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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wait, Wait, Wait, Sweat, Suffer... And Then, Hopefully, Celebrate!

After finishing your applications, comes what is probably the most maddening stage: waiting.

Even if you consider yourself cold-blooded, usually unfazed by anything, it's not easy to keep waiting for results. If you are someone who already suffers from anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia, or anything really, be prepared. Because it can be very frustrating.

When you accept an offer for a PhD in the US, you have until April 15th to decide if you accept your offer or not, according to a resolution the schools agreed to follow. But that means that it may also take that long to hear from some of your schools. If you applied in November and a school just inform you about its decision in April, that's almost half an year of waiting. Today is April 5th 2017 and I still haven't heard anything from a school which had December 1st 2016 as deadline, for example. If I hadn't received an offer from another school, I'd have pulled all my hairs out by now.

You are usually informed about their decisions by e-mail. I've read people saying schools will send decisions only during commercial days and hours. But I've received decisions on Sundays, for example. Or late at night. So, we keep checking our e-mails 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, for months and months. Any new e-mail is a glimpse of hope, and then cause of frustration when you notice it is spam from a school, for example.

What kind of decision you may receive from a school?
- You may be rejected. So, you have not been accepted and all hope is gone for this school. Check it out of your list and forget about this school. It will hurt, specially if it's from your dream school. But any rejection hurts, and it's hard to know how you will feel when you get one.
- You may be invited for an interview. Invitations can happen very early or vere late, but most invitations are sent in February or March. It's very bad when you see a lot of people getting interviews, and you only get silence. And it's a great feeeling when you finally get an invitation. Interviews are usually held via Skype, but there are also many cases when a school you will visit the school for the interview.
- You may get an unofficial offer. So, you got accepted! Offers are usually made only after an interview, but there are also rare cases when you are accepted without interview. It may happen that you are informed that you have been accepted, but you don't get it formally yet. There are reasons for that, maybe they don't want to do all the bureaucracy related to an official offer unless they are sure you will accept, or maybe they are waiting for a response about funding.
- You may get an official offer. In this case, you have been officially accepted, with a letter, information about funding, congratulations etc. You may get an offical offer without an unofficial one before that.
- You may get waitlisted. It means you remains in purgatory, and must keep waiting. You are good, but there are other applicants ahead of you. You may get an offer, if other applicants who have received offer do not accept them.

There are you places in the internet to make your home during the process.

One is, again, Urch.com. Every year a PhD Business Administration Sweat thread is created. There, applicants share their experience, their pains, and their glory. There, they cheer each other up, Users who are already in PhD programs show up to provide support and wisdom.

The second one may be a good place and a bad place. Because it will help you to follow when schools start moving, when they send interviews, offers, and rejections. But people say ignorance is bliss. Because you can get even crazier when you see a lot of people getting interviews and offers, and nothing is happening on your side. Even if February is still early to get decisions from schools, a lot of people are already in despair in February because they know other people have been already interviewed and maybe even received offers, and they got zero so far. Anyway, many applicants check The Grad Cafe to follow decisions from schools.

The PhD Application Itself

It's time to apply to the PhD programs you chose. You should apply when you are sure you have things ready, but of course you should have things ready well before the deadline. Making a cheklist of the specific requirements and deadlines for application at each school is helpful.

You will apply online in most cases. So, you need to register at the website for application, creating a password. Then, there is a long form to fill online. You do not need to complete the application in one go, you can start one day, and continue later. Some schools use the same system, so the forms will look about the same. Some schools use their own system, and may look very different.

While filling the forms and sending the files, you will probably see several requirements you didn't know before. Maybe the size of your transcript file is too big, and the system only accepts files half that size. Maybe your resume for that school must be shorter than you expected. Maybe you are asked to provide some information or documentation they didn't tell you before. Be ready for changes, which will demand time.

An important reason to start your application long before the deadline is the need for Letters of Recommendation. You will be asked to inform the e-mail addresses of your recommenders, and some additional information (what is your relationship with the recommender, for example). E-mails should be official ones from schools or organizations, not generic ones like Gmail or Hotmail.

After that, the system will e-mail those recommenders with instructions about how they should proceed to send their letters, also online. I don't know what recommenders must do to send letters, since none of my recommenders showed it to me. But applicants are able to see if the system has already sent an e-mail to each recommender, and if the recommender has already sent the letter. Since recommenders may take a long time to write and send those letters, if you start you application too close to the deadline, recommenders may not have enough time to send their letters. And you application will be incomplete. If recommenders take too long, you can send them a reminder.

You can finish you application, including payment of the application fee, before schools receive the letters of recommendation.

The Statement of Purpose

A Statement of Purpose is a letter you write about the purpose behind your PhD application. All schools ask for a Statement of Purpose (some may call it by some other name), and many consider it one of the most important aspects of your application (but some schools seem to not even read it).

Schools usually don't provide much guidance about how that statement should be. And, please, don't use templates you find in the internet. A statement of purpose is your statement, with your style, with your way of thinking, your purpose. You can't do that if you copy someone else's.

Your statement should not be too long. I'd say about 1,000 words, 1 or 1,5 page. And believe me, it can be a real challenge to write all you want in such a short text. You may have a lot you want to tell the school. At least I did. But it didn't fit in 1,000 words. I think one of the things you are being tested here is if you can write a very short text which will cause a big impact. You should be focused, concice, but powerful. Because that's the way you are expected to write papers during your PhD. They don't want to see people rambling endlessly. I started with a long text with everything I wanted to write, and then improved it several times.

Your statement should also be very tailored to PhD applications. When you apply to MBA, for example, you are expected to write a lot about your career, professional results and achievements, extracurricular activities. You can also write about the challenges you faced in life, how you struggle but ended victorious. But, for PhD, if a school want to know about those things, they will give you the chance of writing another letter, like a personal history statement. The Statement of Purpose for PhD applications are much more related to your potential as an academic researcher in the concentration you chose and how you would fit into the program you're applying.

As the name says, you should state what is your purpose. That purpose may come from a professional experience, or a life experience, or any other thing like that. But it's not your experience by itself which is important, but how that experience explains your motivation to do research.

I started my Statement of Purpose with the general purpose I have for my career from this time on: "to discover and develop measurements for Marketing results (particularly metrics related to Finance) and to lead much-needed changes in business and education in my country".

Then, I explained what led me to that purpose. I wrote about the difficulties I had when working in corporate finance, when I was not able to decide and analyze marketing investments and budgets. How I came to the personal conclusion that one of the most importants ways to achieve the great goal of Corporate Finance of maximizing shareholder value was to maximize consumer value. But had no ways to understand that in a clearer and deeper way. Showed that my master's thesis and consequent paper presentation was a first step in that direction, but it was not enough, as I could not answer many questions by myself. Questions that have become almost an obsession for many years.

I explained about the precarious situation of business management and education in Brazil. And how I though that improving education was the way to get out of the chaos my country constantly faces. So, inspiring people through education was very important to me, and one of the best ways in to become a great academic.

So, a PhD looked like the natural next step in my life. There was a time to acquire knowledge (undergrad and MBA), a time to turn knowledge into action (20 years of professional career), a time to spread knowledge (5 years of teaching experience), and a time to question the knowledge I thought I had (my master's main consequence). It's time to generate new knowledge, it's time for my PhD.

That part of my Statement of Purpose was basically the same for all schools I applied to. But that doesn't mean my whole statement was the same for all schools. You should write a different statement for every school you apply to.

The main reason I say it is that you are not only expected to explain "Why a PhD?" or "Why now?" (which are general questions), but also, for example, "Why this university?" (whose answer is different for each school).

If you did your research about schools and faculty like I suggested in my previous post, this shouldn't be too hard. Because you know the schools, you know the faculty, you know what they are researching. In your statement of purpose, show that that you know why that specific PhD program is the best fit for your own purpose stated before. Now is a good time to read those papers more carefully, to write in a more refined way how your research interests mirror or complement the interests of the school or of a specific professor.

You should convince a school that you are really interested in the university, the program, and the faculty's research. And that interest comes from a understanding about them, and a match with your purposes and research interests.

If you mention a professor in your statement of purpose, it increases the chances that that professor will evaluate your profile and then interview you (if he/she likes your application, of course). And it's a lot easier to be interviewed by someone whose work you know and who have similar interests, than to be interviewed by someone who you know nothing at all. You can also mention and briefly discuss a relevant paper you read.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Defining a List of Schools to Apply for Business PhD

To choose schools. That's one of the hardest parts of applying to PhD. Also hard to tell a good way to do it. I'll share my experience and hope it can shed some light on the process.

So, I had defined that I would apply to PhD in the US, and that it would be in the Marketing concentration. I also had my GMAT and my TOEFL (IELTS as plan B). Add to that my transcripts, and I felt I was ready to go.

It is extremely difficult to gauge your own strength about many things, including your application's strength. If you are overconfident, it's bad. If you don't believe in yourself, it's bad. So, I really recommend you talk with more experienced and knowledgeable people about your profile, to get other people's points of view.

You should talk, for example, with those who are expected to write your letters of recommendation. If they are willing to recommend, they are willing to help. They can show ways you could improve, evaluate your odds. And talking to them may help them to write better letters of recommendations too.

I also recommend to use the forum at Urch.com, since there you will find not only other applicants like you, but also people who are already PhD students and candidates. Most of those people are not privy to the admissions process, but at least they are people who were successful in their application and can tell what worked for them. There isn't a lot of movement, but it seems there is always a loyal user who check the forum from time to time. Things get busier closer to deadlines. Very nice people over there.

People will not tell exactly which schools you should apply to. But they will have a feel about the general level of schools. That you should apply to top 50, or that you have a shot at a top 20, for example.

It seems that your GMAT/GRE score is very important to define the general level of school. A guide I found is top 10 for GMAT above 730, top 10-30 for GMAT 710-730, top 30-70 for GMAT 680-710, and below that GMAT 640-700. Of course that's just a rough estimate. That should be adjusted according to the strength of other aspects of your profile, like research experience. But it is a start. Although my GMAT score of 750 was enough for a top 10 according to that guide, I dont' think the rest of my application was equally strong, so I thought top 30-70 would be a better range. I applied to schools above that, but really didn't have much hope for top 20.

But how do I know if a school is top 10 or top 20? Which ranking do I use? Please do not use ranking for MBA schools, since MBA and PhD strengths of schools can be very different. It is not perfect, but the best ranking I found for PhD in business is the UTD ranking. That ranking is based on papers published by top journals, and you can make a ranking only with journals of your interest (Marketing journals, in my case). Since top researchers are able to publish at top journals, that ranking should show where are the best researchers in your concentration and, therefore, the best PhD programs.

Then you will see something interesting. A very well known school may be ranked much lower than a school you never heard about. Everybody knows about Harvard. But you may be able to find a school whose research in your concentration is stronger than Harvard's, and competition for PhD will not be as fierce since a lower number of people will apply to a lesser known school. You can find some hidden gems there.

You will also notice that a school ranked 80th, for example, can still be an amazingly great and known school. There are really many good schools around the world. So, don't feel like you got the short end of the stick if your profile seems to indicate a top 100 school.

So, I started to list schools around the level people suggested. Since I decided to apply widely to increase my odds of getting into a PhD in the US, I started with a long list of schools. If my final list was composed of 20 schools, the first list had much more than that, maybe 50 schools (out of the 100+ US schools listed by the American Marketing Association).

You will have to do some research about every school on your list. Some of the things you should try to evaluate:
- Where the school is located? Is it a place you'd like to live for years? If you hate cold weather, you should stay clear of freezing cities. If you have big cities, schools in New York are not the best choice.
- What is the culture of the school? What are its values? You may find that some schools are a perfect match to your personality, while others are far from it.
- How is the job placement record of the school? PhDs from good schools should be able to find academic jobs at nicely ranked schools.
- How good is the schools' financial aid? A school may be great, but without enough funding it may not be realistic for you depending on your financial needs and situation.
- And, the most important thing: is the school a good research fit for you?

That last item is really a lot of work, but one you should do. You should check who are the professors at the schools you listed. After you know that, you should find the papers they wrote, what kind of research they have an interest. Your goal is to find professors whose papers are a good fit to your own research interests. Right now you don't need to read those papers in depth, but take a look of them to know what they are about. If you don't find any professor with any work related to your research interests in a school, you probably should exclude that school from your list. If you find several professors aligned with your interests, that school should be a priority for you.

It may be a good opportunity to define or improve your research interests too. If you find too few schools, maybe your research interests are too narrow, too specific. If every school seems to fit your needs, your research interests are not specific enough. There may be cases where you know your research interests are really too specific, and you have your reasons to stick with them. But I believe having some flexibility about research interests is important to a PhD, since they are something that is expected to evolve.

The American Marketing Association has been saying for years and years, in one way or another, that Marketing metrics are a research priority. So, it was not a surprise to me that I found many schools with research about that. Some were really more closely related to the kind of metrics I am more interested (like customer lifetime value), some were not so close but still enough.

In my case, I also excluded schools from the list based on another factor. For most schools, application is totally online. But there are schools which require that you send documents like transcripts via snail mail. For me, it would increase the workload and the costs (it is very expensive to mail documents from Brazil to US), and I would have to rush to finish applications a lot earlier (since it takes a long time for schools to issue additional transcripts and to make them go all the way to the US). So, I applied to only one school which required physical copies, and that's only because I was informed about that after I finished by online application.

So, I ended with a list of 20 schools. Which, as I wrote before, it's much higher than the average.

Am I Too Old for a PhD?

When I started looking for information about PhD programs in the US, I soon noticed that the issue of age of PhD applicants in the US is hotly discussed over the internet. That really surprised me.

I was 43-years old when I applied, turned 44 recently. And when I tell people in Brazil that I'm going to do a PhD, several of them say that it is good, since I'm still very young. It is not really strange to see people of my age doing a PhD around here. But in the US I'm considered an older applicant.

And I think that one of the reasons is that the typical road to a PhD in Brazil is much longer than in the US. There are fewer universities, it's hard to be accepted by good undergrad schools and often takes years of preparation. After that, it's almost impossible to jump to a PhD. You must first have a Master's degree. Which is even harder, and usually also takes a lot of time. So, when you get to the point of applying to a PhD, a Brazilian applicant is on average older than a US applicant.

No matter the reason. According to discussions I've seen in the internet, no school will admit that age is an issue, but that is indeed the case for some schools and age may be help against me. Not many schools, of course, but it's hard to know.

My personal opinion is that you shouldn't let your age stop you from applying to a PhD in the US, if that's really the right thing for you. Ok, maybe you don't have the same level of energy when compared to younger people, but probably you learned a few things during those years which will compensate, like better time management and capacity to deal with pressure and failure. Each person is different, you should evaluate that yourself.

And don't fall into the trap of thinking that it's just some stupid ageism. They may have valid reasons to be concerned, and you must show them somehow that they do not have reason to worry. It does make sense to be worried about the academic sharpness of someone who has been away from school for many years, for example.

So, instead of worrying and complaining about the age issue, do your best to develop the strongest application you can. I think that's valid for any kind of prejudice and discrimination anyone may face when applying to a PhD.