Which grad schools are prominent in researching the application of FP?

I’m applying to grad schools, aiming for either MS+PhD or PhD directly. As much as I like functional programming (FP), I’m more interested in doing research on its application, and don’t see myself tinkering with compilers. One example of such application is this project about verifying replicated data types in the field of distributed systems, with Liquid Haskell: https://users.soe.ucsc.edu/~lkuper/papers/lh-typeclasses-oopsla20.pdf. A big part of it is extending the compiler, but it focused on practical application as well.

Among the kinds of application, one particular interest for me has been FP in game development. It can be in the form of a functional game engine, or other. But I haven’t figured out where to look at to find grad schools that work on FP application on the topic of game, or any topic.

I was introduced to the work of Prof. Chris Martens. I remember seeing some of their work that revolves around applying theories from programming and proof to game narratives, which is very refreshing, but at the moment I forgot where I found those studies. And unfortunately, due to personal reasons, I’m not planning to apply to the school they work at, at NC State University.

So can anyone provide some directions given my research interest? Or maybe even advice on applying and so on? Sadly, I only have engineering experience with FP, but not research, which may weaken my application in this area.


I am not a PhD or similar, but I am interested in a similar path to you (I have a bachelors with two years industry, and I may return to academia in the next 10 years). I have recently started down a similar road to you but targeting industry research roles, as opposed to full-on academia.

Something I note from your post is your use of the term FP. While FP is certainly related to the work you describe, I would generally not call most research work “FP” even if the work is often in a functional programming language. Looking at your favourite research will guide your keywords. For example, Chris Martens’ pages here says:

My research identifies bidirectional connections between logic in computer science (type systems for functional languages, logic programming […]) and computational media (digital games, interactive storytelling […])

Getting to a stage where you know your area is really helpful - you’ll know who to ask and the right questions to ask! Something like:

Hi SoAndSo, I am a blank enthusiast and Functional Programmer with an interest in applying technique_one and technique_two to the problem of designing programming languages for users to develop adjective code for game engines and other domain models. I saw your work on paper_or_research and I was wondering …

Also that brings me to my second piece of advice - reach out to the authors of interesting papers and projects! Especially try to target those researchers who might have more time on their hands. I recently did so with a PhD student whose work I had seen at a conference and their advice was invaluable and totally reframed the way I looked for new roles and my general “career path”. As part of this process, it is helpful for this part to develop an “elevator pitch” for who you are. I recently discovered what I am after writing my 20th email and realising what it is exactly I like! The process was actually somewhat cathartic :slight_smile: I would definitely recommend poking a short and polite email to Chris Martens or a couple of their PhD students for example…

Finally, if you don’t have a strong background in research, don’t worry! Two approaches are to:

  1. Apply anyway and see if something sticks - you’ll certainly be able to get some headway into programs. Others will have better advice in this vein
  2. Find industry research roles. Nowadays, PLs/formal methods research is heavily used in industry. Seriously - there are tons of roles aimed at improving the status quo. You may be able to finagle your way onto a research team with one or two PhDs and either publish work at your day job or have a good recommendation for research down the line

I’m really, really grateful for your detailed response. You gave some killer advice too. I was growing somewhat aware of how I just throw the word “FP” around to cover my interest. Your insight is on point. “FP” is still too broad a term, and waving it around signals a lack of depth and thought. I guess I really have just been using FP langs to build stuff, without thinking too much about how it is helping me exactly. An immediate improvement could be phrasing it as “using type system, control of mutation, and control of side-effects to improve game dev tools or game dev processes”. Of course, it can be refined a lot more. But my current level in FP and game engines is too limited for me to nail down what problems exist in this area (e.g. what’s making functional game dev hard, what apparent benefit has it yielded), and which of those problems I want to work on.

A typical applicant would just explore in this area for some time, or find industry research roles like you suggested lastly, before considering grad schools. However, due to personal circumstances, the number of years where I can conveniently apply is limited. And sadly, I started the preparation phase way too late. I have literally been thinking grad school is just where I learn more CS, get a higher degree, and have a better career. I thought all I need to do is just filling out application forms. I only realized something’s very wrong at the step of letter of rec, which brings out the word “undergrad research”, and “research” in general. Nobody ever told me what grad school is about, and I definitely missed all the hints if there are any. Though after much panic learning, I concluded I do want to pursue research. And fortunately, by coincidence, I do have other more familiar fields (privacy, or general game dev) where I have more experience and know what research efforts there are.

Your second advice is great encouragement too. A director in UC Berkeley advised me that I can find suitable programs and advisors, by looking at the committee members and paper authors in venues. It involved a lot of copying and pasting names into search engines, and seeing if the school is a match. From your advice, I guess it can be taken a step further, where I can email some authors, even if I don’t plan to apply their school. I can gain more insight about the research, as well as hearing about other researchers.

I can fully relate to your process of self-discovering through writing. I was totally lost at my first email, when I reached out to a professor. After some back and forth, I can see more clearly and find my footing. There is a visible change in direction in the email thread though :joy:

You mentioned targeting researchers who have more time on their hands. Do you have any tricks in determining which researchers have more time, which have less?

I mentioned panic learning in my last reply. The goldmine started here: http://composition.al/blog/categories/grad-school/, by Prof. Lindsey Kuper.

:slight_smile: I’m happy to see you are hopeful!

First I’d like to again caveat my response and say that I have probably little more experience than you. I was about exactly where you are only a few weeks ago. You’ll find yourself way more confident quickly, once you talk to others and notice that even the smartest idols just have more experience normally…

I would note something that I feel is true - but I would certainly follow up with someone to see if their experience differs… I don’t think that graduate degrees have the same weight that they used to. In particular, it used to be that in order to do research you had to be in a research institution and that was the only way to publish. Not so any more.

For example, if you maintain an awesome and unique OSS library, bam you’re set for the next 5 years of resume scans and bound to get connections. For example, I doubt Sandy Maguire (isovector) is lamenting his lack of degree. He has put himself in a position where his name is known and his work is public. I think that is a huge part of modern degrees - developing a network and getting your name out there. Thankfully there is more than one way to do that nowadays! Now we can’t all be Sandy Maguire and writing books, but the point stands that autopiloting a higher level degree is not the catch-all it perhaps once was.

Now, if you have a clear idea of what it is you want to do and a research area you want to work in, a doctorate is perfect - you can target advisors, develop a rapport in an academic community etc. I just want to remind you that this is not do or die :slight_smile: You will be able to work with interesting people either way and if you want to work on research, you may find a way to do research-like work in industry if you seek it out.

I hope I’m not over-analysing here! But I sense that you’re nervous that you don’t “look good” for research…

I really advise you not to worry about this one… I think the most important thing you can do is realise that everyone is always just “panic learning” and catching up! I was really worried about my resume when I first applied on a recent go-around, and while I was lucky enough to succeed, for certain my anxiety was misplaced. The key is to remember that you are valuable at the institutions you’re applying to, that much is clear from your post! It’s important in particular to realise that you have passion and a hunger_for_knowledge (plus some knowledge already…). Those are the things you want to ooze through your communications with people. Think about what a researcher wants from a prospective “these are all the things I know” or “these are all the things I’m interested in and learning about. Here’s what I want to learn with you”. Remember that research is about new knowledge - you sound like someone who wants to be part of that. So be proud of your lack of knowledge and your hunger! Most people don’t realise that they even have that!

Of course, don’t come off like “you’re lucky to have me”, but remember that these people want to find someone they want_to_work_with. And that means be excited and yourself.

I can fully relate to your process of self-discovering through writing. I was totally lost at my first email, when I reached out to a professor. After some back and forth, I can see more clearly and find my footing. There is a visible change in direction in the email thread though :joy:

:heart_eyes: Mate me too haha. There was one email (where the guy said think about your narrative) and the next email was me going “I’ve reconsidered everything and started applying to the right jobs… thank you” LOL

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I read the recent blog by Prof Kuper. I have to say I don’t know what the panic is! Now if your panic is “I don’t understand those terms”, don’t worry - read up on it. But the main thing that I see Kuper excited by in a student is a student who is excited about their work, and more than that, willing to ask questions. I get the sense that you think you need to know something you don’t currently know, and while you should definitely try to learn more if you feel behind, more than likely you are a thoughtful and intelligent person who is just trying to learn from people.

So my advice would be - pick a talk or paper or blogpost you like. Email that person or github or reddit etc. And just be yourself: “Hey these are the things I’m interested in. This is what excited me about something you did. Do you have any advice or any opportunities at such-and-such institution”. Tips for who to target would be email the person who is not the manager/primary researcher. But definitely don’t be afraid to email the primary researcher if the work is exciting and you have a genuine curiosity or question.

Anecdotally, when looking for work, of the four opportunities I found that went some distance (at least a screening call), all 3 of them were not posted on any site or job-posting:

  1. A guy I knew (lucky here) who I just emailed asking if he knew of any jobs and it turns out that the day I emailed him he was talking to the CEO about starting a new team
  2. I asked a PhD student from a talk I liked who said “I’ve heard of this company” - that company had no job listing but I just emailed two less-senior employees and got to a recruiter. They decided to start hiring after I reminded them that junior devs exist (LOL?)
  3. I saw a company that had a job posting for a PLs team manager. Okay fine I’m not a manager. Instead I just emailed the recruiter and asked if they had anything else - turns out they did but weren’t posting yet
  4. A normal application

Now industry is a different beast, but the point stands - just ask! If you’re polite you might find something, but at the least you’ll make a friend or two and learn something :slight_smile:

By the way, I probably didn’t get responses from like 10 people, or they emailed back too late!

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I can also relate to finding myself growing way more confident quickly! Truly, a lot of fear comes from facing the unknown. Since the process is laid out, and each piece makes sense to me, the panic fades.

You raised a good point about how it doesn’t require a graduate degree, for one to do research. Even just by chance, I’ve casually found someone with a bachelor’s degree cooperating on a research project with a professor. One current exception may be if one wants to also teach, which is true in my case I’ve heard that professor positions nowadays still typically require a PhD. Though I haven’t looked into it much.

I’m grateful for the encouraging words like the ones you spoke :pray: I’m making schedules for sending inquiries to people! On top of that, I’m really intrigued by your experience of getting opportunities from unexpected places. It’s kind of getting philosophical, even. At this point, one improvement I can add is to be even more explorative, and contact people even if they are from a context that doesn’t match my direct goals, as long as I’m genuinely interested by something they did.

By the way, it’s very impressive to get somewhere with 4 job opportunities, out of around 15 tries. When I think about the number game, the total number of attempts is typically in the hundreds. You played it really well!

What you said about passion and hunger for knowledge made me curious. On one hand, these are the most important traits in grad schools and research positions. The applicant absolutely has to show that to the admission committee. And these traits benefit a person’s career in general, starting from undergrad, or even earlier.

However, on the other hand, from a “competitionist” point of view, a lot of other people also have those traits! A lot of other applicants have also dedicated equal, if not more personal time, to the field. Surely, there are bound to be some applicants who aren’t familiar with the process yet (like past me, once upon a time, who submitted an almost humorous application, to only 1 school, while thinking I’m sure to be admitted). But a lot of other applicants will have and demonstrate strong passion, and compete with me for the limited positions. So it feels like on that regard, I need more than passion to be qualifying, as an applicant. I mean sure, it doesn’t hurt to apply and give it a shot. But I need to know my shortcomings.

Back to the PL field, that I’m most worried about. For example, someone I know in school has contributed to the Rust compiler while an undergrad, on top of some other PL-specific projects like programs as proof she did. That, to me, is qualifying research experience if she applies to PL grad schools. In comparison, I have only used Haskell Servant to build a chat server, and plan to write a blog on using websockets with Servant (there currently doesn’t seem to be one). I’ve written an interactive guide where user can fill in and run Elm code live on the page. But these are more like engineering efforts. Plus, it’s not like others cannot, or haven’t done those before.

Regarding the PL field, I feel like the first challenge right now is that I haven’t gone deep enough, to nail down what specific research problem I know I want to work on. The second challenge is simply that, my experience with PL is more engineering than research, on top of not standing out from other applicants.

Or maybe, this “competitionist” mindset is fundamentally wrong, and each applicant should not worry about how other people are doing? I’m interested in some perspectives on this.

I’m really happy to hear everything is going well :slight_smile: Before I follow with my exploration. I hope you don’t mind my many thoughts - it’s actually really helpful for me to explore my own experiences and your push back helps me a lot :slight_smile: Giving advice is the best way to receive the advice you need, if you know what I mean…

You should definitely post on reddit btw - it’s more popular than here. Some places you could ask would be r/haskell, r/scala, r/programminglanguages, r/rust. I would also consider the FP discord channel and the haskell foundation slack channel. Each of those spots is always very welcoming and responsive.

I think I probably oversold the “15 tries” - while I only emailed say 20 people, I threw out a bunch of linkedin applications! I also put a good chunk of time into cover letters. The key that I’ve learned from my experience was that many companies need to be “poked” into hiring for some reason. As I say, of the 4 screening calls, 3 of them wanted to hire but didn’t have the time to set up a careers page entry, and so I got “first dibs” just by asking and emailing directly to companies and employees that I just read about online (open source, old blogs, reddit stalking etc)

Yeah it really is a little philosophical. For me, in the past, I used to feel super awkward about messaging and emailing people out of the blue. It really felt invasive to me to do so! Plus I’m English - so I was always hesitant to do the American “reach out”… But I’ve learned that coming across friendly and inquisitive in the work gets me a reply 90% of the time (often after a good delay), without a resume. It’s amazing how helpful and friendly people are LOL. It’s funny how jumping off the cliff of cold-emails was just a one time thing (my Dad pushed me to stop being a baby about it…) and now I feel totally chill about it.

You know that’s a really good point about the competitionist view. I think you’re right - I’m undervaluing the experience aspect of things… Maybe you can focus your time and go deep into a topic that interests you. Perhaps you can split your time? Maybe 30% generalist studying and 70% reading papers on one topic to become intimate. That would be a good optimum so that you sound generally knowledgeable and research-area-aware, whilst also being able to talk deeply on a topic.

On the other hand, while you have a weakness in terms of background, you can gain a strength in terms of soft skills. Some things that would come across really well would be communication, confidence, passion, friendliness. As I said before, these professors are ultimately going to have to deal with you for 3-6 years. That’s a big commitment! My point being that catching up in technical areas is very important, but I expect that many candidates might forgo the soft-skills aspect of the application process. In particular, let’s say hypothetically that you have some grades in technical and soft skills, say C for technical and C for soft skills (I have no idea - these are just random grades). It can be really hard to grow into an B/A in technical - that can take months, but thinking about narrative and how you talk about your experience can quickly make you stand out as a thoughtful and introspective student. Especially in your situation, this could be a way to get ahead where others might falter or neglect. For example, none of your competition is meditating or journalling on where they want to be in five years, and not everyone is asking themselves why they are pursuing research like you are. These kinds of things will take at most 5-10 hours of your time, and won’t eat into your technical work time (they would likely augment your technical work!). Just that time will get you an A/A+ in soft-skills.

I think you’re right, spend the vast majority time catching up on research, but also spend the effort into soft skills and thinking about your “story” - it’s an incredibly efficient (it takes little time!) way to catch up lost time, and to surpass the competition in interviews. I think you can come across as very thoughtful and self-aware: “This is where I want to be in 5 years. This is what I’m doing to get there. This is why your research specifically aligns with my goals.” At the end of the day, the people looking for students are people, and people hire people, not resumes - the resume just gets you through the door.

Thinking about other people is really tough. I struggle with this so much… I think it’s so important to remember when comparing yourself to others that everyone feels they are worse than those around them… For example, I have no internships, no published research of any kind, no provably-correct lambda calculus projects, graduated in 4.5 yrs, but two of the roles I am looking at would be joining the teams as a junior on teams with academics. I think framing is everything. My projects look exactly like yours. For example, for me I pulled two college projects that were research-like (but absolutely unrelated to PL) and then my side interests that were related to PLs, and combined them to make me a “researcher interested in PLs” - no lies, just framing. Maybe you can do something like the following:

  1. I have done such-and-such research in college. This can be as boring as a final paper for a class, perhaps unrelated to computer science even.
  2. I have done such-and-such work with PL techniques for engineering problems. For example, I think your two projects are super interesting - you can make them incredibly interesting.
  3. Tie these two things together, and don’t undersell the engineering effort

“I used Haskell’s Servant library, which uses type-level programming to ensure that server-client serialisation is more accurate and maintainable. I also found out xxx about using Haskell for chat bots. In particular I learned that type-level programs can ensure xxx in real-world programs. I am writing blog posts in the hopes that I can share this knowledge.”

“One aspect of PLs research that I feel is neglected is user-experience, particularly the ability to design systems that allow non-academically minded people to engage with PLs without having to crawl through the recent dependent types literature. I wrote an interactive guide… it allows users to learn… I think such projects are critical in tying together the boundary between academic research and the end-user experience of the products of research.”

each applicant should not worry about how other people are doing?

I’ll give a quick anecdote of something I experienced recently. I was talking to a college friend who is really smart and talented (certainly far more than I). This guy is 2 years ahead of me in the PLs world, and he’s on top of his shit. When I checked his github, it was awesome: he had two years of research experience with fully fledged typing rules and latex galore and was recently writing a very cool type checker with liquid haskell. I was immediately jealous. But after some jealous digging, things started to demystify (with some emotional self-soothing LOL) - some of the papers were incomplete, or written in a cohort; it turned out the liquid haskell was following a blog series (it was still awesome and creative - but he didn’t start from scratch). The point being, that when we criticise our work, we can do so with ease because we see all the laziness, all the shortcuts, all the countless wasted hours, the copy-pasting. But then when you see your friend’s Rust compiler contributions and proofs you see none of that. Now my college friend is more qualified than I for a graduate degree - but it’s nowhere near as drastic as you think. Ultimately, if you have completely self-motivated work and you can tie it clearly and concisely to your research interests (show you can write well!) then you’re a big winner. Try to think about how your projects can “win” over hers, even for a professor you can make engineering work be research related:

I wanted to explore new educational tools for exposing non-programmers to FP, particularly throw a web UI. I did this ON MY OWN

I contribute to the community with blogs because I think that modern PLs research should focus more on outreach. I want to contribute to educational work that can tie together [insert cool PL topic] and practical industry application.

Like that Elm project is awesome, that’s research if you think through what you learned and write a blog post about it!

I want to really point out how silly this thought is for example:

Plus, it’s not like others cannot, or haven’t done those before.

I don’t mean to offend but you literally said “plan to write a blog on using websockets with Servant (there currently doesn’t seem to be one)”! Also, if we want to compete with your friend (playing into the self-abusive thoughts game - I think competing is silly but I want to point out that even the competition has no clear winner)… your friend is contributed to a compiler that as of right now on github has 3514 contributors… Now think about how many compilers there are… I hope you realise that there’s probably fewer people that have written an interactive UI for a compiler with a tutorial guide than there are contributors to major compilers!

Just remember that smart people suck at marketing, and humans fall for marketing. If a dunce like Donald Trump can sell himself as a president, you can sell yourself as a candidate for a graduate program.

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Oops I planned to respond sooner. But don’t worry about posting! It should be very helpful for people to see how each other is doing. It doesn’t all have to be advice. Experience itself can be good reference.

I didn’t know Reddit is more popular. I’ll post there after making another step :slightly_smiling_face: The Discord and Slack sound new to me too.

To comment on your job app experience: I think you may have acquired a skill to spot if a company needs something, and what it needs. I’ve never seen anyone talk about that part. It seems like an entirely new area!

I wasn’t convinced about the soft skill side of things at first. I was thinking "Well everyone else are surely just equally good at communication, are just as friendly, and are just as passionate! But actually, no! I recently attended an online PhD recruiting event: https://phd-recruiting.com/ (It was a great event where I collected resources, listened to professors and current grad students, and connected with professors who are recruiting PhD. So you may be interested in attending next year). I may be totally wrong on this one. But I’ve seen a few applicants going too much into the technical details, when we were chatting with the professors. So they must have a good amount of passion, which is a good trait! But the way, and the timing they showed it, was a little off. From my perspective, I think it would’ve been better if the applicants pulled back a little bit, and focused on other interesting parts, which could be research goal, practical application, long-term plan, themselves, etc. In conclusion, I felt that in terms of soft skills, most people may meet the basic requirements like passion and friendliness, but the difference showed in subtle details.

This corresponded very well with what you said. Everyone has great passion and friendliness. But more detailed stuff like self-awareness on the subject are where it gets crucial. I think I did pretty well on putting my story into words (the statement of purpose), after some self-reflection. It reads pretty natural and convincing to me, since it’s me in the genuine form. But I haven’t really considered “where I want to be after grad school”. So that’s another target I can work on, thanks to your hint :+1:

Actually, I took note about the exact thing when reviewing this webinar on statement of purposes, from University of Waterloo: Link. I just forgot about it until you brought it up again!

I think framing is everything.

I completely agree. And this ties back to the self-reflection part. Why did I write the blog post? Like you’ve shown, it’s because I feel learning in FP can be hard, and others may need it. But without too much thought, I was planning to put it in the “additional materials” sections of the application. But with some efforts in framing, based on self-reflection, I can combine it with how I like teaching, and another online course I made, and dedicate a paragraph about it in the statement of purpose.

By the way, I can confirm that some grad school faculty have also stated that framing and presenting a holistic personal story is what’s important, rather than how shiny individual experience is on their own. Some faculty have also stated that undergrad research, even the ones unrelated in the pursued field, are very helpful to the application.

Loved your anecdote. I learned a phenomenon (forgot the name) from a social psychology class, where a person tends to forgive themselves for mistakes as they know the difficulties they experienced, but be strict on others as they don’t know what others have experienced. So this phenomenon can be flipped, as well as applied in other occasions!? So… If a person can also be strict on themselves for mistakes or under-performance, as they know the shortcomings of their work, while willfully ignoring the difficulties they experienced… Does this mean this supposedly important phenomenon actually doesn’t say much, and is meaningless? Maybe if someone’s strict on others, it’s just because their personality is flawed? Going into the psychology field haha :laughing:

I don’t mean to offend but you literally said “plan to write a blog on using websockets with Servant (there currently doesn’t seem to be one)”!

Thank you for all the encouragement :heart: And yeah :laughing: Even I’m becoming aware of how I’m selling myself short sometimes. Good to catch it early.

Just remember that smart people suck at marketing, and humans fall for marketing. If a dunce like Donald Trump can sell himself as a president, you can sell yourself as a candidate for a graduate program.

:laughing: :laughing: :clap: :clap:

Good conversation! Here are some things I’d consider

  • Are you certain you want to do a PhD? It’s an investment of 4-6 yrs of your life. Some of this will be collaborative, but in the end you have to write your thesis, and this part can be be a lonely slog, especially when you remember that a thesis typically has a pretty small readership.

    You might well find as much intellectual adventure in an industrial setting – as @santiweight says, there is lots of excellent (and applied, which is good for you) PL research going on in industry.

  • Always write to individuals if you possibly can, address them by name, and demonstrate awareness and interest in what they are doing. For university researchers this isn’t hard. Again @santiweight has it right: identify authors of papers that interest you, and write to them, individually.

    It can be harder to find out what is happening in industry – their projects tend to be less visible. But they often do publish, albeit less frequently. Spot these papers and write to the authors.

  • In writing to someone, don’t just say why you are interested in them. Give them some reason why they might be interested in you. It may not be a substantial reason, at this stage, but it’s a sign that you care about their priorities not just your own.

  • In writing to people, if you straight-out ask “can I do a PhD with you”, you may well get a straight “no” – I have no funds, I don’t have space for more, I’m moving jobs, whatever.

    But if you ask “could you spare 20 minutes for a call, to give me advice and guidance about my path forward?”, then many people will say “yes, of course”. In a call you have far more communication bandwidth, in both directions. If it seems appropriate you can ask, during the conversation, “it is possible I could work with you?”, but regardless of the answer you will almost certainly get some useful advice and contacts. E.g. they might offer to introduce you to X or Y.

  • Again, before any such call, do your homework about the interests and priorities of the person you are speaking to. It’s in your interest to do so, and it also demonstrates courtesy and respect: they are giving you a slice of their most precious and irreplaceable commodity, their time.

  • If you have a local faculty member who knows you, and is willing to say “surplusuntie is an exceptional student; I would love to work with them”, that is really helpful. The problem from the point of view of a potential adviser is that you could be literally anyone, from a genius to a complete pain. They have literally no data. Any data you can add, especially if it’s from an independent source, helps them.

  • Others have said that it’s helpful to have a clear idea of what you want to do. But in articulating such an idea, your main goal is to demonstrate that you have a brain, rather than the specifics of what you say. Anyone can say “I love working on programming languages”, but in writing about something more specific you can demonstrate that you have actually thought about the subject.

    I would do that in a separate (1-2 page) research statement, saying that it represents one possible research direction that you could pursue, but that you are open to alternatives.

Good luck!



Absolutely awesome advice from Simon, of course. Take Simon’s career as a poignant proof that a PhD is no prerequisite for interesting work and a valuable career with widespread community impact!

Thanks @simonpj for the well-organised and succinct advice (which applies to me) on how to address the academic community. I will be 100% returning to this thread if I never need to start interfacing with the academic community more often… It seems you have a very clear impression of what makes one’s involvement with academics fruitful for both sides.

If you @surplusuntie want tips on companies that are hiring right now, I have a very long list of available opportunities, many of them essentially pure research. Plus many of these companies are not openly hiring, so I can show you hidden doors :wink: Of course I don’t know as much as others in this community - but the offer stands!

Everyone has great passion and friendliness. But more detailed stuff like self-awareness on the subject are where it gets crucial.

I think recently someone told me that they interviewed a prospective who passed with flying colours, but when they did an interview with both a man and woman interviewer - the answers were directed at the man :grimacing:. I expect academia would not be different from industry - even just showing awareness and good listening skills probably puts you above average on the global social-adeptness index!

a person tends to forgive themselves for mistakes as they know the difficulties they experienced, but be strict on others as they don’t know what others have experienced

That’s a great point. I’d heard of that concept before but I had never noticed that other-criticism and self-criticism in fact duals! Thanks for pointing that out - I’ll be stealing that one!

Even I’m becoming aware of how I’m selling myself short sometimes. Good to catch it early.

Yeah I’ve been really focussing on this recently. I’ve noticed that intercepting these thoughts earlier each time makes me a happier and more productive person. It’s nice that the interview process has me a happier and more balanced person :slight_smile: even if the process itself sucks.

By the way, if you want to get in touch I go by u/santiweight on reddit. I’d be happy to share phone numbers or emails if you want :slight_smile: and I’ll hit you up if I ever want some advice from someone in a similar situation to me! Plus I’d love to hear how everything goes…

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Thanks for joining the conversation Simon! With a substantial list of great points too. Some of them echoed well with my current view of the landscape, while others helped me identify some places where I can put more thoughts into.

The first one is reflecting if I want to do a PhD. It looks like a no-brainer, but I feel more self-reflecting usually leads to better application. I think I’ve spotted a good sign on my main research direction, i.e. the field of privacy. The sign is that this topic doesn’t seem like it can generate any profit. Usually it’s the opposite of privacy that helps companies gain profits (often unethically). So it seems like academia will be more interested in this, than the industry. (I’ve recently heard about differential privacy. But I haven’t been convinced.)

Now in the context of the PL field, this doesn’t really apply. But I’m also interested in a teaching career, which is closer to academia than industry, regardless of the field. However, I’ve only learned just now that, you became a professor without a PhD? This is really new to me, and supports your claim even more.

Overall, at this point I know enough to be certain that I’d like to pursue research, but not enough about PhD or industry. For example, are industry research more influenced by profit? Or are they typically open-source, and intended for the “greater good”? I just don’t know yet. If you have time for some laughs, for the longest time I have thought grad schools are just where I go take more CS classes, get a higher degree, and get better paying jobs. It’s only until the step of letter of recommendations, that I figured out that something major is wrong. It was only by then when I saw the word “research”.

So I think I can really benefit from more time in general. But unfortunately, time is limited in my case due to reasons like visa. So I’m learning as fast as I can.

  • In writing to someone, don’t just say why you are interested in them. Give them some reason why they might be interested in you. It may not be a substantial reason, at this stage, but it’s a sign that you care about their priorities not just your own.

I appreciate this point. I was worrying if talking too much about myself would bore the other, and if I should just cut to the question. Now I’m reassured that I should include something interesting about my work in the inquiry.

Out of all the advice you’ve given, I’m most excited but also nervous about scheduling a call. It surely gives a lot more communication bandwidth. But I will no longer be at the comfort of my keyboard, writing email whenever I want, for however long I want. I’m concluding that I will really need to understand a research of theirs, to have a quality call session with them. For the few papers I’ve read so far, I’ve enjoyed the process, and envision it to be a pleasant endeavor for me to spend a year digging through various papers. But given how little time’s left for the current application cycle, do you think scheduling a call is still applicable?

Again, thank you very helping me, and potentially many other grad school applicants out there!

Your anecdote about the man+woman interview is very telling. It seems like a such a small thing. But it absolutely matters, in my view!

And yes, there’s no way I can reject your offer! To other prospective industry researcher, that’s a goldmine. My situation makes industry research unlikely at the moment, due to reasons like visa. I may be wrong, but it seems like visa with school is easier. Nonetheless, knowing at least a little about industry research is helpful. Not to mention that, I’ve seen people from academia and industry join force on a research. And Simon pointed out that, industry may emphasize application more, which is what I’m seeking for FP.

I will direct-message you my email in a bit.
I can’t seem to find direct messaging on Discourse. It’s getting late here, allow me to find you on Reddit tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’ve made a sticky note and won’t forget.

@surplusuntie Hit me up whenever. I’m just avoiding sharing my email online. I don’t know if you’re in the same spot as me but I’m English (from England) and working in the US. I was just on an OPT and was fortunate enough to get an H1B, so perhaps our experience align there?

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Reddit says you don’t accept private messages :hushed:

I can put my email here: surplusuntie@pm.me

I also use Matrix, if you happen to know about it and have an account. I will only share my account name with email though. I can’t think of other places I’m active on, but I’m generally drawn to privacy-respecting options. If nothing else, I feel email is a good starting place, if you are okay with it.