So I am currently a PhD student (rolling to PhD after finishing my MS), and now trying to transfer to a different PhD program, hoping to do better research in the field I am interested in.
I just applied to three top schools, let us call them X, Y, and Z. I also got my recommendations from three professors, A (MS superviser), B, and C. I got rejected from all schools; haven’t even been interviewed by any. It was hurting to hear such news as I though I had a good academic and research profile, and was also fully funded. I have a very good GPA in my undergrad and a 4.0/4.0 GPA during my master’s, and got 5 published conference papers (3 first author) and 4 accepted conference papers, and have submitted two (first author) journal papers and is working on the third. I have a work experience for few months at a company, and have been working as a teaching assistant and as a mentor for national/international students during both my graduate and undergraduate studies.
What went wrong? Is it the fact that I am transferring to a different PhD program, or is it one of the references? Were my applications bad, or am I a bad student?
My MS study
I have always wanted to study abroad (especially for MS and/or PhD). Due to some financial reasons, I had to do my MS in a local school, which is the best in the country so far and thus not a bad destination. I joined a fresh professor’s group, and have been his one-and-only student for around one year. When I started, I was an engineering student with an engineering background (just like him). However, I am also concept-driven and have always been more interested in doing science and theoretical work. He surely understood my passion and let me choose my research topic freely. After many weeks of literature review, I came up with an interesting topic in physics, and he approved and became interested too. Given that both me and him had no background in this topic, it was tough two-years for me. However, I managed to get through it. I published conference papers in very competitive conferences and wrote “a superb thesis”, quoting my professor.
Reasons of transfer
My professor knew very-well that I wanted do my PhD abroad in a top school, I told him that during our first meeting. After completing my master’s studies, I could not apply due to the same financial (and sadly also some family) reasons, and had to find an alternative plan until everything is resolved. I knew my professor really wanted me. I am so glad that I built a great relationship with him. I asked him if he could find me a “researcher position” here until I obtain an offer from the university of my choice. He answered: “unfortunately, I talked to the dean and this isn’t allowed here, but you can just roll to PhD and work as a researcher for me; it is the same thing, and from that you will also help establish the group and also publish papers to get your acceptance easily”. I accepted his offer, hoping to both help myself and him and learn from this experience, and all I can say now is “I wish I knew better”…
Now that one year has passed and everything financial has been resolved, I am seriously working on obtaining an admission from a top school. I told my professor and he was kind of shocked from what I have said. I quote “I am surprised, I really don’t think it is a good idea and it is better for you if you pursue your PhD here”. He asked me for my reasons and I told him it is very personal and I hope he understands. He answered “yes”, but seemed unsatisfied. I have two reasons for my transfer (I still don’t know why I haven’t told him the truth):
(1) I have always wanted to obtain my PhD abroad from a top school. This was my initial plan, I never thought or intended to pursue my PhD in my current university here.
(2) There is an under-representation of my field here (in terms of faculty and facility too). That is, my research interests do not match that of my superviser (nor his expertise) or that of the faculty here, and sometimes I cannot conduct interesting experiments due to the lack of some necessary equipment and material.
To universities X and Y: Submitted in January 2018, after contacting professors in both. Applications included a research proposal (no personal statement). Professor A, B, and C submitted the references. I was not interviewed, and got rejected in March 2018 for X, and April 2018 for Y.
To university Z: Submitted in February 2018, after contacting a professor. Applications included a personal statement in which I mentioned point (2) above regarding my reason of transfer. Professor A and C submitted the references. I was not interviewed, and got rejected in April 2018.
I would appreciate if someone could help guide me on what went wrong. I am currently waiting for my fourth top choice, and thinking about submitting many more. Should I discuss a specific issue in the personal statement? What I should I say?
Should I write an appeal? I got 3 conference papers accepted since the submission, and have submitted one conference paper (first author).