I'm an MS in CompSci grad who wants to do a PhD someday. The one thing I don't have from my time in undergrad and MS is significant research experience. Of course, I did undergrad research but was never published in any papers. I make a lot as a professional and want to volunteer(read, free) part-time doing research for a professor or lab post-graduation, but I have no idea how to approach this or even find interest amongst professors or labs. Any ideas?

Edit: Undiagnosed disability crippled my undergraduate performance. I was unmedicated, untreated, and had no idea on how to cope. I really managed to redeem myself through my graduate performance and am basically looking for a second chance. If anyone has disability-specific resources as well, that would be great.

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    There are a lot of issues with volunteer work. Some of them are addressed vaguely in the linked suggested duplicate; you might also search for "volunteer" in other questions on this stack. – Bryan Krause Jun 3 at 16:29
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    @MaireWhite The question I linked is from someone with a masters degree (albeit a bit different from a US masters). They are in a very similar situation if not completely identical to you: they have a well-paid professional position in STEM and now want to do volunteer research in academia with a goal to do future academic research, and have little to no research experience. I'd advise considering all the other issues in that post before worrying about publishing possibilities: you have to get in the door to start. – Bryan Krause Jun 3 at 16:56
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    Why not apply to a PhD program? Maybe my answer there was unclear, but the key points I meant to make are: academic labs have a duty to train students enrolled at that institution rather than outside volunteers and there are legal barriers to accepting volunteers for otherwise paid work. – Bryan Krause Jun 3 at 17:36
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    How would you feel if someone volunteered to do your job for free, so your company let you go? – Azor Ahai -- he him Jun 3 at 17:53

It's probably going to be a bit difficult to get a professor to agree to take you on as a "volunteer," because they see it (in my personal experience) as a time-sink from what they're really trying to accomplish, which is train students, teach, get grants, and publish. This is especially the case for a potential "part-time" student, since research generally requires full-time focus to make good progress.

If you really wanted to pursue that path, I would recommend using your network. Do you have someone from your MS program who might be willing to write a rec letter to a colleague they know reasonably well? With a good introduction to pave the way, you are more likely to at least get a first conversation. Another avenue would be to get involved in your local chapter of your relevant academic society like IEEE. That might take some time, but would eventually be likely to lead somewhere in terms of opening doors to local researchers.

Finally, even if you don't get accepted on your first try, it's not a waste of time to at least try applying to your program of interest. Can't you consider some of your current work experience as "research experience"? Surely your work as a MS-grad isn't purely rote data entry or something. Maybe you have some patents or other quantifiable work products that could stand in for publications? If not, would you be willing to accept an MS position at the same institution that might get your foot in the door for a later transition to PhD?

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  • Thank you for your answer! Those are great ideas, I will certainly try out joining IEEE, and getting rec letters from my MS program. The issue with doing an MS at the institution I would love to do a PhD at is that I already have an MS in an area I would want to do my PhD in. So I could do a different MS (i.e. management) but I'm not sure how it would help me in terms of getting the PhD. – Maire White Jun 10 at 17:52
  • Having an MS already doesn't preclude you from doing a second one in the same field. It's not super common of course, but also not super rare, especially when people change institutions during their graduate study. And, since you're using this as a "foot in the door", you don't necessarily even need to finish the MS if you can transfer to PhD mid-program. – roger-reject Jun 12 at 2:49

PhD by definition is a training course in research, and thus doesn't assume research experience. An experienced PhD is postdocs. You don't need to have any paper to get into PhD, because that is what PhD is for.

You had mixed things up. Volunteering for papers just to get into PhD doesn't make any sense.

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    The answer seems "mixed up" more than the question. In many fields, students with publiciations have a major advantage in PhD admissions. (example) – ff524 Jun 3 at 19:14
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    @ff524 PhD is a study for making publications. Have you mixed up with postdocs? Just to remind you, PhD is a study for research whereas postdocs is a job for people who can publish. There is a difference. – HelloWorld Jun 3 at 19:14
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    Read the answer I linked. In many fields, it is common for strong MS students to publish, and these students have a distinct advantage in PhD admissions at top schools over MS students who did not publish. – ff524 Jun 3 at 19:15
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    Yes, this is definitely the issue. The program I really like requests that students have significant research experience. – Maire White Jun 3 at 20:53

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