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Thread: Advice for next course of action - Accepting PhD offer/LSE Masters/Job

  1. #1
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    Question Self Doubt

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    I applied to 19 schools this year (17 PhD in Finance across US and Europe) and 2 MSc in Finance (LSE, Tinbergen). I was rejected without interview from 16, had interview at Michigan Ross and INSEAD and finally got an offer from Bocconi for PhD in Finance.

    I have a decent profile coming from top schools in my country (Bachelors in Physics, MBA) but have had below average grades in my UG Maths sequence (B-, B, B+). In the first two ones, I simply did not study (please don't ask why). So the rejections (especially from Masters program) fill in tremendous self doubt as to my ability to handle PhD level curriculum.

    I have worked on 2 research papers during my Masters, cleared CFA Level 2, working in a top US Bank and work with utmost discipline and sincerity.

    I think my primary motivation for pursuing a PhD was not research rather 2 factors. One, I love teaching, having taught in schools and other people. Second, I hate corporate world and the feeling of having sold myself and my life for big bucks. So being a Professor seemed a good option. But I don't know if I should even pursue this path anymore.

    Seeking some advice.
    Last edited by playaa07; 04-29-2021 at 12:48 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Self Doubt

    I am sorry that you had such a poor experience in the application process. However, I hope that you are not too discouraged as it sounds like you have a strong profile since you received interest from some top schools. Remember, these PhD programs are highly competitive and it only take two or three people who have a better day on the interview for it to make a difference between an acceptance or a rejection.
    It definitely sounds like you have the drive to be a good academic.
    Bocconi is a great placement and a PhD from there will set you up well for the job market. I would say that they are easily on par with top 30-50 programs and could also possibly help you crack top placements if you have a stellar publication record. So I would think hard about going there if you feel that you can make it work.
    It sounds to me like your motivations for getting a PhD are not research driven which likely set off red flags for a lot of the top schools you applied to. They care a lot more about research and may have passed over your application in favor of someone who was more research focused. Your interest in teaching is not bad and I think a good number of people who get PhDs are initially motivated by teaching interests. However, if you choose to go through another application cycle, I would suggest emphasizing research interests rather than teaching interests. If you feel like research is not something that you would enjoy (and I mean really enjoy to the point that you are happy doing it 40-60 hours a week throughout the PhD program), then I would also recommend shooting for lower ranking R1s that will create less of a research-centric "pressure cooker" environment. Any R1 PhD program will still be research intensive but some are more ok with students placing in balanced or teaching positions.

  3. #3
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    Re: Self Doubt

    Thanks for the uplifting response @BCB. Appreciate your empathy.

    It's a risky proposition but I think I will try again in a couple of years with a better profile and RA background. Let's see what life has in store.

    All the best to you in whatever you do, too.

  4. #4
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    Re: Self Doubt

    I'm not in Finance, but maybe my experience and perspective can be useful.

    I applied to 20 programs in the US, I was rejected by 19. PhD applications can be amazingly competitive. Being accepted by 1 is already an amazing feat to be celebrated. Usually, even perfect applicants are not showered with offers.

    I struggled hard with the coursework. Really. Almost everyone did, including the professors. I always remember when one of the Econometrics professors tried to solve one of the problems from the book, since we still had time left in a class, and he wasn't able to.

    With my first research project, my advisor said that was just master's level stuff. Not enough for publication, for a dissertation, or anything really.

    A PhD is no joke, we among the best of the best in the world, and we are expected to become their equal. It's easy to feel small, not good enough.

    3 research projects later, I'm now in my 4th year. And my advisor recently told me I'm now at a much more advanced stage than 4th-year students usually are. He seems very pleased with my progress, confident I will do well next week when I defend my dissertation proposal. I'm getting ready to search for a job as a professor.

    I think one without self-doubt during a PhD is one with illusions. As a professor here said, research is an unusual type of job: failing is the standard. We fail to obtain results, we fail to publish, etc. Success is rare in our work, it's the exception. So, we often doubt ourselves, our methods, our results, etc. We even start having doubts about top research, Nobel prize winners.

    So, it's not that I don't doubt myself. But I persist despite all those doubts. As people often say, doing a PhD is not about being good or bad, it's about being able to read the end of it. And motivation is a big part of that.

    Just like you, I don't want to go back to the corporate world. But that's a motivation to leave the corporate world, not necessarily a motivation to do a PhD. I had already left the corporate world. I was already teaching, and left my teaching job to do a PhD. I'm doing a PhD because I want to work with research. I don't know how things would be if my motivation was not related to research, since that was really the focus during my 3rd year when I made all that progress.

    In summary, I don't think self-doubt is a big issue unless you let those doubts overcome you. Use them as motivation to do better. But whether motivation is an issue or nor, that's something only you can answer. You're not in this alone, although it may often feel like that. Maybe the biggest lesson from a PhD is learning to trust yourself and trust others, even when we see reasons to not trust.

  5. #5
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    Re: Self Doubt

    This is truly helpful and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. Wish you the best in your defence and job interviews.

    Quote Originally Posted by BrazilianPhD View Post
    I'm not in Finance, but maybe my experience and perspective can be useful.

    I applied to 20 programs in the US, I was rejected by 19. PhD applications can be amazingly competitive. Being accepted by 1 is already an amazing feat to be celebrated. Usually, even perfect applicants are not showered with offers.

    I struggled hard with the coursework. Really. Almost everyone did, including the professors. I always remember when one of the Econometrics professors tried to solve one of the problems from the book, since we still had time left in a class, and he wasn't able to.

    With my first research project, my advisor said that was just master's level stuff. Not enough for publication, for a dissertation, or anything really.

    A PhD is no joke, we among the best of the best in the world, and we are expected to become their equal. It's easy to feel small, not good enough.

    3 research projects later, I'm now in my 4th year. And my advisor recently told me I'm now at a much more advanced stage than 4th-year students usually are. He seems very pleased with my progress, confident I will do well next week when I defend my dissertation proposal. I'm getting ready to search for a job as a professor.

    I think one without self-doubt during a PhD is one with illusions. As a professor here said, research is an unusual type of job: failing is the standard. We fail to obtain results, we fail to publish, etc. Success is rare in our work, it's the exception. So, we often doubt ourselves, our methods, our results, etc. We even start having doubts about top research, Nobel prize winners.

    So, it's not that I don't doubt myself. But I persist despite all those doubts. As people often say, doing a PhD is not about being good or bad, it's about being able to read the end of it. And motivation is a big part of that.

    Just like you, I don't want to go back to the corporate world. But that's a motivation to leave the corporate world, not necessarily a motivation to do a PhD. I had already left the corporate world. I was already teaching, and left my teaching job to do a PhD. I'm doing a PhD because I want to work with research. I don't know how things would be if my motivation was not related to research, since that was really the focus during my 3rd year when I made all that progress.

    In summary, I don't think self-doubt is a big issue unless you let those doubts overcome you. Use them as motivation to do better. But whether motivation is an issue or nor, that's something only you can answer. You're not in this alone, although it may often feel like that. Maybe the biggest lesson from a PhD is learning to trust yourself and trust others, even when we see reasons to not trust.

  6. #6
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    Re: Self Doubt

    Thank you for the empathetic response, @BCB. Your response played a key role in me rationalising and remembering the factors I should use to make my decision. I've even written them in case I forget them again. I'm much more at peace since your response. Wish you the best of luck.

    Quote Originally Posted by BCB View Post
    I am sorry that you had such a poor experience in the application process. However, I hope that you are not too discouraged as it sounds like you have a strong profile since you received interest from some top schools. Remember, these PhD programs are highly competitive and it only take two or three people who have a better day on the interview for it to make a difference between an acceptance or a rejection.
    It definitely sounds like you have the drive to be a good academic.
    Bocconi is a great placement and a PhD from there will set you up well for the job market. I would say that they are easily on par with top 30-50 programs and could also possibly help you crack top placements if you have a stellar publication record. So I would think hard about going there if you feel that you can make it work.
    It sounds to me like your motivations for getting a PhD are not research driven which likely set off red flags for a lot of the top schools you applied to. They care a lot more about research and may have passed over your application in favor of someone who was more research focused. Your interest in teaching is not bad and I think a good number of people who get PhDs are initially motivated by teaching interests. However, if you choose to go through another application cycle, I would suggest emphasizing research interests rather than teaching interests. If you feel like research is not something that you would enjoy (and I mean really enjoy to the point that you are happy doing it 40-60 hours a week throughout the PhD program), then I would also recommend shooting for lower ranking R1s that will create less of a research-centric "pressure cooker" environment. Any R1 PhD program will still be research intensive but some are more ok with students placing in balanced or teaching positions.

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