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.