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I am a 2nd year undergraduate student in Aerospace Engineering, in India. I am really willing to go into Academia as a researcher. I am specifically interested in Aerospace Controls. Some points to consider :

1) I love the fast internet access in university, so that I can research and learn all I want.

2) I have read up a few research papers regarding error reduction in GPS measurements, when I was doing a Supervised Project under a professor. Reading research papers are gruelling, but after 2-3 days of bending your mind over them and finally understanding what the author intended to say, I feel elated. In this specific case, I read up a few algorithms and got excited on the prospect of developing my own algorithms for error reductions.

3) I have a fair academic standing with a cumulative grade point of greater than 9 out of 10

So I would like a few pointers on what I can do now, as an undergraduate student to prepare for my PhD.

  • 13
    To the person who voted to close: This question is about entering research academia and therefore unambigiously on-topic. – JeffE May 10 '13 at 15:17
  • 1
    Agreed! The faq clearly states that questions about "Transitioning from undergraduate to graduate researcher" are on topic. – Ben Norris May 10 '13 at 21:36
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    It might be point 1 that's leading to the close votes. – aeismail May 10 '13 at 22:54
  • Possible duplicate of Importance of Undergraduate Research – EnergyNumbers May 13 '13 at 1:48
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As an undergraduate student, the best thing you can do to help your admissions case is to get involved in research. This will allow you to demonstrate that you have the capability to do good research, which is one of the biggest things admissions committees and individual professors are looking for when choosing among applicants. Maintaining a solid academic record is also useful, and having an understanding of the literature in the field you're interested in is also good. However, direct experience will let you see if academia really is what you want to do or not.

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It depends on where you're getting your PhD, but in countries (like the Netherlands) where a PhD position is treated like a job that you interview for, I would say get published. This is encompasses aeismail's answer, but I would focus on the specific goal of getting a paper published. Every student project you do, ask yourself what kind of results would make your professor say "we should publish this". This has the following advantages:

  • Publishing a paper takes some psychological development. You need to be able to deal with the drudgery of finishing a project without procrastinating, and getting it to a certain level of quality. If you can show that you've already mastered this skill, you will be a much more valuable PhD student.
  • It forces you to work to a higher standard, so you'll learn more, and you'll focus on the details that are important for research work.
  • It gives the person evaluating you for a position something to look at that is much more informative than a grade list or a CV.

Of course, if the threshold to PhD-ship is an exam rather than an interview, you should study with the exam in mind, but the goal of publishing while you're still an undergrad will help you be a better PhD student once you get in.

4

Here are a couple of pointers that are distinct from aeismail's answer that research is the most important thing you can be doing to prepare for and to be competitive for graduate school:

  1. Read as many papers as you can from high profile conferences and journals in your field. Even if you don't understand everything right now, you'll start to get a feel for where the cutting edge is, and and also about how to write good papers. You'll probably also start to see which schools publish the most papers, and if you're looking for top programs, these are probably the ones.

  2. Take hard classes, and get good grades. Eventually, if you have the right prerequisites, try to take a graduate-level course or two and excel in it/them.

  3. Start talking to your professors about graduate school, and try to form relationships where you will be comfortable asking for letters of recommendation. They all went to graduate school, and some will have good advice on your path. If you are doing research for a professor, especially make sure you discuss your future plans with him/her.

  4. Learn LaTeX. Although this seems like a little thing, you'll certainly find it helpful to be competent in LaTeX during graduate school.

  5. Try to track down former students from your school who went on to graduate school in a similar field, and ask them about their experiences, and for suggestions about applying.

  6. If your research leads to good results, attempt to publish those results. Even if you get rejected, you've at least gone through the sometimes-obtuse submission process, and it is a worthwhile exercise.

  7. Start looking into scholarship and fellowship opportunities now. Even if you don't apply for a couple of years, you'll know what you may qualify for, and can start tailoring your application materials now.

  • 2
    Good points all. Number 3 is especially important, and I should have mentioned that in my original answer as well. (It's second on the priority list!) Number 4, while true in number-driven disciplines (math, physical sciences, engineering, even economics), may not be so useful for grad students in biology and the humanities—the infrastructure isn't there. I'd imagine a history professor, for instance, wouldn't know how to edit a TeX file for an article (even though there's no reason they couldn't!) – aeismail May 11 '13 at 13:16

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