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PhD Programs

The information for PhD Programs will appear soon


What is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D. is a long, in depth research exploration of one topic. By long we’re typically talking about 6 years. By in depth we mean that at the end of the Ph.D. you will be the world expert or close to it in your particular area. You will know more than your advisor about your particular research area. You will know about your research than anyone at your school. By one we mean that by the last couple years of your Ph.D., you will typically be working on only one narrow problem. The Ph.D. is not about breadth, it is about depth.

 

Lack of emphasis on courses

The M.S. and B.A. degrees are about breadth not depth. The emphasis in the Ph.D. is not on classes, but rather on research. A Ph.D. student will typically take classes only when he feels that they will be useful in the particular research topic.

 

The research process and advisor/advisee relationships

As stated earlier, the main focus of a Ph.D. is on research. You typically begin your research at the time when you select an advisor.

Research is very different from taking classes. Many students never make the transition between taking classes and doing research – in fact, at most universities only 1/2 of the students who enter the Ph.D. program leave with a Ph.D.

Some key differences between classes and research:

  • In classes, the homework problems all have known answers and the techniques needed for solving the problems have (usually) been introduced in class. In research, you may be working on a problem for years without a clue of whether it is solvable. You will be the one inventing or finding the techniques for solving the problem.
  • In classes, you are assigned certain problems to work on. In research, you get to pick the problems. In fact it is your job to find good problems. By “good” we mean problems which are “fundamental.” You are also responsible for making sure that no one else has already solved this problem. This typically involves reading hundreds of papers on earlier research in this area.
  • In classes, if you can’t solve your homework problem, you can always ask other classmates. Even if none of your classmates know, you can ask the professor, who certainly knows the answer. In research, you are often working alone, or at best with you advisor and maybe one other student. You are free to ask anyone in the world for help, but they will typically not be able to help you, since they don’t know the answer either – if they did, it wouldn’t be research. Many students have a hard time with working independently.
  • In classes, you are constantly being given grades and you are constantly being told what to do next. In research, there are no grades. There is some instruction (from your advisor), but mostly it’s up to you to be self-motivated and pro-active.

 

Keep in mind that no one can give you a complete picture of what research is. The best way to learn what research is, and whether you like it, is simply to start doing it. The earlier the better!

 

Funding during the Ph.D

Ideally, your only responsibility will be research. This is called doing an RAship (Research Assistantship). You can only do an RAship if you have an advisor who has funding for you.

There are many companies and government organizations which offer Graduate Fellowships for Ph.D. students. If you are lucky enough to get one of these, they will cover your full way through graduate school, and you will never have to worry about whether your advisor has funding or not.

 

Should I get a Ph.D.?

Here are some things to keep in mind when making this decision:

  • A Ph.D. is not for everyone!
  • A Ph.D requires 3 years on average. The opportunity cost is high.
  • Do not even think of applying for a Ph.D. if you have not tried research.
  • A Ph.D. requires a particular type of personality. You need to be someone who is obsessed with figuring out a problem. You need to have tremendous perseverance and be capable of hard work. You need to be willing to do whatever it takes to solve your problem (e.g., take additional math classes, learn a whole new scientific area, etc.).
  • You need to know why you want a Ph.D. You need to have vision and ideas and you need to be able to express yourself.

 

The Application Process

The Ph.D. application has several parts:

Transcript – Grades and classes

Personal Statement

Previous research experience (possibly in industry)

Recommendation letters

Awards and extracurricular activities