I am a 4th year computer engineering undergraduate student who will apply for Ph.D. programs this winter/spring, for the next fall semester. I have decided to become an academic 2 years ago, and head of department said "keep your gpa high and you will be fine". Well, I have increased my gpa, from 2.5 to 3.5 but now I see that I need research experience to be admitted to good programs. ( I can't afford masters program)

I thought I didn't need a research experience, yet while I was thinking that, I see that undergraduate students all over the world were doing research. I admit I was naive to think so but I was guided that way. So few months ago I am trying to learn about admission process and I see many people over the internet with tons of research experience and even papers waiting to be published, or already published. And the most important part of SOP is research experience.

And guess what? There is no lab at my university. And not a single instructor that does research in the field I want. It is a very small department (5 full time assistant professors).

So obviously, I cannot get into a top or very good program with these conditions, and they have every right to decline me. But I believe it is my right to get into a good valid program that matches my interests. I shouldn't take the whole responsiblity of non existent opportunities that other students had in other universities.

I would like to know, from experienced people, about what I should do to get into a Ph.D. program without direct proof of research capabilities. No lab work, no research, nada. Just reading many papers in the field I am interested in for last few months, and high motivation.

Or is it a point where I should say "That's life and never fair" and have plan B and plan C?

Thank you

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    What do you mean you can't afford a Master's program? I was accepted as a Master's student with a TA and then converted to PhD after 1 year (without completing my Master's) within the same university. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 20:08
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    If you have no research experience, how do you know you want to do a Ph.D ? I'm not asking this because I doubt your motives, but because answering this question yourself will help you explain in your SoP why you want to do a Ph.D in the absence of research experience.
    – Suresh
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 20:39
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    From our end, we'd like to know what things you can present to us that increase your chances of being successful in a grad program. What you describe is enthusiasm and motivation, which is great. Can you also describe some areas of interest ?
    – Suresh
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 21:25
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    now expand that :)
    – Suresh
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 21:43
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    Why do you "believe it is my right to get into a good valid program that matches my interests"? What if there are more students than positions? If I saw such a statement from someone applying to my program, I'd reject him/her for attitude. I think it's more reasonable to "hope" or "wish" for admission than assert a right to it. Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 17:05

3 Answers 3


If you need research experience for a program, then you need research experience and there's not much you can do about it besides gaining that experience. Even if you did gain entry into such a program, you will lack the research skills of your peers. You'll be starting off on the back foot.

A PhD is a long-term commitment to poorly paid slave labour. What if you find out you don't even like research, 1 year in? I would strongly advise the "try before you buy" approach. Get a Master's degree or a postgraduate diploma, that has a reasonable research component.

A good PhD program will want you to prove that you have the commitment and research skills to pull it off. Once you can do that, you have a good chance for admission. If research experience is a requirement, then you can't just shrug it off.

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    A PhD is a long-term commitment to poorly paid slave labour. — You are being abused. Don't walk. Run.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 20:28
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    Perhaps I went overboard on the metaphor. It's poorly paid, longer-than-usual hours, and depending on your (funding) situation you could be working on whatever your supervisor wants. I was just trying to make the point that that's why you have to enjoy research to succeed in your PhD (and I do). Because the pay and prestige certainly aren't commensurate with your qualifications.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 22:34
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    The idea of finding a graduate certificate that has a research component sounds like a valuable idea for bridging the gap. A lot of people go all the way through an MA/MS/MEd, without much serious research. Interesting.
    – Rab
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 16:14

I agree with the above answer by Moriarty, but do not believe that your hopes are gone. I have been active in analysing the academic market for a while now, and I used to think that it was necessary for Graduate students to go to to a tier 1 institution in their respective field, if they wanted to one day have a TT position in a respected university. While it doesn't hurt to do so, you should apply to more programs, that may not be ranked so high, but trust me, if you do well, you will have an equal chance to everyone else to get a TT position (tenure track position) at a respected university. Apply to programs such as ERAU (PhD ECE) or UA. Take on a research interest that is big right now, such as Radar Signal Processing, Electromagnetics, Big Data, Cyber Security, and do well in it. As one who is actively involved in advising and has talked to students, faculty, etc., as well as my own experience, you will be just fine. If you are going to only try for a tier 1 school, then it may be more competitive obviously, but in my humble opinion, is not necessary. I can tell you one thing, if you get into any PhD program I'm on familiar with institutions in the U.S., and a select few in other countries), in the USA, with a PhD program and research component, and you get your PhD, and you do well, you will be in the same boat as everyone else. If you really want the name, then finish your PhD where you get in, and then do a postdoc for a year or two at a tier 1 institution.

That being said, ERAU, UA, and many other schools, although may not be ranked as high, are excellent institutions that are not necessarily "easy" to get into.

I wish you the best on your future endeavours.


I met someone in one of the top 10 US CS PhD programs who got in with no research experience. This person said they focused really really hard on the subject GRE and got a very high score (much higher than mine, and I got into the same program, albeit with some modest undergrad research). So it can be done. A masters with a focus on research as others suggested might be less of a gamble though.

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    The subject GRE in computer science was discontinued in 2013.
    – JeffE
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 10:45

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