Home Research Personal FAQ Bio
FAQ on Summer Internships
Q: Can I apply for a summer internship with your research group?
A: Many faculty members at Carnegie Mellon receive a large number email from undergraduates outside the United States requesting to come to Carnegie Mellon University and do a short-term summer internship.

While I don't want to discourage you from learning more about computer science and human-computer interaction, I don't take undergraduates from universities outside of the United States. Also, unless you are in a special summer research program (e.g. sponsored by NSF, CRA, or CMU itself), the odds are low that I can take you on for the summer.

tl;dr summary: please don't send me emails about summer internships unless you are already at CMU or part of an existing sponsored program.

FAQ for Prospective PhD and Master's Applicants
Many faculty members at Carnegie Mellon receive a large number email from prospective graduate students or postdocs. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we are unable to answer your inquiries individually. If you have sent me an email, you will be directed to this FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

tl;dr summary: please don't send me emails about getting admitted into our PhD or Master's program because it won't really help. Also, read the rest below to improve your chances.

Q: What are my chances of being admitted?
A: Admission at Carnegie Mellon is highly competitive. Historically, for the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (my department), admission has consistently been below 10%. We are eager to accept the best, most intellectually exciting students. If this is you, we highly encourage you to apply. Here is the HCII's web page about our PhD program.

Q: Will sending you email about my interests help my chances of being admitted?
A: Mostly no. I get a lot of form emails which have clearly been copy and pasted and sent to all the faculty in computer science. I'd say about 98% of emails from PhD applicants are like this. These go straight to trash. You can signal a stronger level of interest and commitment by spending time to read some of the research papers by the faculty you are contacting, and then asking smart questions based on that.

tl;dr summary: If you're going to send me email inquiring about CMU, at least read some of my papers first and demonstrate that you have the ability to ask smart and interesting questions; otherwise you're just wasting everyone's time.

Q: Will sending email to other professors help my chance of admissions?
A: No, see above. Most faculty receive a large amount of email regarding admissions. An email contact will not persuade a faculty member to pursue an application.

Q: What does Carnegie Mellon look for in deciding admissions?
A: We look at a range of factors, including grades, test scores, and letters of recommendations. One particularly important point is evidence of ability to do research. If you have done research, your chances of being admitted are far better. I highly recommend stressing this in your application.

Some things that indicate ability to do research include having research publications, having a solid Masters' thesis, or having done significant work on a research project as an undergraduate.

Another important point is evidence that you can write well. This demonstrates that you can think clearly and present potentially difficult ideas well.

See my web page on graduate school advice for more tips.

Q: What are common mistakes in PhD applications?
A: No, this isn't really a frequently asked question, but I felt it is worth putting here. Here are really common mistakes:

  • Don't really know what research is
  • Don't have past experience in research (not a complete showstopper, but seriously reduces your chances of being admitted)
  • Don't have a good idea of what kind of research you want to do
  • Can't articulate what you want to do in graduate school
  • Don't understand the difference between our Master's program (which is a terminal degree meant for professionals that want to end up in industry) and our PhD program (which is a research oriented program)

Q: Can I be your PhD student?
A: At Carnegie Mellon, departments and schools accept students, not individual professors. Once the students are here, they are matched with advisors. Applications are handled by an admissions committee that evaluates all applications. Normally, I only recruit students once they have already been admitted by Carnegie Mellon.

Also, be sure to read this article in Communications of the ACM to get a better sense of what I think makes a good PhD student.

Q: Can I be your postdoc?
A: Maybe, it depends on funding, your ability, and alignment of research interests. If you have your own funding, odds are higher.

Q: To work with you, does my name have to start with 'J'?
A: Yes. You'll see that among the faculty, postdocs, and PhD students I work with, their names are John, Joy, Janne, Jun-Ki, Jason, and Justin.

(This is a joke if it's not obvious... I also work with folks whose names have a 'J' in the middle of their name too, like Eiji).

FAQ on Recommendation letters and references
Q: I'm applying for X, can I get a letter of recommendation?
A: I'm happy to provide recommendation letters and/or serve as a reference for students who have taken a class from me or worked with me on research projects. To write a thorough letter, I need the following:

  • A Resume or CV
  • GRE scores (raw and percentile) for graduate school admission letters (assuming you are applying to a grad school that requires them)
  • A copy of your statement of purpose (again, for grad school only)
  • Who to send the letter to
  • Any forms I need to fill out (or links to web pages)
  • When the letter needs to be submitted (at least a week, two or more weeks preferred)
  • If it has been one or two years since we last interacted, a summary of key or memorable interactions that we have had, e.g.:
    • "I was the student in office hours who had the idea about a cool interaction technique..."
    • "You looked at my final project and said that I was the only one who ..."
    • "I usually sat on the right side of class and asked lots of questions."