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I am a 31 year old international student. I applied for a PhD position in one of the top Australian universities. I’ll interview by Skype next week. I have a three year gap between my Master's and this PhD position. During these three years, I applied to many universities but was rejected from all. My GPAs are both above 3.8/4.0. I don’t want to work on something related to my master project.

I don't have any article yet. I wrote one three years ago but my supervisor, who is the corresponding author, submitted it only this April. Because I need her recommendation I couldn’t do anything but politely request to submit it.

In these three years, I took the GRE and IELTS exams (the latter was expired two weeks ago). I wrote a review article which I don't think my supervisor will ever try to submit. I tried to learn Python and R programming although I can’t say I am good. I participated in the translation of a book related to my major. I am also a high school teacher of 11 years.

Australian universities care so much about articles and research background which I don’t have. I don't know what I should say about this three year gap. I love research but I live in a small town in a deprived area of my developing country and I didn’t have any chance to participate in research. I also have a commitment with the educational office to work at my home town, that’s why I didn’t leave here. (During my studies I traveled around 2000 km every week to attend the university at the capital city of my country). However, now that I think about it I at least could have learn some bioinformatics tools and write an article.

How can I explain my gap without research? I don't want them to think that I make excuses. I love the project and I don’t want to lose this opportunity.

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    It's very unclear to me what your actual question is. You need to get rid of the wall of text so it's easier to read and understand. That way people will be more likely to give helpful answers. Sep 19, 2017 at 22:19
  • Thanks, I didn't know about two spaces. My question is how to explain about the gap in the interview.
    – Shapol46
    Sep 20, 2017 at 11:26

1 Answer 1

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This question was asked a long time ago, but remains on the unanswered queue, so I'll try to answer it.

The OP doesn't mention what field he's in, but mentions wanting to learn R and Python, so I think it's safe to assume it's in the sciences but is not stats or computer science (because, a master's student would already know those languages). Perhaps it's bioinformatics. I'll answer from the point of view of a mathematician who has also published papers in applied statistics, biology, and epidemiology.

Generally speaking, there is not a strong expectation that you already have publications before starting your PhD. Much more important is what the admissions committee thinks about your research potential. They largely assess this based on letters of recommendation. If your master's advisor is a well-known researcher and writes a strong letter, explaining that the work you did is high quality and likely to be published, then this matters just as much as the publication itself.

Another way to show your research potential is with preprints or independent projects, e.g., implementing well-known algorithms and sharing your code on GitHub. Or the review article you mentioned. Put it online and include a link to it.

Generally speaking, the degree that prepares you to do good quality, independent research, is a PhD not master's degree. It's perfectly fine to say that your love of the subject was enriched by your master's degree, and in the three years since then you've been exploring the subject more deeply through teaching, reading, learning these programming languages, etc. There is no need to try to come up with excuses for not having published papers.

In terms of why you might have had trouble getting accepted, here are some possibilities:

  1. There's a strong "prestige bias" at all levels of academia. A great GPA at a totally unknown school might not matter much to the admissions committee. The solution is better letters of recommendation, better GRE scores, etc.

  2. Unfortunately, racism is still a force in the world. Consider casting a wider net in terms of admission to PhD programs.

  3. Writing quality matters. In addition to trying to strengthen your research record, you could try to strengthen your writing skills, through blogging, stack exchange websites, expository writing, etc.

The acceptance and interview is about more than research alone. They also want to judge "fit" in the department, ability to work well with each other, etc. Believe in yourself and describe yourself as someone who will make positive contributions and will make the department better. Don't focus on ways you feel like you've failed or not been good enough. Focus on the positives.

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