After graduating and working for a few months I decided that I will quit my job to pursue a master's and then a PhD.

Before doing any applications I want to spend time reading the literature in computer graphics (what I want to study) and select a few topics and potential supervisors to then apply to their schools. And I also want to implement some papers in the field both to understand them better and to add them to my portfolio.

I want to spend at least 6 months just doing this process of reading papers and teaching myself as much math as possible.

My main concern is that on paper, what I would have done is stop working after 6 months and then not work for another 6. Ultimately I want to maximize the chances of getting approved for a master's at whichever university I finally go to. And although idealistically I know what I need to do to learn more and be more prepared to do research, I am very scared universities may see this as a sign of laziness.

I have been going to paper readings at the university of Toronto to try to be more exposed to current research. But once I quit my job I will have to move to a cheaper city and won't be able to do that.

Is there anything I can do, short of solving a millennium problem, to maximize my chances of being approved for a grad program?

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    Are there research jobs in academia for people with a bachelors' degree in your field? – Bryan Krause Dec 6 at 18:48
  • There probably are, but most companies where I could actually learn anything important will prefer masters and PhD's, such is the case for any major videogame company, Nvidia, AMD... – Makogan Dec 6 at 19:03
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    Is there any reason that you can't just apply now, rather than waiting? – Buffy Dec 6 at 19:12
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    I'm unclear on why you think you should stop working as opposed to reading up on the literature in your spare time. – Jon Custer Dec 6 at 20:03
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    Learning 'high level math' and working on implementations of problems is what you should be doing in grad school. If you aren't a competitive applicant now, you won't be after 6 months of doing nothing. When you tell a prospective supervisor that you quit your job to read on the internet the alarm bells in their head will be loud enough to hear from across the room. – CJ59 Dec 6 at 21:24
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Get a job that allows you to do work in or related to the field you are interested in studying in - in a worst case scenario, do such work as a volunteer.

Self-study work you do is highly highly unlikely to be any value to an admissions committee, regardless of any "reports" or "implementations" or other work you attempt to produce - no one will have time to review things like that.

What you need to do is build evidence that you are capable of doing academic research. Evidence means references - people in positions where they can vouch for your knowledge and capability. Self-study will provide you with no references. Spend a little time searching around Academia.SE for all of the people who are asking what to do when they don't have enough references and are trying to apply to graduate school. Don't get in their position, there are few answers.

The ideal jobs would be in academic labs doing work similar to what you want to do in grad school under greater supervision. At my institution, these positions are typically called "research interns" (though they are paid positions) or "research specialist" - I have also seen titles like "junior scientist/researcher" - these are positions that typically require a bachelors degree and often go to recent graduates of the institution but are available to others. However, depending on your field, these positions may be rare or not exist at all.

If there is no such position available in your field, you are still much better off continuing to work another job while doing self-study.

Master's programs may require less research experience - in that case, you are likely already in a position to apply to masters' programs, where you can get precisely the experience I am describing to prepare you for a PhD. This includes systems like in the U.S. where it is common in many fields for people to apply directly for PhD programs without a master's degree.

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