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As I’ve said earlier, to get into a top graduate school you need prior research experience. This is not necessarily true for schools below the top 10, or maybe even the top 5. Note that prior research experience does not mean that you need to have published a paper. It does not even mean that your research needs to have yielded a result – results can sometimes take years. We just need to have confidence that you know what doing research is like. At CMU we receive hundreds of applications each year from 4.0 GPA students who have never done research. These are all put into the high risk pile and are subsequently rejected.
So the question is, where can you get this research experience?
There are five places where you might get research experience:
- As an undergraduate, you can do research with a professor. I did this. You can even get course credit for this, and sometimes if you’re really lucky you can get paid a little (e.g., during the summer).
- As an undergraduate, you can apply for a summer internship at a research lab, e.g., AT&T. I did this. They will pay you a little and you will learn a lot about doing research. This was a great experience for me!
Here’s the web site for the AT&T summer program that I attended: http://www.research.att.com/academic/ When you go to this web site, click on “Special Programs and Fellowships.”
- After graduating, you can get a job, where sometimes you can do research on the job. I did this.
- As an MS student, you will work on an MS project.
- You can work alone or with a friend. Ask professors in your classes to tell you about interesting open problems and new research (most professors enjoy doing this). Ask them to tell you names of conference proceedings. For example in my area (performance modeling of computer systems) a relevant conference proceeding is Sigmetrics. Sit down and start reading these proceedings. You will come across all sorts of interesting problems. Think about how you can improve upon the solution proposed in the paper.
Warning for international applicants: The admissions committee needs to be able to evaluate your research. If your publications appear in conferences/journals which we are not familiar with and have no access to, then we cannot evaluate the quality of your work. In my experience, this usually leads us to discount such publications. If you don’t want this to happen, here are two things you should do:
- Publish in internationally recognized conferences – ask your advisor.
- Create a web site that has links to all of your papers in English in either postscript or pdf. Explain in your application that all of your papers can be found on your web site.