Information for Prospective Students

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I'm very glad you're interested in doing your graduate studies with me! On this page, I have collected links to resources on my site and elsewhere that you may find useful in determining whether you are interested in working with me and navigating the process of application and admission.

You may also want to see my FAQ.

Researching With Me

There are a few resources useful for understanding what's involved in doing research under my supervision:

My primary goal in advising is to help each of my students figure out what they want to do, and support them on the steps to get there.

I hope to add more resources later about the other nuts-and-bolts of working with me, but don't have those ready yet.

Deciding

If you are debating whether you would like to work with me, I recommend looking at the following:

  • My research page is usually quite current and provides a topical overview of my active and past research.
  • The People and Information Research Team site provides information about our research group, the projects we are doing, and the students working with Dr. Pera and myself. I expect all full-time graduate students I advise to be active members of this group, where they can benefit from collaborative mentoring and the support of their peers at various stages of their academic careers. We also teach and practice many research skills in our group meetings.
  • My recent talks are often more accessible than reading the papers themselves, and I often have video recordings available.

I work on a variety of projects related to recommender systems, information retrieval, and social impact. Most of my work is connected somehow to the human impact of information access, but I occasionally have other project. Specific details depend on student interests, available funds, and current collaborations.

Current Students

If you are already at Boise State and interested in working with me, you can send me an e-mail with some information about your interests and ask for a meeting. I strongly advise that you also sign up for one of my classes; that is the best way for me to see your skills in action. I often teach our introduction to data science class.

Applying

A clipboard with a form saying "Application", next to a laptop.
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Students interested in doing graduate work me and the People and Information Research Team (PIReT) should apply to our M.S. in Computer Science or Ph.D in Computing program. Faculty do not admit students directly into our programs; rather, applications are reviewed by an admissions committee specific to each program.

Boise State's Process

Boise State's Ph.D program makes admissions and funding decisions separately, and admissions notifications often go out before funding decisions. Therefore, your initial admission notification may not say anything about funding, but you may get a follow-up e-mail with a funding offer. Some of these funding offers are general, while others are attached to a particular faculty.

My Process

When I am recruiting students, I do not usually make decisions until after the admissions committee has made their admission decisions. I will then review the applications of admitted students, and interview promising students for potential funding offers.

I do not generally do Zoom calls or interviews before this point β€” questions you want to ask in advance can generally be done by e-mail (see below).

The Statement of Purpose

Statements of purpose are a weird document, and unfortunately there is a lot of very bad advice out there about how to write them. For good advice, I recommend reading Vijay Chidambaram's Twitter thread.

I also have a few specific suggestions β€” they may seem pretty obvious, but I have seen some things:

  • Don't plagiarize. Just don't. Ever. This includes taking SOP examples or templates and plugging in your target institution and research keywords, even if those SOPs are published for the purpose of being examples in books about getting in to grad school. Mediocre text you wrote yourself is better than good text you copied.

  • Don't flatter. Say why you want to pursue a Ph.D, what you think you might want to do, what qualifies you for the work, and why you want to go there. Say specific things about how the program will fit your goals; don't say general things like β€˜your program is world-renowned and is the best place.’ Such statements backfire in two ways: if they are true, the people reading your application don't need you to tell them and are are in a far better position to judge impact and prestige. If they are not true1, they demonstrate a lack of critical thinking that is a major red flag.

    Many example SOPs in books about how to get into graduate school are full of flattery. I consider them to be bad examples.

  • Be consistent. To the extent that you state specific research goals, be consistent. It's fine to not entirely know what you want to do; however, if you do state a specific goal, such as wireless network security, and then list potential advisers who only work on something completely different like compiler optimizations for machine learning, it looks disconnected.

Contacting Faculty

In general, you do not need to contact faculty in advance when applying to Boise State's Ph.D program. This differs significantly from program to program, so this is not necessarily general advice. Your chances of admission and funding can go up if a faculty member is interested in your application, but it is very hard to generate this interest by e-mail.

I don't mind e-mails in advance; these e-mails should be personalized (and not just the greeting, or by copying and pasting research interest keywords into an e-mail template), and they should be specific: what information are you looking to convey, or obtain?

You don't need to have a specific question; you can just e-mail me to let me know that you are applying and interested in working with me. I'll file the e-mail and consider it once admissions are done if I have an opening for a new student. I would rather have an e-mail that is just to let me know your interest than an e-mail with a question for the sake of a question. I am, however, happy to answer specific questions about our program, about working with my group, or about research and graduate school in general.

There are a few questions that I can't really answer:

  • Am I qualified for the program? Our admissions committee handles admissions, and I am not on that committee. I don't comment on student qualifications.

  • Do I have the qualifications to work with you? An e-mail usually does not give me the information I need to make this assessment. I look at students' complete application packages, including letters of reference, when deciding whether to interview a student to potentially work with me. The information that often accompanies these inquiries β€” test scores and a GPA β€” are almost useless to me, except an extremely low quantitative GRE score is a red flag.

  • Are you taking new students? The answer to this question is almost always β€œI hope to take a new student next fall but am not making commitments at this time”, usually because I don't know if I'll have the resources to take on another graduate student. I start to know more in the spring when we're making student funding decisions. If I have a specific opening I am recruiting for, I will list it on my students page.

I'll also note that you do need my permission to list me as a potential adviser in your SOP. Such listings do not imply any commitment one way or another; they only serve to provide context for evaluating your application.

I appreciate receiving heads-up e-mails, because if I do have funds to admit and fund a new student, it makes it easier to find the applications I should pay particular attention to, but I'll usually also search all admitted students to find anyone who referenced me in their SOP.

I do not respond to every cold e-mail from a prospective student that I receive. It's fine to follow up, but often won't accomplish anything.

Finally, and I can't believe I have to say this: do not cold e-mail2 my students or collaborators to ask them to check with me about receiving your cold e-mail. You can follow up directly with me; if you already know a student or collaborator (e.g. you met at a conference or are in an online group), it's fine to ask them for an intro, but an e-mail out of the blue to ping about me getting an e-mail is not appropriate.

Footnotes

  1. It is impossible for a brand-new program that has yet to graduate its first student to be internationally renowned for its excellence. ↩

  2. A cold e-mail is an e-mail where you do not have a pre-existing relationship with the recipient β€” the e-mail is your first contact with them. If there is a relationship (you've exchanged e-mails in the past, met at an event, took a class, etc.), the e-mail is not really cold. A first follow-up after having met someone once is almost cold, but referencing the meeting is a point of connection. ↩