Graduate School Application
Exploring the possibility of grad school.

Introduction

I want(need) to be in school. Last night I was talking to a friend, lamenting my lack of access to people in my discipline. If only I could converse with another person in the AI field, I could determine if my ideas were novel and great or just moronic. She suggested that I attend grad school (like so many before her). So let’s explore this possibility…

Taking Stock

Its been almost a year and a half since I graduated with my B.S. in Physics. And let’s face it, my academic performance is hardly grad school material in its own right. In that time I did a number of research projects, but I never completed them to my satisfaction. I didn’t talk to my professors much in any of my classes. I just (barely) did the work. The only letter of recommendation I could think of getting would be from my first research program director, Prof. Murray, but that was eight years ago… In addition, my general GRE score was not great and I took it in 2012.

To recap: * 2.95 GPA * 1(3) letters of recommendation * GRE: 157 (76th %) verbal; 155 (59th %) quantitative; 3.0 (18th %) writing; (2012)

Can you see my apprehension with applying to grad school?

My only saving grace is my commitment to research. This website is a testament to that end. Every waking moment not spent keeping myself sane has been spent reading academic research. I have explored topics in biology, chemistry, neurology, artificial intelligence, architecture, philosophy, civil engineering, and many more subdisciplines.

So how might I go about maximizing my chances of getting into a good program?

What Grad School Committees Want

Every school lists a set of required, objective qualifications: * GPA * GRE score * # of recommendation letters * various English language proficiency requirements

According to Dr. Tracy Sheetz, Director of Gradate Admissions and Recruitment, West Virginia University, additional, more subjective requirements are also examined. personal subjective rating follows each point * writing skills 4(5) * inquisitive and original thinking 4(5) * clearly defined goals 2(5) * good “fit” - depends on the school * timely and organized 3(5) * follows directions 4(5) * intrinsically motivated 5(5) * invested in the process 4(5) * relevant professional experiences 1(5) * unique and individual character 4(5) * articulate 4(5) * credible 2(5)

And from above * academic background (GPA,GRE) 2(5)

Demonstration and Improvement

I see two possibilities here:

  • Of those qualifications which I already possess, how might I demonstrate them to the committee?
  • Of those which I do not possess, how might I learn or improve?

It seems reasonable to start at the ends of the spectrum of subjective ratings listed above and work my way inward. Possible goals are in bold in the next sections: Demonstrate and Improve.

Demonstrate

Each subtopic has its own definition and process for demonstrating proficiency.

Intrinsic Motivation

Graduate programs are looking for applicants who are self-motivated and can initiate their own opportunities… prove dedication to a particular discipline.

This site and the others I have (somewhere) are an appropriate demonstration of my motivation. Completing the other tasks associated with this site will accomplish this goal. Grad programs are looking for commitment to a particular discipline, however, so more specific demonstrations are necessary. I could code the various AI algorithms and upload to github to prove my knowledge in this particular field. I have many repositories of research articles, but none of them are very formal or properly demonstrated. I can upload AI-specific research notes and if possible read more current AI journal articles.

Skilled Writing

These samples help to ascertain if the applicant is ready for graduate-level work and has command of the English language. Importance is placed on organized, clear, and thoughtful writing using correct grammar, spelling, and structure.

I have a few pieces of writing that I have completed for various classes stored somewhere. I can upload past writing samples to this site. Furthermore, I can improve the writing quality of existing pages.

Inquisitiveness and Originality

Faculty are looking for students who have clear, specific, and even novel research directions that intrigue their interest and curiosity.

This feature is a derivative of intrinsic motivation. I believe this feature will be demonstrated naturally by completing the other tasks here, but only those that apply to my discipline.

Uniqueness and Individuality

Universities look for exceptional students who express creativity, determination, diversity, and thoughtfulness. Describe what makes you different, determined, and an asset to the program. Committees want to hear about invigorating experiences, perspectives, or skill sets that you can contribute to the enterprise.

Much of my work outside the scope of AI can contribute to my individuality. I can publish my other projects on this site.

Articulation

It is extremely important to know about the school and program, including faculty and their research focus… Don’t ask about surface-level info that can be answered from the school’s website; ask thoughtful and engaging questions.

This is dependent on the program that I eventually attend. I could publish my notes on individual professors and their research direction, but that only matters when it comes time for interviews.

Organization and Timeliness

Time management and organization are musts as a graduate student.

This particular feature is complicated for me. In some circumstances, I can have remarkable organization and time management. In others… not as much. The distinguishing factor seems to be interest in the topic. I must demonstrate that I can organize and submit materials in a timely fashion when it comes to my area of expertise. On the other hand, I must improve my organization skills when it comes to everything else. I like the ideas set forth in Getting Things Done and a more specific version for students created by Cal Newport. I can publish my daily, weekly, and monthly reviews in the style of “GTD for college students”. Making a habit of it now will be very useful in the future.

Improve

Each feature has its own definition and process for improving proficiency. Once a feature has been improved, it must then be demonstrated.

Professional Experience

Goal Definition

…what they want to see is someone with a clear vision, who can identify how the specific program is going to help them reach their long-term goals.

I don’t have a great track record when it comes to goal achievement. Goal setting, yes, but not achievement.

This page will serve to define my goals for the next year. I can add to this page as I assign and complete tasks. Uploading my weekly reviews from Organization would suffice.

Credibility

Chose your recommendation writers carefully, among individuals who have worked with you in a professional or academic setting.

This feature is one I can hardly do alone. Social proof is a powerful thing. One option that I can see is to do some work with professors at KU either through a non-degree seeking class or as a random person who hangs around a lab for the fun of it. Fortunately the degree I am seeking is primarily virtual so perhaps letters of recommendation from MOOC classes will suffice. This feature will take more research to complete.

Academic Background

I cannot change my graduating GPA from KU. I can take graduate level classes as a non-degree seeking student and demonstrate my ability to perform academically now. I could also take online classes (MOOCs, self-study, etc.). I can retake the GRE for a better score. This is likely a necessity anyway since GRE test scores have a limited lifespan.

Organization and Timeliness


To recap (in no particular order): * finish this site - upload past writing samples - upload AI-specific research notes - improve the writing quality of existing pages - publish my other projects - publish notes on individual professor’s research - publish daily, weekly, and monthly reviews * code the various AI algorithms and upload to github * read more current AI journal articles * find work with KU professors * take MOOC courses and work closely with the lecturer * retake the GRE

Limitations

Time

Time is my biggest factor here. Most application deadlines for grad school are in December if you want to be considered for funding (I do). At the absolute latest, applications are due sometime in May. At the absolute most, I have around 80 hours a week to split between work and school. If I can find a job that combines them, that would be the most beneficial.