Applying for US PhD after a not-US Master's

duff18
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Joined: Thu Oct 17, 2013 10:25 am

Applying for US PhD after a not-US Master's

Postby duff18 » Thu Oct 17, 2013 10:34 am

Not sure if this is the right subforum, but the current graduate one is dead ..

I'm a master's student at a canadian university, which means I am fairly involved in research (taken already all my courses and only working on my thesis during the second year; part of my scholarship is TA, another part is RA), plus by the time I apply for a PhD I will have already taken several courses at graduate level.

I'm applying for schools in the US, and I was wondering how my application would be evaluated. In fact, I assume that having already finished a master's (NOT in the US, where I know having a master's basically means that you failed your PhD) would boost my chances of being accepted, since professors would prefer to hire someone with an extended experience rather that a student coming from undergrad.

Any opinions on this topic ?

TakeruK
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Applying for US PhD after a not-US Master's

Postby TakeruK » Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:45 pm

This was exactly what I did -- Masters at a Canadian school, now in a PhD program at a US school. I think having a strong research record with your Masters would help you get admitted because you've shown a proven research track record.

However, having a Masters doesn't automatically help -- if you don't show very good work in a Masters, then I think it could actually hurt you, since the school will know that you are a "mediocre" grad student. So, they might want to take someone straight out of undergrad with more "potential" for being a great researcher over someone with a proven mediocre record. But maybe not -- I'm not an admissions committee member, just considering both pros and cons of applying with a Masters.

In either case, you should expect your masters to count for very little towards completion of your PhD requirements. I basically started all over again last year when I started my US PhD program. One of the schools that accepted me gave me the opportunity to waive a few classes but that school had so many class requirements that even with the waiver, I would still have to take a large amount of classes there! I think in the best case, your PhD school might not require you to retake something that you already took in Canada, but you will have to replace it with a different class.

Also, I found that overall, US programs emphasize classes early on and research later (but not true at all places), so you might find your PhD program very course heavy in the beginning. I found that most US students will take all of their courses in the first 1-2 years, while I know in Canadian programs we tend to take courses throughout the whole degree.

duff18
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Oct 17, 2013 10:25 am

Re: Applying for US PhD after a not-US Master's

Postby duff18 » Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:04 pm

Thanks for your answer TakeruK.
Another question that I'm asking myself is how important the GRE scores (subject and general) are in my situation.
I think that if I show some research experience they shouldn't pay too much attention to my GRE scores.
If we talk only about the physics GRE, an high score cannot mean that a student will do great for research, while a low score only shows that a student doesn't have a wide knowledge of physics, or that he/shes's not good at studying for exams.
Honestly I don't see how that really matters once you stop taking courses and do only research in a particular field.

Of course, I can see why GRE is important to evaluate undergrads who can not show any research experience, but applying with a Master's should be something different.
What's your opinion on this topic ?

TakeruK
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Applying for US PhD after a not-US Master's

Postby TakeruK » Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:47 pm

I think the PGRE will still be as important. Although in Canada, finishing a Masters is close to finishing all of your coursework, when you enter the US PhD program, you will have a large courseload again. Also, I got the sense that the majority of the admissions evaluation was on my undergraduate work, with only my Masters work counting as an "extra". This makes sense because when I was applying, I had 5 years of undergraduate work but only 1 year of Masters work (since I applied in the final year of my Masters).

Not all of my programs required the PGRE. My PGRE scores are low (took it twice, got 44th percentile, 53rd percentile). I got into all of the non-PGRE required programs, but only 2/5 programs that required the PGRE. I got into top programs that didn't need the PGRE, so I think my PGRE score is one possible factor that excluded me from the top programs that did require the PGRE.

Overall, the PGRE is just one factor that is considered -- some schools/profs will care more about it, some will care less about it. Having a Masters degree or not won't change how much weight they put on the PGRE, I think. At least, I don't think the change is significant enough against the background of varying weights as you go from school to school or even prof to prof.

duff18
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Oct 17, 2013 10:25 am

Re: Applying for US PhD after a not-US Master's

Postby duff18 » Tue Oct 22, 2013 6:39 pm

I've never heard of US schools that don't require the PGRE, but maybe it's because I've only looked at top-ish schools.
I did my undergrad in Italy, so there is not a lot of work to show from those years, except for very good marks.
What makes you think your underdgrad work played an important role in your admission ?

The idea of taking courses again it's not really appealing, especially if I consider that my PhD would then take 6 years and not 4 as at canadian (or basically everywhere else) universities.




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