Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Prepare for the GMAT?

Applicants must find their own ways to prepare for the GMAT, since different applicant has different profiles, with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different timelines and money to spend. A great place to see a lot of information about the GMAT, including the experience of different applicants of different profiles, is the GMATclub forum.

I can tell what worked for me. I found very early that I needed much more preparation for the quantitative section than for the verbal section. I read a lot of texts in English (books, magazines, comics, websites), and have been doing that for decades now. I think that prepared me for a lot of verbal questions. So, I spent much more time with preparation for the quantitative section.

In order to prepare for the quantitative section, I strongly suggest you the Manhattan GMAT books. They may be expensive, but they are really great. They helped me to recover my mathematics skills, know about GMAT questions, and develop a strong foundation.

The Official Guide for GMAT is another essential book to prepare for the GMAT. But, to use it alone is not the best way, in my opinion. GMAT Prep Now is a free GMAT preparation course, which use the Official Guide. So, with GMAT Prep Now you will be able to study the Official Guide in a much more organized way, helping you to evaluate your performance, and it will also add several tips and strategies which are not included in the official guide. The Official Guide is actually very lacking in test taking strategies, its value is due to the quality of questions.

The Official Guide is not only lacking in strategies. It also does not provide many questions at the higher level of difficulty. Since you want to get a high score, knowing how to solve questions at the level found at the official guide is not enough. You will need harder questions. And the source of harder questions I found is again the GMATclub, with its question bank.

Following that path, I was able to go from Mathematics revision, to a general preparation for the GMAT, and then end with hardcore questions focusing on my those points which were still weak after months of preparation. I was able to improve from a total score of 600 (my first mock test when I barely knew about the GMAT) to 750 (my last official score, used in my applications).

The GMAT in Application for PhD in Business

Taking standardized tests is part of the process to apply to Business PhD programs. In order to show your academic prowess compared to other applicants, you can take the GMAT or the GRE. Many schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE, some prefer one over the other, and some accept only one of them.

This time I will write about the GMAT. There is really a lot to know about the GMAT, one could do a whole blog just about the GMAT. But, in short, the GMAT is a test to evaluate your quantitative and verbal skills. It is very important in the PhD application, since your GMAT score is one of the first things admissions committee look at when evaluating your profile. A low score may show them that you are probably a waste of their time, while a high score may show them they should take a better look at you.

It is also very important because you will probably need to devote a lot of time preparing for the GMAT, even if you are academically very strong. People say that the GMAT tests how good you are at taking the GMAT. So, you may be great at math and still do poorly in the quantitative section of the GMAT if you don't know how to face the test. At surface, the GMAT tests mostly your mathematical and English language skills. But it is much more than that. It tests your ability to make decisions, to identify your strengths and weaknesses, to manage your time, to deal with pressure, to build up your mental resilience. Lots of applicants are great in Math, but get low scores due to bad time management or panic attacks during the test, for example.

For me, preparation for the GMAT took about 1 year, since I had to revise mathematics which I had not studied for more than two decades. And one of obstacles I had to overcome was to learn to give up on a question which I knew how to solve, but not in the short time demanded by the GMAT.

The whole test will take about 4 hours, And you gotta be able to keep your mind sharp during the whole 4 hours. If you lose focus midway, you may doom your score. A mistake people make is studying for the GMAT only in short bursts, like 1 hour a day. You should include long sessions in your preparation, because you gotta be able to solve extremely hard questions after several hours of mental work.

The most important sections of the GMAT are the Quantitative and Verbal Sections, each with scores ranging between 6 and 51. The scores of both sections will be combined in some strange way, resulting in a "total" score between 200 and 800. For Business PhD programs, your quantitative skill is usually very important. Specially in for programs like PhD in Finance and Accounting, your quantitative should be close to a perfect. But even for other fields, like Marketing, your quantitative score should be very close to perfection. Scores for the verbal section are lower, it's almost impossible to get a perfect score of 51 in verbal.

The quantitative section has 41 questions to be solved in 75 minutes. The verbal section has 37 questions to be solved also in 75 minutes. Both sections are CAT (Computer Adaptive Tests). That means that if you get a question right, the computer will adjust the test to give you a harder question. And if you get a question wrong, the computer will give an easier questions. It is not that simple, but it's something along those lines.

If you are planning to apply to PhD, you are aiming a great score. So, you should expect to get a medium question first, then a more difficult, then another even more difficult, and so on. If you keep doing good, by the 20th question in a section you will start to see very hard questions. To get a great score, you must expect to face increasingly harder questions which will test your limits, even if you are a genius.

I found the verbal section easier to deal with, even being a non-native. The verbal section has reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction questions. So, no great surprises in there. You probably saw those kind of questions before. It does not mean they are easy (reading questions include very complex and boring texts to be analyzed, for example), but they are typical questions.

The quantitative section, on the other hand, tests knowledge you possess in unexpected ways. You may get angry with yourself when you get wrong a question about something you thought you mastered. Special attention must be given to a kind of question called Data Sufficiency, where you must answer if the question has enough information to be solved. So, you're not being asked to really solve the question, only if the question can be solved or not. You must often hold back that urge to really solve the question, because doing that will take precious time. As far as I know, GMAT is the only test which uses Data Sufficiency questions. I had to take a time specifically to learn how to deal with those questions effectively.

There will also be an integrated reasoning section and a writing section, whose scores will not count towards that "total" score I mentioned above. Even if they are considered by many as less importantt than the quantitative, verbal, and total scores, you must not negllect them. Bad scores will taint an otherwise great application.

You get the scores, but also percentiles for each score. So, schools what your score means, when compared to other people who took the test. My total score was 750 / 98% for example. That means that my score of 750 was better than 98% of the people who took the test recently.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

General View of Marketing PhD in the US

So, after deciding to apply to Marketing PhD programs in the US, it was time to have a general view about them. These are some information I found.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) has a very nice list of PhD programs in Marketing around the world, including over 100 programs in the US. It is very helpful, since it would be hard to know about all those programs without such a list. I found several links broken, and also some important universities missing from the list. But it's still a nice list.

The expected length of PhD programs in US is 4 or 5 years, depending on the school. Most of them, 5 years it seems.

There are two major concentrations for Marketing PhD: Quantitative and Consumer Behavior. Quantitative Marketing is like mathematics, statistics and economics applied to Marketing research. Consumer Behavior is like psychology and sociology applied to Marketing research. You should see which one is more related to your research interests. Very few schools offer other possibilities, like a concentration in Strategic Marketing or a combination of Quantitative and Consumer Behavior.

Competition is extremely hard. I saw a lot of people complaining about the hard competition for top MBA programs. But for PhD the competition is harder, even for lower ranked schools. PhD programs accept a much lower number of applicants. Just to provide an example, enrollment for Harvard MBA in 2016 totalled 1,859, while enrollment for Harvard Business School PhD was only 147. Since business schools have several kinds of PhD (Marketing, Finance, Management, and so on), each with its own concentrations, there are very few spots available. You may be well competing for the only available spot specifically for Quantitative Marketing PhD in a school, for example.

It seems all of them provide financial support, usually with a fellowship to cover tuition and a teaching or research assistantship with stipend. Stipend for business is better than several other kinds of PhD, buy even so it's not enough for a high standard of living.

Classes start in Fall (around August) every year, with deadlines for applications being mostly between December 15th of the previous year to February 15th.

Each school has its own specific requirements for application, but in order to apply you usually need:
- Transcripts and diplomas from each degree, starting with undergrad;
- GPA, which sometimes need to be converted;
- Resume/cv, tailored for academic purposes;
- Letters of Recommendation, usually 3 of them;
- Statement of Purpose;
- GMAT or GRE scores;
- Payment of an application fee, around $ 100 for each application;
- TOEFL or IELTS scores, if you're not from an English speaking country.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why Did I Choose the US for my PhD?

So, I'm from Brazil, but I'm going all the way to the US for a PhD. Why? Some people think I'm doing a mistake. And maybe I am, and I should stay in Brazil.

I could very well do a PhD in Brazil. If I do my PhD abroad, to be back in Brazil after I finish my PhD, I am expected to face a few hurdles. One, my PhD will not be officially recognized until I go through a long and expensive bureaucratic process, with uncertain results and timetable. Two, I will not have developed a strong network with Brazilian schools, professors, and researchers. And that may hurt my chances of a job once I'm back.

However, while doing my master's thesis, I noticed that there are very few works published by Brazilian researchers about the subject I'm interested. My research interest is very strong in other countries, but not in Brazil. So, if I am to get a strong education, I should go abroad to learn from the experts.

But there are many countries in the world. Including many with strong Marketing PhD programs. But I want to go to an English speaking country, since that's the language I can talk. I don't see myself living in a country without talking the language. That excludes top schools in places like Denmark.

Among the main English speaking countries for a PhD, it seems that US and Canada follow a style of PhD that is different from UK and Australia. PhD in US and Canada takes longer (about 5 years) and includes a heavy coursework, while PhD in UK and Australia are shorter (about 3 years) with no coursework. There are exceptions and other differences, but those are some important differences between those styles. (update: I had a nice feedback on PhD in UK and Australia, posted here)

I don't think I'm ready to dive directly into my dissertation research. I think following a coursework will make a lot of difference to me. It will take longer, it will be harder, but I think I'll be a better researcher in the end if I do my PhD in America. But depending on your degree of experience with research, how prepared you are, and what are your goals, that may not be your case.

For me, it makes sense to try a PhD in America. I only applied to US schools. If I could go back in time, I would have also applied to Canadian schools. Top Canadian schools are very equivalent to top US schools, and they should be on my list too. By the time I realized that, I was already too deep into the process of applying to US schools.

So, I applied to Marketing PhD programs in the US because that's a country with a very strong history of publishing about my research interests (something I could not find in Brazil), it is an English speaking country, its PhD style seems to be better suited to prepare me to become a researcher, and I ignored Canadian PhD when I shouldn't,

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Are You a Competitive Applicant for a PhD in Business?

I think it's very important to have an idea about the strength of your application, when trying to get into a PhD program. And, to do that, one should have an idea about what schools are looking for, when evaluating an application.

If you are considering the possibility of applying to a PhD, chances are that people have been saying that you are academically great. That you are a great student, with great grades, from great schools, with great experience, things like that.

And that may all be true. I think that most people who look at my profile will think I have great chances. But, the thing is: if they had the opportunity to look at the profiles of other applicants, they would probably think most of them also have great chances.

Since the number of PhD applicants that schools accept is very limited, it is impossible that so many applicants have great chances. You may be great. But other applicants also are.

So, what schools are looking for? I'll list a few common criteria, some of them related to each other.

1 - The applicant is really interested in research. And not just interested. The applicant want and is ready to devote a whole life to research about something of his interest. If the school thinks you're interested in a PhD because you found no better job opportunities, because you have a passion to teach, because the knowledge you will acquire can get great placements in industry, or any other reason that is not to become an academic researcher, the school will probably reject you. No matter how strong you are. Ok, you may end up teaching business classes or getting a job in industry after your PhD. But those should not be the reasons to do a PhD.

2 - The applicant has at least some experience with research. The more, the better, but every little bit may help. This is not an application killer. You may be approved without previous research experience. But it helps a lot. After all, if you're so passionate about research, as you stated according to # 1 item above, you should have gone after it in some way, right? It's harder to convince someone that you are passionate about something you have never experienced before.

3 - The applicant shows a strong academic background. Your grades are great. Better yet, your grades are consistently great. Better yet, those grades are from courses that will be valuable during a PhD. Better yet, your great grades are from great schools. All schools ask for complete transcripts, and even with that some schools ask deeper questions about grades of specific types of courses.

4 - The applicant has exceptional results in the standardized tests required/accepted. Business schools usually require that applicants take either the GMAT or the GRE. I'll write more about those tests, but your scores should be at least better than the scores of 80% of the people who have taken those tests. To be competitive, your score should be better than 90%, actually. For top schools, better than 95%. Yeah, they want proof that you are the best of the best. International applicants are also usually required to take English proficiency tests, like the TOEFL or the IELST.

5 - The applicant seems to be good not only at learning something, but also at questioning something he learned. There are students who are excellent at learning existing knowledge. But a PhD requires you to create new knowledge. You cannot be a passive student, just waiting someone teaches you. You gotta be active, self-driven, autonomous, critical.

6 - The applicant has strong Letters of Recommendation. A few (usually 3) important people in academia (researchers, professors) sent letters with glowing opinions about the potential of the applicant for a PhD.

7 - The applicant fits well with the faculty/school/university. The most important aspect here is research fit. An applicant's research interests will be compared with the research interests of the faculty and the school in general. The best they can match those interests, the stronger the application. But there are other kinds of "fit" too, like the school's "personality", mission, and values, to be taken into consideration.

8 - The applicant shows an understanding about what is a PhD, and what it takes to conclude a PhD successfully. You might thing that it is taken for granted that a PhD applicant knows what a PhD is. But it seems a lot of people apply to PhD without a good idea what they are getting into. It is often said that 50% of doctoral students leave school before finishing the PhD program. One of the reasons is that students may notice they are in the wrong place during the PhD.

Of course it is extremely rare for someone to have all those qualities, and some aspects of your application may have a greater weight than others. There are also other criteria which may be used and are not listed above, like the applicant being from underrepresented minority. But the closer you are to the ideal applicant, the stronger your profile.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How About the Financial Aid from PhD Programs?

Not really a question, but a suggestion: "it would be great if you can do a blog post on funding, tuition waivers, stipends and scholarships that the schools offer".

From what I've seen, the two main components related to financial aid by schools for PhD are about tuition and stipend.

At least for the business PhD programs I applied to, tuition was totally covered by the school. The way it works may change a bit, but you get a fellowship or something like that. So, business PhD is mostly free, since tuition is covered. Not totally free, since there may be other small fees, but those are usually not so significant.

Not only the PhD is mostly free, but you also get paid since a PhD is like a job in some ways.

You are paid a stipend for your work at the school. What work? You will be like an assistant. I've seen two types: TA (Teaching Assistantship) and RA (Research Assistantship). Your responsibilities will depend on the school and on the professors you'll be working with, but may include grading exams or doing calculations for a professor's research, for example. Those assistantships are a part-time job of 20 hours a week.

How much are you paid? Well, not enough to make you rich, but hopefully enough to survive. For business PhD, there are schools with stipends below $ 20,000 a year, and schools with stipends well over $ 40,000 a year. So, it is very different depending on the school. Stipends for PhD programs for other departments instead of business may be very different too.

An important thing to remember is that it is important to know how much you will earn, but also to have an idea about how much you will spend. A stipend of $ 40,000 may be low for a very expensive city, while a $ 20,000 may be adequate for a city with a lower cost of living.

Some schools inform the value of their stipends. But many don't. A website which may help you to have a better idea about stipends in those cases is PhD Stipends. A source for cost of living data is the Living Wage Calculator.

Additional funds and resources may be provided, depending on the school. Some school have funds available for those interested in specific subjects, or applicants from a certain race, for example. Many schools provide additional funds to help with expenses during a conference presentation too. You should check each program's website and application forms.

Also, check for how long the school is expected to provide you with the financial support I outlined above (4, 5 or 6 years, for example), and what are specific conditions and requirements. An important condition you may find, for example, is that you cannot work somewhere else during your PhD. If you get a job during your PhD, you can lose financial aid from school.

How do I Convert GPA When Applying to a PhD?

So I was asked "how do you calculate the GPA? My transcripts only have percentages mentioned."

I also had a similar problem. In Brazil, there is a variety of grading systems, depending on the school. The system used in my bachelor's transcript was different from my MBA's, which was different from my Master's...

And my bachelor's GPA does not seem great, if you don't know that at my school it was impossible to get a GPA equivalent to a 3.8-4.0, for example. By the way, I explained it in my statement of purpose.

So, how do you calculate the GPA? It depends on the school you're applying to. There was one school who informed at its website how you should make the conversion. There were schools who asked you to not convert at all, but inform them the grade you actually got (be it in letters, percentages, or other numbers) and what is the grade system used by the school. There were schools which asked me about explanations and additional documents after I sent my application, because they were in doubt when reviewing my application. And there were schools which did not inform anything at all about how you should make the conversion. For those cases, I used the WES Calculator, since WES is an organization they usually know about.

Do Schools Look at Both Undergrad and Graduate GPAs in PhD Application?

Here comes the next question: "for GPA, do you know if they only look at bachelors degree grades (all of them) or masters degree grades or both?". Well, I can only speculate or repeat what I've seen other people writing about the subject.

I think they look at both. But the importance they give to each one may be different, for several reasons.

First, the length of a bachelor's is different from a master's. So, a bachelor's may be able to prove more information, and its length is closer to a PhD. It will allow schools to evaluate if you are someone who does great in the beginning, but lose steam in the last years, for example.

Subjects you studied, courses you've taken may also be very different. Maybe you studied a lot of advanced math during your bachelor's, but not during master's (or vice-versa).

So, it makes sense to look at both to find evidence of strentgh or weaknesses which can show if you are a great applicant or not.

During my interview, I noticed that my master's had a great weight when professors were evaluating my profile. Since I'm an older applicant, my bachelor's degree was long ago, it only showed about my potential decades in the past. So, my undergraduate level does not tell them much about how I am nowadays. As I had also decades of professional experience, they were worried that my academic skills might be rusty. However, my master's degree is recent, I got a great GPA, and was in the top of my class in course like quantitative research, which is important to my  PhD program. That's something we talked about during my interview.

Transcripts and Letters of Recommendation in PhD Application

The next question is: "did you have to send transcripts and reference letters individually to each school? It just seems a lot to ask for from referees."

Yes, I did have to send transcripts and letters of recommendation to each school. However, each school may have its own procedures and rules to do that.

First, I'll write about transcripts.

You will need to send transcripts from your undergraduate degree, and also for any graduate degrees you have after that. So, in my case I had to send transcrips from my bachelor's degree, my Executive MBA, and my Master of Science.

If your transcripts are not in English, you will need those transcripts issued in English by your schools or have trem translated. In my case, they are in Portuguese, so I had additional cost to translate all of them.

Most schools require that you send your transcripts online during application, and then you will be asked to provide official printed copies only after you accept an offer. But there exceptions, some schools ask for official printed copies during the application too. Schools usually describe those procedures if you look at their websites.

But there are surprises. I applied to a school which seemed to ask only for online transcripts during application. I did that, but after my application was sent, I received an e-mail informing I should also send official copies to its mail address. So, I had to hurry to provide copies I did not expect to need.

If you will send transcripts online, you will need to scan transcripts. Sounds simple, right? Well, I also had a few surprises during the process. Usually, it is one file for each degree you have. If your transcript has several pages, you should join them in a single file. Several types of files may be accepted, but pdf is a popular choice.

But several of them have a file size limit. You can't send a file of any size. The big problem here is that schools have very different size limits. Some of them allow big files. Some of them allow only ridiculously small files. Take my bachelor's degree transcript as an example. It is several pages long, and I had also to add several pages of translation. It was really hard to adjust the size of over 10 pages of scanned images to a very small size, without rendering the document illegible. So, I had to create files at very different resolutions for different schools. For those which allowed large files, I sent higher resolution scans to be easier to read. For those which allowed small files, I had to create the largest file I could within the limits each school established.

For those schools which require official printed copies, there will be additional bureaucratic procedures to follow. You may be asked to include an ID form in the envelope, for example.

Now, I'll write about Letters of Recommendations.

You will typically need 3 Letters of Recommendations. In rare cases you will only be required to send 2 letters, and in some cases schools allow you to send more than 3 letters if you wish. But 3 is the norm.

Ideally, those letters will come from known and experienced academic researchers who can write in a very positive way about your potential as a researcher. The farther you are from that ideal, the weaker is that letter for you application. If it is not from someone with research expertise, it willl be weaker. If it the evaluation is about other aspects that not research potential, it will be weaker. If it is not positive, it may kill your application.

You will provide schools with the e-mail addresses of your recommenders. Those e-mail addresses should be from institutional domains (, for example), and not a generic e-mail (, for example). After you do that, the school will send an e-mail to those recommenders, who will then have access to the school's system to post their letters of recommendation.

You will not be able to see those letters. You will be able to see the status of those letters. So, you know if a professor has sent a recommendation, or not. You can send a reminder, if a professor is taking too long to sent a letter, or if the deadline is getting dangerously close.

You will be asked if you want to waive the right to review those letters. In my opinion, you should always waive the right. If you do not waive, the person who is recommending you may perceive it in a negative way. Professors may think you don't trust they will write a good letter of recommendation. And, if you don't trust them, why should they help you? And, if you do now waive the right, you will only be able to review that letter after you have been accepted. So, reviewing that letter will not help your application at all, but may have a negative impact.

Is it a lot to ask from referees? Yes, it is.

If your referee is an experienced researcher, he/she will be probably used to the process of writing and sending letters to many schools. They know applicants usually need letters for more than 10 schools. If you ask a recommendation from your boss in a corporation, on the other hand, your recommendation will be weaker since it is not academic and I guess he/she might think you're asking too much.

But remember that your recommender is doing a great favor to you. A professor may also benefit if you get into a great PhD program, but you are the one to get the most from those letters.

So, ask people who have a good relationship with you. People who don't like you, or don't know you, will not want to recommend you. They will decline when you ask, or will write a bad letter.

Also, help them to write the recommendation. Talk to them, send documents which they can use to make a stronger letter (your research paper, for example).

Give them enough time to write and send their letters. They are probably busy people. If you ask them to stop everything they are doing right now and write ten letters because the deadline is tomorrow, the results will not be good.

If you need 3 recommenders, think of more than 3 people who can write those letters. If something happens with the letter of one of them, it is good to have a backup plan.

Keep them informed about the process. You should know the deadlines and which schools did not receive letters yet, not your recommender.

In my case, my letters of recommendation were from 3 professors I studied with during my Master's. One of them was my thesis advisor, a really great professor, who was very supportive during my thesis, always willing to help. He was glad to see that I applied to many schools, for example, since it showed him I really wanted to keep going in my research goals. Another is the co-ordinator of the business graduation program, who also helped a lot during my thesis, and he is very interested in my progress, since that shows my Master's was good for me, and so it can increase the reputation of the program he is responsible for. And the third letter was from a professor who is very experienced in reasearch, with great network, and who was very open to discuss my future in research, and helped me during my first academic event, where I presented my paper.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I Should Apply to How Many Schools?

All, right! Let's go to the next question: "You applied to many schools - Is this the normal way that most applicants go about applying to schools? I was thinking of applying to 5-10 schools in US and Canada. Do you think this is a very low number?"

Well, that's the kind of question that could be discussed over, and over, and over... With no right answer.

The most successful applicant I've seen received 6 offers out of the 14 schools she applied to. But that is really an extraordinary result, not very common from what I've seen. So, I believe that if you apply to only 5 schools, getting 2 offers would be an extraordinary result, getting 1 offer would be a great result, and getting 0 offers would be a more realistic result.

And, even in that case, I see that she has some regret about not applying to more schools. One of the reasons she got so many offers is that she applied only to lower ranked schools, because she thought she was not competitive due to a low GMAT score. Since she got 6 offers from lower ranked schools, it might be very possible that she would get an offer from a higher ranked schools if she had applied to those. Now, she will probably never know for sure. But she is happy with the offers she has, so it is also not such a big deal.

I've seen many applicants regretting the decision to apply to too few schools. I've never seen an applicant regretting applying to too many schools. Remember that the acceptance rate of PhD programs in general is extremely low, and competition is very fierce. Even the strongest applicant will not be showered with offers. Ok, you may be a great applicant, but there are hundreds of great applicants out there. Overestimating your odds may be a costly mistake. As well as underestimating your odds.

So, I believe you should apply to many schools. But that doesn't mean the more, the better. Several things should be taken into consideration before applying to every school out there.

1 - How common is your research interest? If it is common, you will find a lot of schools and professors who are a great fit for you. If it's not so common, or very specific, you will find fewer schools which would be interested in you. In my case, marketing metrics have been a research priority for many years according to the American Marketing Association (AMA), so it was not so hard to find schools which seemed to be interested in that subject like me.

2 -  How sure are you about the strength of your profile? If you are really sure about your competitiveness, you might be able to focus on schools at your level. For example, if you're sure your strength is suited for schools ranked Top 30, you could aply only to schools around that level. But it is extremely hard to assess your strength. So, if you believe your strength is Top 30, but you aren't so sure about that, it is probably a better strategy to apply not only to schools around Top 30, but also above that (Top 10, for example) and below that (Top 50, for example), covering your bases. In my case, people said I was an applicant for a top 25 school. But I really had doubts about it. I saw many strong points in my profile, but also a few weaknesses (like my age, my low GPA even if it was from a top school, and letters of recommendations from professors who are known in Brazil but not necessarily in the US). So, I focused my applications in the top 20-top 30 range, but also applied to schools ranked higher and lower than that.

3 - How much time do you have to prepare your application? Each school you add to your list is more work to be done. What kind of work? Read papers from the professors who are of your interest in each school (some schools may have several professors, each one with several interesting papers to read), and write a different Statement of Purpose for that school (you should not use a standard text for all schools, but I'll write more about it in the future), among other things that you shouldn't do in a hurry. I had a lot of time to prepare my applications, I applied to all of them before the deadline.

4 - How much money do you have saved for applications? Even credit card limits may be considered. Just the application fee is around $ 100 for each school. But total costs may be much higer, sending additional GMAT scores for each school, for example. I had money enough to apply to many schools, I believe it was not something I should be stingy with.

5 - How many schools are you really interested in? Please, only apply to a school if you'd be happy to go there for your PhD. It's annoying to see an applicant receive an offer, and then sound disappointed, planning to give up and try again next year. It's not just annoying, but a waste of time for the applicant, the school, and even other applicants which may be waitlisted because of that. I didn't get accepted by a "dream school" like Harvard, but I'd be more than satisfied to have offers from any schools I applied to. I will also write more later about school selection.

Even with all this, I think 5 is a really small number. I've seen a person who applied to only 1 school. But, then, it was an applicant who had great contacts with professors from that school and knew the chances were very good. I applied to 20 schools, but I was really risk averse, and that number is too much for most applicants. I calculated the average number of applications from a sample of 10 other business PhD applicants, and the average was 12 applications, with a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 18.

Is Research Experience Helpful When Applying to a PhD program?

I'm very happy to be writing my first post that is a reply to a reader's question! Actually, my next posts will all be answering questions.

So, I was asked "From your experience with the application system, do you think having research experience is helpful? I have research experience and published papers in science and engineering so it is not business related."

Please remember that everything I'm writing is based on my limited experience. But I hope I can help. With that in mind, my opinion is that research experience is extremely helpful. For top schools, I believe it is virtually a requirement.

When a school is evaluating your PhD application, they are usually trying to assess the applicant's potential to become a researcher. And one of the best ways for you to do that is to show that you are already on the path of becoming a researcher, that you've done research before and produced results.

If applicants do not have research experience, they can say they have potential. But when they have experience, they have proof or at least some evidence. Of course it's very rare for an applicant to have extensive research experience. So, a little experience may be enough to put you ahead in competition.

One of the documents you will send to schools when applying is your resume. Your resume will look stronger with research experience.

Many schools will ask you to send a sample of your research (a paper, for example). Your application will look stronger with a paper attached, when compared to those without experience.

If you have research experience, you probably can get Letters of Recommendation from professors who can attest to your capacity to do research. Without research experience, the recommendations you get will be probably a lot weaker.

With research experience, it's going to be easier to answer "What is research to you?". I was asked something along those lines during my interview.

Research experience will also help you to find the best schools, programs, and faculty for your research. One without such experience will probably have a hard time trying to find which papers are relevant for your research interests, who wrote those papers, and from which schools they are.

An applicant who has research experience is also expected to have a lot more experience reading an academic paper, and discussing it. When a professor interviews you, you are many times expected to have some knowledge of the paper published by that professor. An interview can be a much better experience when you can talk to the professor about previous work.

So, having research experience may reap several benefits during the application process. Of course someone without such experience may compensate in other ways and still be able to prove research potential. But it's much more difficult.

In my case, I do not have a paper published yet. I wrote a paper based on my Master's thesis, and I'm trying to publish it somewhere. I presented that paper at the most important business science event in Brazil, in the Marketing category.

Even if your experience is science and engineering papers, it should still me a lot more than most applicants have achieved when applying to a PhD.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Research Interests

One of the most important questions a PhD applicant will be asked is "What are your research interests?". So, you should be prepared to answer that, even if you don't have a definitive answer.

Actually, it is a little strange if an applicant already has clear-cut research interests, since those interests will probably evolve with time, specially during the PhD itself. But you will need to have a general idea about what subjects make you tick, and explain why.

I believe knowing that is an essencial part of applying for a PhD. One reason is that you should have some interest that will motivate you for several years, maybe for the rest of your life. It cannot be just a curiosity, or a passing fad. It will be hard to keep researching something that doesn't interest you anymore. Another reason is that knowing you interests will help you to find the universities, PhD programs, and professors who are best fitted to help you in your research.

In my case, my research interests can be summarized as "to discover and develop measurements for Marketing results, specially metrics integrated with Finance". So, I want to research about the best ways a company can measure results from its marketing activities, with a special interest in the financial point of view of those metrics.

Even though I applied for Marketing PhD programs, my life prior to the PhD was one focused on Finance. So, what made me become more interested in researching about Marketing than Finance?

While working with Finance, one of the biggest challenges was to analyze and justify marketing investments and budgets. I worked for a company, for example, whose Marketing investments amounted to tens of millions of dollars a year, in several projects, including music concerts sponsorhip, its own stock car racing team, and a top model as pitchwoman. How do I know if the results from each of those investments were really worth the money?

The goal of the financial management in a company is to maximize the company's value to shareholders or stakeholders. And it's probably common sense now that one of the ways to do that is to maximize value to the company's consumers.

So, I don't see Marketing and Finance as completely separate things, I believe both should be taken into consideration together when managing a company. But there is much to be found yet about how to do that effectively. There are much more questions than answers. That's where research can contribute. I hope, with my research, to be able to help companies to find ways to improve their results to both shareholders and consumers.

This is an interesting article about value maximization, for those interested in the subject: Value Maximization and Stakeholder Theory 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Questioning Your Knowledge Before a PhD

This post is about my Master of Science. I think it's hard to explain the purpose of a Master of Science degree, and even after completing it I'm not sure how to answer that.

I guess the best way I could explain it is that a Master of Science is a way to get your feet wet, if you want do do research. Probably you will not become a full-fledged researcher, but you will take the first steps. It is certainly a head start if you want to do a PhD. You probably will be better able to grasp what a PhD will entail, and have better chances during the PhD application. 

I certainly learned a lot of things during my Master of Science courses and research projects. But, for me, the most important lesson I learned is that I should not trust the things I studied so far. Several theories I learned while studying for my bachelor's degree and my MBA are, if not completely wrong, at least incomplete, misleading, and very open to doubt. Some theories have been very twisted or simplified for undergrad teaching, for example.

If you want to have a glimpse of what I'm talking about, just compare what is taught about the "Maslow's pyramid" and the actual paper Abraham Maslow wrote. Although there is a resemblance, the paper is lot more detailed, interesting, and richer than the way we learn about his theory in school. 

That skepticism is very important if you will follow a career in academia. That may change your life. If you used to trust all that knowledge you earned, now you might change to a permanent state of disbelief. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spreading Knowledge Before a PhD Program

All right, in my last post I wrote that work experience is not required for a PhD, and may even have a negative impact on your application. But there is a kind of work that deserves special attention: teaching.

A PhD is much more related to developing you as a researcher than as a teacher. However, many schools assume you will take on teaching assistantship responsibilities as part of your PhD. So, having experience as a teacher can help in those cases.

And it is often the case that someone with teaching experience also had the opportunity to get involved in research projects. That's even better than just teaching, since you know what research is about.

When I applied for the PhD, I had not only executive experience, but I also had been a teacher in business classes for 5 years. That included a variety of subjects (specially in finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship), using innovative teaching methods like problem-based learning, and being part of a few research projects of the institution I worked for.

Putting Knowledge Into Use Before a PhD Program

Work experience is not really required to apply for a PhD. Actually, sometimes it might be held against you.

PhD programs are geared towards a career in academia, not industry. So, if you have a career outside academia, but want to change that to become a researcher (thus a PhD), you will have to stop and think about it. And find convincing answers to questions like "why do you want to change?" and "how your experience may help in your research?".

In my case, I applied to a PhD after an executive career of nearly two decades in the corporate world. I am really done with that, I want something else for my life. However, my research interests are related to problems I was not able to solve during that period. That helps to explain why I'm interested in research, and why such subject. Understanding about real world problems may also be important to conduct relevant research.

Work experience may be much more valuable for some types of PhD, schools, and professors. If your PhD is much more related to theoretical research, professional experience may be a hindrance, because you probably come with strong professional biases. If, on the other hand, you will conduct applied research, working in partnership with actual companies, to solve their real world problems, that experience may come in handy.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Acquiring Knowledge Before a PhD Program

In order to apply to a business PhD program in the US, you must have completed at least an undergraduate degree. That degree may be from a variety of fields, not necessarily the one you are applying for. So, an engineer can apply to a marketing program, for example. A graduate degree like a Masters of Science is not required, but it may help to strengthen you application.

In my case, the undergraduate degree is a bachelor's, and the graduate degrees are an Executive MBA and a Master of Science. All of them in the field of business administration. The bachelor's degree and the MBA are responsible for the stage in my life related to acquiring knowledge.

I became a bachelor in business administration at the #1 university in the Latin America. Having a degree from a top school like this may help your application, since the people who review your application will be better able to evaluate your profile when compared with an applicant from an unknown foreign university. My MBA is from a school which was considered one of the top MBAs in Brazil.

I think both were very important to learn about the world of business. But none of them were relevant to learn about research. Since the PhD is a research-oriented program, I think a bachelor's degree and an MBA are a very good start, but far from being enough to prepare me for a PhD.

The Masters of Science was much better in that regard, and I'll write more about it later, since I don't believe the role of a Master of Science program is to acquire knowledge.

A Journey of Knowledge

It seems to me that my life is a journey based on knowledge.

There was a time to:

- aquire knowledge. I got my bachelor's degree in business administration at the #1 university in the Latin America. And, a few years later, my Executive MBA.

- put that knowledge to use. For about 20 years, I was an executive in Brazil, with jobs in industries like financial services, consultancy, publishing, IT, and pay-TV.

- spread that knowledge. I left the corporate world and started to teach business, in courses related to finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

- question that knowledge. As Batman once said, most of the things that "everybody knows" are wrong; the rest are merely unreliable. That's the main idea I got from my Master of Science.

And now, another stage in my life is beginning. It's time to generate new knowledge. It's time to go for a PhD in the US!