Differences

This shows you the differences between two versions of the page.

Link to this comparison view

Both sides previous revision Previous revision
Next revision
Previous revision
application_and_interview_process [2020/07/03 19:17]
mwgorges
application_and_interview_process [2020/07/07 02:18] (current)
nagaraj changed headers
Line 1: Line 1:
-====== Timeline ​======+==== Timeline ====
 To succeed in the PhD application process, you should give yourself ample time to prepare. As we will detail in the following section, there are numerous parts of the application. Some parts can be done relatively quickly – such as finding and uploading a transcript – and other parts require serious time commitment – such as doing research with faculty members.  ​ To succeed in the PhD application process, you should give yourself ample time to prepare. As we will detail in the following section, there are numerous parts of the application. Some parts can be done relatively quickly – such as finding and uploading a transcript – and other parts require serious time commitment – such as doing research with faculty members.  ​
  
 In the below section, we outline an ideal timeline for an applicant. Of course, we recognize that most people will not follow this timeline exactly, and many will be able to complete some steps in this timeline more quickly. Rather, this timeline should serve as a benchmark as you go along your PhD application journey. For reference, most programs have application deadlines that range from early December to early January. In the below section, we outline an ideal timeline for an applicant. Of course, we recognize that most people will not follow this timeline exactly, and many will be able to complete some steps in this timeline more quickly. Rather, this timeline should serve as a benchmark as you go along your PhD application journey. For reference, most programs have application deadlines that range from early December to early January.
  
-{{:​illustrative_application_timeline.png?​direct&​400|Illustrative Application Timeline}}+{{:​illustrative_application_timeline.png|Illustrative Application Timeline}}
  
-Some quick notes on the timeline. We include a section that involves “Assist faculty member with research.” Though this is not 100% necessary, our experience indicates that research experience gives your application a strong edge in the selection process. The reason for this is three-fold: 1) prior research experience shows that you know what you are getting into and demonstrates your commitment to academia, 2) research experience signals some degree of preparation which may make you more successful in the PhD program, and 3) if you work on research specifically in a business school this can give you an “in” to the research community you are hoping to join. Notably in our survey, we found that 44 of our 46 surveyed admitted students had some form of research experience before applying. We will discuss this step in more detail in the section ​on the the RA path to the PhD.+Some quick notes on the timeline. We include a section that involves “Assist faculty member with research.” Though this is not 100% necessary, our experience indicates that research experience gives your application a strong edge in the selection process. The reason for this is three-fold: 1) prior research experience shows that you know what you are getting into and demonstrates your commitment to academia, 2) research experience signals some degree of preparation which may make you more successful in the PhD program, and 3) if you work on research specifically in a business school this can give you an “in” to the research community you are hoping to join. Notably in our survey, we found that 44 of our 46 surveyed admitted students had some form of research experience before applying. We will discuss this step in more detail in the section ​"Path to PhD: the Rise of the Predoctoral Research Job."
  
 We do not include your graduate or undergraduate studies as part of the timeline, though they remain important in the application. Broadly, the expectation is that you perform well during both of those periods. Of the admitted students we surveyed, the average GPA was roughly a 3.85 with a standard deviation of .12. However, we saw GPAs in the survey range from 3.5 to 4.0. In general, the common wisdom is that a strong GPA is necessary but not sufficient for a successful application. We do not include your graduate or undergraduate studies as part of the timeline, though they remain important in the application. Broadly, the expectation is that you perform well during both of those periods. Of the admitted students we surveyed, the average GPA was roughly a 3.85 with a standard deviation of .12. However, we saw GPAs in the survey range from 3.5 to 4.0. In general, the common wisdom is that a strong GPA is necessary but not sufficient for a successful application.
Line 12: Line 12:
 We recommend that applicants get ahead of the schedule for applying. One faculty member at HBS, who completed their PhD at Stanford in 3 years, advised that you should be done with almost all parts of the application by August or September (which is even more aggressive than our timeline above). Front-loading your application efforts provides more ample time for revision and can reduce the stress during the final few weeks of submission. We recommend that applicants get ahead of the schedule for applying. One faculty member at HBS, who completed their PhD at Stanford in 3 years, advised that you should be done with almost all parts of the application by August or September (which is even more aggressive than our timeline above). Front-loading your application efforts provides more ample time for revision and can reduce the stress during the final few weeks of submission.
  
-====== Choosing Where to Apply ======+==== Choosing Where to Apply ====
 One of the most important steps before beginning the application is to identify the PhD programs to which you want to apply. In general, applicants should first select their broader field of interest (e.g., accounting, finance, business economics, strategy, etc.). Next, they should begin to identify some questions or topics they find interesting (e.g., social networks, status hierarchy, VC flow of capital, etc.). Finally, after selecting their intended field and topics of study, they should identify the top programs (and specific faculty within those programs) that match their own particular research interests. One of the most important steps before beginning the application is to identify the PhD programs to which you want to apply. In general, applicants should first select their broader field of interest (e.g., accounting, finance, business economics, strategy, etc.). Next, they should begin to identify some questions or topics they find interesting (e.g., social networks, status hierarchy, VC flow of capital, etc.). Finally, after selecting their intended field and topics of study, they should identify the top programs (and specific faculty within those programs) that match their own particular research interests.
  
Line 41: Line 41:
 Finally, reaching out to faculty members of interest can be a useful way to gain information about programs and to introduce yourself to potential advisors. Because faculty members are busy, we would suggest reaching out to those faculty members with whom you share A) a clear research alignment, B) a connected trait (e.g., same undergrad school, same hometown, etc.), or C) a mutual connection. In general, faculty members are often open to talking with serious applicants and discussing their own research. Whenever possible, in-person meetings are more effective and produce a more positive memory than meetings online. While reaching out to faculty members can be helpful in the application process, it is not strictly necessary. For example, Megan did not contact faculty members at her target programs prior to applying. Finally, reaching out to faculty members of interest can be a useful way to gain information about programs and to introduce yourself to potential advisors. Because faculty members are busy, we would suggest reaching out to those faculty members with whom you share A) a clear research alignment, B) a connected trait (e.g., same undergrad school, same hometown, etc.), or C) a mutual connection. In general, faculty members are often open to talking with serious applicants and discussing their own research. Whenever possible, in-person meetings are more effective and produce a more positive memory than meetings online. While reaching out to faculty members can be helpful in the application process, it is not strictly necessary. For example, Megan did not contact faculty members at her target programs prior to applying.
  
-===== Ways to distinguish programs=====+==== Ways to distinguish programs====
 There are numerous ways to distinguish programs. We identify a few axes to consider when deciding where to apply. Oftentimes it will be difficult, if not impossible, to understand these differences between programs without speaking to people in them or in the field. There are numerous ways to distinguish programs. We identify a few axes to consider when deciding where to apply. Oftentimes it will be difficult, if not impossible, to understand these differences between programs without speaking to people in them or in the field.
  
Line 66: Line 66:
 An ideal program will have a mix of both senior and junior faculty with whom you can collaborate on research so that you can balance the pros and cons of each. An ideal program will have a mix of both senior and junior faculty with whom you can collaborate on research so that you can balance the pros and cons of each.
  
-===== To how many programs should I apply?=====+==== To how many programs should I apply====
 In general, we recommend applying to more programs rather than fewer, given the low admission rates at each of these programs (roughly 4-7%) and the low marginal cost of applying to an additional program. In our case, Stephen applied to 7 programs and Megan applied to 11 programs. Our survey respondents applied to an average of 8 programs (with a standard deviation of 5.5). That said, we do not think you should apply to any programs that you would not consider attending – this is a waste of effort on your part and potentially could block out another deserving candidate. In general, we recommend applying to more programs rather than fewer, given the low admission rates at each of these programs (roughly 4-7%) and the low marginal cost of applying to an additional program. In our case, Stephen applied to 7 programs and Megan applied to 11 programs. Our survey respondents applied to an average of 8 programs (with a standard deviation of 5.5). That said, we do not think you should apply to any programs that you would not consider attending – this is a waste of effort on your part and potentially could block out another deserving candidate.
  
Line 100: Line 100:
  
 =====Letters of Recommendation===== =====Letters of Recommendation=====
- Most programs will require you to include three letters of recommendation with your application (with some asking for only two and others allowing up to five). Both the source and content of your letters are very important, and together they should send the message that you demonstrate excellent potential for a career in research at a business school.+Most programs will require you to include three letters of recommendation with your application (with some asking for only two and others allowing up to five). Both the source and content of your letters are very important, and together they should send the message that you demonstrate excellent potential for a career in research at a business school.
  
 The business school academic community is small and tight-knit, and your network can play a key role in your success in the application process. Ideally, your letters should come from business school faculty members with whom you have worked on research (and the more senior and well-known the faculty member, and the closer their connections to your programs of interest, the better). They will be in the best position to speak to your potential, and their letter will get you noticed by the other faculty members in their network. If you cannot get a letter from a business school faculty member, the next-best option is to request one from a faculty member in another discipline. If you find that you can't identify enough letter writers in your immediate academic environment,​ consider taking a non-degree course at a local university, engaging with the professor, and asking them to write a letter. Once you have exhausted your options within academia, you can then consider soliciting letters from your other connections (such as work supervisors). The business school academic community is small and tight-knit, and your network can play a key role in your success in the application process. Ideally, your letters should come from business school faculty members with whom you have worked on research (and the more senior and well-known the faculty member, and the closer their connections to your programs of interest, the better). They will be in the best position to speak to your potential, and their letter will get you noticed by the other faculty members in their network. If you cannot get a letter from a business school faculty member, the next-best option is to request one from a faculty member in another discipline. If you find that you can't identify enough letter writers in your immediate academic environment,​ consider taking a non-degree course at a local university, engaging with the professor, and asking them to write a letter. Once you have exhausted your options within academia, you can then consider soliciting letters from your other connections (such as work supervisors).
Line 110: Line 110:
 Once you have your letter writers lined up, you must turn your attention to logistics management. Much helpful advice for tackling this challenge has already been shared (notably, [[https://​athey.people.stanford.edu/​professional-advice|Susan Athey’s list of tips]]). Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for them to submit their letters on time and to the correct schools. This will likely entail A) emailing them a summary of your shared research or other experiences with the faculty member (make it easy for them to remember!), your draft statement of purpose and CV, and a list of all the schools to which you are applying and when you intend to submit your application,​ B) coordinating with the professor (and potentially their faculty assistant) on when to trigger the email invitations for them to submit each letter (some recommenders will prefer that you invite them to submit letters for all applications at once so that the links are easy to find in their inbox), and C) following up with them regularly (and politely) until they submit their letter to each school. Once they have finished submitting their letters, it is a great idea to mail them a handwritten thank you card to communicate how much you appreciate their support. Once you have your letter writers lined up, you must turn your attention to logistics management. Much helpful advice for tackling this challenge has already been shared (notably, [[https://​athey.people.stanford.edu/​professional-advice|Susan Athey’s list of tips]]). Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for them to submit their letters on time and to the correct schools. This will likely entail A) emailing them a summary of your shared research or other experiences with the faculty member (make it easy for them to remember!), your draft statement of purpose and CV, and a list of all the schools to which you are applying and when you intend to submit your application,​ B) coordinating with the professor (and potentially their faculty assistant) on when to trigger the email invitations for them to submit each letter (some recommenders will prefer that you invite them to submit letters for all applications at once so that the links are easy to find in their inbox), and C) following up with them regularly (and politely) until they submit their letter to each school. Once they have finished submitting their letters, it is a great idea to mail them a handwritten thank you card to communicate how much you appreciate their support.
  
-Statement of Purpose +=====Statement of Purpose===== 
- The statement of purpose (SOP) is your opportunity to communicate a compelling narrative about who you are, where you come from, where you want to go in the future, and why [insert school here] is the best academic community for you to join as you ascend to greatness. The SOP is a key part of your application and deserves a significant investment of your time and effort.+The statement of purpose (SOP) is your opportunity to communicate a compelling narrative about who you are, where you come from, where you want to go in the future, and why [insert school here] is the best academic community for you to join as you ascend to greatness. The SOP is a key part of your application and deserves a significant investment of your time and effort.
  
 Before you can communicate your research identity to admissions committees, you need to figure it out for yourself. The most important step here is to understand your research interests to the best of your ability. Once you have that piece, you will be able to sort through your experiences to tease out the important moments that led you to those interests so that you can craft a cohesive narrative. The best way to narrow down your interests is to engage with a lot of research. Read many journal articles, and take note of the ones that excite you most. Stephen, for example, read a number of research articles across micro and macro organizational behavior to choose which side he fell on. Before you can communicate your research identity to admissions committees, you need to figure it out for yourself. The most important step here is to understand your research interests to the best of your ability. Once you have that piece, you will be able to sort through your experiences to tease out the important moments that led you to those interests so that you can craft a cohesive narrative. The best way to narrow down your interests is to engage with a lot of research. Read many journal articles, and take note of the ones that excite you most. Stephen, for example, read a number of research articles across micro and macro organizational behavior to choose which side he fell on.
Line 123: Line 123:
 Once you have written the core content of your statement, is it time to edit ruthlessly. Most schools set a limit of 1000 words, with a few allowing up to 2000. It is important to get multiple people to review your statement. If you feel that you need significant improvement on the less academia-specific aspects of your essay such as the logical flow and sentence structure, be sure to get feedback from people close to you, such as friends and family, before asking your more academic reviewers. Receiving feedback from current professors and graduate students in your field of interest is the best way to ensure that your essay is up to par. They will be able to notice the logical gaps, unfortunate language choices, or annoying cliches that could otherwise turn off admissions reviewers. Be sure to leave significant time (a few weeks to a month) for this review process. ​ Once you have written the core content of your statement, is it time to edit ruthlessly. Most schools set a limit of 1000 words, with a few allowing up to 2000. It is important to get multiple people to review your statement. If you feel that you need significant improvement on the less academia-specific aspects of your essay such as the logical flow and sentence structure, be sure to get feedback from people close to you, such as friends and family, before asking your more academic reviewers. Receiving feedback from current professors and graduate students in your field of interest is the best way to ensure that your essay is up to par. They will be able to notice the logical gaps, unfortunate language choices, or annoying cliches that could otherwise turn off admissions reviewers. Be sure to leave significant time (a few weeks to a month) for this review process. ​
  
 +======Interviews======
 +Once admissions committees have reviewed applications and identified a short list of promising candidates, they will reach out to these individuals to schedule interviews. Most top programs require interviews, with some exceptions (which vary by year and by applicant). From the perspective of an applicant, it appears that the interviews serve two purposes: A) to help programs distinguish and prioritize between applicants who look equally good on paper, and B) to weed out applicants who appear interpersonally unpleasant (e.g., are excessively arrogant or unable to hold a conversation). ​
 +
 +=====Format=====
 +The vast majority of interviews take place virtually (e.g., via a video call), with only a couple of programs opting to fly candidates out for in-person interviews. If you are invited to an in-person interview, schools generally provide hotel lodging and pay for all travel expenses. The most common form that interviews take is a 30 minute virtual meeting with one or more professors (often faculty members you mentioned in your application),​ where they will ask you a handful of questions and leave time for you to ask questions of them. Often, you will be asked to interview individually with multiple professors. For Megan, the highest number of interviews for a single program was seven (at an in-person interview day), the lowest (aside from those with no interviews at all) was two, and the average was around three. For Stephen, only one program had more than one interview. All others were a single interview with a few faculty members or no interviews at all. Other applicants report a wide array of interview experiences,​ with some having only minimal interviews (and no more than one per program) and others having many more interviews for the same program due to their interest in working with specific faculty members.
 +
 +====Common questions and preparation====
 +Interviews for PhD programs are very similar to interviewing for competitive jobs, and the questions are usually fairly standard and intuitive. [[https://​docs.google.com/​document/​d/​1JWzMdFJiC_DwdzIrp4e8_aSqlehnQp6aqR-khkaO1fg/​edit?​usp=sharing|Here is a list of all of the questions we were asked]] in our interviews (schools anonymized). Some commonly asked questions (and their equivalent versions) include:
 +  *Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your background and interests.
 +  *Why do you want to do a PhD?
 +  *Why did you choose to apply to this subfield rather than other subfields? Why business academia instead of psychology/​sociology/​economics academia?
 +  *Why this program? Which faculty would you see yourself collaborating with?
 +  *Is there a particular research question you are interested in pursuing? If you were in a PhD program right now and had unlimited funding, what study would you want to run?
 +  *What questions do you have for me? (Megan had multiple interviews where this was the only question asked, so it is important to have a sizable bank of questions prepared.)
 +
 +You may also be asked to articulate a vision for your career (e.g., 20 years down the line, what do you envision yourself doing and what impact would you have made on the field?), identify your favorite researcher or favorite research article, share about your strengths and weaknesses, or discuss one of your failures and what you learned from that experience. For some programs, interviewers may delve deep into the methods (e.g., experiments,​ statistics, identification for econ-related fields, etc.) you may use to test a research idea proposed in your statement of purpose, ask you to interpret the results in some hypothetical data, or analyze a research paper (shared in advance to allow time for you to prepare your thoughts).
 +
 +It is a good idea to prepare thoroughly for each of your interviews, both by reading up on your interviewers and by thinking through your answers to commonly asked questions. You will likely spend the most time preparing for your first interview, because you will need to craft your messaging about your journey to the PhD, your research interests, and your intended path forward in academia. Then, for each interview you should spend a couple of hours reading the interviewer’s CV and latest and most cited papers, reviewing your statement of purpose and your match with other professors at that school, and preparing your particular questions about the program and your faculty of interest.
 +
 +During your interviews, do your best to have fun and enjoy the experience! This is a rare and precious opportunity to discuss exciting ideas with some of the most influential researchers in the field. Though not required, it is recommended to follow up with a brief note thanking your interviewer for taking the time to meet with you.
 +
 +====Path to PhD: the Rise of the Predoctoral Research Job====
 +As we met our potential incoming cohorts during school visits, we started to notice a trend: many successful applicants had one to two years of post-undergraduate,​ predoctoral research experience working as a lab manager or research associate at a business school. At one school, for example, of the six students accepted across the macro/micro organizational behavior program, only one (Stephen) had not previously worked in a research job. In our survey of admitted students, 61% had worked in predoctoral research jobs before applying. Mirroring the rise of postdocs on the back end of the PhD, there seems to be a proliferation of these predoc positions, likely for the same reason: candidates seeking to differentiate themselves and enhance their credibility as a researcher in an increasingly competitive field. ​
 +
 +Megan took this path in positioning herself for the application process, and noticed several advantages gained from this approach, all of which cluster around a central theme: embeddedness in business school academia. To be clear, this is not a necessary path – Stephen did not become an RA and instead focused on using his research experience in college and his research collaborations post-graduation to position himself, and other applicants have successfully gained admission with work experience in the private sector (e.g., consulting and finance).
 +
 +It is important to note that predoctoral research jobs often pay very little and thus may not be financially feasible for some. In these cases, you can still gain research experience and many of the attendant benefits by volunteering as a research assistant for a particular project on a part-time basis (e.g., 5-10 hours per week) while maintaining a full-time job.
 +
 +=====Gaining research experience=====
 +Any predoctoral research position you accept should give you the opportunity to participate directly in most (if not all) aspects of the research process. This is a great way to hone your research skills and gain a better understanding of your interests. Ideally, you would work for a faculty member who is excited about involving you in their research as an author so that you can begin to build your research pipeline and CV before beginning a PhD program (though bear in mind that it usually takes years for a project to progress from data collection to publication). This research experience may be especially valuable to applicants who have not previously worked as an undergraduate research assistant, or who worked in an unrelated job between their undergraduate/​master’s degree and applying to PhD programs.
 +
 +=====Building relationships with faculty and students=====
 +In the best predoctoral research positions, you will be working very closely with at least one faculty member. If you perform well and are able to form a strong relationship with this faculty member, they will likely be the most valuable advocate for you in the application process. They will be able to write a well-informed letter of recommendation and may draw upon their own connections to encourage programs to consider your application. ​
 +
 +Beyond the most obvious benefit of a strong letter of recommendation,​ connections with both students and faculty can provide you with valuable information and advice about the application process, specific programs and faculty members, and launching a career in academia. Because Megan was a lab manager, she had access to multiple faculty members and grad students to review her essays, received a crash course from a helpful post doc about a particular faculty member’s research right before a surprise interview, and entered into the PhD application market with other well-informed lab managers from her department with whom she could share tips and tricks. ​
 +
 +===== A window into the academic experience=====
 +Working in a research job at a business school is also an excellent way to figure out if this is the best career path for you. Ideally, this role will embed you into the rhythms of academic life that you would experience as a PhD student and faculty member. You get to see what it means to think about research, work individually on challenging new tasks, meet with collaborators at the peer and advisor level, and participate in department events such as colloquia, seminars, and journal clubs. This experience may confirm that business school academia is the life for you. Alternatively,​ it may help you learn that academia is not for you and allow you to extricate yourself without having committed to a PhD program. Either way, you will have gained valuable self-knowledge and a clearer vision for your future.
 +
 +=====Landing a predoctoral research job=====
 +Now that we have described the opportunities unlocked through a predoctoral position, you may be asking how to get started. These are difficult positions to find because they are somewhat scarce and are often advertised and filled through informal networks rather than official recruitment postings. A good first step is to contact anyone with whom you have an existing connection in business school academia (or a related field), tell them you are searching for a predoctoral research job, and ask that they let you know if they hear of any opportunities. Then, you should find any websites that aggregate relevant job opportunities and subscribe to their feeds. For example, Harvard Psychology maintains a [[https://​undergrad.psychology.fas.harvard.edu/​post-graduate-research-jobs|page for post graduate research jobs]] which occasionally lists roles relevant to micro organizational behavior, and the Twitter account [[https://​twitter.com/​econ_ra?​s=20|econ_ra]] shares open Research Assistant roles in Economics. At time of writing, Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB both have official programs for pre-docs with [[https://​www.hbs.edu/​ra/​Pages/​default.aspx|HBS’ RA program]] (this program includes opportunities for individuals seeking to prepare for either MBA or PhD applications,​ so it is important to clearly communicate your desire for a predoctoral role) and Stanford’s [[https://​www.gsb.stanford.edu/​programs/​research-fellows|Research Fellows Program,]] and the [[https://​www.gsb.stanford.edu/​faculty-research/​labs/​behavioral-lab|Stanford GSB Behavioral Lab]] also hires multiple Research Coordinators each year who often go on to business school PhD programs. Northwestern,​ Columbia, and NYU also have predoctoral job opportunities,​ though at the time of writing they are somewhat smaller. ​
 +
 +Even in these formal programs, but especially for schools without them (the majority), reaching out directly to faculty is critical. Spend time to craft excellent cold emails to professors to inquire if they may be looking for a lab manager or research associate. You should approach these cold emails as miniature statements of purpose; you must concisely state who you are and why you are emailing them, provide a compelling summary of your background (tastefully name-dropping any other professors you have worked with), and communicate what excites you about contributing to their research. Do not be discouraged by non-responses. Because these jobs are quite rare, you may need to reach out to dozens of faculty (if not more), and should plan to cast your net as wide as you are willing to move.
 +
 +Once you have found a professor who is in fact hiring a lab manager or research assistant, you will need to interview for the job. This interview process will likely be very similar to a PhD admissions interview, though perhaps more relaxed around understanding your specific research interests. The interview and selection process can be quite competitive,​ but take solace in the knowledge that if you receive an offer, you will have placed yourself in one of the most dominant pipelines into top business school PhD programs.