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 Amazon.com. 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

Countdown

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.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

More about Business PhD in the UK and Australia

I just got a feedback from the user PobleNou at the Urch.com forum, about PhD in UK and Australia. And I thought it would be nice to add what he wrote here, since PobleNou is from London and therefore much more qualified to talk about those programs than me. 

This is what PobleNou said:

"As far as UK and Australian PhD programmes are concerned they are four to five years as well. For example, the top ones in the UK such as London Business School, Warwick, Cambridge, Imperial, Oxford and London School of Economics, and top two in Australia such as Melbourne and UNSW. You end up taking core modules in the first and even in the second year for some schools, but have to submit an upgrade proposal to PhD towards the end of first year. Having said that, the UK schools are flexible on the core modules. I was advised by current students in my school to take less quant courses and more qualitative modules given my FinTech background."

I this this is a nice complement to my previous post about my choice to do a PhD in the US.

Thanks, PobleNou!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Translation of Transcripts to Include in Your PhD Application

Again, since I'm not from an English-speaking country, I had additional work to do to apply. Schools require that you send transcripts in English. So, if your transcripts are in another language, you have to translate them. But you shouldn't do the translation yourself, even if you are able to.

And there is not much guidance from schools about how you should proceed to translate your transcripts. In Brazil, there is something called "tradução juramentada", which is a translation made by an officially sworn professional. And I see that a lot of Brazilian applicants pay those professionals to translate transcripts. From what I've read, it seems a waste of time and money. Because the US do not usually require such a thing.

So, what worked for me? One school informed that the translation should be from a professional associated to ATA (American Translators Association). That really helped. Because now I could search for someone to do the work for me, in a way that is accepted by US schools.

All my transcripts and diplomas from my bachelor's degree, my MBA, and my Master of Science were translated by Rev.com. I found them to be cheaper than the "tradução juramentada" we have in Brazil. They were also fast, translations took about 1 day in most cases. The whole process is online. Ok, translations were not perfect, I could do a better job. But that's because I know what I studied. It's not easy to translate something you're not acquainted with. Many people would translate "fusão" as "fusion", for example. Because yeah, "fusão" can mean "fusion". But, in business, "fusão" takes another meaning: "merger". So, if there may be problems with your transcripts like that, I suggest you inform Rev's translator, so they know the best way to translate something they don't know.

How About the GRE and the IELTS?

In previous posts, I wrote you could take the GRE instead of the GMAT, and the IELTS instead of the TOEFL.

Well, I did actually take all those tests: GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS. But I spent much more time with the GMAT than with the GRE, and also with the TOEFL instead of the IELTS. So, I don't feel prepared to write much about the GRE and the IELTS. But there are a few things I would like to point out.

I regret not paying enough attention to the GRE. For business schools, the GMAT is more traditional and more widely accepted, so it seemed logical to me to focus on the GMAT. But the number of business schools accepting the GRE for their PhD programs is really big nowadays. Your preparation for the GMAT will be useful for the GRE too, with few adjustments. They are different, but they test almost the same things.

I recommend you take both the GMAT and the GRE, and then see which one is your best score to include in your application. You can send them both, if you wish.

But the main reason I recommend taking the GRE is the percentiles in score. Just like the GMAT, you get not only the score, but a percentile which shows the percentage of test takers who score below you. And the percentile for the Quantitative section of the GMAT has changed too much in the last years. Now, the only way to get a Quant score above 90% in the GMAT is if you get a perfect score of 51. However, according to the 2016-17 GRE Guide, you can be above 90% anything between 166 and 170 in the GRE Quant section. And it just happens that the Quant section of the GRE is considered easier by many people than the corresponding section of the GMAT. So, with less mathematical skill you can get a higher Quant percentile at the GRE. So, it's easier to make your application look stronger in the quant section using the GRE than usingh the GMAT.

Why can you get a higher percentile with less skill with the GRE? I think the answer lies in the difference between the people who take the GRE and the people who take the GMAT. The GMAT is only for business schools. And business schools (MBA mostly) draw a lo of applicants who are extremely strong in Mathematics. Engineers and economists, for example. From countries like China, South Korea, and India, for example. So, it's really hard to get a Quant score better than those people. The GRE, however, is used for graduate programs in general, not only business. People who apply to a PhD in Literature or Arts, for example, take the GRE too. And those applicants are usually not so strong in the Quant section. So, it is easier to get a Quant score better than them.

Ok, that's only valid for the Quantitative Section. Not necessarily the Verbal section. But, I think the Verbal sections of both the GMAT and the GRE are hard for people in general, although the GRE demands a better vocabulary. And, for many business PhD programs, they are more worried about your Quant skill than your Verbal skill.

So, that's what I wanted to write about the GRE.

Now, the IELTS. If you are an international applicant, you should focus on the TOEFL if your interest is doing a PhD in the US. The reason is that it seems all schools accept the TOEFL, but many do not accept the IELTS (which is stronger in Europe). But, if your TOEFL score is not that great, the IELTS may be an alternative for some schools.

As I wrote before, my scores for the listening, reading, and writing sections of the TOEFL were very good. But my score for the speaking section was lower, only 23. And there were schools which demanded at least a score of 25 in each section, So, my total score of 110 was great, but my speaking score was not enough. In those cases, I was able to sent my IELTS score instead of my TOEFL. Because I like the speaking section of the IELTS a lot more than the TOEFL's. In the TOEFL, you talk to a computer recorder using a mike. In the IELTS, you have a real conversation with a real person in front of you. I think it's much better to show if I can talk in English or not.

TOEFL in My PhD Application

Since I'm not from an English-speaking country, schools require an additional test for that language. There are two main tests which may be used for that purpose, the TOEFL and the IELTS. I used my TOEFL score for most of my applications.

The TOEFL is a test which takes about 4 hours and evaluates your English proficiency in 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. You get a score which range from 0 to 30 for each section, so you can get a total score between 0 and 120 when adding all four sections.

The minimum score you need to get depends on the school. There are school with minimum total score requirements. There are schools with minimum requirements for specific sections.

In order to have a TOEFL report which can probably be used for any school, your total score should be at least 105, with at least 25 in each section.

It seems to me that, once you meet the school's minimum requirements for the TOEFL, they don't worry much about it anymore. So, if a schools only requires a minimum score of 100, it will not make much of a difference if you get 110 or 115, for example. So, contrary to the GMAT, trying to get a perfect score in the TOEFL will not really improve the strength of your application that much.

Also contrary to the GMAT, I did not spend so much time preparing for the TOEFL. But that's because I use English everyday in my life. Almost every book I read is in English, and it has been that way for 25 years. I had a job where I had to write in English every day, for hours and hours. When I watch a movie, I usually watch it in English. I got a perfect score of 30 in listening, 29 in reading, and 28 in writing. But I got a lower score of 23 in speaking, since I don't really have much of a chance to talk in English often enough. And I must say that the English section of the TOEFL is awful. You don't speak with a person, you just answer stupid questions into a mike in a way that does not feel natural at all.

If you are already good in English, just take some time to learn the details about how the test is structured, what kind of questions they ask. Please notice that, even if there are 4 distinct sections, one section may require skill from another section. The writing section asks you to write about something you listened to, for example. So, if you aren't good at listening, you may not be able to really understand hat you should write about.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Prepare for the GMAT?

Applicants must find their own ways to prepare for the GMAT, since different applicant has different profiles, with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different timelines and money to spend. A great place to see a lot of information about the GMAT, including the experience of different applicants of different profiles, is the GMATclub forum.

I can tell what worked for me. I found very early that I needed much more preparation for the quantitative section than for the verbal section. I read a lot of texts in English (books, magazines, comics, websites), and have been doing that for decades now. I think that prepared me for a lot of verbal questions. So, I spent much more time with preparation for the quantitative section.

In order to prepare for the quantitative section, I strongly suggest you the Manhattan GMAT books. They may be expensive, but they are really great. They helped me to recover my mathematics skills, know about GMAT questions, and develop a strong foundation.

The Official Guide for GMAT is another essential book to prepare for the GMAT. But, to use it alone is not the best way, in my opinion. GMAT Prep Now is a free GMAT preparation course, which use the Official Guide. So, with GMAT Prep Now you will be able to study the Official Guide in a much more organized way, helping you to evaluate your performance, and it will also add several tips and strategies which are not included in the official guide. The Official Guide is actually very lacking in test taking strategies, its value is due to the quality of questions.

The Official Guide is not only lacking in strategies. It also does not provide many questions at the higher level of difficulty. Since you want to get a high score, knowing how to solve questions at the level found at the official guide is not enough. You will need harder questions. And the source of harder questions I found is again the GMATclub, with its question bank.

Following that path, I was able to go from Mathematics revision, to a general preparation for the GMAT, and then end with hardcore questions focusing on my those points which were still weak after months of preparation. I was able to improve from a total score of 600 (my first mock test when I barely knew about the GMAT) to 750 (my last official score, used in my applications).

The GMAT in Application for PhD in Business

Taking standardized tests is part of the process to apply to Business PhD programs. In order to show your academic prowess compared to other applicants, you can take the GMAT or the GRE. Many schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE, some prefer one over the other, and some accept only one of them.

This time I will write about the GMAT. There is really a lot to know about the GMAT, one could do a whole blog just about the GMAT. But, in short, the GMAT is a test to evaluate your quantitative and verbal skills. It is very important in the PhD application, since your GMAT score is one of the first things admissions committee look at when evaluating your profile. A low score may show them that you are probably a waste of their time, while a high score may show them they should take a better look at you.

It is also very important because you will probably need to devote a lot of time preparing for the GMAT, even if you are academically very strong. People say that the GMAT tests how good you are at taking the GMAT. So, you may be great at math and still do poorly in the quantitative section of the GMAT if you don't know how to face the test. At surface, the GMAT tests mostly your mathematical and English language skills. But it is much more than that. It tests your ability to make decisions, to identify your strengths and weaknesses, to manage your time, to deal with pressure, to build up your mental resilience. Lots of applicants are great in Math, but get low scores due to bad time management or panic attacks during the test, for example.

For me, preparation for the GMAT took about 1 year, since I had to revise mathematics which I had not studied for more than two decades. And one of obstacles I had to overcome was to learn to give up on a question which I knew how to solve, but not in the short time demanded by the GMAT.

The whole test will take about 4 hours, And you gotta be able to keep your mind sharp during the whole 4 hours. If you lose focus midway, you may doom your score. A mistake people make is studying for the GMAT only in short bursts, like 1 hour a day. You should include long sessions in your preparation, because you gotta be able to solve extremely hard questions after several hours of mental work.

The most important sections of the GMAT are the Quantitative and Verbal Sections, each with scores ranging between 6 and 51. The scores of both sections will be combined in some strange way, resulting in a "total" score between 200 and 800. For Business PhD programs, your quantitative skill is usually very important. Specially in for programs like PhD in Finance and Accounting, your quantitative should be close to a perfect. But even for other fields, like Marketing, your quantitative score should be very close to perfection. Scores for the verbal section are lower, it's almost impossible to get a perfect score of 51 in verbal.

The quantitative section has 41 questions to be solved in 75 minutes. The verbal section has 37 questions to be solved also in 75 minutes. Both sections are CAT (Computer Adaptive Tests). That means that if you get a question right, the computer will adjust the test to give you a harder question. And if you get a question wrong, the computer will give an easier questions. It is not that simple, but it's something along those lines.

If you are planning to apply to PhD, you are aiming a great score. So, you should expect to get a medium question first, then a more difficult, then another even more difficult, and so on. If you keep doing good, by the 20th question in a section you will start to see very hard questions. To get a great score, you must expect to face increasingly harder questions which will test your limits, even if you are a genius.

I found the verbal section easier to deal with, even being a non-native. The verbal section has reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction questions. So, no great surprises in there. You probably saw those kind of questions before. It does not mean they are easy (reading questions include very complex and boring texts to be analyzed, for example), but they are typical questions.

The quantitative section, on the other hand, tests knowledge you possess in unexpected ways. You may get angry with yourself when you get wrong a question about something you thought you mastered. Special attention must be given to a kind of question called Data Sufficiency, where you must answer if the question has enough information to be solved. So, you're not being asked to really solve the question, only if the question can be solved or not. You must often hold back that urge to really solve the question, because doing that will take precious time. As far as I know, GMAT is the only test which uses Data Sufficiency questions. I had to take a time specifically to learn how to deal with those questions effectively.

There will also be an integrated reasoning section and a writing section, whose scores will not count towards that "total" score I mentioned above. Even if they are considered by many as less importantt than the quantitative, verbal, and total scores, you must not negllect them. Bad scores will taint an otherwise great application.

You get the scores, but also percentiles for each score. So, schools what your score means, when compared to other people who took the test. My total score was 750 / 98% for example. That means that my score of 750 was better than 98% of the people who took the test recently.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

General View of Marketing PhD in the US

So, after deciding to apply to Marketing PhD programs in the US, it was time to have a general view about them. These are some information I found.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) has a very nice list of PhD programs in Marketing around the world, including over 100 programs in the US. It is very helpful, since it would be hard to know about all those programs without such a list. I found several links broken, and also some important universities missing from the list. But it's still a nice list.

The expected length of PhD programs in US is 4 or 5 years, depending on the school. Most of them, 5 years it seems.

There are two major concentrations for Marketing PhD: Quantitative and Consumer Behavior. Quantitative Marketing is like mathematics, statistics and economics applied to Marketing research. Consumer Behavior is like psychology and sociology applied to Marketing research. You should see which one is more related to your research interests. Very few schools offer other possibilities, like a concentration in Strategic Marketing or a combination of Quantitative and Consumer Behavior.

Competition is extremely hard. I saw a lot of people complaining about the hard competition for top MBA programs. But for PhD the competition is harder, even for lower ranked schools. PhD programs accept a much lower number of applicants. Just to provide an example, enrollment for Harvard MBA in 2016 totalled 1,859, while enrollment for Harvard Business School PhD was only 147. Since business schools have several kinds of PhD (Marketing, Finance, Management, and so on), each with its own concentrations, there are very few spots available. You may be well competing for the only available spot specifically for Quantitative Marketing PhD in a school, for example.

It seems all of them provide financial support, usually with a fellowship to cover tuition and a teaching or research assistantship with stipend. Stipend for business is better than several other kinds of PhD, buy even so it's not enough for a high standard of living.

Classes start in Fall (around August) every year, with deadlines for applications being mostly between December 15th of the previous year to February 15th.

Each school has its own specific requirements for application, but in order to apply you usually need:
- Transcripts and diplomas from each degree, starting with undergrad;
- GPA, which sometimes need to be converted;
- Resume/cv, tailored for academic purposes;
- Letters of Recommendation, usually 3 of them;
- Statement of Purpose;
- GMAT or GRE scores;
- Payment of an application fee, around $ 100 for each application;
- TOEFL or IELTS scores, if you're not from an English speaking country.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why Did I Choose the US for my PhD?

So, I'm from Brazil, but I'm going all the way to the US for a PhD. Why? Some people think I'm doing a mistake. And maybe I am, and I should stay in Brazil.

I could very well do a PhD in Brazil. If I do my PhD abroad, to be back in Brazil after I finish my PhD, I am expected to face a few hurdles. One, my PhD will not be officially recognized until I go through a long and expensive bureaucratic process, with uncertain results and timetable. Two, I will not have developed a strong network with Brazilian schools, professors, and researchers. And that may hurt my chances of a job once I'm back.

However, while doing my master's thesis, I noticed that there are very few works published by Brazilian researchers about the subject I'm interested. My research interest is very strong in other countries, but not in Brazil. So, if I am to get a strong education, I should go abroad to learn from the experts.

But there are many countries in the world. Including many with strong Marketing PhD programs. But I want to go to an English speaking country, since that's the language I can talk. I don't see myself living in a country without talking the language. That excludes top schools in places like Denmark.

Among the main English speaking countries for a PhD, it seems that US and Canada follow a style of PhD that is different from UK and Australia. PhD in US and Canada takes longer (about 5 years) and includes a heavy coursework, while PhD in UK and Australia are shorter (about 3 years) with no coursework. There are exceptions and other differences, but those are some important differences between those styles. (update: I had a nice feedback on PhD in UK and Australia, posted here)

I don't think I'm ready to dive directly into my dissertation research. I think following a coursework will make a lot of difference to me. It will take longer, it will be harder, but I think I'll be a better researcher in the end if I do my PhD in America. But depending on your degree of experience with research, how prepared you are, and what are your goals, that may not be your case.

For me, it makes sense to try a PhD in America. I only applied to US schools. If I could go back in time, I would have also applied to Canadian schools. Top Canadian schools are very equivalent to top US schools, and they should be on my list too. By the time I realized that, I was already too deep into the process of applying to US schools.

So, I applied to Marketing PhD programs in the US because that's a country with a very strong history of publishing about my research interests (something I could not find in Brazil), it is an English speaking country, its PhD style seems to be better suited to prepare me to become a researcher, and I ignored Canadian PhD when I shouldn't,

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Are You a Competitive Applicant for a PhD in Business?

I think it's very important to have an idea about the strength of your application, when trying to get into a PhD program. And, to do that, one should have an idea about what schools are looking for, when evaluating an application.

If you are considering the possibility of applying to a PhD, chances are that people have been saying that you are academically great. That you are a great student, with great grades, from great schools, with great experience, things like that.

And that may all be true. I think that most people who look at my profile will think I have great chances. But, the thing is: if they had the opportunity to look at the profiles of other applicants, they would probably think most of them also have great chances.

Since the number of PhD applicants that schools accept is very limited, it is impossible that so many applicants have great chances. You may be great. But other applicants also are.

So, what schools are looking for? I'll list a few common criteria, some of them related to each other.

1 - The applicant is really interested in research. And not just interested. The applicant want and is ready to devote a whole life to research about something of his interest. If the school thinks you're interested in a PhD because you found no better job opportunities, because you have a passion to teach, because the knowledge you will acquire can get great placements in industry, or any other reason that is not to become an academic researcher, the school will probably reject you. No matter how strong you are. Ok, you may end up teaching business classes or getting a job in industry after your PhD. But those should not be the reasons to do a PhD.

2 - The applicant has at least some experience with research. The more, the better, but every little bit may help. This is not an application killer. You may be approved without previous research experience. But it helps a lot. After all, if you're so passionate about research, as you stated according to # 1 item above, you should have gone after it in some way, right? It's harder to convince someone that you are passionate about something you have never experienced before.

3 - The applicant shows a strong academic background. Your grades are great. Better yet, your grades are consistently great. Better yet, those grades are from courses that will be valuable during a PhD. Better yet, your great grades are from great schools. All schools ask for complete transcripts, and even with that some schools ask deeper questions about grades of specific types of courses.

4 - The applicant has exceptional results in the standardized tests required/accepted. Business schools usually require that applicants take either the GMAT or the GRE. I'll write more about those tests, but your scores should be at least better than the scores of 80% of the people who have taken those tests. To be competitive, your score should be better than 90%, actually. For top schools, better than 95%. Yeah, they want proof that you are the best of the best. International applicants are also usually required to take English proficiency tests, like the TOEFL or the IELST.

5 - The applicant seems to be good not only at learning something, but also at questioning something he learned. There are students who are excellent at learning existing knowledge. But a PhD requires you to create new knowledge. You cannot be a passive student, just waiting someone teaches you. You gotta be active, self-driven, autonomous, critical.

6 - The applicant has strong Letters of Recommendation. A few (usually 3) important people in academia (researchers, professors) sent letters with glowing opinions about the potential of the applicant for a PhD.

7 - The applicant fits well with the faculty/school/university. The most important aspect here is research fit. An applicant's research interests will be compared with the research interests of the faculty and the school in general. The best they can match those interests, the stronger the application. But there are other kinds of "fit" too, like the school's "personality", mission, and values, to be taken into consideration.

8 - The applicant shows an understanding about what is a PhD, and what it takes to conclude a PhD successfully. You might thing that it is taken for granted that a PhD applicant knows what a PhD is. But it seems a lot of people apply to PhD without a good idea what they are getting into. It is often said that 50% of doctoral students leave school before finishing the PhD program. One of the reasons is that students may notice they are in the wrong place during the PhD.

Of course it is extremely rare for someone to have all those qualities, and some aspects of your application may have a greater weight than others. There are also other criteria which may be used and are not listed above, like the applicant being from underrepresented minority. But the closer you are to the ideal applicant, the stronger your profile.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How About the Financial Aid from PhD Programs?

Not really a question, but a suggestion: "it would be great if you can do a blog post on funding, tuition waivers, stipends and scholarships that the schools offer".

From what I've seen, the two main components related to financial aid by schools for PhD are about tuition and stipend.

At least for the business PhD programs I applied to, tuition was totally covered by the school. The way it works may change a bit, but you get a fellowship or something like that. So, business PhD is mostly free, since tuition is covered. Not totally free, since there may be other small fees, but those are usually not so significant.

Not only the PhD is mostly free, but you also get paid since a PhD is like a job in some ways.

You are paid a stipend for your work at the school. What work? You will be like an assistant. I've seen two types: TA (Teaching Assistantship) and RA (Research Assistantship). Your responsibilities will depend on the school and on the professors you'll be working with, but may include grading exams or doing calculations for a professor's research, for example. Those assistantships are a part-time job of 20 hours a week.

How much are you paid? Well, not enough to make you rich, but hopefully enough to survive. For business PhD, there are schools with stipends below $ 20,000 a year, and schools with stipends well over $ 40,000 a year. So, it is very different depending on the school. Stipends for PhD programs for other departments instead of business may be very different too.

An important thing to remember is that it is important to know how much you will earn, but also to have an idea about how much you will spend. A stipend of $ 40,000 may be low for a very expensive city, while a $ 20,000 may be adequate for a city with a lower cost of living.

Some schools inform the value of their stipends. But many don't. A website which may help you to have a better idea about stipends in those cases is PhD Stipends. A source for cost of living data is the Living Wage Calculator.

Additional funds and resources may be provided, depending on the school. Some school have funds available for those interested in specific subjects, or applicants from a certain race, for example. Many schools provide additional funds to help with expenses during a conference presentation too. You should check each program's website and application forms.

Also, check for how long the school is expected to provide you with the financial support I outlined above (4, 5 or 6 years, for example), and what are specific conditions and requirements. An important condition you may find, for example, is that you cannot work somewhere else during your PhD. If you get a job during your PhD, you can lose financial aid from school.

How do I Convert GPA When Applying to a PhD?

So I was asked "how do you calculate the GPA? My transcripts only have percentages mentioned."

I also had a similar problem. In Brazil, there is a variety of grading systems, depending on the school. The system used in my bachelor's transcript was different from my MBA's, which was different from my Master's...

And my bachelor's GPA does not seem great, if you don't know that at my school it was impossible to get a GPA equivalent to a 3.8-4.0, for example. By the way, I explained it in my statement of purpose.

So, how do you calculate the GPA? It depends on the school you're applying to. There was one school who informed at its website how you should make the conversion. There were schools who asked you to not convert at all, but inform them the grade you actually got (be it in letters, percentages, or other numbers) and what is the grade system used by the school. There were schools which asked me about explanations and additional documents after I sent my application, because they were in doubt when reviewing my application. And there were schools which did not inform anything at all about how you should make the conversion. For those cases, I used the WES Calculator, since WES is an organization they usually know about.

Do Schools Look at Both Undergrad and Graduate GPAs in PhD Application?

Here comes the next question: "for GPA, do you know if they only look at bachelors degree grades (all of them) or masters degree grades or both?". Well, I can only speculate or repeat what I've seen other people writing about the subject.

I think they look at both. But the importance they give to each one may be different, for several reasons.

First, the length of a bachelor's is different from a master's. So, a bachelor's may be able to prove more information, and its length is closer to a PhD. It will allow schools to evaluate if you are someone who does great in the beginning, but lose steam in the last years, for example.

Subjects you studied, courses you've taken may also be very different. Maybe you studied a lot of advanced math during your bachelor's, but not during master's (or vice-versa).

So, it makes sense to look at both to find evidence of strentgh or weaknesses which can show if you are a great applicant or not.

During my interview, I noticed that my master's had a great weight when professors were evaluating my profile. Since I'm an older applicant, my bachelor's degree was long ago, it only showed about my potential decades in the past. So, my undergraduate level does not tell them much about how I am nowadays. As I had also decades of professional experience, they were worried that my academic skills might be rusty. However, my master's degree is recent, I got a great GPA, and was in the top of my class in course like quantitative research, which is important to my  PhD program. That's something we talked about during my interview.

Transcripts and Letters of Recommendation in PhD Application

The next question is: "did you have to send transcripts and reference letters individually to each school? It just seems a lot to ask for from referees."

Yes, I did have to send transcripts and letters of recommendation to each school. However, each school may have its own procedures and rules to do that.

First, I'll write about transcripts.

You will need to send transcripts from your undergraduate degree, and also for any graduate degrees you have after that. So, in my case I had to send transcrips from my bachelor's degree, my Executive MBA, and my Master of Science.

If your transcripts are not in English, you will need those transcripts issued in English by your schools or have trem translated. In my case, they are in Portuguese, so I had additional cost to translate all of them.

Most schools require that you send your transcripts online during application, and then you will be asked to provide official printed copies only after you accept an offer. But there exceptions, some schools ask for official printed copies during the application too. Schools usually describe those procedures if you look at their websites.

But there are surprises. I applied to a school which seemed to ask only for online transcripts during application. I did that, but after my application was sent, I received an e-mail informing I should also send official copies to its mail address. So, I had to hurry to provide copies I did not expect to need.

If you will send transcripts online, you will need to scan transcripts. Sounds simple, right? Well, I also had a few surprises during the process. Usually, it is one file for each degree you have. If your transcript has several pages, you should join them in a single file. Several types of files may be accepted, but pdf is a popular choice.

But several of them have a file size limit. You can't send a file of any size. The big problem here is that schools have very different size limits. Some of them allow big files. Some of them allow only ridiculously small files. Take my bachelor's degree transcript as an example. It is several pages long, and I had also to add several pages of translation. It was really hard to adjust the size of over 10 pages of scanned images to a very small size, without rendering the document illegible. So, I had to create files at very different resolutions for different schools. For those which allowed large files, I sent higher resolution scans to be easier to read. For those which allowed small files, I had to create the largest file I could within the limits each school established.

For those schools which require official printed copies, there will be additional bureaucratic procedures to follow. You may be asked to include an ID form in the envelope, for example.

Now, I'll write about Letters of Recommendations.

You will typically need 3 Letters of Recommendations. In rare cases you will only be required to send 2 letters, and in some cases schools allow you to send more than 3 letters if you wish. But 3 is the norm.

Ideally, those letters will come from known and experienced academic researchers who can write in a very positive way about your potential as a researcher. The farther you are from that ideal, the weaker is that letter for you application. If it is not from someone with research expertise, it willl be weaker. If it the evaluation is about other aspects that not research potential, it will be weaker. If it is not positive, it may kill your application.

You will provide schools with the e-mail addresses of your recommenders. Those e-mail addresses should be from institutional domains (name@harvard.edu, for example), and not a generic e-mail (name@gmail.com, for example). After you do that, the school will send an e-mail to those recommenders, who will then have access to the school's system to post their letters of recommendation.

You will not be able to see those letters. You will be able to see the status of those letters. So, you know if a professor has sent a recommendation, or not. You can send a reminder, if a professor is taking too long to sent a letter, or if the deadline is getting dangerously close.

You will be asked if you want to waive the right to review those letters. In my opinion, you should always waive the right. If you do not waive, the person who is recommending you may perceive it in a negative way. Professors may think you don't trust they will write a good letter of recommendation. And, if you don't trust them, why should they help you? And, if you do now waive the right, you will only be able to review that letter after you have been accepted. So, reviewing that letter will not help your application at all, but may have a negative impact.

Is it a lot to ask from referees? Yes, it is.

If your referee is an experienced researcher, he/she will be probably used to the process of writing and sending letters to many schools. They know applicants usually need letters for more than 10 schools. If you ask a recommendation from your boss in a corporation, on the other hand, your recommendation will be weaker since it is not academic and I guess he/she might think you're asking too much.

But remember that your recommender is doing a great favor to you. A professor may also benefit if you get into a great PhD program, but you are the one to get the most from those letters.

So, ask people who have a good relationship with you. People who don't like you, or don't know you, will not want to recommend you. They will decline when you ask, or will write a bad letter.

Also, help them to write the recommendation. Talk to them, send documents which they can use to make a stronger letter (your research paper, for example).

Give them enough time to write and send their letters. They are probably busy people. If you ask them to stop everything they are doing right now and write ten letters because the deadline is tomorrow, the results will not be good.

If you need 3 recommenders, think of more than 3 people who can write those letters. If something happens with the letter of one of them, it is good to have a backup plan.

Keep them informed about the process. You should know the deadlines and which schools did not receive letters yet, not your recommender.

In my case, my letters of recommendation were from 3 professors I studied with during my Master's. One of them was my thesis advisor, a really great professor, who was very supportive during my thesis, always willing to help. He was glad to see that I applied to many schools, for example, since it showed him I really wanted to keep going in my research goals. Another is the co-ordinator of the business graduation program, who also helped a lot during my thesis, and he is very interested in my progress, since that shows my Master's was good for me, and so it can increase the reputation of the program he is responsible for. And the third letter was from a professor who is very experienced in reasearch, with great network, and who was very open to discuss my future in research, and helped me during my first academic event, where I presented my paper.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I Should Apply to How Many Schools?

All, right! Let's go to the next question: "You applied to many schools - Is this the normal way that most applicants go about applying to schools? I was thinking of applying to 5-10 schools in US and Canada. Do you think this is a very low number?"

Well, that's the kind of question that could be discussed over, and over, and over... With no right answer.

The most successful applicant I've seen received 6 offers out of the 14 schools she applied to. But that is really an extraordinary result, not very common from what I've seen. So, I believe that if you apply to only 5 schools, getting 2 offers would be an extraordinary result, getting 1 offer would be a great result, and getting 0 offers would be a more realistic result.

And, even in that case, I see that she has some regret about not applying to more schools. One of the reasons she got so many offers is that she applied only to lower ranked schools, because she thought she was not competitive due to a low GMAT score. Since she got 6 offers from lower ranked schools, it might be very possible that she would get an offer from a higher ranked schools if she had applied to those. Now, she will probably never know for sure. But she is happy with the offers she has, so it is also not such a big deal.

I've seen many applicants regretting the decision to apply to too few schools. I've never seen an applicant regretting applying to too many schools. Remember that the acceptance rate of PhD programs in general is extremely low, and competition is very fierce. Even the strongest applicant will not be showered with offers. Ok, you may be a great applicant, but there are hundreds of great applicants out there. Overestimating your odds may be a costly mistake. As well as underestimating your odds.

So, I believe you should apply to many schools. But that doesn't mean the more, the better. Several things should be taken into consideration before applying to every school out there.

1 - How common is your research interest? If it is common, you will find a lot of schools and professors who are a great fit for you. If it's not so common, or very specific, you will find fewer schools which would be interested in you. In my case, marketing metrics have been a research priority for many years according to the American Marketing Association (AMA), so it was not so hard to find schools which seemed to be interested in that subject like me.

2 -  How sure are you about the strength of your profile? If you are really sure about your competitiveness, you might be able to focus on schools at your level. For example, if you're sure your strength is suited for schools ranked Top 30, you could aply only to schools around that level. But it is extremely hard to assess your strength. So, if you believe your strength is Top 30, but you aren't so sure about that, it is probably a better strategy to apply not only to schools around Top 30, but also above that (Top 10, for example) and below that (Top 50, for example), covering your bases. In my case, people said I was an applicant for a top 25 school. But I really had doubts about it. I saw many strong points in my profile, but also a few weaknesses (like my age, my low GPA even if it was from a top school, and letters of recommendations from professors who are known in Brazil but not necessarily in the US). So, I focused my applications in the top 20-top 30 range, but also applied to schools ranked higher and lower than that.

3 - How much time do you have to prepare your application? Each school you add to your list is more work to be done. What kind of work? Read papers from the professors who are of your interest in each school (some schools may have several professors, each one with several interesting papers to read), and write a different Statement of Purpose for that school (you should not use a standard text for all schools, but I'll write more about it in the future), among other things that you shouldn't do in a hurry. I had a lot of time to prepare my applications, I applied to all of them before the deadline.

4 - How much money do you have saved for applications? Even credit card limits may be considered. Just the application fee is around $ 100 for each school. But total costs may be much higer, sending additional GMAT scores for each school, for example. I had money enough to apply to many schools, I believe it was not something I should be stingy with.

5 - How many schools are you really interested in? Please, only apply to a school if you'd be happy to go there for your PhD. It's annoying to see an applicant receive an offer, and then sound disappointed, planning to give up and try again next year. It's not just annoying, but a waste of time for the applicant, the school, and even other applicants which may be waitlisted because of that. I didn't get accepted by a "dream school" like Harvard, but I'd be more than satisfied to have offers from any schools I applied to. I will also write more later about school selection.

Even with all this, I think 5 is a really small number. I've seen a person who applied to only 1 school. But, then, it was an applicant who had great contacts with professors from that school and knew the chances were very good. I applied to 20 schools, but I was really risk averse, and that number is too much for most applicants. I calculated the average number of applications from a sample of 10 other business PhD applicants, and the average was 12 applications, with a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 18.

Is Research Experience Helpful When Applying to a PhD program?

I'm very happy to be writing my first post that is a reply to a reader's question! Actually, my next posts will all be answering questions.

So, I was asked "From your experience with the application system, do you think having research experience is helpful? I have research experience and published papers in science and engineering so it is not business related."

Please remember that everything I'm writing is based on my limited experience. But I hope I can help. With that in mind, my opinion is that research experience is extremely helpful. For top schools, I believe it is virtually a requirement.

When a school is evaluating your PhD application, they are usually trying to assess the applicant's potential to become a researcher. And one of the best ways for you to do that is to show that you are already on the path of becoming a researcher, that you've done research before and produced results.

If applicants do not have research experience, they can say they have potential. But when they have experience, they have proof or at least some evidence. Of course it's very rare for an applicant to have extensive research experience. So, a little experience may be enough to put you ahead in competition.

One of the documents you will send to schools when applying is your resume. Your resume will look stronger with research experience.

Many schools will ask you to send a sample of your research (a paper, for example). Your application will look stronger with a paper attached, when compared to those without experience.

If you have research experience, you probably can get Letters of Recommendation from professors who can attest to your capacity to do research. Without research experience, the recommendations you get will be probably a lot weaker.

With research experience, it's going to be easier to answer "What is research to you?". I was asked something along those lines during my interview.

Research experience will also help you to find the best schools, programs, and faculty for your research. One without such experience will probably have a hard time trying to find which papers are relevant for your research interests, who wrote those papers, and from which schools they are.

An applicant who has research experience is also expected to have a lot more experience reading an academic paper, and discussing it. When a professor interviews you, you are many times expected to have some knowledge of the paper published by that professor. An interview can be a much better experience when you can talk to the professor about previous work.

So, having research experience may reap several benefits during the application process. Of course someone without such experience may compensate in other ways and still be able to prove research potential. But it's much more difficult.

In my case, I do not have a paper published yet. I wrote a paper based on my Master's thesis, and I'm trying to publish it somewhere. I presented that paper at the most important business science event in Brazil, in the Marketing category.

Even if your experience is science and engineering papers, it should still me a lot more than most applicants have achieved when applying to a PhD.