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I am going to graduate in mid-October from my M.Sc. in Economics and I am starting to think seriously to apply for a Ph.D. However, since I am still completing the writing of my thesis, I have not yet started to get informed in any way about the available programs and I did not fill any requirement in terms of GRE, language certifications and so on. Therefore, my idea would be to do some research work and to send my applications in fall 2018 (thus actually starting Ph.D. in September 2019).

Do you think this is meaningful? In my mind, trying to write a better thesis and get some other experience in research could be useful for the purpose of the application. But I am also worried that I am kind of losing one year with respect to my cohort of graduates, thus this could be seen as a symptom of uncertainty.

How an evaluation committee would consider this timing choice?

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    Naming the country involved would help. It sounds pretty weird to me. You're going to wait 2 years between finishing your masters and starting your Ph.D.? – Ben Webster Aug 26 '17 at 14:49
  • @BenWebster It sounds like the OP needs to concentrate on finishing the MSc now and there won't be enough time to do the GREs, TOEFL, whatever, in time for Fall 2018 admissions. – Elizabeth Henning Aug 26 '17 at 16:11
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    What is the benefit of finishing in October? Is it possible to finish in December and give yourself time to work on GRE/applications? – Dawn Aug 26 '17 at 18:05
  • @BenWebster I am studying in Italy and I am willing to apply to Ph.D. programs both in the US and in Europe. – PhDing Aug 30 '17 at 15:21
  • @Dawn That's would be ok but I also need to find a research idea and a third referee (for US application). I feel it is a bit too much in a three-month span – PhDing Aug 30 '17 at 15:21
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It depends what you do instead of school. But I would not worry about falling behind your cohorts.

A lifetime is a very long time, enough time to do and get good a lot of things. My rule of thumb is that it takes about 4 or 5 years to good at something new, meet an important new life goal, get bored, want something new, then start over. And you get to keep doing these rinse and repeat cycles as many times as you like. Figure you have a working life of about 45 to 50 years, meaning you get to have at least 9 or 10 important phases in your career. That's a lot.

If you think of it in that context, I can't really imagine anything much less important than worrying that taking a year off in between your MS and PhD to go do something else might place you behind your cohorts. After a few years, no one really has meaningful class of cohorts anyway because everyone follows a different path.

Your actual life outcomes will depend more on what you do instead with that year off. Could you go find an interesting job with your freshly-minted master's or find something else you'd like to do?

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    I don't think this really answers the question (how admissions committees view gap years). – astronat Aug 26 '17 at 21:16
  • I think I did answer it: It depends what you do instead with that year off. – Nicole Hamilton Aug 28 '17 at 11:59
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How a "gap year" is viewed by an admissions committee depends entirely on how you use it.

A gap year spent fiddling around doing nothing will, of course, be viewed negatively. However, if the year is spent doing active (documentable!) research, or on other professional or personal activities of merit (a traveling fellowship, or volunteer service, for instance), little or no opprobrium will arise.

Your suggestion does not seem too egregious--but you could always check with schools to which you'd like to apply to be sure.

  • I think this is mostly correct. In particular, I have the impression that in Economics, you want to show that a gap year is used in some academic, research-oriented pursuit. Your letters and personal statement need to communicate that you have had an ongoing commitment to entering a research career that was only delayed because of timing (not because of waffling). – Dawn Aug 30 '17 at 16:14
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I have not yet started to get informed in any way about the available programs and I did not fill any requirement in terms of GRE, language certifications and so on.

I think you should allow yourself plenty of time in order to decide which schools you want to apply to & how to prepare your application. If that means applying a year later and not rushing through your thesis and the applications all at the same time, so be it.

But I am also worried that I am kind of losing one year with respect to my cohort of graduates, thus this could be seen as a symptom of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is fine. Many people need time to figure out whether the PhD path is right for them or not, and if you spend an extra year to determine the best way to proceed, that can be seen as a sign of maturity instead (if you present it this way).

How an evaluation committee would consider this timing choice?

As mentioned by others, as long as you don't waste this gap year and can say, "I worked at place X doing Y while preparing my application", it shouldn't be an issue.

  • This person does not have uncertainty! In this case, there is not benefit to portraying anything but certainty in letters and statement. – Dawn Aug 30 '17 at 16:16
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I think this is quite a common query among master's students who are nearing the end of their dissertation/thesis writing. The temptation is to get the ball rolling asap so that the PhD application process proper can start and little time will be lost.

The main thing here is to realise that a] there is no rush and b] you will not be falling behind anyone. Do not do too many things at once. Concentrating on your thesis and finishing your master's should be your sole and overriding priority. You should complete it to the very best of your ability and not worry about PhD topic research until you have hit that 'submit' button and your thesis is winging its way to your department.

PhD topic research is a little tricky. It can take a long time to come up with a title. Concentrating on a PhD topic/research whilst completing your thesis will only risk the quality of your work. The sensible thing to do is to finish your piece, be measured, then take a year which you can split by researching your PhD and applying, then reading up on your area. Get on some mailings lists. Maybe think about going to some conferences, or better still, some paper ideas if you are so fortunate. It will not be time wasted it you do things this way, but you may compromise your thesis quality by rushing PhD applications now.

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