Q: Are you hiring?
A: Generally, yes. All open positions, with details on how to apply, are available here. Please follow those instructions carefully.
Q: I’m a student from [country] and it is difficult for me to afford the application fees.
A: I am sorry to hear about your financial plight. Unfortunately, I cannot help you directly with this challenge. However, UConn has several resources in order to reduce the financial burden of applying to graduate school at UConn. See: https://grad.uconn.edu/admissions/application-fee-waivers/
Q: Can I apply only via email directly, instead of going through the UConn graduate school?
Unfortunately not. First, there are various and sundry requirements at the university level that I have no resources to assess on my own; these must be met in order for an admission offer to be made. Secondly, a large part of your graduate application packet, and by far the most important component, is your letters of recommendation. I need to receive those in confidence directly from your references through the formal graduate school application.
Q: Can’t I just email you my recommendation letters?
A: Please don’t do that. If you have access to your recommendation letters, that means you have not waived your right to see them, and that means your letter writers can not give their most honest assessment of your qualities. Therefore, I will be less inclined to trust their letters.
While it is certainly possible that you may already have access to those letters even if you don’t send them to me, by emailing them to me you are alerting me to the fact that your letter writers provided you with their content (or worse, maybe you wrote your own recommendation letter for them).
Caveat: it is certainly possible that you might have such an arrangement with your letter writer, as may be common in certain countries and institutions (largely outside of the US/EU). Still, even if that is true, you would be wise to keep that quiet. Alerting me to that fact explicitly is very bad for your application.
For a related note, see Q&A below about common mistakes in grad school applications.
Q: I’m a/n [undergraduate/masters/PhD student] interested in a [masters/PhD/post-doc] in your lab. [Optionally: I am facing financial difficulties.] Can you read my CV and tell me what my odds are?
A: Sorry, but the answer is no. As you might imagine, I get asked to review CVs quite frequently and receive many queries about our positions. I cannot review them individually unless they are submitted according to the application requirements. While I do understand your hopes of hearing something definitive, it is impossible for me to give you that information, in part because my answer depends on your recommendation letters submitted in confidence (see above). As for your [possible] financial plight, please see above for resources that might help.
Q: If I’m applying through the graduate school, why do I need to also send you my information again via email?
A: Many students apply to the CSE department every year and I cannot review them all. By emailing me with the information I have requested, you alert me to the fact that you are interested in working with my lab specifically and ensure I don’t accidentally overlook your application.
Furthermore, by attaching your application materials and the name of your references (but not your letters please!! See above) to your email, you also streamline the review process and help me review your case more quickly.
Q: Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of getting accepted into the graduate program and work in your lab?
A: The #1 best thing you can possibly do to improve your odds is to have a successful track record of research, or be able to demonstrate the potential for successful research. As a corollary, the #1 best action you can take is to secure letter writers who can attest* to your ability (or potential) to engage in research.
Prof. Mark Corner wrote some blunt, but very useful, tips on what graduate programs in CSE are interested in, which you may find helpful.
* in a confidential manner. See: common mistakes, below.
Q: What are common mistakes that I should avoid in my graduate application?
A: While every case is different, here are a few common mistakes that will significantly hurt your chances of being accepted to my lab (and also likely reduce your chances of being admitted into similar roles at other labs/schools in the USA). They broadly fall under two categories: Letter mistakes and Essay mistakes.
It is important to note that letters carry more weight than any other category. Major essay mistakes can be easily overlooked if buoyed by great letters. Major letter mistakes can be fatal to your application, regardless of how great your essay or other material might be.
Letter mistakes: (most harmful)
- The biggest mistake is sending me your letters directly, and/or not waiving your rights to see your recommendation letters. While it is certainly your right to demand to see them, in the USA it is strongly expected that you will waive that right, in order for your letter writers to provide their most honest assessment of your qualities (see comment above about not emailing me your letters).
- A second, and related, mistake is not having the right kind of people as your letter writers. See Mark Corner’s tips, under #2. Your boss at a recent industry job is not likely to be a good letter (unless they hold a PhD and know a thing or two about research). Coursework instructors, unless they can write specifically about your research potential, are also often meaningless (caveat: if they are actually bad letters, they can actually hurt your case).
- A third (and also related!) mistake is to write your own letter, and quite possibly, do so badly. Ideally, you should not be doing this at all. But if you are going to do this (big if! I do not recommend it! at all!!!), do yourself a favor and do some serious homework on what good letters should look like. (note that though TPII has very good advice overall, these links are about letters for faculty positions, not graduate school applications, so modulate accordingly.)
Essay mistakes: (not ideal, but recoverable with good letters)
- Writing your essay in a very generic manner that doesn’t give me any real information about your abilities, accomplishments, skills and/or potential. See Mark Corner’s tips, under #3.
- Burying the lede. If you have already published a research paper, particularly in an internationally known venue such as SIGIR, you should be shouting that from the rooftops. If you have 5 years of industry experience in machine learning, tell me about that. Don’t hide detailed information that gives me real information about your abilities, accomplishments, skills and/or potential (as opposed to fluff).
Q: Can we meet virtually to discuss my case/application?
A: Much as I would love to speak with you, unfortunately, my time is very limited and I cannot meet individually with every student interested in my lab. I often attend conferences in my field such as SIGIR, ICWSM, ECIR and CIKM, as well as GHC, and in those occasions I am more than happy to meet with prospective students. If you give me a longer lead time in advance of the conference, I will be more likely to find time to meet with you.
Furthermore, I am occasionally invited to panels on applying to graduate school or similar events (which are sometimes recorded or broadcast), and I am more than happy to meet with you in such occasions.
To hear about such events, you can follow me on Twitter: @ShirKi.
Q: I’m already a/n [undergraduate/masters/PhD student] at UConn [alternatively: I’ve been recently admitted to UConn] and I’m interested in [working with you on an independent study / research project / working in your lab / switching advisors], can we meet and discuss?
A: My door is always open to UConn students (including admitted students). I am happy to discuss your situation and see whether there might be a mutual fit. Please email me with your query at: shiridh AT uconn.edu or drop in during my office hours. If I don’t respond to your email within a week or so, please follow up with another email.
Q: Can I work with you on a research project, even if I am not at UConn?
A: Sorry, I usually have my hands full with projects and students.
Q: Where can I learn more about your research / work / lab?
Q: I have another question that is not addressed in this FAQ, what should I do?
A: Please feel free to email me with your query at: shiridh AT uconn.edu. If I get the question frequently enough, I will add it to this FAQ.
Q: I emailed you and did not get a response, what should I do?
A: I am very busy and sometimes miss emails. Give me a few days to review your email (or longer if you received an OOO message). However, if I haven’t responded to your email within a week or so, please follow up with another email.