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I am an IT post graduate (with no thesis but project) from IT industry and I have practical experience of about 10 years in the industry. I want to carry a PhD research in a subject related to IT field. Practically and theoretically, I know the subject very well, but I don’t have any prior real research experience or any publications. But I have studied some theoretical subjects on research methodologies, statistics etc. during my university learning. But I found that most the universities have “research experience” as prerequisite or requirements to start or to be eligible for PhD research.

So, what can I do to fulfill that? (Off-course other than doing another research just to be eligible). Any ideas or suggestions?

Is there any chance of getting accepted without prior research experience? Should I keep on trying(esp in US and Australia)?

I have seen some doing PhD after their undergrad. I have master degree and I am confident that I will be able to manage things with in those 3-4 years as it’s not that I don’t research at all. It’s just that I don’t have something to show now.

Any suggestions?

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Yes, In the UK, you can get accepted to a Ph.D. based on Bs.c. or Msc diploma, with no publication records.

I can answer this, because computer science is my field, and saw many people like you doing research here in the UK.

Background Work

Ok so you want to do a Ph.D. with a postgraduate degree which is on the practical side of things. That is totally fine; however you need to do some work before finding a supervisor. In essence there are three types of supervisors in the field of computer science:

Know it All: There are number of impressive supervisors, that know both the theoretical and practical side of computer science. These supervisors publications on both theory and practice (e.g., code generation, language design). This is the best kind of supervisors to have because they can bridge between theory and practice; and can navigate you through both theory and practice.

Theory-Oriented: They use Latex to create their papers/journals/books. They have no idea what so ever about the practical stuff. God forbid you ask them about JVM internals. They can still be useful, because you are covered the practical stuff; and they can help you through theory. However, they have no appreciation about how hard it is to make something work in practice. Also, they might not the best people to link between theory and practice.

Practical-Oriented: There are much fewer number of supervisors, that for example transferred from electronic engineering into computer science. They know very practical stuff (e.g., embedded system programming, active on developing Erlang application for telecommunication purposes); however for you these are the worst choice. Because, you have the practical background (so don't supervision on practical stuff), but because you need to introduce theory into your research they can't do much in helping you. So you end up wasting number of years just because for example your supervisor don't know game theory.

So overall look for their publications and the track record. How much open-source software they produce. How much theory-oriented paper they publish. These are the things that you will curse yourself later on during Ph.D. if you didn't think it through.

  • Thank you. Was really helpful and I agree. Have started looking for my “Know it All” superior. Hope everything goes fine. Yes when I was trying to post this one another post with answer “it’s allowed in UK” popped up so I added “Australia and US” in the question. By the way,in addition to experience, academically my results have been very good in university (top 0.5% in class), may be can I ask for some exception based on that? If things doesn’t go right personally I feel maybe I can start with MRes and upgrade it to PHD proving my caliber. But it will make things bit uncertain. – TheGooooogle Feb 5 '15 at 17:13
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    "Theory-Oriented: They use Latex to create their papers/journals/books." I disagree with the generalization you imply here! LaTeX is actually incredibly practical, and absolutely does not solely belong to the domain of the fuddy-duddies. I would be much more circumspect about supervisors that use Microsoft Word to write a paper... – Moriarty Feb 12 '15 at 22:46
  • @Moriarty I get the impression that Dave meant that LaTeX is the full extent of their coding skills, not that LaTeX is bad. – Johanna Feb 13 '15 at 4:33
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This is also possible in the US as well, but it varies from school to school. It is fairly common for people to be accepted into a PhD program without research experience, provided that their previous academics were exceptional. Don't get too discouraged and keep looking.

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This is quite common in the U.S. Most programs would ask you take some introductory courses in research areas to build up your research skills.

When I started my doctorate program, I had no real research skills and learned everything I need to learn in the program.

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Take a broad approach to what you define as "research experience". You can probably find a way of spinning/describing some facets of your "practical experience" in terms that demonstrate your suitability for a research programme. When talking about such experience in interview, reflect on how some of the work you have done constitutes a form of research, what you learned from it, and how it could have been developed in research terms if you had had the time (maybe, there is something which still has research potential). Finally, although peer-reviewed academic publications generally command the most esteem within the academy, there are other types of output (including "practical" outputs) that can embody and/or form the basis of serious academic research.

Be positive about how your experience will equip you for a research programme, irrespective of whether it constitutes a so-called "traditional" background for a researcher in your field. Turn any weakness into a strength, by explaining that you are keen to acquire the new skills that a research programme has to offer.

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