Student-led Initiative Aims to Help Applicants of the PhD Program

In an effort to reduce inequities in the PhD application process, a group of PhD students have created the Pre-Submission Application Review (PAR) Program to help applicants to the PhD program.

When Chris Kedzie and Katy Gero heard about Stanford University’s Student-Applicant Support Program they immediately thought, “this is something that we can do at Columbia.” Within hours they put together a rough plan on how to help applicants of the PhD program – by lending their expertise with reviewing a personal statement.

“Many times people who end up in PhD programs get there because of an invisible network of support, normally from other people who have attended a PhD program,” said Chris Kedzie, a seventh-year PhD student. When he was applying to graduate programs many of his friends who were in PhD programs helped and gave him invaluable feedback on his application, specifically his personal statement. “But for those who do not have access to that kind of network, it can put them at an unfair disadvantage.”

This review program attempts to fill the gap and help provide access to PhD students who can look over an applicant’s statement of purpose. “It is certainly not even close to addressing all of the systemic problems that some people face when applying to grad school,” said Katy Gero, a fourth-year PhD student. She, too, had friends in PhD programs who helped her with her application and she saw what a big difference getting feedback and guidance made. “We hope this is a small step in the right direction and it is something that we as grad students can implement ourselves.”

The initiative did not pop up out of the blue. Kedzie and Gero have been meeting with other students, faculty, and department staff since the #ShutDownSTEM strike for Black lives on June 10th. Over the summer, the group brainstormed ways that they can make the CS department more equitable. One of the points discussed was making the PhD program more accessible and so it was easy to get the group’s support for the PAR Program. 

The initiative was put together quickly because of the support of fellow students, like Khalil Dozier and Tim Randolph, along with Associate Director for Academic Administration and Student Services Cindy Meekins, Professor Augustin Chaintreau, and CS Department Chair and Professor Rocco Servedio. The program was presented to the Dean’s office and officially launched in mid-October.

“The Computer Science Department is very happy to support our PhD students in this effort that they have led to improve the equity of our PhD program,” said Rocco Servedio,  a professor and chair of the department. The department launched the CS@CU MS Bridge Program in computer science last year and is working on other programs with students and faculty. “We hope that this and other similar-in-spirit programs will bear fruit in broadening access to our department to a wide group of learners.”

Interested applicants have to apply to the PAR program and submit their personal statement and CV by November 7th at 11:59 pm EST. Because the program is student-run and dependent on volunteers, there is no guarantee that every applicant can be accommodated. For those who are accepted, they will be notified, then paired with a PhD student in the same research area who will review their materials and provide feedback to them by November 21st – well ahead of the December 15th deadline to apply to the PhD program. 

“We have been really impressed by the support we have seen,” said Kedzie. “We hope that this is a step towards a lot of bigger changes to the department and the school, to make it a more equitable place for everyone.” 


If you are interested in taking part in Columbia’s #ShutdownSTEM meetings, the group meets every other week on Fridays at 3 pm. Sign up for meeting announcements here: