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My Academic Journey: Brief Overview, Standardized Tests, Letters of Recommendation and Statement of Purpose

In the following order, this post consists of: (1) a brief introduction about my academic journey; (2) my standardized test scores – GRE and TOEFL iBT; (3) some selected parts out of three letters of recommendation; and (4) my Statement of Purpose for Georgetown University.

Brief Overview

It became clear to me that I love researching during my B.A.’s second academic year. In 2017, during my third year, I started a research collaboration with Professor Avery Plaw (zl) of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. As I worked with him, I was enchanted by the idea of pursuing a PhD and having an academic career. Every person I consulted with highly recommended I get a PhD from one of the most prestigious U.S. universities. It’s the most difficult to get but it opens doors worldwide and greatly increases the ability to land an academic job.

Overall, I did two application rounds: 2018 and 2019. I got stuck on waiting lists both times. That is, I was admitted on the condition another person would’ve rejected his/her immediate acceptance offer.

Big things happened in 2019.

First, I was offered to be the director of one of the to-be-launched research centers of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (Israeli Center for the Study of Targeted Killing).

Second, I’ve learned about the dark side of the academia. The one nearly no one speaks of. Apparently, the academic job market is quite a toxic environment. Once exposed to the data, I couldn’t completely ignore it and maintain the same course. I’ve decided to apply only to Georgetown University as it was the most perfect place for me to pursue my dream-research with the optimal settings even if afterwards I’d choose to leave the academia. I figured that in 2020 I’d be heading ICSTK while basically starting as a PhD student or starting to pivot my career to the high-tech industry.

Third, December 2019, my friend, mentor and colleague, Professor Avery Plaw, had found out he had an aggressive illness in advanced stages. He passed away one month afterwards, on 21 January 2020.

Then enter the COVID19 pandemic.

To me, it became clear that all research centers of the University were to be shut down. It all made it extremely easy for me to determine where I was heading – to the high-tech industry. After all, I could certainly find there cool and satisfying work.

Standardized Test Scores – GRE & TOEFL iBT

For the record, standardized tests were never my forte. I’ve always excelled in deep work, not shallow work. But I got the grades I needed after I’ve invested time and energy into it.

(1) GRE (Graduate Record Examination) – The GMAT’s twin, if you will. It is like the Israeli psychometric test on steroids. For people unfamiliar with this test, its’ sections, grades and percentiles, here is a quick gist:

The test consists of a verbal section (grades range: 0-170), a quantitative section (grades range: 0-170), and an analytical writing section (grades range: 0-6).

Generally, anyone interested in obtaining a spot in prestigious PhD programs needs at least a score of 160+ in each section (i.e. top 20%~ of scores). Those are the most important ones. Get less than 160 and it’s likely to disqualify you. In an extremely competitive environment of often 400-800 people competing over 1-4 available spots, the graduate selection committees are looking for excuses to shrink the pool of candidates before serious in-depth examination and discussions are held. Anyway, the section of the analytical writing section matters far less, and it is usually expected to be, at minimum, 4.5-5.

For instance, here are a few examples of top U.S. universities and the average GRE scores of their past admitted PhD students:

University Name



Georgetown University



Princeton University



University of California, Berkeley

80th percentile+

80th percentile+

Stanford University



Duke University



*It is not redundant to note that such grades make it quite easy to secure a spot for Masters degrees, but not for PhD ones because in the U.S., PhD students, unlike Masters’ students, don’t pay tuition. In fact, PhD students usually get living stipends (salaries) from the university. Universities only spend money on PhD students, not make money from them.

My GRE scores:

(2) TOEFL iBT test - It is the American English Level exam. It checks reading, writing, listening and speaking. 30 points is the maximum score for each section (overall maximum grade 120).

My TOEFL iBT scores:

*water marks note it’s a copy of the report sent to me (the test taker).

Letters of Recommendation

Universities require applicants to have three letters of recommendation; ones preferably written by scholars. Below are selected parts from the recommendations Professors Avery Plaw, Boaz Ganor and Shaul Shay, wrote for me.

(1) Avery Plaw




(2) Boaz Ganor

(3) Shaul Shay

My Statement of Purpose

If I may (and I may), below you can read my superbly crafted two-paged statement of purpose. If you wrote one in the past, you’ll know to appreciate it. If you are writing one yourself nowadays, feel free to use this one to get inspiration. I’ve had quite a few professors read and comment on it as well as additional awesome people, including successful PhD students, Baruch Malewich and Guy Freedman.

That's essentially it for this post. The rest is pretty much known. I've decided not to pursue an academic career. Whenever I conduct research, it is done as a hobby. Some people write poetry and novels. I enjoy researching and writing about what I've found.