Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Little More Than 2 Months

First month in the US was a chaos with too many different things to do. Second month was a chaos with one thing to do: to study.

Marketing classes are really great. Marketing Strategy requires us to read many papers, present them, debate about the subjects which are being presented. Very dynamic, things go fast here. Multivariate Methods in Marketing is something that can take a whole life to really understand, so the course is like an introduction to a big and complex universe. It can be pretty overwhelming at times, so it's good to have a supportive professor for this course. So, both courses are not easy, but are both fascinating.

However, most of my time is spent studying for the Economics course, Quantitative Economics Analysis. There is very little about Economics here, it's mostly about Maths and Statistics actually. Looks simple, but it's the hardest course I'm taking now. In Marketing classes, PhD students still seem lively. In Economics classes, PhD students look exhausted. Getting a good grade for this course is the first big hurdle to overcome in this journey through coursework. But things I just beginning, better to be prepared for more to come.

I haven't been able to do much besides studying. I went to a football game at the university's stadium  and to a Vietnamese restaurant (got something that looks like ramen), but that's about it.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My First Month in the US

So, I have been in the US for a month now. And what a month. Most of the things were expected, but it sure wasn't in my plans to face something like the hurricane Harvey in my first month here. I got lucky, the apartment I'm living has not been affected by the storms, no flood or problems with water and energy supply for example. But the same cannot be said about the city of Houston. Let's see how things are at the University of Houston when classes resume on Tuesday.

So many things happened, so many details to take care of. Hard to remember everything, but I'll try to write about several of them, in no particular order.

The apartment. I'm really happy with the apartment where I'm living. It's a big apartment, much more than I expected or need. It's in pretty good conditions. There is a supermarket two blocks from here and there is a light rail station even closer than that. I take the train and two stations later I'm already at UH. Very convenient.

Shopping. Starting a new life, needed to buy a lot of new things. I didn't bring much from Brazil. Almost everything I purchased for my new life here was from I've been an Amazon customer for about two decades, but surely I'd never ordered so many things. And Amazon is still a favorite of mine, in several regards, like price, delivery, amount and quality of information provided, range of products. For students, there is even Amazon Prime for free during 6 months and 50% off after that. Highly recommended. The other Marketing PhD student starting at UH had problems with Ikea's delivery. I wasn't able to access the US website of Walmart while I was in Brazil, just the Brazilian one, making it hard to use Walmart to plan in advance. BestBuy seems like a good place to check for prices too. I bought some basic and cheap furniture, but they all seem good enough. Electronics are amazingly cheap when compared to Brazil, I had to control my impulses and resist the temptation of buying too much stuff.

Bureaucracy. Really, lots, and lots, and lots of paperwork and procedures to follow. I can't really remember everything I did after I arrived here. Procedures to follow about entering the US as a student, to get a social security number, to open a bank account, to enroll in class, to be hired as a teaching assistant, to get student ID, and much, much more. It may not seem like much, but it's overwhelming, specially because it's too much information and things do not work if you do in the wrong order. But I must say the support from UH is amazing. If you're reading this and is about to arrive in the US to start your PhD, give priority to this stuff. If you take too long to do something, that thing may delay another, which will delay another, and so on. And then you may miss some important deadline.

Math bootcamp. Before starting the actual PhD classes, I had the opportunity of attending two week of intensive classes about Mathematics. Nice way to start with a feeling that this is going to be hard. All right, I had studied things like matrices, vectors, and derivatives, but that was a very long time ago. And never at such depth, and such speed. Most of the things I was not able to grasp at all. But it was a very nice opportunity to know other students who are starting a PhD at Bauer, in Finance, Accounting, Management etc. Very nice people, all of them.

Communication. Expect some trouble if you're coming from another country. I was not able to make the first SIM card I got to work with my Brazilian smartphone, even if it's unlocked. Then I went to a place to try to get another card from a different company, and I was told I'd have to buy a new phone. I was in the end able to find a SIM card which works for me, but it wasn't as easy as I had expected. Internet accounts are also a problem. Things like Gmail and Facebook presented several hurdles to overcome, since I was logging into my accounts from a new pc, in a new country, things like that. Facebook, for example, showed me pictures of my friends saying I should identity them to prove I'm really me. I came to the US still with my old Brazilian cell phone plan active, but if I had not done that I think I would not be able to access some of my accounts. To keep in contact with people in Brazil, I use Facebook for general news, WhatsApp for more private conversations, and Skype for video calls.

Finance. I came to the US with a Brazilian credit card. It works for many occasions, but there are many situations where it's no good. In several cases, when I'm filling an online form, there isn't even the possibility of informing a billing address that is not in the US, and then the card doesn't work. There are physical stores where my card was not accepted, and I don't know the reason at all. So, better be prepared with enough cash. Took me a while to open a bank account too. I first went to the credit union with a branch at UH, but I was told I would only be able to open an account with a Social Security number, something that would take still several weeks by then to get one. Different places have different rules, so I went downtown and I was able to open an account at Bank of America.

Coursework. One of the first things I wanted to do after arriving in Houston was to meet the professor to define a coursework. This semester, I'm taking Marketing Management and Strategy, and Multivariate Methods in Marketing at Bauer, as well as Quantitative Economic Analysis at the Economics department of another UH school. I still don't have much to say about the courses, since hurricane Harvey suspended operations at UH for over a week. But Quantitative Economic Analysis is basically Math, in a very abstract way and very focused on Mathematical proofs. It's going to be a very hard one for me. Multivariate Methods in Marketing seems to be a lot of fun. Still hard, of course, but the professor is very good, with lively classes, the classes are more focused on practical stuff instead of abstract Math. Marketing Management and Strategy has not started yet, but I'm very excited since it's with one of the professors who interviewed me and the subject is very closely related to my research interests.

PhD Students. Unfortunately, the Marketing department had to cancel the lunch it had scheduled to meet faculty and students. So, I don't know much about them yet. I know the one student from Singapore who has also been accepted for Fall 2017 (but for CB), and the students I share a room with (from India, Iran, and South Korea). All of them very friendly and supportive.

Some numbers about Bauer doctoral program. The program has now 79 tenure track faculty for a total of 72 PhD students (12 students in the Marketing Department). Among the 17 students incoming this Fall, we have 47% female, 71% international, 82% with a graduate degree, with an average GMAT of 706.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Last Day in Brazil

So, this is my last day in Brazil. Tonight, I'll fly to the US.

These last days were full. Full of tears and smiles. Full of goodbyes to people I didn't even expect to meet again. Full of good wishes. Memories, legacies, feelings. Relatives, friends, and loved ones.

I don't really know what to expect once I start my PhD. But it's good to feel that I've accomplished something with my life so far in Brazil.

As I was told this week, sometimes love is letting go. And here I go, feeling all this love.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

In the News

So, I was given great attention by Folha Ibiunense, a newspaper from the city of Ibiúna. I studied in Ibiúna when I was a teenager, and it is a city that will always hold a very special place in my heart. I was there for a short time (two years and a half), but the support I was given by teachers, classmates, and friends in general were really life-changing. Thanks for sharing a little about my PhD tales to the people of Ibiúna.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Time to Say Goodbye

With a little more than 1 month until I leave Brazil, it's time to start saying my goodbyes.

Yesterday I visited an old friend. We have known each other for 25 years. There was a time when we used to meet all the time, when we were a lot younger. That was a life-changing period for me, for several reasons. One of the reasons is that I learned English, mostly because that friend had lots of comics, books, and games in English. So, I have to thank that friend for my knowledge in English. I really don't think I would know English if not for his friendship. And, without knowing English, I wouldn't be able to get into a PhD in the US, of course. So, I visited him, to say thanks and goodbye.

Today is also a day of goodbyes here at Senac. I will still be back here tomorrow and Monday, but a few people are also leaving the school (like one of the co-ordinators who is retiring) and also other people who I will probably not be able to meet in the next days.

So, the goodbyes season has officially started for me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Lots of people asking me when I'm going to move to the US, if I'm already in a countdown. So, a little of my schedule so far.

I will stop working at Senac on July 3rd. I taught a class yesterday about personal finance, and tomorrow I'll record an interview for an entrepreneurship contest. Probably my last contributions as a teacher here in Brazil before moving to the US. Really gonna miss teaching some courses.

Going to doctors and doing medical examinatons while I still have my health insurance. Very busy with that this month.

After I leave Senac, I'll probably spend a few days in the city of Ibiúna, where my parents live. A few things to take care over there, and I want to get them off the table as soon as I can.

I also expect to meet some friends to say good-bye by then.

Middle of July will be mostly dedicated to getting everything ready to move and spending time with my daughter during her school holidays.

In the last week of July I'll get trade union's approval for my dismissal from Senac, allowing me to go for the finishing touches on the financial side.

On August 1st I take my flight to the US, arriving in Houston the next day.

Once in Houston, things are going to be pretty hectic, I guess. Lots of things to buy, specially to get the apartment ready to live on it.

PhD classes are expected to start on August 21st. But there are several things to do at the University of Houston before that. A math bootcamp starting on August 7th. Several orientation events (new PhD student orientation, international student orientation, graduate school orientation, I think I'll be disoriented after all that orientations). Lots of paperwork.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Cancelled Coursera's "Statistics with R" Course

I had posted that I was learning R using an online course at Coursera. Unfortunately, it did not meet my expectations, so I cancelled my subscription today.

The statistics video classes were really good. If the whole course was at that level of quality, I'd be happy to continue. However, I enrolled because I need to learn R. And that's the weak section of the course. The course is good to teach statistics, but not to do it using R.

The R sections is a lot like "follow the instructions you are given". So, if you are able to follow the instructions, you will get the results expected for the course. However, instructions sometimes are very confusing, and I had to go to forums to understand them (and then see many people with similar questions), wasting precious time. And, most importantly, being able to follow instructions does not mean being able to undestand what one is doing. I felt like I was not really learning R, even when I was able to do the required steps. So, now I'm studying with a book. So far, it has been a lot faster, less confusing, and with a better understanding of R. Let's see if this works out for me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Is it good to state one weakness in a motivation letter for a PhD application?

Another answer I wrote at Quora.

A2A. Unless you think that’s a weakness that really needs explaining or that’s a weakness that actually explains your motivation to do a PhD, I see no reason to state it in your motivation letter.

A weakness that really needs explaining is a weakness that is so glaring and important, that it alone would prevent you from getting an offer. So, you try to explain to try to have a chance. Even so, don’t write too much about it. It may sound like an excuse.

A weakness that explains your motivation could be a good thing in some cases, even it may be risky to do that in your motivation letter. In my case, I wasn’t able to overcome a problem I found during my professional career. Something like that may be considered a weakness, right? After all, it’s not a case of success, but failure.

But after that, I became very interested in learning about ways to solve that problem. In turns out that the problem I was trying to solve is a major issue for Marketing research. So, I had to explain a weakness I had in order to show how a PhD could help me to achieve my goals.

Even so, don’t waste much time with your weaknesses. If a school is interested in you and about your explanations for a weakness, they will probably do that during an interview. During my interviews, they asked questions about the weaknesses they perceived in my application profile. Even weaknesses I had not thought about.

How do I talk about my research interests in a letter of motivation?

I'm posting here too an answer I wrote at Quora.

Since motivation is a very personal thing, writing about research interests also is. So, everyone will write in a different way, with no clear-cut and strict rules. Avoid using templates, for example.

But my suggestions are:

1 - Describe your research interests. If your research interests are too broad, they will not tell much about you. If you just tell that you are interested in doing research about Marketing while applying to a Marketing program, for example, it’s just a waste of time. But if you are too specific, it may also be a problem. A research interest that is too specific is also very limited, narrowing opportunities like finding a good advisor for you. If you know a little about research, you can describe that interest in a more academic way, like a research problem.

2 - Tell why you are interested in doing research, and why that subject you described. Telling them “why” will help them to understand your motivations.

3 - If you are interested in something, probably you already know something about it and have some experience to tell. It’s harder to convince someone that you are interested in something if you have never done anything about it. So, write a little about your knowledge and experience.

4 - Why should someone care about your research interests? Doing that kind of research will help your career, the university, companies, countries, the world?

5 - How do you think the program you are applying to can support you in your research interests? A faculty with similar interests? Access to data which are relevant for your interests? Laboratory and equipment?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Learning R

Now, it feels like a countdown, getting closer to the D-day. I've taken take of necessary things I could related to my application and enrollment.

I'm taking the time to study. One of the things that I was told to learn is R, a programming language and software used mostly for statistics. I found some books and websites, but starting to learn R can be quite overwhelming. 

So, I started an online course at Coursera. It's called Statistics with R and was developed by Duke University. It is still a little confusing at times, I think some things should be explained better. But at least there is the possibility of discussing the problems with other people, so I don't get stuck.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Profile as an Applicant

I've been asked about a summary of my profile while applying to a PhD in Marketing in the US. So, this is me:
- applied to quantitative marketing PhD programs;
- 43-years old applicant from Brazil;
- Bachelor's in Business Administration at the #1 university in Latin America, with a converted GPA of 3.0 (a really hard school, virtually impossible to get straight A's over there);
- MBA, with a converted GPA of 3.9;
- Master of Science in Business Administration with a converted GPA of 3.8;
- GMAT score of 750 (98%), with 49Q and 42V;
- TOEFL score of 110, being 29 Reading, 30 Listening, 23 Speaking, and 28 Writing;
- About 20 years of work experience, most of them in management positions;
- About 5 years of teaching experience;
- Presented a paper, about the impact of online complaints in the profitability of companies, during the most important event for academic research in business of Brazil;
- Letters of Recommendations from 3 professors who are researchers in Brazil (my thesis advisor, the Master's program coordinator, and the professor from the research project course).

Monday, April 17, 2017

My Dear Diary

So, now I change gears and this blog will start to look more like a diary than a Guide to Apply to a PhD in Business. I covered most of the most important aspects of my journey so far.

During the last couple of weeks I was busy getting my visa to travel to the US. Paying fees, filling forms, going to the interview. I scheduled to take my passport with visa tomorrow. It's a little bureaucratic, but even the interview was much easier than expected.

I'm also applying to lease an apartment close to the University of Houston, I think that deal will be closed soon. It's a little harder for a foreigner like me to find an apartment, since several places ask for things that I don't have yet, like a social security number and credit history. But since the apartment I found is close to the university, I guess they are used to negotiating with students, including foreign ones.

Little by little, getting closer to the big step of moving to the US for my PhD.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Offer of Admission into a PhD Program

On February 25, I finally received my Offer of Admission! I received an e-mail informing the school's decision had been released and I should log into my online application to check it out. It seems the e-mail is the same either you've been accepted or not, so receiving an e-mail by itself does not mean it's bad news or good news.

After logging into my application, I found a letter and a form to tell they if I accepted the offer or not. The letter is from the Director of Doctoral Programs and it included congratulations, my student ID, details about the financial aid package which is part of the offer, and the information that I have until April 15th to accept or decline the offer.

After waiting for such an excrutiating period, it takes some restraint to not accept the offer immediately. But the right thing to do is to wait until you are certain about your decision. There is a lot of debate about the possibility of accepting an offer and declining it later if another better offer comes up. But, in my opinion, just don't do it. Even if it is possible (and that's a big "if"), it's not considered ethical by many people in academia, and it's not a smart thing to do since you're not forced to decide early. Once you accept an offer, it should be your final decision and you are giving up all other offers.

Since I got my offer on February 25th and the deadline to accept the offer is April 15th, there is a long time. If you have time, use time wisely. First, I suggest doing even more research about the school, talk again with professors, friends, relatives, to get other points of view. Second, if the professor who interviewed you was open to it, get in contact to thank and maybe take the opportunity to ask further questions you probably have now that you've been accepted. Third, get in contact with the other schools you applied to, to inform them you have received an offer and so you would like to know if they have any news for you. If you are asking it so early, like me, most schools will answer they are still reviewing applications and you should wait. But a few of them were able to provide unofficial answers. One school did not answer it directly, but said that I should take the offer I had, for example.

So you can reduce the list of schools you are waiting for. By the middle of March, you probably will have a decision from most schools you applied to, but still nothing from some of them. I accepted my offer on March 15th. It was early, since I still had a month left until the April 15th deadline. But then, I had received rejections from many schools. And, among the schools which had not released a decision yet, there wasn't one that would be a clear winner compared to the offer I had. A couple of weeks had gone since I got the offer and it still seemed like one of the greatest opportunities I could ever find. So, I felt it didn't make any sense delaying things further. But I'm an exception, for many applicants, beginning of April is still a time to be weighting options.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Interviewing for a PhD in Marketing

Then, on Febuary 13th, I received an e-mail scheduling an interview for a few days later. The e-mail was from one of the professors I indicated when writing my Statement of Purpose for my application to the University of Houston - Bauer College of Business.

Interviews for PhD programs can take many forms. In my case, since I was an international applicant, the interview was to be conducted using Skype. So, if that's your case too, be sure to have what you need for a Skype interview (webcam, mike, good internet connection etc) and test everything in advance. Also be aware of the difference in time zones, since there are several different time zones used across the US. An interview for a PhD is also a lot like an interview for a job. So, check the way you dress and talk, for example.

Before the interview, I recommend reviewing what you had researched about the university, school, faculty, research. Also, review your whole profile, prepare to explain weaknesses and strengths. Show that you've done your research and are ready for a PhD at the school thatis interviewing you.

On February 16th, exactly 8:30AM US central time, I receive a Skype call. The professor presents himself and tells me about how the interview will be structured. A few questions, more like a chat, and the opportunity for me to ask a few questions in the end too.

He started asking me to present myself. Then, several typical questions in PhD interviews, like "Why do you want to do a PhD and why now?", "What are your plans after the PhD?", "What are your research interests?", "Why the interest in the University of Houston?". You can see that the questions I was asked is a lot like the questions we think about during the Statement of Purpose. Since the Statement of Purpose is very concise, the interview is a chance to explain a few aspects of your application, and add depth to what you wrote at your statement of purpose. Take that opportunity to talk about things you wanted to write at your statement of purpose, but left out for lack of space.

I think I gained a few important points in my answer for the question "Why the interest in the University of Houston?" in particular. Because I had a lot of information about the University of Houston, Bauer, the faculty I was interested, the research they conducted, and the city of Houston. So, lots of reasons to show why University of Houston instead of other universities.

There may be also some questions which are not so typical of PhD interviews in general, but more specific to your concentration and your profile. Since I was applying to a PhD in Quantitative Marketing, I was also asked about my knowledge and skills regarding Economics, Programming, and Quantitative Research. Since my background is mostly in Finance, I think Economics is not a problem in my profile. I also had some recent quantitative research done, during my master's. But I have very little experience with programming. I thing the last time I programmed something was when I was a teenager. Be honest about your weaknesses. Show that you are aware of them, that you've taken steps in dealing with them. I had already started to read about programming and that helped, even if the kind of programming I was studying was not the one they wanted. If the person who is interviewing you know your weaknesses, he/she can talk about how the school can help you. And that's a great topic for conversation.

The interview ended with a few questions of mine. I asked the professor to tell me about his style when advising students, what kind of research he intends to do in the future, thinmgs like that. So, questions to allow me to have a better idea about what should I expect if he was to become my advisor, for example. I also asked a few questions about the opportunities for teaching and research assistantship and about campus housing. I actually said a lot more questions than the ones I asked. But since the interview had already been taking a long time, I said I would have additional questions if I was accepted. And yeah, after I got my offer, we had another Skype talk when we discussed a lot of things I wanted to know.

In the end of the interview, the professor said I was expected to have a decision in a few weeks. So, I just was back into waiting mode.

On February 21st, I received another e-mail from another professor from Bauer, asking for another interview. And that interview would be on the same day. Yeah, I got the e-mail in the morning and the interview was held that same day at 2:30PM. I think this shows that you have to be always ready, because you may not have much time between an interview invitation and the interview itself.

This time, it was a professor that I didn't know (not one of those in my Statement of Purpose). His research interests also did not seem to be such a good match to my own interests. So, this time I would go to the interview feeling a lot less prepared. But a second interview could only be a good sign, so i was really happy and excited.

This professor said that it is a standard procedure at the University of Houston to take two different professors to interview PhD applicants they are interested in. Questions were about the same of the first interview, but the style was a little different since professors have different personalities. In the first interview, the professor asked a question and usually just listened quietly to my answers, sometimes adding something. In the second interview, it felt more like a conversation or negotiation, with we both debating about aspects of my application. It felt more like he wanted to know if I knew how to argue against something he said. It does make a lot of sense, if you know he is an expert in sales. I had to sell myself.