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I have applied for a second round of 100% rejections and needless to say I am not feeling great about it. What I am especially angry/frustrated about is that neat little sentence every rejection letter has:

We recommend getting more research experience and trying again next year

HOW?!

I have applied for R&D jobs in my field for a year and a half while working. I can't get an interview, when I contact the companies the reply is "you don't have a masters". Well that's convenient isn't it? Universities won't accredit me because of lack of experience and I can't get the experience because I don't have the credentials.

I'd abandon the goal all together but I am too stupid and stuborn to accept giving up an unreachable dream.

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  • 1
    Which field are you in?
    – GoodDeeds
    May 24, 2020 at 1:40
  • Universities won’t accredit you for an undergraduate because of a lack of experience? That leads me to believe you don’t have an undergraduate degree. May 24, 2020 at 1:45
  • 19
    I wouldn't take the verbiage in rejection letters as serious advice - it's usually just boilerplate. Better to talk to someone who actually knows you and your record, and has some experience with graduate programs in your field. May 24, 2020 at 2:42
  • 1
    I applied to 5 programs 2 of which where at not my top choices
    – Makogan
    May 24, 2020 at 4:16
  • 2
    @Makogan you need to apply to more places. I would suggest an absolute minimum of 10. The competition is such that it's not surprising that you were unsuccessful with only 5 applications.
    – astronat
    May 24, 2020 at 8:46

2 Answers 2

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I have been a CS professor at both large and small schools, so let me say a bit about getting into the program from both perspectives.

When I was working at a small school, we didn't have a large graduate population, so we accepted anyone who was qualified - regardless of research experience, etc. Anybody who was well-qualified (eg good grades and reasonable application package) also received a TAships covering the full cost of their degree. I still managed to get some fantastic students through this process. (Who didn't have research experience or were not from a traditional CS background.)

I am currently at a larger school, and we get something like 5x more applications than we are able to accept. So, most students get rejected, even highly qualified ones.

Based on this comparison, I'd suggest that you may need to look at a smaller school. Try to find an opening to work on a problem that might help you with a grad school application in the future.

In particular:

  1. Find smaller schools with professors doing work in the area that you are interested in. Smaller schools can have very strong professors for many reasons. (Look particularly for recent publication activity.)

  2. Read all of their recent papers.

  3. E-mail ask research questions about their work. These questions should be genuine and should reflect a strong understanding of the work. You could even, for instance, ask if a project would be a suitable extension of the published work. (eg your method X works under conditions Y and Z. Would method W broaden the applicability of the approach? Or, would method V improve the performance when condition U also holds?)

  4. Implement and try some of these ideas in practice. (You could even do this before doing #3.)

  5. Use this to improve your graduate application. There are several ways to do this. First, if you have good communication with a professor, they may directly be able to help you get admitted to the program. But, this can also be part of your statement of purpose (SOP). I've read lots of awful SOPs. Your application will stand out if you can talk about a research problem you are interested in, why it interests you, and why it is a fit with the department/professors.

There are lots of variations on this approach, but I've had students use parts of the approach on me, and it worked.

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    Honest question. Implementing a paper can take a long time, especially while working full time because you are mentally drained. As a specific example, I tried understanding Gaussian Subdivision Surfaces for a year without much success. When I found myself unemployed It took perhaps 2-3 weeks to fully understand the paper and then an additional week to fully implement it. This was while spending most of my time doing just that. When I was working full time I had to go to a doctor due to breathing problems and was told I had extreme mental fatigue and needed to stop.
    – Makogan
    May 24, 2020 at 4:44
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    How can you do all of that work while working full time? I tried, but humans are not particularily suited to spending every waking second doing something cognitively demanding.
    – Makogan
    May 24, 2020 at 4:45
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    You're describing indeed a catch 22 situation and you should take good care of yourself. This answer contains many good points, so just try to apply those that can work for you. If you get in touch with a professor (and maybe start a discussion around a paper of theirs) you can show your interest and motivation and tell them you would like to apply, but they will understand that for someone working full time it is difficult to spend long hours on a "side" project — it's perfectly reasonable to leave any serious work for when you're part of the programme.
    – Earthliŋ
    May 24, 2020 at 10:16
  • If you can't manage reading and understanding a paper while working and doing the other things then how are you going to handle graduate school? I don't mean to sound discouraging but there you will have to do add in other classes and maybe even a TA position or something. It gets a lot harder than what you're describing now. Graduate school can be quite taxing. I don't mean to sound mean or discouraging but it sounds like you might not be up to it.
    – Delta_G
    May 24, 2020 at 16:01
  • @Delta_G TA ing and grading papers is not nearly as cognitive demanding as developing real time system features for 8 hours straight. It's not that I can't handle working long hours, is that I can;t handle high demanding cognitive work for 12 hours a day. Which to my knowledge, the average person has about 3 hours of full cognitive productivity a day (which cna be trained to be larger). But certainly people are not trying to solve a millenium prize problem 12 hours a day.
    – Makogan
    May 24, 2020 at 21:30
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Speaking from a biomedical perspective, typically students who are interested in master's or PhD degrees gain research experience by working in labs in their undergrad institutions. If you did not do that, an alternative is to apply for lab technician positions at university labs, which does not necessarily require anything beyond a bachelor's degree. Training a scientist is hard and most companies would not want to gamble on someone who does not have an advanced degree already, only to see them leave after a couple of years of training at their expense.

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  • I am in computer science. I did 2 research projects in my undergrad, alas I didn;t publish anything. I also have the missfortune of always having been introverted and having no one in my family in academia. So the time I discovered that undergrad research is not a plus but a MUST I was already out.
    – Makogan
    May 24, 2020 at 1:57
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    While it is true that many undergrads publish before they graduate, this is not a necessary condition for admission. It is likely that your letters of recommendation were not strong (or they are from lesser known people in the field). Either way there is no getting around the issue of gaining more experience through an entry-level position.
    – Drecate
    May 24, 2020 at 2:00
  • @Makogan You could also consider doing an internship / research assistantship, perhaps with the professor you did your undegrad research project with.
    – GoodDeeds
    May 24, 2020 at 2:10
  • @Drecate I have been working for a year and a half and this was noted in my application. I can only assume that CS being a very common field and there being so many "code monkey" positions in the field, experience in my field is a very weak criterion for selection.
    – Makogan
    May 24, 2020 at 2:17
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    Well, as we all know, coding is not computer science. Really, it's not about entry-level position, it's about entry-level research position.
    – Drecate
    May 24, 2020 at 3:19

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