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I am having problems after ending my master´s in Computer Science. The main problem is that I had to return to my country because I had to take care of my parents. In any case, I managed to get a number of publications in the field, only 4.

I have been trying to get a funded PhD position in some European and United States universities, but with no luck at all. By the way, my master´s degree was completed in Europe (in Sweden to be specific).

I have the feeling that I will not get any paid position, and I cannot afford to pay the whole 4 years of career by myself; also I think that because I am not near any of those research groups from those universities my situation gets further complicated.

What should I do? Should I sent my CV to the persons in charge of some more research groups, even though they do not have open positions? should I ask that they give me a task so I can prove that I am worthy for their research?

  • I managed to get a number of publications in the field, only 4. 4 seems to be a quite decent amount and should not be the reason for rejection. Are they of decent quality? Are there any other possible problems with your application? How were the universities ranked that you had no luck with? – superuser0 Jul 26 '13 at 4:22
  • it can be that the topics are diverse, maybe I should have only focus on one specific area – Layla Jul 26 '13 at 4:37
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    Hi Layla -- thanks for accepting my answer. I normally suggest waiting a couple of days to accept answers in case someone writes an answer that turns out to be better. – Chris Gregg Jul 26 '13 at 14:20
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Here are some general guidelines when applying for U.S. positions:

  1. The key thing that PhD programs look for is evidence of research potential. In your particular case, if you have four peer-reviewed papers, this is a very good start. The benefits due to the publications decreases (a) if the papers are not peer-reviewed, (b) if they are in conferences or journals no one has ever heard of, (c) if they are not in English [if only because it is harder to read them and see what they are about], (d) if they are not particularly well-written in general (e.g., grammatical mistakes, poor structure, weak results).

  2. Your recommendation letters are extremely important, and should speak directly to your research potential and experience. If possible, these should be from tenured professors at your university, and even better if they are known in their field. Plan on giving your letter-writers "talking points" that they might want to include in their letters. Don't write the letters for them, but provide them with enough information so they can write specifically about what you want to study, and why.

  3. If your letter-writers know someone at the schools where you are applying, consider asking them to reach out to say directly that you are great and that they should keep you in mind. Even if the contacts aren't on the admissions committee, they will certainly know someone on the committee and can pass along your name.

  4. Your grades matter, but less than you might think, especially if you're applying after you already have your Master's degree (again, research potential is the key item).

  5. Do not apply strictly to "Top-X" schools (5, 10, 20, etc.). Competition is extremely stiff at the top schools, and no one can expect to be let into a particular program. Find other schools that have decent programs but don't limit yourself too much.

  6. Write an amazing personal statement, and have multiple people proof-read it and give you suggestions. Strive to make it clear what you want to research, why it is an important topic, and why you'll be good at solving the outstanding problems in that topic.

  7. Obviously, make sure you submit all the correct forms. You don't want a rejection simply because of an administrative issue.

If you believe that your personal situation (going back to take care of your parents) has bearing on why your record looks poor, say so in a cover letter, or briefly mention it in your personal statement. Don't linger on it, but comment on the pertinent points and move on.

As to the funding part -- if you get accepted into a C.S. position, you will most likely be offered funding, either through a teaching assistant position, and/or through a research associate position. This should be included in the letter of acceptance.

Good luck!

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