The Ph.D degree part 3

A student wrote to me: “I will graduate in Computer Science next June. I would like to continue my study in the U.S. for a Ph.D. degree. What do I need to prepare? Please advise.”

Answer: If you want to further your education in the U.S. you need to know which school to apply and investigate their requirements carefully BEFORE submitting your application. You must apply to several schools as admission to an advanced degree is very competitive. For the Ph.D. degree, you must select the best research universities because what you learn there will determine your future. You need to read more articles about the field that you want to research to find out about the trends, the industry needs, as well as the job market. If needed, you may ask questions of the people who are working in the area. As a student, you can ask a lot of questions but you need to prepare your questions carefully. You may ask how they got started, why they study in that area, what kind of projects they work on, what they wish they had done, and what advice they can give you.

After getting accepted, you must be prepared to succeed. Time management is critical so you must set your career goals and devote everything to learning. In an advanced degree program, you must know the professors well because they can direct you toward your education goals. Of course, you cannot depend on your professors to help you if they do not know you. Most professors are busy with their research activities so you must get to know them first. You should read about their research, and by knowing their expertise, you can ask them for advice. The best way of getting to know them is to consider working for them as a research assistant. By working for them, you will have the chance to learn more and connect yourself with new ideas and other professors. All Ph.D. program involves research so you must be prepared ahead of time. You must be prepared and select your research as soon as you are ready.

Most classes in an advanced degree program are small but the competition is high. Many classes are organized as group efforts so you must select team members carefully. Get to know your team and make sure that they all share your interest. Willing to take the challenge in class, do not select any assignment that seems easy as you are learning special skills. Easy assignments will teach you nothing. In this program, you must work hard to learn because you will become a “Specialist” in a field.

You also need to turn your research into a paper to be published in an academic or professional journal. This is important for you to get recognized and prove that you are a “Specialist”. Get involved with professional activities or committees to further your career. You must prove that you can do more than just follow directions. You must demonstrate your expertise, ambition, and ability to lead, to solve problems. You must make sure that the advanced degree will not just get you a job but it must open the door of opportunity for you because you have the skills.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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