PhD Application Process

I was lucky enough to have a lot of people help me in the process of applying to PhD programs. Additionally, I found a lot of resources online that ended up being useful. Since I’ve been asked about the process and how to go about applying, I figured it would be useful to compile some of the links in one place (some are CS/HCI/Stanford specific, but not all). I’ll also put the major pieces of advice that I give to students who ask.


  • Applying to Stanford HCI - my advisor, Michael Bernstein, has this page of advice on applying to graduate programs for HCI at Stanford; some of the advice is specific to that exact context, and some is more general.
  • Advice on Applying for PhD Programs - Casey Fiesler’s YouTube videos on a bunch of factors/questions about applying to PhD programs, some of which is specific to STEM/social sciences and U.S. programs.
  • Questions to Ask Potential Advisors - Andrew Kuznetsov’s guide to what questions (and who) you might want to ask, plus a blog post explaining more.
  • HCI PhD opportunities for 2023 - also maintained by Andrew Kuznetsov, a hub to see what professors are recruiting for HCI PhD opportunities on twitter.
  • CS Rankings - as the name suggests. It can be one tool of many for identifying potential people to work with, though you should still look at their websites and check for professors who have recently joined institutions. Don’t put much stock in the rankings; they’re controversial, especially in HCI. They also maintain a list of resources for people applying to grad programs.
  • CS PhD Statement of Purpose Database - as indicated by the title, a place to see the SoP’s from successful applicants in past years.


Please take this with many grains of salt- I’m early in my PhD; my path here is not your path; I was really lucky in a lot of ways; etc, etc.

  • Pick what is right for you. One saying that gets thrown around a lot is “every PhD is unique” - this is certainly true, and I’ll break down a couple reasons why that is:
    • Your work style and research interests are unique to you. There is no superior school/department/advisor overall, but there are ones that are better or worse for what you want out of the PhD experience. It may be hard to figure out what you want, but others are less qualified than you are to figure out what is best for you.
    • This goes along with the previous point, but status is not everything, and in fact, it’s a pretty small piece of the overall pie. I’d recommend paying more attention to the quality and kinds of support that the school/department/advisor can provide you than any ranking,
    • Any factor that affects your happiness is worth considering. That includes weather, proximity to family, urban vs. suburban vs. rural, department culture, labmates, comfort talking to the advisor, etc.
  • Ask a bunch of people about everyone you are planning to apply to work with. There’s a lot of knowledge out there that you may not have access to unless you ask specifically, and advisors are a big determiner of your experience in grad school. (Even when you are applying to departments and not specific advisors, you’re still sort of applying to advisors.)
  • It’s worth making a website before you apply. (Academia is somewhat of an exercise in self-branding.)
  • It’s worth making a twitter account before you apply. (It’s a way to keep a finger on what’s going on in your research community, some professors put out recruiting messages there, plus the self branding point above. However, most of these benefits max out after spending a few minutes on there a week, so no need to monitor it constantly.)
  • Look at other advice: this list is not exhaustive; there are much better guides out there to choosing programs, writing SOPs, and interviews. You should read those!