Since last September I have been working hard on my applications, applied to multiple good CS departments yet none of them even wait-listed me, all rejected me, I have also got rejected informally by supervisors I approached.

Now I know I am not an established researcher in this field, I did not publish anything yet nor I have a concise experience with a certain topic but I know that I am not far off and I can pull my weight to reach the desired level by a number of the departments I applied to. The issue is that I almost all the time get unfriendly, cold treatment from professors, none of them is willing to take 5 minutes to discuss anything.

I am told that professors will always accept me even if I had average or below average marks because I am bringing my own fund for this degree yet this whole notion seems false.

My master's transcript does not look good, I have failed 2 courses and recovered but that 'F' will always look like a stain on my transcript. My bachelor's transcript is average (upper-second in UK scale).

How can I improve my chances to get into a PhD field that is not far off what I did in my master's?

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    "I am told that professors will always accept me...because I bring my own funding". This seems wrong and may come across as presumptuous. Who on earth told you that and why do you believe them?
    – smci
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 22:04
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    "I did not publish anything yet nor I have a concise experience with a certain topic" Really makes us wonder what the point of your master was. Was there a thesis? Was it entirely taught courses and no research? If it was a research masters, at least prepare a one-page printed presentation on your masters and explain what you did do and learn, instead of what you didn't learn.
    – smci
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 22:08
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    You have not published anything, your masters is bad, you have two failed courses and you are still surprising that people do not consider your application? Have you thought that may be professors are looking for different kind of students? Commented May 21, 2015 at 6:21
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    @Ander Biguri: I'm very well aware that masters are not the same in all countries - I did mine in one country then had to sell my expertise in interviews in another. My point to the OP was he has to actually sell the package to interviewers in a way they might find persuasive, not just keep insisting he thinks he can do a good job despite his track record. As I said, even on a taught masters with no formal research, (and/or little relevance to the target opportunity) be able to succinctly explain what you did learn. I said lack of publications is not a showstopper, but needs explaining.
    – smci
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:29
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    @smci Totally agree with that. In the end, a job (or PhD interview) is you selling yourself. You need to prove that you are worth. Commented May 21, 2015 at 10:10

5 Answers 5


You seem to be operating on the assumption that "I have my own funding, therefore, I can go wherever I want". That is simply not true. Taking on a graduate student is not only a matter of money, it is also a significant investment of time on the part of the advisor and believe me, at top departments, time is a more scarce and precious resource than money. If the professor does not see a reasonably good chance that this investment is going to result in a comparably good outcome (i.e., a student with high-profile publications and a strong thesis), then very likely they won't take you, even if you bring your own funding.


I am told that professors will always accept me even if I had average or below average marks because I am bringing my own fund for this degree yet this whole notion seems false.

I think you've hit the nail on the head right there. I have no personal knowledge of any PhD program in the world, outside of zero-reputation programs begging for students/diploma mills, where having mere funding will get you in. Now, maybe if you have the funding to have a new building built in your honor you could get the President/Chancellor to put in a good word for you, but I don't think that's the kind of funding we are talking about. Even then, though...

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but when I read over your question and responses I feel a sense of feeling entitled to other people's time and resources. I have funding, admit me; I have a question, answer me; I want to be admitted, work with me; I want to meet with you, make time for me.

While we are all entitled to basic human dignity and respect, and I feel that's a very broad line, that's really it. Any good professor has many things they wish they had more time to do - work with existing students, do research, improve their program, improve their courses, reach out to the community, write a book, maybe spend more time with their kids and family or indulge in a hobby, consult, serve the University in another capacity, etc.

If a professor you approach gets the sense that you think they are obligated to work with you for any reason, that you are entitled to their time and energy, the vast majority will shut you down cold with little hesitation; for them it will be a reminder that there are indeed people who deserve their time and they wish they had more time for those people, but you aren't one of those people so go kick rocks.

So it might be time you seriously considered how you present yourself, and alter your strategy for how to approach a prospective degree program. While you feel that you can perform at the levels the department demands, they don't know that - so you need to consider how they might see you and feel, and how you can best present yourself as someone worth taking a risk on. There are a number of questions and answers on this site on how to approach prospective advisers, as well as general "open letters" from faculty around the world giving their advice on how to handle such interactions as well. I'd strongly recommend you make use of them, and I think you will have a lot more 'luck' if you take good advice to heart.

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    +1 for "it will be a reminder that there are indeed people who deserve their time and they wish they had more time for those people, but you aren't one of those people so go kick rocks"
    – Alexandros
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 14:36

OK, it's elephant-in-the-room time.

The problem is your grades. A 2.1 isn't a problem, especially if you were close to the grade boundary for a first, especially if it was from a high-ranked university. But it is the minimum level required for most UK PhD programmes. Given that, any admissions committee is going to want to see evidence of improvement through your master's but you seem to have gone backwards. That's a huge worry and makes your claim that you can "pull your weight to reach the desired level" sound hollow. Your master's was your second chance to actually reach that level; applying for a PhD is not a good way to ask for a third.

You're competing against people whose grades are well above average and you don't mention anything in your post that compensates for that. If you have really good grades for courses in the area of your prospective PhD, it would help to emphasize that in your applications. Even then, there's the worry that the "fascinated by subject X but bored and unmotivated by everything else" candidate will find that research in subject X actually requires techniques from boring subject Y to make progress, so will lose motivation and quit. And you're still competing against candidates who found the other courses boring but got good grades in them anyway.

Being able to self-fund shouldn't make a difference unless the department already wants to accept you on academic grounds. If the department wants you and it's a choice between you and a candidate who is roughly equal but can't get funding, you win. (Or, more likely, you both get offers but only you can take yours up.)


I'm in the same position: two fails in my MSc transcript, which makes things difficult. I chose the path of becoming a researcher before I apply for PhDs. I am now on a research internship that will hopefully lead to a publication; I am looking for more research experience; get introduced to people in the field so that they can formally and informally give you nice references. So basically: - get research experience. At the beginning it's hard to get into, but the more stuff you have on your CV, the easier it is to get new positions; - do networking; - be VERY proactive, make yourself known; - try to get published, obviously.

Hope it helps, good luck to both of us ;)


What kind of field within computer science are you aiming at?

I have no experience with UK universities but in the Netherlands supervisors are more concerned with your ability to do independent research than grades, although without publications this would be hard to prove.

In any case, what really gets you kudos with supervisors is if you come up with research topics yourself. Look up the publications of your targeted faculty to find their interest, do some literature research in that direction to find open question and come up with an approach on how you going to make a contribution to that. Write that down in a convincing manner before you approach them. For me this has really helped to stand out after a disappointing bachelor that took me 5 instead of 3 years and a grade average that would imply an immediate rejection even for any type of honours or research master let alone PhD.

I think this would be especially useful to you having already found funding, as coming up with research topics of appropriate level is really time consuming and somewhat of a scarce resource, professors will be reluctant to provide it to you if they don't think you worth it. Although you may get paid externally you still 'occupy' a topic that may have gone to a more promising student. The topic you come up with does not have to be something you will actually be studying eventually, but it provides some proof that you supervisors will not be constanty busy pampering you in the coming years.

Also, if you got the coding skills and it is applicable to your field: one of the easiest ways to get publishable results is to implement an existing algorithm that has only been described theoretically, and get some experimental results. Just browse arxiv to get some recent papers which are more likely not to have been experimentally verified.

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