How I got 4 Ph.D. offers in the US with a CGPA 2.79 — and what you can learn from it

The PhD Process Over-oversimiplified:

PhD Process Oversimplified
  1. Professors have experience and funding and want to do interesting/ impactful research and then publish papers.
  2. But the professors do not have youthful energy and abundant time to do those research by themselves.
  3. Hence they hire young (usually) graduate students to work on these research days and night for (usually 5) years, and publish them in top journals and conferences.
  4. These publications help advance science, change lives, and at the same time give the professors recognition and reputation in their field. Which brings them more funding, and more freedom to do interesting research.
  5. The graduate students get a PhD degree and earn a better career. (Some of them become professors, and continue the cycle.)

So, how do you get admission with low grades?

Lesson 1: DO *NOT* GET LOW GRADES.

  1. Grades on departmental courses and courses related to the field you are applying to are more important than non-departmental courses. If you are a CS student, your CS courses are going to impact your profile more than non-CS courses.
  2. Recent grades are more important than older grades. Many universities explicitly look for grades for the last two years of university. As they say, What Have You Done for Me Lately? 🤨

Lesson 2: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

Your conversation with the professor will be a researcher to a researcher, not an interviewee to an interviewer.

If you are a graduate,

If you are an undergraduate,

Lesson 3: Networking

In reality, admission decisions are made by humans, and many human factors come into play in admission that are not usually discussed.

  • Ask your undergraduate supervisors if they have professors in their contacts who might be interested in your profile. You can contact current PhD students from your university and ask them about professors who are accepting students. Reach out to your second degree, third degree contacts, you will be surprised how many of them will be happy to help you. If you find such mutual contact, send the professor an email mentioning your mutual contact, you will be more likely to get a reply than otherwise.
  • Visit local academic/research seminars and conferences that interest you and try to connect with other researchers who are speakers or visitors. If you are interested in their work, you might reach out to them and ask if you can help in their research. Or you might also invite them to work with your existing research group (of course after discussing with your supervisor). Such networking might spawn fruitful collaborative research papers, shining recommendation letters, or even admission offers.
  • You can use email, social media for networking as well. While you are doing your research, feel free to reach out to other researchers who are working in the same area. If you get stuck and can find no way out, ask for help. Make a conversation, build lasting impressions. However, be careful not to spam researchers and waste their time. Once you have started a conversation, ask them if their lab is taking PhD students. I once started a Twitter argument with a professor about her work and later reached out to her saying, “Hi, we met at Twitter. Are you taking PhD students?” It didn’t work out finally but we had an insightful conversation.

Lesson 4: Ask for Assignments/Projects

  1. You are not afraid of taking a challenge outside your comfort zone.
  2. You are willing to learn new things and apply them.

I had a PhD offer BEFORE I submitted the application.

How To 1: Find professors in your area of interest

Conference Rank

How To 2: How to email a Professor

Sample email to professors (copyright: Prof David Evans)
  1. Introduce yourself
  2. State your intention (getting a PhD under him/her)
  3. Mention personal connection (if any)
  4. Why do you want to pursue research under him/her
  5. Make sure to attach your CV as a google drive link (or it may get spammed).
Inigo Montoya method of introduction

How To 3: Talk about Research in Admission Interview

… spitting out a lot of technical jargon would make them sound “smarter”. This is, however, not true.

  1. What problem you were trying to solve, and why is that important?
  2. How did you approach the solution?
  1. Auburn University
  2. UC Riverside
  3. UMBC
  4. University of Rochester

Some Random Resources:

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Researcher in NLP and Machine Learning | masumhasan.net

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Masum Hasan

Masum Hasan

Researcher in NLP and Machine Learning | masumhasan.net

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