[D] How should I prepare for a top PhD program as an undergrad?
I am currently a senior in high school, and I want to pursue a PhD in machine learning. I plan on majoring in math and statistics at a T50 state school.
However, I understand that the top programs (MIT, CMU, UC-Berkeley) are extremely hard to get into, even more so for machine learning. My question is: what should I try to do over the next three years to boost my chances as a candidate? I’ve already taken linear algebra with the local community college and am wrapping up multivariable calculus, so hopefully I can begin learning more machine learning in the coming weeks.
Here are some other questions I have:
I heard published research was huge for the top programs, but what should I aim for there? Would a paper or two on arXiv be enough, or would I have to try to get a paper published to a huge conference like NIPS or ICML? Would co-authoring be enough or would I have to have some first-authorships under my belt?
I’ve read that references are huge as well. However, the state school I’m going to isn’t known for its machine learning program. There are courses on machine learning, but I doubt the profs are going to be world-renown experts. Obviously I’ll utilize any resource the college has to offer, but should I aim to build connections with more renown researchers in the field? How would I go about doing this? Beyond just getting a reference, I really want to work with a expert so that I can have someone to contact if I have a question about the field.
For my summers, would they be better spent at internships, researching, or a mix of the two?
Lastly, I feel like going to a T50 school is hurting my chances the most here. Is my only hope transferring out into a more prestigious school at the cost of an extra year in college, or is it possible to compensate for the lack of prestige through research experience? If I managed to get say, a first-authorship published at a top conference like ICML, would that compensate for the lack of prestige in my undergraduate school? Would that even be possible given that I’ve only had a basic introduction to machine learning through a course with my magnet school?