cynical reactions from such intelligent people.  Yes, I wanted to get some capital in order to fund INDEPENDENT research, because institutional arrangements have been hijacked, and I thought I could help people along the way. I didn't mean to offend anyone.

Huh? I believe everyone here agreed that there are inefficiencies when it comes to how departments handle prospective candidates. Talk to some department administrators and faculty.

I will note that every substantive reply offered you both positive and negative feedback. If you can''t stomach a little criticism about a seemingly glaring issue with your proposal, how will you pitch your idea to skeptical investors/benefactors?

 

 

 

 

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Folks applying to doctoral programs with a background in research likely already have a good sense of the researchers in the field with related interests--between attending national conferences, citing a recurring list of researchers in manuscripts, and talking with knowledgeable people in one's field, it shouldn't take too much effort to consolidate a "match list." Even without a research background, with tools like Google Scholar and ResearchGate available and abstracts free for all to read, I don't think it would be terribly difficult to DIY a list of researchers with similar interests.

If you're willing to take your project in a different direction, your brainstorming might be best aided by combing these threads to find out what applicants aren't able to do on their own. The question I've seen the most across threads of every discipline has been, "What are my chances of getting in?" While there's no straightforward way to answer that (and no way to objectively measure fit, which is usually the most important factor), it would be easier to get a rough sense if applicants could easily pull up a grad program's admission statistics (and maybe even compare multiple programs side-by-side, a la Amazon?). For most programs I was considering, I was able to find some basic information like GPA and GRE cut-offs, but despite searching high and low, had difficulty finding average/range of GRE scores of admitted students, average/range of GPA of admitted students, percentage of students admitted with a Bachelor's vs. Master's degree, number of students applying vs. admitted vs. enrolled, percentage of students who graduated (and in what time frame), placements for graduates (and in what time frame), average/range of stipends/financial packages, etc. An app that consolidated that kind of information would be ?

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