I want to apply for Ph.D at a good Western university (e.g., in the UK or US) in data science. I have a master's degree (no thesis) and only one publication in a local journal. Will I be competitive for such spots? If not, how can I improve my profile?

  • 2
    I would check the admission criteria of universities you are thinking of applying to. Your question cannot be answered because you have not provided sufficient details, and what is your definition of a 'good' university? Jul 27, 2020 at 0:29
  • What is a good university in your eyes?
    – user111388
    Jul 27, 2020 at 16:53
  • See also academia.stackexchange.com/questions/44604/…
    – henning
    Jul 28, 2020 at 11:22
  • 1
    The term "data science" is a catch-all, not a research domain. One of your first goal should be to try to narrow down the research domain you're interested in. There's a massive amount of research being done around Machine Learning, it ranges from very theoretical topics (strong statistics background required) to very applied topics (the majority of the research).
    – Erwan
    Jul 28, 2020 at 11:38

1 Answer 1


The PhD committee in top universities looks for a number of things which includes your publication record, the quality of your references, your work experience, etc. If you wish to do a PhD in a top university you should strive to have a publication in top conferences.

Your publication record in a local journal would be of little help if you wish to be selected for top universities. So you have some work to do before getting acceptance-ready.

Firstly, start by implementing papers from top conferences like ICML and reproduce their results. While you do that understand thoroughly the concepts in those papers. This might require you to revisit your foundations in mathematics. Make sure you maintain your code in Github.

Make a list of top research groups you would like to work with and follow their work. As you follow the step above you will gain more confidence and you would be in a position to comment on their work. Start engaging with them on social networks.

As you start engaging with them you would understand the research direction in which these groups are working. Start reading more of their work and try to identify gaps in their work, which they would also mention in their conclusions and future work sections of their papers.

Try to formulate research ideas which address these gaps and try to write proposals. This would be a bit difficult without guidance, especially if you are from the non-English speaking country. You could use paid service to proofread your proposal.

If it is possible to find a good academician in your country, touch base with them and offer to collaborate with them. Look for someone who already has a decent publication record. By collaborating with them not only could you publish more and gain experience in writing, but also get good reference letter.

There are only a handful of 'good' universities in this world and it is not easy to get into them. But if you work hard you sure will succeed. Best of luck!

  • 4
    disagree that there are only a "handful" of good universities. There are multiple good schools in every country on the planet, and people doing solid research in all of those places. If your goal is to get an education, at least the top 50% of universities worldwide can handle that job well. If your goal is to do top-level research your choices narrow somewhat, but i would wager there are still at least 200-500 schools in that range. Jul 27, 2020 at 1:11
  • 1
    agree to disagree, but anecdotally i can say that in my school we regularly recruit students for PhD programs from both top and 2nd tier universities in my country, and the 2nd tier university students are almost uniformly better educated, while the top tier students have more extracurricular experience (like undergrad research, participating in academic competitions, etc.). So depending on whether you want solid research experience, or solid grasp of academic fundamentals, YMMV. Jul 27, 2020 at 1:20
  • 4
    Huh? Only "top 30" are "good"? I agree that 50% is probably too high simply because there are a ton of junk universities, but "top 30" is an incredibly narrow window. Only people at those "top 30" universities might make that claim, and I think foolishly so. In most fields you will find many of the "top 10" researchers in that field are not in the "top 30" universities. Also I use scare quotes on everything because ranking universities like this is pretty subjective and often carries little meaning.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 27, 2020 at 1:27
  • 1
    @kosmos Your point about peer networking is extremely important and well taken. my point is only that you seem to be saying that research is the main/only goal of doing a PhD. As you said, many/most PhDs don't end up doing high-level academic research, so getting improved education can also be a valid goal for your degree. In this case, I believe an "honest" university (i.e. not a degree mill, for-profit, etc.), even if it's not top-tier in research, can accommodate that goal reasonably well. Jul 27, 2020 at 1:43
  • 2
    @kosmos That still sounds to me like an...incredibly narrow viewpoint. But, like roger, I guess it's an agree-to-disagree situation.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 27, 2020 at 4:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .