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A bit of context before hand. I am a second year PhD student. In the course of my studies, I have slowly shifted from aerospace engineering towards computer science. Now, my research involves developing software applicable for aerospace systems. I am fairly competent in programming and related subjects, even though I sometimes find my lack of background in those subjects to be penalysing.

I found a summer program in which I am highly interested in. However, it was mainly designed for CS students. In my application, I want to make a case that even though I am not an ideal candidate for this program (which in my opinion is quite obvious, even though I have proven capabilities in some of the subjects required) I still think I should get accepted. One of the my main arguments is that everything I have learned so far on programming and related subjects was through self-study (mainly online tutorials), which shows I am highly motivated and can work independently.

So it got me thinking. In general, is it a good idea to admit his own weaknesses when applying for a specific position?

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    Well, the thing is that about every body who is applying to the same position might also be motivated and able to work independently. Instead of seeing your initial experience in aerospace engineering as a handicap, why don't you use it as an advantage? I'm sure you can highlight specific skills from this domain and use them positively in your application. – PatW Feb 18 '16 at 10:02
  • Yes that is a good point and a good advice, thanks. But that does not answer my question. – solalito Feb 18 '16 at 10:49
  • One issue with a summer program is that the pace may be faster than a regular term class, making it difficult to keep up if you don't have the same background as the other students. – mkennedy Feb 18 '16 at 18:52
  • You really didn't have any programming courses in your aerospace engineering program? Not even Matlab? – Federico Poloni Feb 19 '16 at 12:24
  • @FedericoPoloni Yes I did have a course in C++. I just learned everything else (MATLAB, Fortran) on the fly. I have since used Fortran extensively. However, my skills at C++ (which is what the program asks for) remains limited. I consider myself an intermediate coder, I know enough about it to know that I am no wizard. – solalito Feb 19 '16 at 12:29
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Describe yourself accurately enough to let the program organizers decide if you will benefit from the course. In that sense, yes, you should admit your weaknesses, but it's indeed counterproductive to actually phrase things that way - you are the applicant; it's not your job to decide what is a significant weakness.

You obviously think you are ready for the course and would benefit - let the organizers know what your reasons are, and why you are enthusiastic. If you are applying on the strength of being a good software developer in general, including a link to some public code you've written might help.

(And if you are feeling self-conscious about not having an undergraduate CS degree, go and get something like Cormen et al.'s "Introduction to Algorithms" and go through it cover to cover. You will hit most of the things you would be expected to know cold.)

  • thanks for the tip! I'll definitely check out Cormen's book – solalito Feb 18 '16 at 15:24
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    I disagree on "yes, you should admit your weaknesses." What is a weakness? One man's trash is another man's treasure. Let the data speak for itself and don't embellish your qualifications; speak about what you can bring to the program. – profmartinez Feb 19 '16 at 12:44
  • You can admit your "weaknesses" in ways that indicate how they are really strengths. So you don't have a CS degree and haven't taken all of the coursework, you do have experience programming AND you have experience within the aerospace engineering field, the latter is something that many students with a CS degree won't have. – DLS3141 Feb 19 '16 at 20:56
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So it got me thinking. In general, is it a good idea to admit his own weaknesses when applying for a specific position?

No.

Be well prepared to address the "weakness" if it is brought up.

Bringing it up invites focusing on it, in a time where you would probably prefer that they focus on your strengths.

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I want to make a case that even though I am not an ideal candidate for this program (which in my opinion is quite obvious

This is not for you to decide, nor do you have all the data in your hand to even make that assessment: 1) you don't know the program; 2) you don't know your competition; 3) you don't know the department's needs.

Make your best case about what you can bring to the program and let your transcript speak for itself.

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