Sai Goutham, a graduate from the Department of Metallurgical and Materials talks about his experiences at MIT and on the application process.
1. When did you decide to apply for further studies?
The decision got crystallized after my intern at the end of the fourth year of summer. I had tried out a few areas of research before which were not very appealing to me. The MITACS intern in my fourth year gave me a new perspective and made me realize that I could indeed enjoy certain areas of research. That gave me confidence and the trigger to make the decision.
2. How did you make the choice between placements and applying?
Once I decided that I was going to app, placements pretty much took a back seat. I did try them out for fun though. The decision to make a choice between the two depends on the thought process of the individual. For me, it was pretty clear that I would be happier doing research than doing anything that is ‘work’-like.
3. Is a high CGPA required for applying?
High CGPA definitely doesn’t hurt but the definition of ‘high’ varies across departments. In Materials science, a CG of 9.0 is considered high whereas in Electrical one might require 9.5+ to get into the ‘top’ university for Ph.D. (the ‘top’ here is again defined a little arbitrary). For Ph.D. admissions at least, it is always advisable to have a CG above 8.5 since that would mean more choices upon admits. For Masters (MS), CGPA really doesn’t matter much.
4. How relevant are extra-curriculars and Positions of Responsibility?
Ph.D. is supposed to get deeper into the academic side of things- so apart from the academic profile, little else counts. But having extracurriculars and PoRs are not bad and won’t harm one’s chances. In fact one could pick up skills from non-curricular activities that could be useful in a Ph.D. and also in life in general. I am not sure about the relevance of extracurriculars for Masters admissions.
5. How did you identify your recos?
In general, universities require 3 recos. The first one is straightforward- your BTP/DDP advisor. Personally, the second one for me was the Prof I worked with in Canada. I had done some good work there which lead to a paper, so he was happy to recommend me (though a publication is not always a pre-requisite). The third one was a Prof from my department at IITM, whose courses I had done well and with whom I had interacted on many occasions.
6. Why do you think MIT selected you?
All the universities that selected me did so, in my opinion, because of my strong academic profile. I had a good CGPA, publications and projects to show. I think my SoP was adequate enough and my GRE and IELTS scores made the cut.
7. How and which colleges did you decide to apply to?
I applied to 5 colleges- MIT, Northwestern, ETH Zurich, EPFL and UCB. MIT and Northwestern were straightforward to apply because they had the strongest materials science departments in the US. I applied to UCB because of a research group that I was interested in. I also looked at some of the European universities and ended up choosing ETH Zurich and EPFL because of some research groups there.
8. Did you have alternate options? If yes, what made you decide on MIT?
I had good options and lots of factors went into my decision. I can say that I chose MIT because:
a. MIT will not hurt my post-PhD chances irrespective of what I would want to do at that point in time (Industry, Academia, totally different field, etc.).
b. The groups that I was considering there were fantastic and had built up a good body of work.
c. MIT provides the liberty of having full advisors who are not from the same department as you are. This provides a lot of flexibility and choices. Initially, I was also looking at some Professors in departments other than Materials science, so this was a strong point. All the other places that I applied to were tying me down to one research group.
9. Any useful tips on SoPs, CV, Recos, Projects, Papers and choosing courses?
SoPs: Try to put in a clear, crisp and original fashion all the activities that you have done. Do not use GRE-type words. Do not use cliches. Do not plagiarize.
Recos: Choose Profs/mentors/industry folks with whom you have done a bit of work and who know you well. It is always good to have 1 or 2 Professors in the department that you are applying to. And if you are applying to a Ph.D. program, always try to maximize the number of Professors with whom you have done projects.
Projects: Undergrad is a nice time to explore different areas of research- there is no pressure from your ‘advisor’ and there is also a lot of freedom to choose. One could use the winters at IITM very well and also the semesters that are less ‘stressful’ in terms of courses. One could try out projects (provided one’s CGPA is stable enough) starting late into their second year. If you are doing research-type interns in summer, they inevitably count towards projects.
Papers: Getting papers in good journals in undergrad is really hard and there is a lot of luck involved. My advice would be to not ‘give up’ a project mid-way when one hits a blind turn. Keep pushing and one might get the fruits of all the work.
10. Did you have a mentor? Would you like to be one?
No, but I would like to be a mentor to someone.