I was always a distracted kid growing up. I found it difficult to pay attention to anything for more than fifteen minutes. Growing up in Asia, teachers at the school and college levels always put it down to me being a “bad student” and made sure I knew that I would never amount to much.
After moving to the US for my master’s degree in computer science over ten years ago, my distractions and poor academic performance started haunting me again. I was put on academic probation and faced expulsion if I did not bring my GPA up (from 2.5x to 3+). During one of my lectures, the professor noticed my fidgeting and asked me to meet her after class. She told me I exhibited the classic symptoms of ADHD (which I had never heard of before) and asked me to meet the university counselor. The counselor confirmed the diagnosis and referred me to a psychiatrist for medication.
This was probably the biggest turning point in my life as it was only then that I realized that there was something that caused me to behave the way I did. Knowing and understanding what the cause of my distractions made me able to address it and focus my energy and concentration properly. I transferred to a different university (lesser ranked than the first one, but well known for its notoriously rigorous curriculum) and was able to maintain a 3.5+ GPA throughout, in addition to being invited to PhD level research groups and being admitted to highly selective research internships in Europe. I enrolled in classes that were restricted to PhD students after I petitioned the school dean, and ended up topping 2 out of the 3 courses.
In my mid-30’s now, I currently work as a scientist in a reputed firm. I’ve been granted a patent in machine learning and one of my papers has been shortlisted for publication in a top tier conference (I won’t know for sure till next month). I came across a PhD program that pretty much aligns perfectly with my grad school research and social cause and I’m extremely interested in applying for it. The application process involves the regular requirements of GRE/recommendations/statements of purpose and transcripts from ALL universities attended.
My grad advisors and I have maintained good relationships over the years and they have encouraged me on several occasions to apply to a PhD program. However, I’m worried that my academic performance at the first university I attended for my master’s will come back to bite me. While I can just apply and hope for the best, I don’t want to have to ask my professors to invest the time and effort to write recommendation letters for me, only for my application to be thrown into the trash.
On a scale of 1 to 3 stars, (3 requiring the most effort), here are the requirements for the application:
- Personal Statement (**)
- Transcripts from all institutions attended (*** - insanely difficult and time consuming to get bachelor degree transcripts from university)
- 3 letters of recommendation (** - easy enough, but I feel bad about getting my professors to do this for me if there’s no change of getting it)
- GRE (**)
The PhD program is in a field I'm very passionate about and has world class researchers on the faculty. At a recent graduate open house, I met the director of the program who said they had an 11 percent admit rate over te past few years.
All this said, would it make sense to apply to the program anyway or will the fact that I was nearly expelled due to my academic performance make the risk not worth the effort?
EDIT: I wanted to thank everyone for their thoughtful and supportive responses. I've decided to apply for the PhD but for next year's intake. As an update, the paper that was shortlisted to the conference I mentioned ended up being accepted, so that's sure to build up my profile a little more.