I’m currently a fourth year undergraduate student graduating this year. I’m taking the upcoming school year off to travel, so instead of applying to grad school during my fourth year like most students, I will be applying this upcoming September (when I will have graduated).

I worked with two professors this school year doing research, one of which I got a publication out of. I plan on asking both for reference letters for my graduate school applications.

Both profs seem to like me and are happy with my work. However, I won’t be actually applying to grad school until late this year (probably September-December), so I’m worried if I ask for a reference later in the year, they will have forgotten a significant chunk of their experience supervising me and my contributions.

I want to get a letter out of them now when I’m still fresh in their minds and can get a great recommendation out of them. I’m sure they’ll give me a positive one either way, but I feel like if I get one now it’ll be a lot stronger, where as if I do it several months in the future, considering how busy they are, I probably won’t be nearly as well remembered and my letter will be a lot more generic.

I wasn’t sure if this is appropriate to do, and how I should go about doing this, so I was hoping I could get some advice on this. Both profs work in ECE (electrical and computer engineering) and the programs I will be applying to will be a combination of ECE programs and computer science programs.

It is a doctoral project in engineering, a long, tedious, and grumbling story. I was contracted as a PhD candidate for another project but when I started, the director suggested me to change for the current one (which they just obtained some funds). Later, a co-director was added who has never led a doctoral thesis before and has no ambition in research but is a nice person to chat with given the previous expertise with administrative tasks (it’s the truth…) I accepted and began my journey.

In the beginning, it was the 1st director that taught the 2nd director and me the idea of the project. Gradually, I found out that they repeated the same stuff in all the meetings. When I asked for suggestions on choosing a focus of the project, they didn’t shed many lights but suggested a topic that is not within the scope of our group. I tried to avoid it but through more and more readings, I came to realize that this topic was unneglectable for the project. Luckily I got some idea and tried to start either with software analysis or experiment. I asked my directors for support in acquiring software license and equipment, they have been “working on solutions” for years without results till now, not to mention the great inertia to keep up with the project. They copied my report as accessing report for me and their comments to my report were usually only correcting the department name…

I did my best to keep it cool and went for an exchange program at another university in another country. There, I got something done, which was not perfect but more persuasive than the non-evolutional system diagram drawn by my director in each meeting. After the exchange program, I realized that there was a lot of room for improvement even corrections which involved concepts/skills in another field. And such improvement and correction is the essential part of my work- how to analyze data and how to link analysis to reality. We happen to have another research group in our university that works in this field but crosstalk is not appreciated especially with the absence of your own directors… Anyway, I convinced them that I need someone who could give me directions in my project. They said that they would try to find a third director for me from that group. Months have passed with me chasing them from time to time. Finally, they found someone and we went to visit this professor together. I received some useful suggestions then I asked my directors if we could initiate the procedure to include this professor as my third director and they replied: “oh, let’s see if it’s necessary”. I told them I need at least to make my papers and thesis “theoretically correct”. If there is any fatal mistake that none of us could tell, I will be failed for sure.

I’ve got the feeling that I have survived many heart attacks and mental disturbances these years. (Compared with my colleagues, who have given up long before talking to these directors: even if their topics are not as “off-topic” as mine, they didn’t receive any guidance either…) Now it is my last year or months of the doctoral journey, I have no faith in receiving academic help from my directors. Their reluctance to bring in someone who knows it would make me drawn (everyone should sign a paper to include a third director so I cannot go my way). Probably by the time they agree to sign, I would only have 2 months left… What should I do? Any practical suggestions?

Revised with more specific questions that came to my mind.
1) I may have to accept that I will never have a “useful” director till the end. However, I know 2-3 other professors from different institutions. Is it very much against conventions to ask for their help to review my papers and doctoral thesis?
2) In order to get things done as soon as possible, should I put more effort on the publication or on the final thesis? I have no publication yet and just started writing the thesis… Is the doctoral thesis more like a continuous physical work?
3) How to make use of my own directors? The primary director has had several graduated PhD students. Given the circumstance, it would be unlikely that they even bother to read my thesis. I don’t know how they plan to have PhD graduated without knowing anything.

Currently, I’m a CS master student and I want to apply for a PhD program in the coming Fall. I’m interested in the system research (i.e., distributed system).

Right now, I have two opportunities presented in front of me:

  1. Go to a professor’s research lab over the summer. The professor’s interest is in distributed storage and that quite matches with my interest.

    • Pros: Work with a professor directly

    • Cons: there isn’t much pay and I want to rely on myself financially instead of family.

  2. Do a software internship with High-Performance Computing (HPC) Infrastructure.

    • Pros: Good pay and industry experience that relates to my interest (HPC infrastructure is related to general distributed system (Dynamo, Spanner) but not quite the same). I also heard system research values industry experience more but not sure this is true (internship is from a big company but not in Tech industry)

    • Cons: is not research experience

To make thing complicated, I have contacted the professor before I got the internship offer and I don’t know if I should talk my situation with the Professor. In addition, I’m an international student and if I couldn’t get to a good PhD program, I may want to go to industry directly but I’m not sure if an experience in a research lab helps.


  1. Which one should I choose?

  2. Should I talk to the professor about my situation?

  3. Does systems research value industry experience (more than other fields)?

PS: Thanks for the editing the format and input from comments

A PI I might potentially apply to is planning on making three or so offers. Said PI only has a few students at present which I think is the reason for their doing so.

I worry that I will not get my hands on very many projects and will not have enough time with the PI. So my question is: How detrimental is a large lab cohort to a graduate students’ success?

I think it is important to mention that this is a social-sciences PhD program with cohorts of around ten or fewer. This situation seems unique as the PI needs students this year. Most labs only take one student per year.

I want to apply for a Ph.D. position in psychology. How to write a statement of purpose that will impress the selector? I mean I have quite a good experience and I fulfill most of his requirement criteria and previously I had written SOP with which I got selected in post-grad level. As there are so many professors here so I need some suggestions. Should I start my SOP with a short story or something? Will it be helpful?

I’m a first year graduate student and I’m currently going through my last rotation. I have not committed to a lab yet, but I have a deadline in 2-3 weeks to fully declare or risk not maintaining satisfactory progress. I understand the situation is really really bad right now. If I don’t find a professor or funded lab, I might have to pay for spring quarter myself or hope/beg to see if the department might give me a 5th rotation.

My first rotation went relatively well. I didn’t enjoy it and when I was going through it, I hoped/believed I would find another lab. But I recently spoke to the professor and he said he would accept me. However he has no funding and I need to find a TA-ship. The main problem is I have been actively looking for a TA-ship since early January and I haven’t had much luck.

My second rotation has full funding and was looking for a student. I really really wanted to be in that lab. It was mainly computational and not wet lab, which is where my main interests and skills are focused on. However I have more of a bioinformatics background and this lab is mainly computational biology. I really wanted to learn and was so interested and tried my best to get accepted. The professor is questioning literally everything I do. He/she has asked me to come and present for them multiple times, each time it’s something different. They keep saying I need to prove that I can get in. My chances of getting into this lab are slim I know. I did a project and applied to a fellowship during my 5 week rotation and worked very hard, but they are questioning if I’m smart enough for the lab.

My third rotation went well and it was mainly computational. However this professor has no funding as well.
My fourth rotation right now is also mainly computational. I’m trying very hard not to ruin this chance. I think there is partial funding. I have a project and I’m worried if I don’t get it right I will be rejected again.I’m competing with this other student for a position in the lab.

I’m so worried about this situation and if I had known grad school would be like this I would have prepared by finding a lab before I started. It doesn’t help that we have class everyday at 8am and constant midterms in my program. It makes it hard to have more time to compete with other people to get in. Did anyone else have this problem?? What happens if I don’t find a lab? Should I drop out before they kick me out so I can hopefully do something else with my life? Please help!

Do professors get to keep their grant money? Because if so, there is no way I can convince a professor to use that grant money on me instead of them getting to keep it themselves.

I want to apply for a Ph.D. position in psychology. How to write an SOP that will impress the selector? I mean I have quite a good experience and I fulfill most of his requirement criteria and previously I had written SOP with which I got selected in post-grad level. As there are so many professors here so I need some suggestions. Should I start my SOP with a short story or something? Will it be helpful?

There is a professor who has made several reference letters for me, and I would like to thank him. However, I have some doubts as to whether it would at all be appropriate to thank him with dinner delivery to his office, say. I feel that simple verbal thanking is not sufficient at this point, but then, the atmosphere of formality is still there at the level of university relationships. What are one’s ideas on this? If sending him a fine dinner would not be appropriate, especially without first discussing this with him, what is another way of thanking a professor, which would be considered “formally appropriate”?