Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pursuing a PhD in USA

Thanks to my Cousin Ramakrishna Tippireddy for sharing these details and his experience. He did his bachelors and masters from India and is currently pursuing his PhD from the University of Southern California.

The Important First Step

Before you get started with the application process, it is important for you to be clear on why you want to do your PhD. Once you are clear start researching about your areas of interest and search for the Professors and research groups working in those fields. Contact the Professors with your CV and express your interest in their work. If they like your CV they may show special interest during the application process which makes a big difference to your application.

PhD Application process:

The PhD application process is similar to that of Masters (MS). At a high level these are the key areas which will be covered in detail in the sections below.

1) Decide on the area of research
2) Choose a University
3) Get in touch with the Academic Advisor and apply.

Application requirements:

1) Undergraduate/Masters GPA
You can apply for PhD with a Bachelors Degree. Having a Masters degree is not a requirement .While doing PhD, you can also get a masters degree simultaneously. In either case, GPA is an important criterion. The GPA from the last two years of college is the key.

2) Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores

GRE is also very important and different universities give different weightage for GRE.GRE is mandatory.


TOEFL exam is required for international students whose native language is not English

4) Recommendation letters (3-5 depending on the university)

Recommendation letters play a crucial role in PhD admission process. The reputation of the faculty recommending in the area of research is key for your chances to get admission and funding. 

5) Personal statement

Personal statement describes you research interests and also demonstrates your writing skills. A well written personal statement is required.

6) Publications

If you have any journal publications and/or have attended any conferences it will have good weight.

The PhD process

Once, you get the admission for PhD, the PhD process can be generalized as follows.

1) Course Requirement

Depending on your research requirement, you will have to the course work. You will have to do 8-10 courses, if you have a master’s degree and 15-18 courses if you start after bachelors. Some of these courses will be counted for your Masters degree.

2) Screening/Qualifying exam

With in first 2-3 semesters, you have to pass a screening exam to continue in the PhD programs. This exam varies from university to university; it is either written, oral or combination of both. It is to test if you can continue in the PhD program.

3) Thesis Proposal (candidature)

In your PhD programs, you need to submit a new thesis which is novel and original research work. This is another exam in which you need to propose the problem you will be working on for your thesis. For this you need to form an advising committee
That consists of 5-6 faculty members. You have to convince the committee that your proposed thesis can be completed within the stipulated time of PhD program and is of quality research. Once you pass this exam, you will be PhD candidate.

4) Thesis Defense

After the proposal, the PhD candidate should continue his work towards finishing the goals set up during the proposal. When the work is finished he has written the thesis and defend in front of the defense committee consisting of a group of faculty members specialized in his field. After successful defense, he has to submit the thesis to the University to get his degree.

In the process of research work you will get to attend many conferences to present your work and publish your work in reputed journals. It is important to get your work published in reputed journals.

Pros and Cons of PhD


1) If you like research, it is very exciting to invent/discover/find something new
2) You will have in depth knowledge about your research area,
3) Can try for academic positions (very stable, more freedom on your work)


1) Area of expertise is narrowed as you get specialized
2) Long time commitment (4-6 yrs)
3) Be prepared for frustrating times

My Experience

I did my bachelors and masters from India and came to US for my PhD. I didn't have any intentions of doing PhD during my bachelors. Only reason for doing masters was to get a good job. During my masters, I liked my research work that I did as a part of my ME thesis. My Professor encouraged me to go for higher studies. These two things motivated me to go for a PhD.

Before coming for PhD I worked for a couple of years in India. It is good experience to work in industry to understand the practical problems. I

In the application process, I searched for faculty working in my area of research and
Also got advise from my ME thesis advisor. I contacted many professors, and then applied to selected universities.                       
I am currently, in 5th year of PhD. During the PhD, I got to attend many conferences,
Meet experts in my field and also got an opportunity to work in a research lab. PhD duration is lot of fun if we make use of the time properly. Some times it can be frustrating when you can't produce convincing new results. These are all parts of PhD process.

I suggest you go for your PhD only if you are passionate for research. PhD for the sake of a degree is not worth doing. With this I would like to express my best wishes for every PhD aspirant.

Check the following link for further details: