Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

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greenface1998
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Joined: Wed Feb 21, 2024 7:02 am

Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by greenface1998 » Wed Feb 21, 2024 7:17 am

I graduated in 2020 form a top 25 US school with a math degree but otherwise weak background. My math GPA was good, around 3.9, but I switched into the major late and had essentially a bare minimum of classes and a low ish overall GPA ( 3.55), and 0 research.

I took more upper division class part time on a non degree basis for another 3 semesters while working( data science) , again maintaining above a 3.9 average. I asked about research but as un-enrolled student no professor were really willing to work with me.

I then got masters degree in applied math, 3.97 GPA from top 20 applied math program. I was doing research for the last 2 semesters and made a great deal of progress on two different research projects. I took the General GRE and got 170 verbal 168 quant.

Now, a full 3.5 years after starting this plan, it looks like I’m on track to be rejected from 12/13 Applied Math PhD programs I applied to(Including the place where I got my masters). All but but one safety ( Emory ). Despite my main research advisor essentially saying he’d tell the admissions committee point blank to let me in and give me the strongest possible rec.

Was my fate sealed from the start of this plan? Short of publishing a major result, is there any hope of getting into a top program after putting in a mediocre undergraduate performance? I’m feeling very dejected by this whole process. What would it have taken for me to pull this of? What could I have messed up to get this kind of result? Is it worth considering taking one more year to bolster my resume and publish before trying again?

rekker
Posts: 28
Joined: Mon Dec 21, 2020 7:54 am

Re: Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by rekker » Wed Feb 21, 2024 10:20 am

Should have applied to more safeties. At top places you can't compete with kids who started doing this stuff in middle school or the like. And don't get me started about the tone-deaf "they are only a tiny fraction of the applicants" talk I see so often. Doesn't matter if they all get in and there's only so many spots at T20.

That aside, I don't know if you have done it, but if you had any presentable or publishable result (doesn't have to be major at all) you should probably put it into a preprint or send it as a writing sample.

greenface1998
Posts: 22
Joined: Wed Feb 21, 2024 7:02 am

Re: Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by greenface1998 » Wed Feb 21, 2024 10:38 am

rekker wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2024 10:20 am
Should have applied to more safeties. At top places you can't compete with kids who started doing this stuff in middle school or the like. And don't get me started about the tone-deaf "they are only a tiny fraction of the applicants" talk I see so often. Doesn't matter if they all get in and there's only so many spots at T20.

That aside, I don't know if you have done it, but if you had any presentable or publishable result (doesn't have to be major at all) you should probably put it into a preprint or send it as a writing sample.
If you were in my shoes would you should go to the lower tier school ( Emory is still top 50 and has an advisor I’d like to work with ), or just do another gap year( 5 year plan Jesus Christ) and try again? I should be able to get 2-3 papers out by then. 2 definitely, 3rd is iffy

rekker
Posts: 28
Joined: Mon Dec 21, 2020 7:54 am

Re: Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by rekker » Wed Feb 21, 2024 10:56 am

greenface1998 wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2024 10:38 am
rekker wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2024 10:20 am
Should have applied to more safeties. At top places you can't compete with kids who started doing this stuff in middle school or the like. And don't get me started about the tone-deaf "they are only a tiny fraction of the applicants" talk I see so often. Doesn't matter if they all get in and there's only so many spots at T20.

That aside, I don't know if you have done it, but if you had any presentable or publishable result (doesn't have to be major at all) you should probably put it into a preprint or send it as a writing sample.
If you were in my shoes would you should go to the lower tier school ( Emory is still top 50 and has an advisor I’d like to work with ), or just do another gap year( 5 year plan Jesus Christ) and try again? I should be able to get 2-3 papers out by then. 2 definitely, 3rd is iffy
If I had an offer then I'd take it. Going another year with no support would be too mentally exacting for me. Also talk to your current advisor and get his opinion.

mgre24
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Feb 21, 2024 11:30 am

Re: Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by mgre24 » Wed Feb 21, 2024 11:32 am

What's your goal with the phd? Is it academia or something else? I think know a bit more about why you've stuck with the plan and how you saw it panning out could be helpful in giving advice.

greenface1998
Posts: 22
Joined: Wed Feb 21, 2024 7:02 am

Re: Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by greenface1998 » Wed Feb 21, 2024 11:43 am

mgre24 wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2024 11:32 am
What's your goal with the phd? Is it academia or something else? I think know a bit more about why you've stuck with the plan and how you saw it panning out could be helpful in giving advice.
I don’t plan on going into academia. I’d like to work in an industrial AI research lab. My research background is in generative modeling for Bayesian inference & inverse problems. Plenty of that sort of research happening in the private space rn at deepmind and etc.

There are a couple of advisors at Emory work in this area that my interests would mesh well with. So I don’t doubt I’d be productive and successful there, but I’m concerned the lack of name recognition would prove an obstacle to getting the sort of industrial research position I’m looking for. I may also need to do a postdoc even for these kinds of roles so I don’t want the good post docs to be inaccessible bc of where I went to grad school.

I’m also tired of feeling like I’m the smartest guy in the room bc they didn't let me into the room where the smarter people are. I felt this way during my masters and it gives me this nagging frustrating sense that I’m not living up to my potential. I’ve stuck with this plan bc I know had I planned my cards right form the start of undergrad, I could have gotten into a top 20 schm. I just feel like bc of poor decisions /circumstances I’ve sortoff been playing catchup to realize the potential I know I have. I took all my masters classes at a t20 school, with the PhD students. I did better than 70% of them. I have what it takes to perform at that level I just need a chance to show it .

Helpmepls
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Feb 08, 2022 11:04 am

Re: Was my 4 year plan to get into a top PhD doomed to fail from the start ?

Post by Helpmepls » Thu Feb 22, 2024 2:38 am

mgre24 wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2024 11:32 am
I felt this way during my masters and it gives me this nagging frustrating sense that I’m not living up to my potential. I’ve stuck with this plan bc I know had I planned my cards right form the start of undergrad, I could have gotten into a top 20 schm. I just feel like bc of poor decisions /circumstances I’ve sortoff been playing catchup to realize the potential I know I have. I took all my masters classes at a t20 school, with the PhD students. I did better than 70% of them. I have what it takes to perform at that level I just need a chance to show it .
If you really have leveled-up in terms of skill, take some relief in knowing it's not necessarily your capability that limited you: it's in part just how the system works. What someone else said is right, it is very difficult to compete against the kids who started doing this stuff in middle school. The longer you're around academia, the more you'll realize that much of ones success in a field is due to being properly groomed for it. Don't deny the aspect of talent and hard work, but realize that's not enough frankly. There's the vicissitudes of luck, politics, connections, life: there's a lot that has nothing to do with your skill, your ethic, your passion.

Also, Emory is a very good school in my opinion. If you're at all interested in extremal combinatorics, it's got some strong advisors. Furthermore, if you plan on leaving academia, then don't fret too much about ranking. Does it matter? Yes of course. Just anecdotally though, I go to a US News 40-ish school, and there's students here who get into some good tech places. I can't imagine Emory would be far off.


In essence, yeah, maybe it was doomed from the start; maybe it wasn't; but I don't think your career is.



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