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I am from an elite non-IIT school in India (one of BITS Pilani/IIIT Hyderabad/NSIT/DTU). I've just finished my third year, and after taking courses from AI and ML related fields, I realized I am actually interested in the field, and would like to get deeper into one of the subareas of applied ML. I have also identified the professors I would like to work with.

However, there's a caveat; I have a 7 point CGPA (on a scale of 10), mostly because of my youthful immaturity during the initial years of my undergraduate education. I realize that this might not be an ideal justification to bad grades, but this unfortunately is the truth. I also realize that this might very well be a red-flag on my admission to a prestigious PhD program.

I have been working on some projects on my topic of interest, hoping to cover up my grades with some project experience, though none them have produced publishable results yet. Have I totally blew my chances of getting into a top-ranked PhD program? Is there any way I can still fix my chances of getting a good PhD admit?

PS: My current project advisor is not so well-known a researcher that his recommendation will get me through a highly selective admission committee.

marked as duplicate by scaaahu, aeismail Jun 14 '15 at 3:07

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While getting into a top program would definitely be great, it is not a necessary condition to become a top researcher. As an example in a relevant context, consider Prof. Yoshua Bengio, a superstar scientist in the fields of deep learning, AI and ML, in general. He graduated (both Master's and Ph.D.) from McGill University, which is certainly not a bad university on a global scale (#44 overall, per US News Best Global Universities Rankings). However, in the Computer Science rankings, McGill score places that fine institution at a not-that-impressive #91 (link). So, this researcher with a worldwide professional brand not only graduated from McGill, but also continues to work there, producing extremely exciting and important scientific results. What are the conclusions from this example (and there are many similar cases of top professionals, graduating from non-top schools)?

Firstly, don't pay too much attention to any rankings. Secondly, the quality of education in an institution, while somewhat important, doesn't play a critical role in one's future professional career. I firmly believe in that, ultimately, it is up to an individual (that is, you) how one will build your research or other professional career and whether one will excel in it or not so much.

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    There are always rare exceptions to a generalization... – user124384 Oct 5 '17 at 4:52
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    @user124384 Yes, rare exceptions do exist along with generalizations. However, as well there are examples that illustrate a potential trend or support an argument that might or might not be true. To generalize, solid reproducible and replicable studies are required and I'm not familiar with any that have explored correlation (let alone causation) in this context. – Aleksandr Blekh Oct 5 '17 at 6:10

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