By Aqsa Kausar
With the aim to familiarize students with the process of applying to graduate schools in the US, a seminar was arranged on Friday, 14th November, 2014 in SEECS seminar hall from 14:00 to 16:00, where Dr. Tahir Azim along with basic descriptions, gave tips and hints on how to increase chances of admission. A large number of students showed up, many with questions and confusions and Dr. Tahir Azim did his best to clear even the minor misconceptions.
Dr. Tahir Azim did his B.E in Software Engineering from NUST and went to Stanford University to complete his MS in Computer Science in 2007, where he continued his study for PhD in Computer Science. After his return from USA in Dec 2013, he joined NUST as an Assistant Professor. Having dealt with admission processes, he knows well the requirements of tests, essays, documentation and fees that are linked to the daunting process of applying to graduate programs in the USA.
One of the major confusions among students is of CV and resume. Many treat them as same but the difference is important. As explained by Dr. Tahir, resume should be crisp, sweet and quick to read, ideally one page long and at most one and a half page. Whereas the CV should include all the material that you feel is important enough ranging from major achievements to minor projects. However, there is no specific template and both should just look professional.
Letters of recommendation is a vital part of applications. They should be vouching for the work one describes in his resume. Dr. Tahir gave a little tip to get letter of recommendations written from someone who knows you personally enough than to run after highly ranked teachers who know nothing about you except your grades because an ideal letter of recommendation should not be generalized. It should support the work you have done, also explain why you are specifically liked by the person writing your letter of recommendation and how you distinguished yourself from everyone else. In short an ideal letter of recommendation should contain research/project work details, personal qualities and grades. Dr. Tahir showed a bad and a good example of letter of recommendation to better convey the difference between a well written letter and a generalized one.
Dr. Tahir continued to give tips on how to add weight to one’s application. One important discussion was that on statement of purpose, something that plays a vital role in one’s acceptance especially in case of top ranked universities because it’s probably the only document in your application where you demonstrate your writing skills. Dr. Tahir advised to give at least two weeks to writing statement of purpose and unless you are descended from William Shakespeare, you must not leave it to the last day. He also asked students to avoid using ‘since childhood…’ unless they built a robot at the age of seven. So, it is important to back up your statements if you do plan to mention your childhood. He showed his own personal statement but when asked to share it afterwards he jokingly said ‘maybe, I don’t want plagiarism issues’. The statement of purpose should be a package of your motivation for higher education, your background in your field, topped with reasons for choosing a particular programme.
What scares a lot of students is the GRE test. A computer based test with three parts; Quantitative, Verbal and Analytical. Dr. Tahir took the opportunity to guide students on how to pass this test. He also mentioned that it’s better to give the test as early as possible so one has a chance of retest to improve scores. The score requirement for top ranked universities is 85-90+ percentile in quantitative and analytical part and a decent verbal score of 65-70+percentile. Whereas lower ranked universities accept 75+ percentile in GRE. The key to GRE is time management, so it’s all about two things; vocabulary and time. Even with a good vocabulary, time can cause one to self-destruct so it’s important to remember that time is an enemy and you need to practice to defeat it. Without practice you would fail miserably. Dr. Tahir advised to take help from the popular Barrons book for the verbal part of GRE test. For a good vocabulary, however, it is important to develop the habit of reading which automatically improves vocabulary because you get to know how different words would appear in different contexts and resultantly you are able to understand with ease the relatively complex English. The quantitative part is not composed of calculus with a lot of geometry, data and graphs. One important point to remember is that there are no partial credits so must have right answer at the end. For this part of GRE a quick tip by Dr. Tahir was to use mathematical shortcuts to manage time effectively and along with remembering mathematical theorems, must also learn to apply them. Another tip was to make intelligent guesses and move of in case of failure in solving a question. The analytical writing part of GRE holds less weightage comparatively. In this part you are required to critic an argument, point out flawed assumptions or logical flaws in the given argument and be able to evaluate using evidences and provide alternate reasons. A quick tip, given by Dr. Tahir, was to avoid using generalization, logical fallacies and arguments based on religion and ideology.
Alongside application requirements, Dr. Tahir also shared information about financial requirements. PhD is free if application accepted but for MS $20,000 to $60,000 is required. A good news, there are a lot of jobs in the USA for computer science students so if one is able to avail the opportunity of going to the US for higher studies and manages to get a TAship, he will be good to go. In Addition to this, a CS/EE graduate from a top ranked university can easily get a job of $70k-$100k, so this guarantee is enough of a motivation.
Even though Dr. Tahir managed to answer several questions and clear most misconceptions, two hours were less for a seminar this informative. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise to watch students surround him outside the seminar hall with a flood of questions.