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How can I overcome the lack of recommendations and research experience?

ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
edited March 2012 in Graduate School
I am now 4.5 years out of college. I majored in Computer Science. It is my dream to become an expert in robotics, so this question is about research graduate degrees.

I have some very good relationships with past bosses, but I fostered almost no relationships with my college professors. I also have no real research experience. I also have very little experience with robotics itself (it just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?). And my math isn't particularly good, so I may need to re-take some of those classes before I can really be competent in the field.

I should make clear that I have no doubts about being a successful roboticist. I just goofed off in college, that's all. Now I'm worried I've squandered my opportunity.

Without going into too much detail, I will say that, on the positive side, I was *technically* a research assistant and have my name on a published paper. The professor who I assisted can give me a decent recommendation, however ... the professor now works at a very small and mediocre college, and the paper was all but worthless. I don't expect them to impress very much. And I don't think there are any other professors who would even remember me at all.

I'm also getting old (I'm 27), so I'd like to apply this year (for Fall 2013). I'm trying to start a personal robotics project, but free time is limited.

What can I do??
Post edited by ntraft on

Replies to: How can I overcome the lack of recommendations and research experience?

  • awvvuawvvu Registered User Posts: 134 Junior Member
    It's unlikely you'll get into a PhD program. You could go for a Master's, get letters of rec and research from there, and then apply to PhD programs. If the only thing that's relevant currently to robotics is the personal project, then you'll have to work hard on that to get into a Master's program.

    Some schools may offer coursework Master's and have relatively high admission percentages, but the expectation is that you'll have to pay for it.
  • ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
    Right, that's what I was afraid of. In reality, I think all I want is to take some courses to better prepare me for a job in robotics, but I don't want to pay for a master's. I am not planning on going on to a professorship, I want to enter the industry, but it seems like more classes are the only way in, for me.

    Are there any ways to have a master's paid for?
  • tetrahedr0ntetrahedr0n Registered User Posts: 1,954 Senior Member
    Are there any ways to have a master's paid for?

    Sure, if you had an excellent undergrad record, along with excellent research experience and recommendation letters. In other words, the stuff that you don't have.

    The only possibility for you is your employer paying for a master's program or for additional courses. If your current employer isn't interested in you getting into robotics, you're going to have to front that money yourself.
  • ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
    How about a less-than-stellar PhD program? Are there no grad programs who accept people like me, with experience in industry but not in research?
  • Thomas_Thomas_ Registered User Posts: 629 Member
    Think about this: Why would a school *pay for* someone who is, in their opinion, very likely to drop out and doesn't bring much to the table? I am not saying that you actually *are* likely to drop out, but the hard facts are pointing in that direction.

    1. No research experience -> Unlikely to know what's involved in research. Does not have experience with the rigor that's necessary.
    2."Very little experience with robotics" -> Does not know much about the subject, possibly a person who just thinks it's cool. That could mean your image of what robotics is is very different from what you actually will be doing in a PhD program.
    3. "And my math isn't particularly good" -> Pretty obvious, there's a lot of complicated math involved in your subject.

    I don't know you, this is not *my* opinion, but what I think your CV will look like to the admission committee who doesn't know you as a person either.

    I don't know if there are PhD programs you would have a shot at, but I highly doubt that you'll find any program that will pay for you.

    In my opinion you should go for a Masters to make up for the points above. You'd have to pay for it but if you do well you'd stand a decent chance to get funded for a PhD program somewhere.
  • ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
    Yeah, I know I must come off as an entitled ass, but I'm looking at it from this perspective: how much more research experience do most candidates have? I did have an assistantship, I just don't think I did anything very significant with it.

    There are a whole lot of people nowadays staying in school and avoiding the real world after they graduate. Granted most of them aren't getting assistantships, but there must be some number of students who are making a personal connection with a professor and convincing them that they can handle the work. Don't you think this is very well possible, even likely? Most graduate students came straight from undergrad, and I just don't see many undergrads with significant research.

    With all that in mind, I came here looking for ideas of how to improve myself and my resume. I wasn't expecting a flat "it's impossible, go get a loan." I intentionally down-played my own merits for the sake of the question, but clearly I went too far.
  • polarscribepolarscribe Registered User Posts: 3,232 Senior Member
    Most candidates in that field likely have at least one REU under their belts and have significant engineering coursework.

    There are no magic words that will make you a standout candidate who would be competitive for assistantship funding. Your best bet is to find a field-related job or internship to gain experience, then apply later.

    As for the advice... I don't know about some of the other forums, but on the grad school board, we don't toss around feel-good ********. The fact is, your current resume doesn't have any reason for a graduate committee to pull your application out of the stack and take a closer look. That you "have no doubts" of your ability is interesting, but won't convince anyone that matters.
  • 2bornot2bivy2bornot2bivy Registered User Posts: 398 Member
    ntraft == You won't know the answer as to how your own app will do unless you apply but be prepared to pay for that Master's. Very few Master's are funded; funding is usually reserved for PhDs. Would not recommend a "less than stellar" or any PhD program to you given your comments. It takes about 4/5 years to get a PhD and you are not allowed to work in outside job during that time as you are doing fulltime research for your univ. It takes sacrifice and dedication to get any phD. This does not sound like a path you want to pursue.
  • ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
    Well, okay, so what do you think of these qualifications:

    1. Undergraduate research assistant in robotics, helped a professor and her students with projects involving Sony Aibo robot dogs.
    2. Exhibited and published a paper on a robotics project at AAAI '06 conference.
    3. Was a member of a semi-finalist team for the 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge (robotics competition).
    4. Worked for two years at a robotics startup (the only problem being that I did the 3D graphics and user interface, not the AI).

    Where do you think that puts me?
  • ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
    It takes sacrifice and dedication to get any phD. This does not sound like a path you want to pursue.

    I am quite sure I want a PhD. I need to work on the cutting edge. I've been working long enough to know that I will not be satisfied otherwise. I'm ready to make the sacrifice, I just was hoping it wouldn't be monetary. :-/
  • polarscribepolarscribe Registered User Posts: 3,232 Senior Member
    That is a significant resume and I'm not sure why you didn't discuss it earlier. You made it sound like you had no experience in the field!
  • ntraftntraft Registered User Posts: 15 New Member
    Yeah, well, I guess it sounded like I have no experience because that's how I feel. :-P

    Basically, I have been in touch with the field of robotics but I don't know if a professor would look at my experience and consider it to be significant. Yes, I was a member of those teams but my personal role was seldom research-oriented.

    So I was just trying to gauge how much that will hurt me (and judging by the thread so far I think the answer is, "a lot").

    I'm also wondering whether they care to read a recommendation from a past employer, or if that matters at all. My boss at the robotics company got his PhD while I was there and we even had a class together, so I figured that would be a good recommendation letter. But other than him and the other professor, I'm not sure where to go for rec letters.
This discussion has been closed.