I have been searching and applying for funded PhD positions in Europe specially in Germany for a long time to no avail. I think, what pushes my applications back the most is the lack of proven prior research experience and also academic references. Each time I spend a good time researching the position and reading relevant publications and meticulously preparing my application.
A brief background on me: got a course-based master's degree in CS (3 years ago) with a fairly good GPA (not top of the class, from a competitive university in my home country), familiar with major theoretical subjects (e.g approximation, CG, randomization etc.), 30 years old and +3 years work experience in industry.
I had no master's thesis but instead took more courses than a research-based program. Despite being confident that I can manage a research job well, still couldn't convince a single professor to choose me over other candidates. I love algorithms and their analysis and I want to grow my knowledge deeper and contribute with my best hard work. But it seems to me that high motivation and a good background and potentials is not worthy and maybe a hard proof of prior research is necessary. Although I had few research activities, but they were no close to a full research which ends up with publications.
I quit a software development job in Germany only for the purpose of finding a PhD position. I find pure development soul sucking and short of the challenges like in CS and too mundane. I know at this point of life it's late (if not too late) to think of these stuff but you should know things are not normal in my country and I had a difficult life during my education, otherwise for sure I could have had a more appealing CV.
Here is the question. Could it be more than a lack of research experience? maybe my age and not looking fresh compared to recent graduates? could it be my works in industry? For some reasons I feel there is something that depicts me not DESERVING the positions or tagging me as a tech enthusiast with little respect for theory.
I read other similar answers but they didn't quite match. This has become very frustrating and thinking of going back to basic coding jobs would be like throwing away all I strove for. There might be folks reading this with similar experience or those involved with candidate selection. Any help will be very much appreciated.