I have always wanted to work on projects that have a wide-ranging impact on society.
DTU Times interviewed Alankrit Tomar, EP, Class of 2019, who got admitted into the Ph.D. program at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Texas, Austin.
What was the main motivation behind choosing to pursue a PhD rather than a conventional Masters Degree?
A Masters degree serves as an ideal platform to gauge what your interests are, and whether your interests in your field of research is high enough to pursue a PhD in the same field. I was sure of the field I wanted to pursue research in and was also willing to undertake the plunge of 5 years of extensive research. Hence, the decision of pursuing a PhD degree.
Also, the primary focus in a Masters degree is undertaking necessary courses relevant to your course but a PhD degree primarily entails undertaking a research project which would eventually contribute towards a thesis. Since my ultimate aim was to pursue a full-fledged project in my field of interest, I decided to apply for a PhD degree.
So these two factors motivated me to go for a PhD degree and not an MS.
What inspired you to pursue research in your field, given that most of the engineering students go for placements or a management degree?
The field of research that I am interested in has varied applications in the field of medicine, communications etc. I have always wanted to work on projects that have a wide-ranging impact on society. Pursuing a career in the field of research would enable me to work on technologies that could make a tremendous positive impact on society in the coming years. So, this served as an inspiration to me.
How would you differentiate PhD and Masters applications, in terms of procedure, academic achievements, references etc?
PhD applicants should undertake projects specific to the field that they are interested in.
There is no significant difference in the application process for the PhD applications and the Masters' applications.
The competition pool for PhD applicants is tougher than the Masters' applicants since for a PhD program, both Masters and Bachelors degree holders apply whereas for a Masters program, mostly Bachelor degree holders apply. This being said, an ideal PhD applicant's profile will most probably have publications whereas a Masters applicant's profile might not. Hence, it is always good to have publications on your profile if you aim to apply for PhD programs. But again, this isn't a hard and fast rule.
Secondly, PhD applicants are expected to be clear about the field of research that they are interested in, and should undertake projects specific to the field that they are interested in. For Masters degree applications, some amount of generic undergraduate research work should do.
Thirdly, it is often seen that PhD applicants have Letters of Recommendation from professors under whom they have worked on research projects. The recommendations from such professors are quite specific in terms of the qualities of the applicant that they think helped him/her to achieve the tasks on that project. Such detailed LoRs can be very helpful for the application. For the Master's program, applicants usually take LoRs from their research project supervisors and even their professors under whom they have undertaken courses.
Again, all things said above are from a general trend that I have noticed and it is not rigid.
How important are extracurriculars in any foreign university application?
I believe that extracurricular activities should be undertaken by students irrespective of whether those would help their chances of getting admission abroad. Taking part in such activities leads to the all-round development of one’s personality and serves as a good break from the hectic routine. But yes, extracurricular activities surely do add substance to one's profile for foreign university applications. It serves as a good metric to judge how well a student manages his/her studies and other activities.
So irrespective of whether you would be applying for PhD programs or Masters programs, do take out time for the numerous activities that are held in college such as quizzing, dramatics, etc.
What would you advise your juniors, who are aspiring to follow a similar path in research? How can they increase their chances of success?
The GRE general exam, the GRE subject exam and the TOEFL should not be taken lightly.
First and foremost, contrary to what students usually get to hear, I would like to stress the fact that your grades are a huge factor for your admission to foreign universities. A good CGPA can also compensate for the lack of research projects on one's CV. No one should feel disheartened over low grades but instead should start working towards performing to their best potential from that moment onwards.
Secondly, the students who are interested in going abroad for higher studies should undertake research projects, albeit generic ones, as early as possible. They should make full use of the summer break as well as the winter break to undertake projects. It is advisable to identify your interests and find professors at our university who are working in that field and consequently start some projects under them. Once that is done, students should apply for the numerous research internships across the world and gain experience. In this process, one should try to publish their work for conferences and journals. Publications strengthen one's profile. For those unsure of what they want to pursue research in should try to undertake online courses to know more about what interests them. Talking to seniors helps and might give the confidence necessary to take steps in the right direction.
Thirdly, managing time is one very crucial thing that will not only come in handy regarding college admissions but is also a good trait to imbibe, in general. That being said, I would stress on preparing the Statement of Purpose (SoP) well 2 months in advance, so that there is enough time to refine it by discussing it with seniors and friends. It is advisable to have a general timeline for the few months before the application deadlines which encompasses when to give the GRE and the TOEFL. That being said, the GRE general exam, the GRE subject exam and the TOEFL should not be taken lightly as a low GRE or TOEFL score could be detrimental to one's application.
Lastly, and most importantly, never hold yourself back from helping someone who needs help not only with their college applications but even about stuff that is bothering them otherwise.