Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advice On Grad School Applications

Research statements, recommendation letters, GREs. 'Tis the season again for grad school applications. To save all the kiddies from embarrassment and rejection (which typically implies you'll just end up making more money at some tech company), I decided to write a list of DOs and DON'Ts to follow when writing your application. Perhaps the sage readers will have more advice in the comments.

1. DON'T start your research statement with a quote from Albert Einstein. You may think that's a good idea, but so do the other 50% of the applicants. Hell, don't start it with any quote, unless it's from something like Gossip Girl. XOXO.

2. DON'T say you've wanted to be a professor since you were 4 years old. We won't believe you. When you were 4, you either wanted to be a policeman, an astronaut, or a firefighter. Admit it.

3. Computer Science is a field with many fads. Therefore, DON'T say you want to do research on genetic algorithms, or expert systems. Those are so 1980s. DO say you want to work on algorithmic game theory, cloud computing, or green computing.

4. DON'T have your recommenders write that you are "from a good family." Unless that family has a Turing Award or two, we don't care.

5. DON'T say you have a proof that P != NP and that you will only show it to us if we admit you. We may have admitted a guy like that once, but this mistake will not be repeated, so come up with your own gimmick.

6. DON'T start your statement with "respected sirs." There are women in the faculty too, you know.

7. DO mention the name of a professor that you want to work with, but make sure the professor is still alive.

8. DON'T have a "recommender loop" in which you write a recommendation letter for somebody that is writing a recommendation letter for you. At least make the cycle of longer length to confuse us a bit.

9. DO read over the version of the application that you submit to each school after doing a find-and-replace for the school name. Typos can creep up -- "I've always wanted to go to MIT, because the Barkeley faculty are the best."