I have been working in a big-shot multi-national corporation as a developer for two years now, with a possible future as a software architect in some eight to ten years.

Now I want to enroll in a PhD program. I am planning to quit my job and join some university for PhD programs. Now most of the universities needs some research papers, of which I have none. They also require recommendations from professors, however I have already quit college two years back and don't have a working relationship with those professors.

How should I secure letters of recommendation? Will a letter of recommendation from my manager help? Does academia really care about professionals wanting to enter back into the world of higher education again? Will I be able to apply to competitive universities with my profile?


2 Answers 2


I'm not a computer science guy, so I don't really have experience with the norms of a CS department in a university. But I can give this general advice:

  1. If you want to do a PhD, you should at the very least: 1) know you enjoy research; and, preferably, 2) have specific research problems you really want to work on. Don't enter a PhD program if you don't like to research. If you're not sure, start with a master's in a program that has a history of allowing master's students to graduate into PhD programs and in-so-doing take advantage of their master's coursework.

  2. References: get them from people who make you look good and make sure your letter-writers know what makes a good grad school letter of recommendation. If you have a good manager who can attest to your capabilities as a learner, sure, have him or her write a letter. However, not all managers are going to know what graduate schools are looking for -- so educate the writer. Grad schools want people who can learn and work independently above all. Emphasize that. And, of course, if you are interested in a certain kind of research, make sure your letter-writer knows that and can comment about it!

  3. The personal statement matters. In your post here you mentioned your strengths (professional experience at a good firm) and weaknesses (disconnected from academia, non-academic references). Be straightforward about those in your personal statement. More importantly, use the personal statement to discuss what you want to research, why, and your prior experience in the area. Furthermore, explain why you are a good fit for the department...

  4. Fit. You need to fit in at your department. This basically means you should apply to programs where you can have an appropriate mentor who is an expert in what you want to study, or expert enough to guide you along. Do not just apply to any-old program, or a program with a good name. Read through the department web site, figure out the kind of work they are doing, and contact possible mentors/advisors with questions that show your interest and help you decide if the program is a good fit. Having prior rapport with the faculty will help you, and if the department knows you want to be there, this will bump you up a little in the stack of applications. Of course, having good credentials and clear research interests is what makes for a successful application, but departments don't want to waste giving offers and potential funding to candidates who are unlikely to attend the program should they be admitted.

Hope this helps.


I believe you really should give it a try, but of course it depends on the field of CS that you are going to apply to. So try to check a field of specialization that is closely related to the one that you have been working, eg. Software Engineering.

Also here it depends to which university are you going to aim for. A certain number of them require that you have already a master's degree in CS; some of them can choose you directly to do PhD studies being just a bachelor, but that usually happens to students that got at least one or two publications in a respected peer conference or journal (that is for the admission committee to check it up if you have research skills). The last point is not a must, but it is important. I have talked a few days ago with a Professor in one renowned university in the North America area, and he mentioned me that the admission committee in his faculty is getting more strict each year, and now to have publications is really a must (apart of a MSc degree of course).

In any case give it a try, and do not forget to say in your cover letter your research interests and why you really want to pursue a PhD.

Good luck!

  • Most of them require that you have already a master's degree in CS — That's not true. I don't know of a single North American CS PhD program that requires a prior MS. (I know a few that have a de facto publication requirement, but none that require the degree.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 13:49
  • you are right JeffE what they really point is the research skills, let me rephrase it
    – Layla
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 14:02
  • 2
    @JeffE I don't know of a single North American CS PhD program that requires a prior MS. While this might be true for the US, Canadian programs often do have this requirement.
    – Mangara
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 15:33

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