Saturday, December 30, 2006

For the special 2007...

2007 will be a special year for me, one with some significant milestones happening. For one, I will turn 30 in 2007. Also, I may get into a graduate school, and hence do a relocation, in 2007.

To commemorate this special year, I bought myself an Oris Flight Timer 2 a few days ago. The second time zone feature will be useful when I start the PhD program, I told my wife. We need to keep track of the home time so that we don't make calls back at unearthly hours.

Yes, I'm jumping the gun with all the talks about the "special year", "significant milestones", and "useful second time zone" - but hey, I do need to give some justifications for the purchase.

Friday, December 22, 2006

2nd attempt on paper submission

I should be submitting the research paper that I'm co-authoring to another journal within the next few days. It is good to get this done before the year-end.

I have been working on this piece for the last 9 months or so. Yes, it is taking a bit longer than it should. This is because I was quite tied up with work and the schools' applications, especially in the last 2 to 3 months.

This research is more of a qualitative, cased-based paper. Although I think I will be doing more quant-based research (should I be admitted to the schools that I am applying), the experience of writing this paper has been very enriching. It helps to
hone my analytical and writing skills, as well as exposes me slightly to the submission requirements and processes.

I hope it will be accepted for review/publishing this time round (which researcher
would hope otherwise for her work?). I don't think it will be in time to affect my applications, nevertheless it would be a nice closure and maybe something that I can talk about should some of the schools decide to interview me.

Anyway, let's see how this will eventually turn out...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Blessed Christmas!

Here wishing you a Blessed Christmas and Fruitful 2007!

I was hoping for one or two early admits from some schools for this Christmas. Well, I guess the ad comms are not reading my blog.... Anyway, I have just completed a new draft of the research paper that I'm working on with a prof. Hope to submit it for pub soon. I was a little busy lately these few months and have sort of taken my eyes off it. I'm really glad that I could sit down and work on it over the last few days. I look forward to it being published somewhere, although I don't think this will have any material impact on my applications for the PhD program.

I'm left with one last application. I'm targeting to send it out by 10 Jan before a holiday trip that I will be making with my wife and daughter. Good to have something to take my mind off the waiting....

Sunday, December 03, 2006

approaching the end of 2006.... things to be done

It's December, and one of the schools' application deadline is approaching. I have already completed and submitted my application for this school weeks ago, and so I'm cool (or pretending to be cool) about it. Anyway, the school already sent me an automated email to tell me that I will only hear of the decision by March/April next year.

Anyway, two outstanding tasks that I have (as of now) is to complete the application for one more school as well as my research project. For the former, there are about 3 months to the deadline, so it can wait a while more. For the latter, I have procrastinated for about 2 months - I hope to get it done before Christmas.

Once these are done, I would like to write in details of my experiences in the application process, e.g. the statement of purpose, letter of recommendations, etc.. I hope this would benefit future applicants. If I get admitted, then they would be positive advices. Otherwise, they would be negative examples - negative but useful nevertheless, I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

what do I want for this Christmas?

Christmas is a day to remember Jesus Christ's first coming more than 2000 years ago. It represents God's gracious gift to mankind. Jesus - who is the Son of God - gave up his glory in heavens and came to earth in the form of a human babe (that's the first Christmas). In the later part of His time on earth, He ministered to the people and eventually suffered and died on the Cross for our sins (on Good Friday). But He rose up 3 days later (on Easter Sunday) and later ascended to heavens. Therefore, Christmas signifies the first step that Christ took for the redemption of our sins. And hence when we give and receive presents during Christmas, we are reminded of the Gift of Life that God gave to us.

So, what do I want for this Christmas? Well, I already have the best gift in life - the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. I also have the 2nd best gift - a wonderful and lovely family with my wife and daughter. And I already have my 2 front teeth. So what do I want? What do I really want?

How about an early admit? From a Tier A school? Is this too much to ask for this Christmas?

Monday, November 27, 2006

daily routine

1. Check email - see if any updates or interview requests from the schools that I have applied to.
2. Login to schools' application system - see if any changes to the application status.
3. Check forum discussions on PhD programs

To think that the deadline for schools have not even passed, I'm already doing all these at least once or twice per day. Come Jan/Feb, I may just go insane...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

will it or will it not?

November is crawling by really slowly... and I think it will be the same for the next few months, until March 2007. No news; no developments; nothing at all. (Still have 1 more application to submit.) Thankfully there are Christmas and a holiday trip in mid-Jan to keep me occupied and distracted.

2 of my friends (unrelated to each other) encountered little setbacks recently. One submitted a request for a transfer within his organization months ago, and just got the Dinged. The other went for a 3-round interview but was not shortlisted for the position eventually. I'm pretty sure these friends were somewhat hopeful as the events unfold in their respective lives. Yet ultimately, their hopes did not materialize in ways that they had hoped for. And this got me thinking: Would the same outcome happen to my applications and plans?

Although I don't think I am the strongest of the strongest applicants around, my gut feel is that my application is strong enough for some serious consideration. As I have previously mentioned, over the last 12 months, many doors have been opened which helped me to overcome certain weak points - e.g. opportunity for RA, getting strong recommendations, linking up with potential faculty, etc. These doors have not been opened forcefully by my might - for I'm not strong or good enough to open them. Instead, I have always acknowledged that it is by God's hands that these doors opened for me. This acknowledgement of God's presence has been a strong encouragement for me over the last few months as I prepare and submit my application. I know - if the Lord so will - that my family and I will be going somewhere some time next year to do something.

So, as you can see, I'm in a dilemma. On one hand, when I see what happened to my two friends, I am discouraged somewhat. On the other hand, when I see God's leading throughout my journey thus far, I am greatly encouraged. Human vs Divine intervention. Visible vs Invisible. All I can do now is pray, hope and wait.... and what a slow and painful wait this is....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

nov is here...

Just submitted my 6th app (Tier A school) today. One of my recommenders finally managed to resolve the online submission of my reco. With that, I have submitted to all 4 of my Tier A schools. Now only left with 1 to 2 more schools to apply.

The last 2 weeks have been pretty low key for me. With most of the key applications submitted and essays drafted, there wasn't much for me to do. Spent most of my time hanging out at other forums and reading the exciting developments of MBA applicants. Other than that, I'm also preparing an application for a scholarship. Although I'm not putting too much hope in getting this scholarship, I'm still trying to give my best shot for it. Put in my best and let God takes care of the rest.

Must find something meaningful to occupy my mind for the next 3 to 4 months.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

sit rep

Ok, it's time to give a situation report....

I have submitted 4 applications as of today: 3 to Tier A schools, and 1 to a Tier B school. I should be submitting another Tier B app this week. Actually I can also submit my app to my last Tier A school now, except that one of my recommenders is facing some problem with the online recommendation. I like to resolve that before I do the submission.

God willing, I should be able to send out 6 apps by end Oct (or mid-Nov at the latest). I will hold on to 2 other schools' app to maybe end Dec or early Jan, depending on whether I hear anything from the schools that I have already applied.

The last 2 to 3 weeks were mainly used to customize and refine the essays to the different schools. It is not really an easy task, and I'm glad that I started drafting my SOP and getting LORs, etc., early. Going forward, I have 3 other essays to work on - should be able to complete them by end Oct. Thereafter, I think (and hope) that I will be a free man....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

app #1 - out and ouch!

After going through the online form numerous times, checking and uploading the essays multiple times, I finally submitted the application for a Tier A school. Pressing the "Submit Application" button was really a nervous event, for you know that there is no going back. No more checking and vetting. No room for errors.

But error there was. As Murphy says, "If anything can go wrong, it will". Within minutes of submitting the app, I noticed a typo in one of my essay. It must have happened when I was trying to save the doc. Instead of Ctrl + S, I might have only pressed the S before I converted it into pdf. Ouch. Although the extra "S" didn't change the context of the point that I was making, a typo is still a typo.

It hurts. Firstly, it is the first application that I am submitting. Secondly, I have done checks after checks for each of the essays. For me to make the typo error just before submitting the app, all my previous efforts have gone down the drain. Thirdly, this is a submission to a Tier A school. Silly as it may sound, if the school doesn't admit me in a few months' time, I am sure I will be questioning myself "Is it because of the 'S'? Is it?"

Anyway, I'm trying to see if I can update the essay thru the school's PhD office.

[Update, 7 Oct: The PhD office allows me to update the essay through them. Thank God! It is not the end of the world, yet.]

Monday, October 02, 2006

kpi for october

Counting down - 6 more months...

All my recommendations are in. And so are my transcripts. Have already started to fill in the application forms. Doing a final vetting of my SOP, after that will complete the customization of the schools' essays. Need to certify my finances for at least one of the applications.

Objective for the month - send out applications for at least 5 of the 8 schools: 3 Tier A and 2 Tier B.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

adding one more school to apply to

In an earlier posting, I said that I may not be applying to a school on my shortlist because it requires GRE. Well, the school now accepts GMAT as well. Hence I'm adding it to the list of schools that I will be applying to.

[Update (Mar 2, 2007): This school is Wharton.]

I'm really happy about this as it is one of my Tier-A schools. Not that I will surely get in there, and it is making my pockets lighter. Nevertheless, I'm glad that I can apply to it now than to wonder "what if" in the future.

Anyway, just to update my school list:

Based on the most recent USNews America's Best Graduate Schools (2007) ranking, the 8 schools that I am applying can be split into 4 groups:
  • (Group I) 3 in the Top 10
  • (Group II) 3 in the Top 11 - 20 range
  • (Group III) 1 in the Top 31 - 40 range
  • (Group IV) 1 outside the Top 49 (not sure if it is ranked)

Based on the USNews America's Best Graduate Schools 2005 Information Systems speciality ranking,
  • 7 in the Top 10
  • 1 outside the Top 20 (a Group I school)
I further divided these schools into 3 tiers,
  • Tier A: 2 Group I [MIT, Wharton], 2 Group II [NYU]
  • Tier B: 1 each from Group II, III and IV [UT @ Austin, U of Maryland, Georgia State University]
  • Tier C: 1 Group I [UCLA]
[Update: I have decided to dropped UCLA from the list. So I would only apply to 7 schools.]

no more 4th recommender

I was following up with my 4th and last recommender (non-academic) to see how was he coping with writing my recommendations. Unsurprisingly, he said he was extremely busy to work on them.

After thinking through and following up with some schools, I think I would withdraw him from my recommender list. Thankfully, I already have 3 academic recommendations and all are pretty strong.

Friday, September 22, 2006

corresponding with a faculty member

About 1 month ago, I was corresponding with a faculty member in a particular school that I would be applying to. The introduction started well. However, after I sent my CV and research interest over, the communication ceased. A week later, I sent a friendly reminder/enquiry but there were still no responses.

Today, 3 weeks after sending the reminder/enquiry, I decided to send one last enquiry to check whether previous emails and CV have been received. Just hours after sending the email, the faculty replied and said she was very busy over the last few weeks and hence couldn't reply to me.

On one hand, I'm glad that the emails got through. On the other hand, beside acknowledging my emails, there were no further comments. Well, no comment is better than bad comments, so I'm thankful for that. I'm now hoping for a further discussion. Yet I am not too sure how I should be driving this communication.

Guess I just have to move on with my application for the time being, regardless of the (lack of) outcome from this correspondence. At the same time, I'm continuing to pray for opening of doors.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

schools selection

Taking a break from the essays writing and thought maybe I should journal down my school selection process.

I have identified 9 schools but, as of now, I am likely to apply to 7 of them only. 1 of the other 2 schools requires me to take the GRE, which I'm not sure if I can do it in time. The other is not really that into my research interest.

Based on the most recent USNews America's Best Graduate Schools (2007) ranking, the 7 schools that I am applying can be split into 4 groups:
  • (Group I) 2 in the Top 10
  • (Group II) 3 in the Top 11 - 20 range
  • (Group III) 1 in the Top 31 - 40 range
  • (Group IV) 1 outside the Top 49 (not sure if it is ranked)

Based on the USNews America's Best Graduate Schools 2005 Information Systems speciality ranking,
  • 6 in the Top 10
  • 1 outside the Top 20 (a Group I school)
I further divided these schools into 3 tiers,
  • Tier A: 1 Group I, 2 Group II
  • Tier B: 1 each from Group II, III and IV
  • Tier C: 1 Group I
[Please see my updated list.]

How did I come up with the different tiers? There are a few criteria that I looked at, starting with the most important:

1) Research interest. I looked at the faculty's research interest, and identified those that are doing research that I'm really keen in.

2) The school's reputation - both in general and specific to Information Systems. I also considered the school's placement record.

3) Environment - as I am going with my wife and daughter, I hope the place is condusive for a healthy family life, raising up children, etc.

4) Cost and Quality of Living. I took into account the stipends and financial aid offered by the schools here.

Such tier-system would be helpful should I need to decide between offers in months to come (of course, this is what I'm hoping for...). There is a limitation though: while useful to compare between tiers, this system may not help much when comparing within a tier. Anyway, that will be a good problem to have. And I must/should not be too presumptuous for now.

At this point, it might have been better if I had expanded the list to about 10 schools. But criteria #1 (Research Interest) seriously limited my choices. I'm not sure if this is the right thing for me to do, but I guess I should just move on.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

doing my last lap

I have done version 6.4 of my SOP and begun to customize my SOP to the schools' essays. Started work on 5 schools' essays - of which 3 are 99% completed and the other 2 are 97% done. Just need to review them a bit more before I finalize and "pdf" them.

I have also decided that I will not rush to complete the research paper for the application process. At this stage, I don't think the paper will make it in time to significantly strengthen my application. Furthermore, the journal which my collaborator and I are targeting is not exactly in the A-list. I came to this conclusion after talking to one of my recommenders (not my collaborator) over the weekend that just passed, as well as reading a relevant posting in Testmagic today. Nevertheless, I hope to wrap this research paper up by Christmas - need to be responsible to the task, right?

As I reviewed the task list that I put in place a few months ago, it seems like I have done my best and made good progress in all departments except for publishing the research paper and talking to potential advisors in the schools that I'm applying to. Hopefully, these will not come back to haunt me in a few months' time.

Hence, what are outstanding in my last lap are the last 2 recommendation packages (which should come in by this month end), the essays, and some financial certifications that I need to do for some of the schools. I think I should be able to submit some of the applications as early as Oct.

God willing, I hope I will do a victory lap come Feb/March/April 2007.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

sop - yes! yes! yes!

Yes, I have just done up version 6.2 of my SOP. Showed it to my wife, and she liked it. To her, this must be it. Personally I am also quite satisfied with this version. Not only has it addressed various important issues but also presented them in the best way (yet).

There are a total of 14 versions, from ver. 1 to 6.2. Man, that's a lot. Anyway, I have started to adopt my SOP mastercopy to the requirements of the respective school. Quite a lot of work. Seems like I'm on my last mile in the application process.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

my profile

A snapshot of my profile:

  • Bachelor degree from a non-US university (AACSB accredited).
  • Graduated in 2001. Top 10% of my cohort (600+) and was on Dean's list
  • Less than 1 year experience at time of application.
  • No publication (yet).
Work Experience
  • 5+ years experience in a startup that is very related to my research interest.
  • 1 year experience in the public sector.
Standardized Tests
  • GMAT: 99th percentile
  • TOEFL (iBT): 100+
  • 3 academic recommendations. All strongly recommended me for the programs.
  • I would think that it is strong. I hope it is strong.

Monday, September 11, 2006

cleared toefl!

Total 114 (R=29, L=30, S=26, W=29). Should be good enough for all schools.

Thank God!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

moving along

I'm reworking on my SOP - again. ;p Not a major revamp; just trying out a new structure to present my story. I couldn't help it.... my brain and fingers were itchy.

Was just corresponding with a key recommender. Working with him to get my recommendation package completed. Basically he wanted me to customize the letters to the programs and schools that I am applying to. Not so much of the content, but more of the "courtesies". Quite a bit of work, but if this helps, it's worth it. So it seems like I should be receiving the 3rd set of LOR soon. I'm almost ready to send in my apps.

Speaking of apps, I've started filling up the online forms. Progressing quite well, although there are a few schools that have yet to open up the online application channels. Basically I'm left with my TOEFL score (which should be coming soon) and the customized SOP for the schools. And then there is the research paper. All these by Nov/Dec.... hmmm.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

2nd LOR in

Collected my letters of recommendation package from the 2nd Prof. I can't really tell whether is it a strong recommendation or not. But I think it is definitely not a bad recommendation. So I am very thankful for that.

Given that recommendation plays an important role in the admission process, I am glad that I have all grounds covered in the area of LOR.

2 more sets of LOR to collect. Hope they will come in by Nov.

Monday, September 04, 2006

at the start of Sept

7 more months to go... time really flies fast.

Yesterday in church, I got to know someone who just came back from one of the school that I am really keen in. He is from the same school as the Prof whom I spoke to about 2 weeks back. Coincidence? God's hands? I really think it is the latter. Is this a sign of things to come? Interesting...

I reworked on the research paper over the weekend. Left with some finishing touches before we submit it. Hopefully it will be successful this time.

I will be getting the recommendation package back from another Prof tomorrow. He completed it much faster than I expected. He told me that he would be busy for the next 2 months and to chase him in Oct if necessary. Not sure if this is a good or bad sign, but what I can do? Anyway, I have passed the other packages to 2 other recommenders. This aspect of the application is moving quite well.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

what am I up to now?

I'm a bit busy lately with work and other assignments, hence I'm not flooring the application paddle now. However, I am still working on different aspects of my app.

My co-author and I are trying to repackage our research paper for another journal. It is not an "A" list, it is still quite a respectable publication. Hope to get the paper in, or at least into the review stage, so that I can mention it in my SOP. Hence I am targeting to complete it by end-Sept at the latest.

I am also talking to a faculty in one of my top choice school. The email exchange started well last week, until I shared my research interest and CV. It has been a week since I last emailed the faculty and I have not received a response. Is she busy? Out of town? Maybe she forwarded my email to her colleagues for their opinions? Or maybe she thinks that I cannot-make-it? Just sent a friendly note last night to check if my last email has been received.

In addition, I am waiting for my TOEFL score - it should come by next Friday. Hopefully it will be good enough. I will also meet up with my last recommender to pass him my recommendation package. More waiting games to play.

Come Oct, I will get back to my hardcore application mode again.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Don’t plan with a rainy day in mind

A few days ago, I read the devotion that I first read on my wedding day 3 years ago. For a few days before my wedding day, the weather was very wet. So much so that we were a little sick then. During that few days, we kept praying for good weather to come, especially on the wedding day itself.

I still remember that I woke up very early on the wedding day. Around 5am. Or was it 4am? Anyway, the first thing that I did was to look out of the window to check the weather in the midst of darkness. The sky had a dangerous tone of red - a sign of heavy downpour that was to come. My heart sunk a little as I walked away from the window and prepared to do my daily devotion.

The devotion was from Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest. The focus of the devotion for the day was that as we plan, we need to plan alongside with God. Not only for "spiritual" plans but also for practical and day-living stuffs. One of the main point, in bold, was "Don’t plan with a rainy day in mind." When I saw that, my heart was lifted. To me, it was the assurance from the Lord that the day would surely go on well and nice for us. Sure enough, the day went prefectly for my wife and I. Not a drop of rain was seen on that day.

As I revisited this devotion a few days ago, I felt that God is reminding me once again. Firstly, I need to constantly humble myself before Him as I plan, and that He must be part of the plan. Lately, with all the work and preparation, my walk with God wasn't as regular and consistent as I would like it to be. So this is a very timely reminder for me.

Secondly, I need to forget about the "Plan B", the"what-if", the fears. Personally, I feel that I have put in my very best to strengthen myself as an applicant. Doing the research paper, getting out of my comfort zone to make contacts, scoring well for the GMAT, writing drafts after drafts of the SOPs, etc. On one hand, if I fail to get in to any schools, I know that I have done the best that I could so there will be no regrets. On the other hand, I fear that the pain of failure may be harder to bear. And what if I fail? What's next? What's my Plan B?

Chamber advices:

You cannot hoard things for a rainy day if you are truly trusting Christ. Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled . . ." (John 14:1 ). God will not keep your heart from being troubled. It is a command— "Let not. . . ." To do it, continually pick yourself up, even if you fall a hundred and one times a day, until you get into the habit of putting God first and planning with Him in mind.

How appropriate! Thank God for His reminder, teaching and promise. I shall continue to pray and commit this journey into His caring hands with faith and trust. May He help me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

another great meeting

Had a very good meeting with a Prof who received her PhD from one of the school that I'm applying to. Met up with her to find out more about the program, people and place. Overall, the impression that I took away is very positive. The school is great but very demanding; faculty are top-rated and dynamic; living environment is friendly but not too happening (which is fine with me). Simply put, a good place to pursue a PhD in my field of interest.

This Prof was also quite encouraging about my chances. She seemed quite impressed with my GMAT and background, and I think she thinks I have a shot. Of course, she also added that I should consider some safety schools, which I think I have done. Also, she suggested that if I can get the research paper pending/reviewed/published somewhere, it would strengthen my application.

The best thing that came out of this meeting is that she will try to link me up with a faculty in the school that I'm applying too. I have had wanted to contact this and another faculty, but dropped the idea of doing so as the responses that I received from other attempts weren't positive. The only response I received told me that there is no Phd program in my field of interest. Now with the help of this Prof, I guess things should move better. Talk about the power of social network. Speaking of which, I'm not one who is comfortable of utilising my social network. I sort of feel bad troubling others with my troubles. Hence I always try to find my own way and path as much as I can. But I guess in life, one must know how to make use of the social network to progress.

Once again, thank God for the open door.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Took the TOEFL

Yap, took it 2 nights ago. Wasn't in the best condition for the test. Had a fever and bad stomach 2 days before the test. On the test day itself, I was having a bad headach, an uncomfortable tummy, and an ulcer on my tongue.

Futhermore, I didn't really prepare for the test. Was unable to get my hands on a full-scale prep test so I did not really know what to expect. So I kind of screwed up the first few minutes into the test. Managed to recompose myself after awhile. And I think I was the oldest test taker that day... very much older than everyone else.

Ok ok... enough with all these excuses. I just hope that I can clear it well.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

first taste of rejection

Well, my co-authored research paper did not pass the 1st round of submission, as the journal is not considering additional manuscripts on our topic for the time being. Now we will need to prepare the paper for submission to another journal. More words, more work.

Although I'm a little disappointed with the first rejection of my first submission, I guess such outcomes are not uncommon in academia. I'm disappointed but not discouraged. I will move on and see what comes.

Friday, August 04, 2006

research paper submitted

Just submit my (co-authored) research paper for publication. Hope it can get through.

Is there a catch?

When things are going tough, when the mountain seems to be too high, when there are obstacles after obstacle, you wonder where God is. You wonder where God is leading you to. You wonder what God is trying to tell you. You feel down, isolated, drained. You wonder, "Is it worth it?"

When the situations become better and easier, when you are ascending the mountain nicely, when you are slowly but surely overcoming obstacles after obstacles, when doors are being opened for you, you thank God. You thank Him for His presence and providence. You thank Him for opening the doors. Yet at the same time, you secretly wonder when will God finally slam the door in your face, bolt it with the strongest lock in the world, and tell you that right from the start, this journey is not meant for you. "But I helped you along so that you can build up your hope. But, dude, it is time to end the party." You secretly secretly wonder, "So what's the catch for all these opened doors?"

We sometimes have this wrong impression of God because we are humans who have the tendency to believe in what we can see, touch and hold. We want to believe in ourselves, relying on our might. We want to believe in our network, who knows so-and-so. We want to believe in our achievements and track records, that these will be impressive enough to get you what you want. It is easy and easier to believe in all these.

In contrast, to believe in God, who is physically invisible, is tough. It takes faith to put everything in the hands of the Sovereign Lord, who we cannot even see, much less touch or hold, physically. In fact, that's faith - believing in what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 says "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Being sure and certain. Of our hope and what we do not see.

So as I continue to journey on, I am reminding myself to journey on with faith. Faith in God who promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Whatever is the outcome, I know that it is part of God's plan for me.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

school's recommendation - prepare early

Saw this advice in Georgia State University's Application Instruction document for international applicants:

"We recommend that you begin the application process at least 18 months in advance of your desired semester of entry."

The bold appeared in the doc as well. An excellent piece of advice.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

a great meeting today

I met up with a Prof who was the lecturer and tutor of a few modules that I took as an undergrad. On the agenda:
i. to find out more about one of the university that I am interested in (he had his PhD there, but from another school)
ii. to ask him to be my recommender.

I thought the likelihood of him being my recommender was very slim, as I didn't really establish a relationship with him during my studies. Moreover, it had been 5 years since I graduated. So I wasn't confident about him agreeing to help with the recommendation. Nevertheless, I was very excited when he agreed to meet up.

I talked to him for about 45 mins to find out more about a particular school that I am applying to. The Prof shared candidly about the school and its environment. Initially, he was a bit shocked after hearing the schools that I am applying to. He hinted that I better have had done well for my GMAT. After hearing my GMAT score and working experience, he was very encouraging. He gave me the impression that I shouldn't have problem getting in.

Nevertheless, he still advised me to considering applying to some "safety schools". This is because the top schools are quite competitive to get in. There is a possibility that I get in without funding. By having safety schools, I would at least guarantee myself with some financial support. He added that safety schools are not bad schools - there are people who graduated from lower ranked schools and are doing well as researchers. I thought he gave a very good advice: Instead of looking at the brandname, look for schools where there are supportive supervisors who can help you to write good thesis.

Just before leaving his office, I asked him would it be OK if I were to approach him as my recommender. I was just hoping to get a good recommendation from him. He said it was no problem at all and he would like to write me a strong recommendation. What a fantastic surprise! Thank God for opening the door once more.

Monday, July 31, 2006

a statement that is more than just a statement

Why is it call a statement of purpose when:

1. You need to write quite a few paragraphs

2. You need to write about more than just your purpose but also your experience, strength, weaknesses, blah blah blah.

Anyway, I'm thankful that I'm on version 5.4 of my SOP. I don't think I will polish it or change it anymore, unless it is absolutely necessary. I have accepted the fact that there is no PERFECT SOP. I think I have presented a holistic picture of myself as a PhD candidate as best as I can in this version.

However, I will still need to adapt it for the various schools' requirements.

Monday, July 24, 2006

the writing of my research paper

After more than a month, I have finally completed the main draft of the case study that I'm co-authoring with a Prof. For certain "bureaucratic" reasons and to ensure that we are politically-correct, we are sending it for comments before submitting it for review.

The whole process - which started in end March - is quite enriching. My main objective of co-authoring this paper is to get in touch with writing an academic paper. The last time I wrote an academic paper was about 5 years ago. Also, I hope to get one a good recommendation and maybe, just maybe, a publication to beef up my CV. At this point, I have gained the desired experience in writing. Not sure if the good recommendation and publication will come thru though.

After 4 months of ding-donging with the Prof and interviewees, reading up other papers and articles, drafting and redrafting, thinking and rethinking, staying up till 2 am, I can say:
1) Writing is a slow and long process. There are many things that go behind the writing. The thinking, the reading, the analyzing.

2) Writing sometimes frustrate you when you don't know what to write. How can I better articulate my thoughts and intentions? How can I cut down some words? What am I actually trying to say?

Do I enjoy the writing process? Does writing come second nature to me? Am I willing take up writing as a career? Will I be able to hit the publication quota? I don't know... really, I don't know.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

in my mailbox today

Received an application package in the mail from one school that I am sure I will be applying to. In fact, I have started to work on the application - requested for transcript, filled up the personal data forms, worked on one of the essays. The package consists of a nice classy folder with lots of details and the application materials and forms. Although most, if not all, of the info in the package is available at the school's website, it is still a nice surprise. Nice because the school is among my top choices. A surprise because I did not request for it. I wonder how the school knows of my interest... could it be from one of my emails to them (but I don't remember telling them my address)? Or maybe because I logged into their system previously (although I couldn't really recall doing so). And why did it send me the package? Because it WANTS me? That's would be nice, wouldn't it? Very nice, indeed.

I was in high spirit as I flipped through the package. Until I read that the school typically receives more than 1000 applications, and accepts between 20 to 25 students. That's between 2 to 2.5% acceptance rate.

2 thoughts came to my mind:
1. At US$75 application fee per application, the school collects a cool US$75,000 (at least) from the applicants per year. Not as lucractive as the MBA program, I'm sure, but still a nice business model.

2. I'm in for a challenge. A tough challenge.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

9 months

9 months from now I should be hearing the decisions from the schools. 9 months. It is like being pregnant and you choose not to know the gender of the baby. Waiting for the D-day to see what comes.

In the meantime, there are lots to do and experience. Preparing the baby room and getting the baby stuff (= doing up the apps). Going through some morning sickness (= anxiety). Craving for those difficult-to-get food (= desiring for the best of the best schools).

But like what they say, try to enjoy the journey

Friday, June 30, 2006

Useful Links

Contacting potential advisors (read this BEFORE you email potential advisers)
Overview of grad school application (suggest you read this ONE year before you apply)
How to apply to grad school (from a psychology student handbook, but appliable to other fields)
Getting in-thru-out

Business schools research ranking (based on pulications in top journals)
USNews business schools ranking (note: based on MBA, NOT PhD)
USNews best graduate business schools 2005 in IS (courtesy of GSU)
MIS journals ranking (
MIS journals ranking (

GradJournal (Databases of applications admit/rejects; discussion forum; bibliography tool)
BusinessWeek: thread on PhD in Business (covers a wide spectrum of stuffs. Started all the way from Oct 2002. Worth the time to read through the entire thread, consisting of more than 6,200 messages as of now)
PhD discussion forum in GMATClub
The Grad Cafe

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

LOR - a small setback

One of my "confirmed" recommenders told me to look for someone else to get an LOR when I asked if he could give me a strong LOR. All along, I though he would be willing to write me a LOR, even if it is not that strong.

His response shocked me a little, and I explained to him my circumstances. He later told me to give me my CV and the necessary materials. Now, I am not sure how strong his LOR for me will be.

Need to rework on my game plan, and come up with some backups...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

SOP ver. 5

Done up a 4th and 5th draft of the SOP over the weekend, although I was down with a bad flu. My wife, Y, has been very involved in my SOP drafting, and she gave a very good comment after she read the 4th draft. "Dear, you need to show some passion... Ultimately, this is what will help readers remember of you...".

I have been quite effective in bringing out the key points in the SOP concisely. Why I want to do this? What are my strengths? How I overcame my weaknesses? Perhaps a little too effective, so much so that I did not show the "passion". Pondered about Y's comment and started to think about the stuffs that show my passion in what I did and what I want to do.

So out came the 5th (which actually evolved, and not revolved, from the 4th). And I am quite satisfied with this draft. I think it paints the story that I really want to tell the ad com - Why I want to do a PhD. And it shows some passion. Now, it is time to send it out for some further comments....

Thursday, June 22, 2006

toefl - no idea

No idea why some of the schools need me to sit for a TOEFL. Doesn't my 15 years of education in English-based institutions in sunny Singapore count for anything?

No idea why I couldn't register for a TOEFL test-date at No available dates at all. Why have a website for people to register then? Why not post a notice to save applicants' time and efforts?

No idea why Thompson Prometric's South-East Asia office in KL did not response to my email enquiry on why I couldn't 't register for the TOEFL.

No idea why the call centre operator in KL replied "No idea" when I asked why I couldn't register. Or "No idea" when I asked when the system will be up. Or "No idea" to whom I can talk to to find out more. What an easy job for the call centre operator.

Monday, June 19, 2006

task lists

In Progress

1. Clear GMAT
- Total 750, 99th (Q:90th, V:94th)

2. Contact potential advisers - Oct 2006
[14 August] Decided to skip this. Will just go ahead to apply to all the schools.

3. Shortlist School - July 2006
[19 June 06] Confirmed 4 schools. Think I will need to identify 2 or 3 more.
[30 June 06] Confirmed 5 schools. Considering 2 more schools. One requires me take the GRE, which I am not too willing at this point.
[31 July 06] Confirmed 6 schools that I will be applying. Still thinking of whether to apply to the one that requires GRE.
[11 Sept 06] Confirmed 9 schools that I will be applying - requested LOR for all these schools.

4. Clear TOEFL - Aug 2006
[19 June 06] Yes, despite having 15 years of education in Singapore, I still need to give a TOEFL score for most schools. Only 1 school gives me the waiver thus far.
[30 June 06] Registered. Test date is set on 18 Aug.
[11 Sept 06] Received my score: Total 114 (R=29, L=30, S=26, W=29)

5. Get transcripts - Sept 2006
[13 Sept 06] Collected

6. Get recommenders - Sept 2006
[19 June 06] 3 recommenders confirmed (2 academic + 1 work). Need to get 1 or 2 more academic references. To touch base with recommenders once the local U's term starts.
[30 June 06] 1 of the recommender turned shaky. Not sure if I can get a strong recommendation from him, which is crucial. To come up with a Plan B.
[31 July 06] Sent one LOR package to a key recommender. Will send the packages to 2 others by next week. Meeting up with a potential recommender tomorrow.
[10 Aug 06] Received the first completed set of LORs. 1 other set of LOR sent. 2 other sets to be sent.
[5 Sep 06] Received the 2nd completed set of LORs. 2 other sets are already out in the recommeders' hands.
[28 Sep 06] 3rd completed set of LORs in. Dropping my 4th recommender (non-academic).

7. SOP - Nov 2006
[19 Jun 06] Already done 3 versions of the Mastercopy. Guess just need 1 or 2 more versions & revisions.
[30 Jun 06] Latest version: Mastercopy 5.1. Quite pleased with it.
[31 Jul 06] Latest version: Mastercopy 5.4. This should be it.
[14 Aug 06] Done Mastercopy 5.5. Have also started to draft the purpose statements for 2 of the schools.
[19 Sep 06] Done Mastercopy 6.4. Drafted essays for 5 schools. 2 more to go.
[28 Sep 06] Getting my mastercopy to be vetted for a final time.
[4 Oct 06] Mastercopy 6.6 vetted and sealed.

8. Complete research paper - ASAP
[19 June 06] Just starting on this.
[30 June 06] Still working on this. Not much progress.
[16 July 06] Wrote out draft 1. "The draft is a good start". Thought that was a nice comment.
[31 July 06] Completed about 4 drafts of the paper. Now pending submission to a journal. Hope it get into the review stage. Will be good for my CV.
[4 Aug 06] Submitted for publication consideration.
[9 Aug 06] Paper not considered for publication for the time being. Need to work on it for another journal.
[2 Sept 06] Amended the paper for another journal. Left with some finishing touches.
[17 Sept 06] Need to expand the working paper.
[19 Dec 06] Completed for 2nd publication attempt.
[22 Dec 06] Submitted again for publication consideration.

9. Submit applications - Dec 2006
[4 Oct 06] App #1 out. Tier A school.
[5 Oct 06] App #2 out. Tier A school.
[13 Oct 06] App #3 out. Tier A school.
[15 Oct 06] App #4 out. Tier B school.
[24 Oct 06] App #5 out. Tier B school.
[2 Nov 06] App #6 out. Tier A school.
[12 Jan 07] App #7 out. Tier B school.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


So here I am, 8 months after I purposefully started on the search for the PhD program and 8 months from hearing where I will be in 12 months. The last 8 months has been a very exciting period for me, with many ups and downs. On a few occasions, I questioned whether this is really what I want. Do I really want to give up the comfort that my family is having and be a hand-to-mouth student for the next 4 to 5 years? Do I really want to put my wife and child thru this? Do I really want to give up the business that I have been establishing for the last 8 years?

Friday, June 16, 2006

my journey partners

The previous posts basically capture the key milestones of my journey thus far, over the last 8 months. I did not journey alone. Alongside with me have been....

God - He opens doors for me and has been leading me all these while. As I look at this journey, I can see His presence with me at various key milestones . Clearing the GMAT, overcoming weaknesses, making connections with people. All these happened not by chance nor my might. And by faith, I believe that He will continue to lead me THERE, which currently I don't know is where.

My wife - Her love, support and understanding have been tremendous. Because of her, I could concentrate of various aspect of the application... GMAT, the thinking thru, etc. Also, our many discussions and conversations regarding "our" (it is not just mine alone) further studies provided different perspectives for my consideration. Her encouragements when I'm down and friendly-reminders when I'm too high up are very much appreciated. And since I know she will be reading this, I must say that the journey is exceptionally sweet because she is journeying with me :)

Profs - I have been receiving helpful advice from a "mentor" who is a senior Prof. Thru him, I learnt about how it is like doing a PhD, the insiders' news of various schools, etc. Another Prof gives me the chance to be his research assistant, to co-author a paper. He also candidly shared with me his experience and opinions, which are all very helpful.

Online "friends" - there are a few forums that I visit regularly to see and learn from the experiences of those who took or are taking similar journey. At least I know that they are people who are as crazy as me.

If you are in this same stage right now, I suggest you share your thoughts with someone close to you. Talk to Profs whom you know and seek their input. Visit online communities and learn from those who are or had been in the same boat. Most important of all, pray.

overcoming weaknesses

There was no way I can overcome the problem of me getting old. The only thing I can do was not to delay my application any longer. So in a way, this weakness was easily overcame.

The other weaknesses were my lack of advanced degree, research experience and LORs. In a way, they were all related. I actually considered taking up a Masters (either part-time or full-time). However, I concluded that it was not feasible due to my work commitments. Furthermore, neither my wife nor I wanted to spend $20k on this.

With this decision, I thought that there was nothing I could do to overcome these 2 weaknesses. For a while, I thought this was it. Then, a thought came to me - why not be a RA for some Profs? This way, I could build up my research experience and also get some LORs.

What a brilliant idea! Now, let's find someone who wanted me. Not an easy task but eventually I identify Prof A whom I share similar research interest in. Great! What a good fit! After emailing him in early 2006, I waited for his reply. And I waited. And waited. Basically, my first attempt to be an RA died a quick and quiet death.

That wasn't a good start and I started to doubt this strategy. Then I identified Prof B (in another Uni) in early Feb. So I dropped him an email, offering my service. This time, there was a response. And it was good. Very good, in fact - he talked about having a research grant for a project that could fund my position as an RA. I gave thank to the One up there.

So I met up with Prof B for an interview in early March and it went on quite well. He said he liked what I had to offer, but one problem was my time commitment. He wondered whether I could give sufficient time to this important project that was funded by an important agency, given my work commitment. I put what I could offer on the table for his consideration.

One or two days later, I received his email thanking me for the interview with a big "BUT". So my second attempt also died... although it was not as quiet as the first. However, this really knocked me down. I asked the same One up there why my hope was lifted for it to fall.

My morale was a bit low after this. I thought I should give up the idea of being an RA. Then, one day in mid-March, as I was surfing the website of yet another Uni, I saw Prof C's profile. I thought since I had already 2 setbacks, what was one more? So I dropped him an email. He replied but said that he did not have any more funds for RA. I said it was ok... money was not the important thing... blah, blah, blah.... So he asked for my CV and, to cut the long story short, I am now his RA, for free.

So now, I am getting the research experience that I thought I lacked. And maybe a good LOR. And possibly a publication. Isn't it interesting how things turn out?

what I want to do, need to do, can do

After getting my GMAT score, I started to think about my research interest. In a way, it was an easy task as all along I sort of knew what I was interested in. However, to articulate and formulate the research interest into something academically interesting wasn't that easy.

Another thing that I did was to identify my weaknesses pertaining to the phd application. Basically, I saw 3 limitations/weaknesses.

#1 Out of school since 2001. I graduate with a Bachelor degree in 2001 and that was it. No Master degree. Although most schools stated that a Master degree was not a requirement, a good proportion of their admitted students had Master degrees. Either MBA or MSc. Some had both. Furthermore, as I had been out of good for some time, I had difficulties identifying Profs who could give me "strong" letters of recommendation (LORs). Most schools needed three LORs.

#2 No research experience. Again, most schools stated that research experience was not a requirement. But once again, a good proportion of their admitted students had some sort of research experience, either thru the post-grad work or as RAs.

#3 Age. Some people say some school preferred younger phd students. Once you hit 30, your chances of getting admitted would diminish. I would be 30 in 2007.

What helped me to arrive at what I want to do (research area), need to do (overcoming weaknesses), and can do (strenghts - not mentioned here) were the three drafts of statement of purpose (SOP) that I had done. They made me articulate my thoughts and allowed me to have a better picture of myself as a phd applicant.

when to go: 2006 or 2007?

With my confidence boosted by the GMAT score in 2005, I started to think about where to go, when to apply, etc. The first major decision that I had to tackle was to decide whether I should be applying for the coming Fall intake. I could still apply for the Fall 2006 intake, if I had wanted to. It would have been good for me to aim for Fall 2006 for 2 reasons. Firstly, by 2006, I would be 29 years old, considered to be a little old for phd studies. Some B-schools were said to preferred younger phd students (around 24 to 27 on average). Once you hit 30, your chances for admission would be lowered. Secondly, my wife's part-time work arrangement would end in July 2006 - it would be ideal that we move on then.

Eventually, though, I decided to postpone the application by a year. The main reason for this decision was due to my church involvement - I had committed to serve in my church's session until end 2006. I was convicted that I should fulfill this commitment. Although this might work to my disadvantage (the age factor), I believed that God and His work should be first before me and my desires.

It took me some time, maybe a month or two, to pray and discuss with my wife. 2 verses that encouraged me during this time were:
Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts". Isaiah 55:8-9

On hindsight, I thank God for leading me to the decision to postpone my application by a year. For the additional year gave me the needed time to work on some of my weaknesses so as to strengthen my application. (More on this later.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The GMAT monster

The first step that I took on this phd journey was to sit for my GMAT. At the beginning, I did not really have a target score in mind. And I did not know how important the score was in the PhD application process. However, after learning from a trusted source, I started to see the importance of getting a GREAT GMAT score.

I was told that to get into a good school, 750 was a 'must-have'. I did not know how tough it was to get a 750... I just went thru the 2 or 3 materials that I had. And the preparation period was a tough one as there were the nice distractions from my then new-born baby. Then, there were the not-so-nice distractions from work and other projects.

By God's grace, I hit a 750 on my first (and only) attempt at the GMAT in Oct 2005. To me, that was the opening of doors from the Lord. And it really kick-started the search for a phd program....

If you are preparing for the GMAT, here are some recommendations:
1. Cracking the GMAT (Princton Review). I like the strategies in this book.
2. Official GMAT Guide. Practice and practice.

These were the only materials that I used for my prep. It did not occur to me, internet-savvy as I was, to look for resources online. It was only after sitting for the GMAT test that I found a good community for GMAT prep -

a quick status update

I'm currently in the process of applying for the Fall 2007 intake. My aim is to get into a US B-sch to do a PhD.

My interest in pursuing a PhD first came about in 2001, just before I completed my undergrad studies. In 2003, I thought about it again. In 2004, I thought a bit harder. In 2005, I started to put some actions into my thoughts. In 2006, at the time of writing this, I am starting to work on the application. In 2007, where will I be?


Starting this blog to track the journey and milestones of my pursuit of a phd. I don't know how this journey will end, but come... let's watch the story unfold together.