I'm currently an undergraduate student at a university in the UK that's ranked in the top 10 universities worldwide by both Times Higher Education and QS. I'm in my final year of a 4-year undergraduate program that culminates with a Masters degree in CS.
A brief summary of my academic experience is as follows:
- I have a 3.51 GPA (according to the UK-US conversion from https://www.scholaro.com/gpa-calculator) that is the culmination of both coursework and about 24 exams thus far.
- In my top 3 exams, I achieved grades over 80% (considered impressive, as 70% is the minimum needed to get a first-class grade) although in 3 exams, I've also achieved grades in the 40-49% region. Although, bear in mind that these exams where I performed extremely poorly, two occurred in my first year and one in my second year.
- At the end of my second year, I spent time over the summer working as an undergraduate research assistant in the CS dept. on a project that did not go badly, but also did not result in any published academic papers.
- I'm currently starting out my Masters thesis on an exciting project that has the potential to result in a publication depending on how good my work is.
At my university, exams are what make up the bulk of your final grade - followed by your Masters thesis and then your overall coursework average over the 4 years. My exams thus far are actually quite unimpressive, as most people in my cohort are obtaining firsts and the very best are obtaining averages close to (and some even above) 80%. For reference, my average is just over 64%.
Factors that are leading me to seriously question whether I should do a PhD, despite my interest in research:
- The aim of undergraduate courses is to imbue students with a basic understanding of fundamental topics, and I have demonstrated quite mediocre performance in a sizeable portion of these courses.
- I come from a demographic that is severely underrepresented in STEM and generates a very, very low quantity of total scientific knowledge in STEM. I can count on one hand the number of computer scientists I know about who (1) work in the sub-field of CS that I'm interested in (machine learning), and (2) come from a similar demographic to me. I do not think that I am "special" and given this empirical evidence, it appears to me that people with a background similar to mine may not have the right skill-set to be successful scientists. Note that I cannot explain why this is the case, I'm simply taking a "outside view" of the situation and making inferences based on what I observe (Daniel Kahneman explains the utility of the method here: Daniel Kahneman: Beware the Inside View).
- My position, based on my academic performance and research experience thus far, is that I do not currently stand a chance of being a successful scientist in the near future. If I am not a successful scientist, it is unlikely that I will obtain a promising research-oriented job in a country with high scientific output in STEM (e.g. US, UK, Canada, etc.). Consequently, I would likely have to return to my home country - a developing country - where, due to the lack of resources and poor levels of education, I would be unable conduct high-impact STEM research and so my PhD would simply go to waste.
Note that my aim is not simply to "get a PhD", but rather to obtain a high confidence estimate of the likelihood that I would be a successful scientist.