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Thread: Lessons learned in 2017

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    Within my grasp! Silviatx's Avatar
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    Lessons learned in 2017

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    Hello forum members old and new,
    I have been wanting to write this post for months but kept putting it off and I am afraid that it is now too late for me to remember everything I initially wanted to share with you.
    Let me try:

    I will "officially" start my PhD program in MGT tomorrow with my TA training and orientation. Unofficially I started one month ago when I moved to my new city. 1100 miles away from the town where I spent the last 14 years of my life.

    I can't believe the new application cycle for programs starting next year will begin very soon. It's almost fall.
    Some of us have talked about putting a list of things together of things that we thought may or may not be helpful for the next applicants.

    You can start right here if you want: https://myphdtales.blogspot.com/sear...fore%20a%20PhD
    BrazilianPhD wrote an excellent blog and I agree with most of what he wrote. Spot on! Xanthus also wrote many helpful things somewhere here in the forum. I am afraid you will have to look for them yourself. I wasn't able to find them that quickly.

    Here are some things I learned, in random order:

    1) Age matters very little. I think I am probably the oldest one in the forum. I am in my 40s and I am about to start a PhD. There are a few others here who are close to my age. Of course, it's your decision whether you want to take on such challenge later in live... working long hours, making little money and so on.... but I can assure you... and I am speaking from my own experience here, many schools will NOT reject you because of your age. This was my experience. I sent out 14 applications and I had interviews with 11 of those schools who knew how old I was at the time of the interview. When I started this journey I was very worried that I would have no chance getting into a program because I was an older applicant. WRONG! Age played no role in my case. Sure, there may be schools who will prefer 25 year old applicants, but like I said, many schools will make their decisions based on other factors. Will I get a tenure-track job once I am done? I have no clue, and I really don't want to worry about that right now. I am glad I got accepted at a great school. If I do well and finish with a good publication record I may just get a good job, who knows. So don't let age deter you. You are NOT too old and crazy to get your PhD when you are in your early 30s!

    2) GMAT blah blah blah .... I hate the GMAT I probably also had the lousiest GMAT score here in the forum. I applied with a 630, and no it's not like I didn't try. I invested a lot of time and money in this darn test. I will shamefully admit it: I failed miserably at the GMAT 3 times with my highest score being 630. This is pretty painful for a straight A student like myself. There is no logical explanation really except for: my brain was not cut out for the GMAT. Believe me, I wish I would have had a 700+ score like most of you, but I just couldn't do it. This also made me believe that I would never be able to get into a program. I was wrong about that too. I am not saying the GMAT doesn't matter. It does, but it is NOT the only thing that matters. I really think people put way too much emphasis on this silly test. I knew several professors at my old school who were able to make it through their program despite low GMAT scores and some of them are great and well-known scholars today. I know someone is probably going to lecture me again that the GMAT is a very good indicator for someone's academic success in a PhD program... well sure but so are many other things. I am just mentioning this to encourage you to apply anyway even if you have a low GMAT score. You probably will get desk-rejected at all top 20 schools with a score like that, but I am living proof that it is possible to get accepted by a decent school with a score in the low 600s.

    3) GET RESEARCH EXPERIENCE before you apply. I was really stunned to read how many of you have had research experience prior to their application. This seems to be the norm now for a successful applicant. You have to get your hands on some kind of research experience. Most won't have a publication prior to a PhD program but you have to be able to put something in your SOP and talk about something when you interview. Work as a GRA for your department, try to go to a conference, maybe get a conference presentation... anything! People at my school talk about my previous research experience (even though it was very little!) a lot more than my GMAT score. In fact they never EVER mentioned my GMAT score to me. NEVER! But I am the doctorate student who has a little bit of research experience.... that's what they keep saying. This is going to be crucial for your application. Get your hands on research!!!!!!

    4) Build relationships! You have to start doing this while you are still in school and you still have access to professors. It's hard to reach out to professors once you have left the academic world and nobody remembers you anymore. I have read here from a few people who emailed professors they didn't know and asked if they could work for them and then they were disappointed because these professors didn't reply. Well, that didn't surprise me. Professors are busy. Why would they reply to a random person who reaches out to them and who is of very little or no interest to them? Build your relationships while you are still in school. Tell your professors about your plans. Ask them if they can introduce you to other people who are working on some research you could get involved with. It's always better to get introduced by someone you both know. I was introduced to the person who became my mentor by the professor who I worked for as an RA.

    5) Waiting sucks! Some schools interview really really early! I sent out all my applications before December 15th and I had my first two interviews on December 16th and 17th. I was shocked! Then nothing happened so I thought... "ok,, holidays".... then the January 15th deadline passed and nothing happened and everyone here sort of went crazy because nothing happened.
    Then everyone at gradcafe went crazy because nothing happened or because all of a sudden some people posted interviews and most of us still had not heard a thing. So my experience: Nothing happens in January! Don't drive yourself crazy! You may have schools that are fast movers that interview before Christmas but don't make a decision quickly, but most schools don't do anything until February. Wait until February before you freak out!
    By the way, I did not get my offer from my school until early March. I was on their waitlist and they did not know until early March that the other person wasn't going to accept their offer. So yes, it happens all the time that people get picked off from waitlists. If you are high on a waitlist, that is very good news.

    So that's actually all I can think of right now.

    Anybody else want to add anything?

    Good luck to all of you!
    Applied: 14, Interviews: 11, Accepted: 6, Waitlisted: 1, Rejected: 7

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    I'll add a few things from my own experiences:

    1) Yes, we all have "dream" schools. But it isn't the end of the world if you don't get in, and it doesn't mean you won't produce solid research or get a good job. I was admitted to only one program, which was originally my "safety" school (I almost struck it from my list - glad I didn't!). I think this is because I was least familiar with that program and the faculty; someone had suggested the program when my list was nearly complete, and so I included it on a whim. After learning more about the program and meeting the faculty and students, I couldn't be happier. The culture of the department, faculty productivity, the way the students help each other, the structure for RA and TA requirements, the location, even funding - everything is just what I was looking for. Would I have felt the same way if I was admitted to my top choice? Maybe. Or maybe I would have learned something about that program I didn't quite like. But it doesn't matter; everything worked out as it should and I have no regrets. The pain of rejection from a dream school doesn't (or shouldn't) last long, then you need to move on with your life and do great things.

    2) I agree with Silviatx about test scores. My GRE scores translated to about a 580 GMAT My program is T50 in its field with a great placement history. Apply broadly or retest, but don't give up.

    3) I wish I hadn't spent so much time watching GradCafe's results page. I know it's hard to do, but it just works you up and wastes sooo much time. Maybe check once a week, but not several times a day (as I did). But DO check your email daily and don't stress if you haven't heard anything yet. Keep busy, pick up new (or old) hobbies; if you get in, you won't have this much free time for a while, so enjoy it!

    It was an interesting adventure, but I'm glad it's behind me. Now, on to the next stage!

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    First off, congratulations on your admission! Thank you so much, Silviatx and Bizz!
    How do you weight LOR in the application package? I'm trying to get LOR from the research Profs I know. But if they deny to write me a letter, I have to ask teaching Professors who know me pretty well. Please share your thought.

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    Quote Originally Posted by pqhai View Post
    First off, congratulations on your admission! Thank you so much, Silviatx and Bizz!
    How do you weight LOR in the application package? I'm trying to get LOR from the research Profs I know. But if they deny to write me a letter, I have to ask teaching Professors who know me pretty well. Please share your thought.
    Letters from research-active professors who are well known in your field of interest are the best, especially if they have a connection to a faculty member at a program you're applying to. But, not everyone has that connection, and that's okay. Ultimately a professor with a PhD is better than an industry recommendation or an adjunct with a masters degree. Research-active would be better than a teaching or clinical professor. What's really important is that they understand what is necessary to succeed in a PhD program and know you well enough to speak highly of your preparation and skills. You want writers who are cheering you on, so if someone agrees begrudgingly or seems unsure of what to write, you may be better off looking elsewhere. Some say a lukewarm letter is just as bad as a negative recommendation; it doesn't really help you.

    One of the faculty members at my PhD program brought up something that my one letter mentioned, and that it was a positive quality they were looking for. My LOR writers are in a different (but related) discipline and did very different research, so although they were not known to the business faculty, their recommendations still mattered quite a bit.

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    Within my grasp! Silviatx's Avatar
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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    I agree with Bizz.

    One of my recommenders said to me that letters of recommendations actually don't matter that much unless they are from someone who is well-known in the field. If they are unknown or unrelated to the field their letters may not even be read.

    What is also very important, and this falls under "relationship building" are the informal recommendations. Ideally you would have a mentor who knows someone at the school you are applying to and who can talk to that person and make sure they will at least look at your application. These "informal recommendations" can be the most important part of your application if they come from someone influential in your field. Seriously. If you have a person with a strong reputation on your side .... that really works wonders! I mean that's how you get jobs in the industry and that's how you might just get an acceptance as a PhD student in academia when it comes down to a decision between you and another candidate.
    Applied: 14, Interviews: 11, Accepted: 6, Waitlisted: 1, Rejected: 7

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    Thank you so much, Silviatx and Bizz. Your suggestions really help!

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    I'm going to jump in here real quick. First of all thanks for the information Sil. This is particularly useful for those who come to the site with sub-700 GMAT's. Often I think that we are too harsh with our analyses and it scares people off. In my experience the GMAT is used as a screener. Basically if you have something (like a personal connection) that will get your application read, there is definitely some leeway with the cutoff. However if you don't have a reason for people to look at your application, the GMAT is used as a quick way to separate applications. I cannot agree more strongly with Sil, though, that the GMAT is a terrible means of assessing one's likelihood to be successful in a graduate program. As I've stated before standardized tests are largely a game, and even if you know all the right strategies, if you aren't inherently good at them (as many of us are), you just won't hit that mid 700 score. It sucks that schools use this, but they do. If I can be perfectly open, schools understand the flaws in using this system and a lot of faculty will agree that there are way more important parts to the application and the student. But, given the time they have to read and assess applications, as well as the need to justify their candidates to the graduate school, the GMAT is going to continue to be used. (and here comes a bunch of comments from people with GMAT scores above 720 telling me how the GMAT is a perfectly reasonable assessment of student intelligence and likelihood to succeed in 3...2..1...)

    Moving on from that point, Sil is definitely correct about both the research experience and faculty connections. Specifically if you can get a faculty member to go to bat for you and call up one of their friends at a program you are interested in, your chances increase of getting an interview 100 fold. 5 of my interviews came from faculty doing this for me, 2 at schools I likely would have been desk rejected from otherwise. It's huge. Make those connections when you can. If you're planning to work for a few years before coming back, stay in some kind of contact with faculty. Even a once yearly email updating them will keep you at the top of their mind. It also could allow you to do a research project with them. If you can point to specific research presentations you've done (as it is unlikely that you will have a paper accepted before you apply) you make a much stronger case as to why the school should accept you. Connections will get you into a program, connections will likely get you interviews when you are looking for a job, and connections will, ultimately, lead to you getting tenure. It's a not great system, but it is true for all of life no matter what you decide to do. People both knowing and liking you is the name of the game. I'm sorry if this is the first time you've heard that.

    I also really appreciate Bizz's point about dream schools. Let me add to that discussion in that rather than having dream schools, you should have dream professors. Largely this will be regardless of school, as there are some great researchers at some relatively small schools. Obviously there will also be some great researchers at great schools, but there are also great researchers at lower ranked schools. People who chose to go to lower ranked schools because they liked the location, or had family reasons, or just didn't want the high stress of a school like HBS. Do your homework. Pick colleges based on people, not on name. It's why I really stress coming up with your own top 10. I have a post about how to do that somewhere. If you have questions about deciding where to apply, please let us know. We all have different perspectives and hopefully we can make your decision easier.
    Til now I always got by on my own
    I never really cared until I met you...

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    90 days ago, I was submitting my resume to jobs and on the edge of a small crisis because I received rejections from every school I applied to. Today I am an admitted PhD student in Finance at a regional school in Florida. I am also a non-typical applicant (age and sub-650 GMAT score) but I made great relationships with research professors during my graduate degree. Those professors advocated for me to be admitted well after the formal admissions round had ended.

    In the end, it wasn't that my scores weren't awesome or that my undergrad GPA was sub-par. I was caught up in departmental politics. I was a single vote away from being admitted in the normal admission round. Professors who knew me voted for me. Professors who did not know me, did not vote for me. I was told that 3 spots were open for admission, but I am the 4th admit this round.

    Bottom line to me is that who you know, combined with aptitude and a willingness to work very hard, goes a lot further than test scores. I am very fortunate to be in my program and I will not squander the opportunity.

    tl;dr - if you've been out of school for a while, go back and get a Master's. While there, get to know the professors, indicate an interest to do research, ask for letters of recommendation from research-producing professors and be very patient.

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    Within my grasp! Silviatx's Avatar
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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    One more thing that may give hope to future applicants:

    I found out about the stats of our applicants this year. (for all business departments at my school). The number of applicants was much lower than I I would have expected and it was also about 10% lower than the year before. Last year a friend told me (she is at a T10 school) that in 2016 they had fewer applicants than in 2015) So this could be some kind of trend at all schools? I am at a T50 school and I was really really REALLY surprised to see that we had only about 100 applicants this year. So I think chances may actually be pretty good to get into a program if you are willing to also apply to lower ranking schools.
    Applied: 14, Interviews: 11, Accepted: 6, Waitlisted: 1, Rejected: 7

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    Re: Lessons learned in 2017

    Hi, guys.

    Been away for awhile, I had literally a stormy beginning with my PhD here in Houston. But I'm lucky, no flood where I live.

    First, thanks for recommending my blog. XanthusAres' blog link is http://www.urch.com/forums/blogs/xanthusares/

    I agree with the opinions posted here.

    I was also considered old for a PhD applicant, I'm 44 years old and just starting my PhD. However, when meeting with the other new PhD students here, I see people with a wide range of ages. I don't really feel much different. I didn't ask their ages, but considering their careers and experience, there are many with ages close to mine and even older.

    About GMAT. I'm the opposite case, I was very surprised with my score of 750. If the GMAT was as important as people say, I'd be at Harvard now. The GMAT is good to measure how good you are at taking the GMAT, not to measure intelligence or anything like that. So, learn how to take the GMAT as best as you can, but don't fret too much about it. It's an extremely flawed exam, but I think that understanding and accepting those flaws instead of criticizing them is the way to beat the GMAT. A researcher's job, in the end, is to exploit flaws. At UH, the incoming students this Fall had an average GMAT of 706, but apart from that information we received no one talked about it. But, as Silviatx wrote, research experience is almost a given.

    About dream schools. We really don't have the knowledge and the experience to know which university is the best for us. On the other hand, the universities have the knowledge and the experience to know which applicant is the best for them. Similar to what Bizz wrote, I'm not at my dream school, but I'm surprise at how UH seems to be what I was looking for. Trust the schools.

    And I'm one of those case Algo mentioned. I had been out of school for many years, did my Master's and that helped me to go for a PhD.

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