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Getting a PhD? Make sure you read!

Poor. Hopeless. Drained. What to consider when applying for a PhD program.

“Hey, I think it’s a really good idea to get a PhD! That way people have to call me Doctor!”

Thinking about getting a PhD? I have a feeling lots of PhD students do not even really know what they’re getting into. After the first weeks into my program, I felt like a bus had hit me. I got up in the mornings and wanted to quit. I certainly was not well prepared. ‘A’ journals? Conferences? Writing papers? Statistics? Research? A PhD student is at least a four-(probably five-) year commitment. Believe me, you don’t want to make this decision over a glass of wine at night. Here are a few things to consider before applying to a PhD in business. This possibly is the same (or worse) for other disciplines.

The GMAT or GRE

Trying to get into a PhD program Elle Wood’s style? Remember, even she had to do well on the admission test. Test scores make all the difference. Most schools will not consider you for a PhD in business with a GMAT score lower than 650. 700 is ideal, however, it is possible to beat 700 score-applicants if your other application material such as the statement of purpose are of great quality and appeal to the PhD committee.

Know your school

Sure, it’s nice to live in (insert your dream city with palm trees and easy beach access). But make sure you don’t just randomly apply to schools. Do your research. What is the school’s ranking? What are they known for? What are the faculty’s strengths? Look up the faculty members of the department you’re applying to. Read the abstracts (ok, at least the titles) of some of their published articles. Figure out if the school has at least 2 or 3 faculty members that are actively involved in research and publish with PhD students (stalk their co-authors on the internet). Try to at least get an idea if you could be interested in working with these people. You got your bachelor’s and master’s at a good school and it would be convenient to just stick around? Be careful, because this is sometimes frowned upon. Students are encouraged to get exposure to different schools to learn a variety of skills and work with different people. You are getting your PhD to work in research and make the big bucks? Make sure you apply to decently ranked schools only. Planning to just have a comfortable stress-free life and be a teacher? … Then why get a PhD?

The statement of purpose

This document should be well thought through. Make sure you write a new one for each school you apply to. Start off talking with a little anecdote if you can, explain why you are interested in RESEARCH, and talk about previous research experience you might have gained during your undergraduate/master’s studies. The PhD committee wants to get to know you personally, but mainly wants to be convinced that you are serious about completing a PhD and that you bring the right amount of determination. If you have industry experience and superior test scores, they might be lenient if research experience is lacking. Mention specific faculty members that you can imagine working with and show them that you did your homework (see previous point).  Here are a few links with more information:

http://grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/apply/statement-purpose/

http://www.princetonreview.com/grad-school-advice/statement-of-purpose

http://www.uni.edu/~gotera/gradapp/stmtpurpose.htm

Finances

calculator-385506_1920Being a PhD student most and for all means you will have neither money, nor time. Know what you’re getting into, no matter if you’re international student or American. How much does your program pay? Is health insurance included? Most important, are fees included and, if not, how much do you have to pay per semester? Are trips to conferences funded or at least supported? Are there funds or grants available for research? These are all good questions to ask as soon as you get invited to interviews and campus visits. In my program, for example, I receive a yearly stipend, and health insurance is included, but fees are more than $800 per semester and you have to pay taxes, too. Make a calculation taking the cost of living of your school’s location into account and make sure you can live off what you’re being paid. Obviously, you are in a way better situation if you can get into the PhD program with a nice financial cushion in your bank account to pay for any extras. But then again, it’s not that you’ll have time for vacations anyway.

Time

A PhD program is not a walk in the park. Say goodbye to your private life, your hobbies, your pets, and partners. Well, I might be exaggerating, but you will work more weekends than you like and you will stress out. Summer break? Spring break, Winter break? This is definitely an illusion, because there will be summer classes and lots of assignments, papers, and studies that need to be completed in those “times off”.

Early start

Once you’re in, make sure you don’t sit around and observe for too long. As soon as you get situated, get to know faculty members as soon as possible. Pick potential mentors. Get them on your side. Show your best behavior and do a good job in your classes. Find out what the major journals are for your field before you start in the program, and read a few major articles. Find out what the major conferences are for your interest, as well as when and where they take place. Make a list with submission deadlines for conferences and ask senior PhD students how early they started submitting to and attending conferences. Make sure you at least get the gist of basic statistics. Come up with good ideas. STAY OUT OF OFFICE GOSSIP. Be seen in the office, and I mean be seen working. Draw attention, but in a positive way. Already overwhelmed? You’re welcome!

Always Be Reading

Read. Read more. And don’t forget to read.

Questions? Comments? Worries? Feel free to leave a comment!

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