Phd Success Story - Computer Science - Fawad Ahmed
Education: Electrical Engineering (Communication) UET Peshawar 2014
1 IEEE Transactions Journal
4 IEEE Conference Papers
1 ACM SenSys Poster
- 1 year of work experience in own startup aimed at the mobile game development
- Visiting Faculty at UET Peshawar for one semester
- 2 years of undergrad research experience
I graduated from UET Peshawar in 2014, majoring in Electrical Engineering (Communication). During the 3rd semester of undergrad, in an institute like UET with no research-culture, I was very fortunate to become a part of a newly founded research lab. There I worked with Dr. Ali Mahmud and Dr. Gul Muhammad who are some of the most talented and dedicated people I know. Our research mostly focussed on vehicular networks/systems and together we were able to publish our work in an IEEE Transactions journal, four and one ACM conference.
My aim was to apply for graduate admissions at the end of 2014, but I decided against it for a number of reasons. Although I did have some publications, however, my most-prized work was still under review and I believed that I could get into a better school if I had that paper accepted and on my resume. Secondly, I had got involved in my startup due to which I was not able to prepare for my GRE/TOEFL exams nor work on my Personal Statement. Although it was a tough decision to take, it worked out very well for me. I would definitely advise everyone to wait a year or two if it means they’ll end up in a better place. During the gap between the admission cycle, I applied for the Fulbright scholarship and which also turned out to be a motivating factor to take the GRE and TOEFL. Luckily, I received the Fulbright Master’s award and was notified in September/October.
Fulbright is a wonderful opportunity and I would encourage everyone to avail it. There were a number of reasons why I didn’t go through with the Fulbright award. With Fulbright, you have to secure an MSc degree after which you have to find funding and then work towards a Ph.D., you have to sign a bond with the HEC etc. With direct admissions, you don’t have to go through any of that, you can work towards your Ph.D. and take a master's degree along the way too. Also, you have the freedom to work wherever you want to after your Ph.D. Having said that, it doesn’t mean I don’t intend to come back to Pakistan and work there (in fact I would love to and intend on doing exactly that). IMHO I believe “giving back to Pakistan” will hold more value for me if I do it out of moral duty rather than a legal bond.
After that began the stressful grad school admission cycle. I was more confident this time because my paper at IEEE Transactions and poster at ACM SenSys were accepted so I thought I had a better chance. I applied to about 7-8 schools and the breakdown of the schools was
3 schools in the top 10, 2 schools in the top 20 and the rest in the top 50. Although my undergrad was in EE but in most schools I applied for the CS department. A few mistakes I made which I would like to highlight for others is that in some schools I tried to get admits in research areas for which I had no prior knowledge/experience and nor that they make any connections with my previous work. Obviously, that didn’t work out well. Apart from that, I got more acceptances in EE departments than CS so it’s better to apply to the same department as in your undergrad if you can get the same research area. Thirdly, if a professor tells you that he/she is interested in your application, that in no way guarantees that you’ll get an admit. So at the end of the cycle, I got admits from EE departments in North Carolina State (with a fellowship) and Ohio State. But I ended up going to the CS Department at the University of Southern California because my advisor’s interests matched very well with mine. Below I list a few important pointers for grad school admissions in general:
- I cannot stress enough the importance of LoR’s (Letter of Recommendation). It’s best to get them from well-known professors but just as important to get them from people who have worked with you or know you very well. You have to find the right combination between the two.
- Start preparing your applications early and plan ahead. Don’t leave anything to the last minute.
- Evaluate your profile and apply accordingly. It’s good to be ambitious but you have to be realistic too.
- Try to get in contact with professors in your field with similar research interests to yours and apply in those areas. You will have better chances of getting a reply and getting admits there too.
- Don’t try to write your PS by looking at someone else’s PS. It is always good to bring in your own voice in your own article and it pays off as well.