Welcome to the GradCafe

Hello!  Welcome to The GradCafe Forums.You're welcome to look around the forums and view posts.  However, like most online communities you must register before you can create your own posts.  This is a simple, free process that requires minimal information. Benefits of membership:

  • Participate in discussions
  • Subscribe to topics and forums to get automatic updates
  • Search forums
  • Removes some advertisements (including this one!)


  • Content count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Days Won


Everything posted by TakeruK

  1. I don't see why an academic would be "put off" with a student that had troubles at home in the past. It's not your fault and it has nothing to do with your ability to pursue your program. That said, I can't speak for every person and there could be bad people out there that would unfairly hold this against you. But I don't think you should worry about it. At the same time, details aren't necessary in a SOP. I would probably recommend writing one or two sentences about this and describe it as "family medical issues" that were affecting your academic performance in your first few semesters but have now since been resolved. It would also be nice if you have a LOR writer that knew you well enough to say something about how they do not think your early grades represent your current academic abilities. I think this balance would hopefully provide enough details so that the committee knows that the first few semesters were abnormal for you, but not provide too many details to make the statement too personal (after all, a SOP is a professional document) and also avoids details that might cause someone to be biased or prejudiced against you. I think you don't have much to worry about because you repeated those courses with As and have mostly As and Bs. I think that speaks more strongly than anything you can write in a SOP anyways, so just 1-2 sentences is enough.
  2. Definitely ask for your specific school. At my school, there is a high school tutoring program. Grads and undergrads are matched with 2 high school students and meet weekly for the school year. Grad students could potentially be paid (but they usually do not); most are volunteering. The set-up at my school was not employment if you were volunteering. This particular program was run by a non-profit that is related to my school, but it was not my school. The location was on campus. However, for international student status purposes, it was not on-campus employment because the employer was not the school. International students could not work for pay with this service unless they were going to use their OPT or AT periods. Since you will have to get approval for this work thru your international student office no matter what (even if it's on-campus because then you have to ensure you don't exceed 20 hours per week and your TA- or RA-ships also take up hours), it makes more sense to wait until you hear back from the international student office so that you get the answer specific to your situation.
  3. It depends on the size of the program. During my Masters degree in Canada (the standard route is BSc -> funded MSc -> funded PhD here), I was the only student in my (specific) area out of 12 or so students for the entire 2 years I was there. But I still got a lot out of the program because I was working with one of the best people in my area in Canada! My supervisor was the only professor in this area (out of 7 or so in astronomy). There are certainly downsides to being the only student in your specific area. For one, the classes that would have been great for me were only offered once every 4 years, so I never took any relevant courses in my 2 year program. Colloquium and seminar speakers that visit would generally be about different areas of astronomy, not my research interest. Maybe 1 or 2 speakers per year in my field. Similarly, at paper discussion groups, journal clubs etc. people would be presenting about the other areas, not mine. My area of research is pretty small though. At the time of my MSc, the area that I was working in probably had something like 20 students in the whole country. And the department itself was small, about 7 faculty with about 12 students in total. So it wasn't a "red flag" to me to be the only one. However, I was very happy to move to my PhD department, in the US, where the field is a lot bigger (field basically invented by the USA) and I was in a department of about 24 students all in my area. In your case, I would consider the overall opportunities for people in your area before determining if it's a red flag or not. If the number of admitted students is small or the total number of students is small, then it might just be happenstance that there's no one in your area. If you have good research fit with a professor, then that might be worth the downsides I listed above that I experienced. For the application stage, my advice would be to not worry about being the only student in your area for now. If you think you would work really well with the professor, I think it's worth applying. If you get accepted, then visiting and/or talking with other grad students would be a good way to find out what it would be like to be the only student in your area at that particular school. If you really want to search for it now, try looking up what courses have been offered in the last few years, what the seminar schedules are like (who's speaking, on what topics etc.). Otherwise, you can also ask for these things once you get an offer from them.
  4. I think you should do some sort of option 2. I don't know the history you have or why it would make you seem inflexible. However, it sounds like whatever the past was (no need to explain here), it has been documented somewhere and you should be able to work with someone else.
  5. Just in case I wasn't clear, make sure you ask the people responsible for graduate student degree requirements in your biology department too. The chem prof may not be in the biology dept and may not be familiar with biology department policies. In addition, even if he has had biology students in the past, there may be new rules starting this fall. So be sure to clear it with whoever it is in the biology dept that will eventually sign off on your degree milestones.
  6. In addition, I think the usage of some of these terms here has evolved beyond what typically people say. So treat them mostly like GradCafe jargon rather than standard academic vocabulary. For example, I don't think I have seen POI in short or long form ever outside of the grad cafe. Almost everyone I know would say something like "potential advisor" or "a person I would like to work with". No one says, "Prof. X is a person of interest" etc. And saying that to Prof X would be super awkward! (imagine writing to a prof and telling them that they are a "person of interest" to you). Another example is PI. Here, PI is almost synonymous with "the professor who is in charge of your research group". Maybe this is common usage in some fields, but in my field, PI has a similar but specific/distinct meaning. We don't generally say the prof in charge of a research group is the PI, we just say it's "Prof X's group" or "Prof X's lab". PI is a title that is used to refer to the science lead on a big project/mission, an instrument, a grant, a proposal etc. Usually PIs are professors, sometimes postdocs and very rarely graduate students. For example, there is one telescope at my grad school where students can propose for telescope time and take the lead on the proposal, i.e. they would be listed as the PI. But most other telescopes that we have access to require either a postdoc or faculty member to be the PI. And since the term PI has a scope / is a title in a specific context, we generally include the context when using the term, e.g. "Dr. Stern is the PI of the New Horizons mission" since Dr. Stern might be a co-I on other missions too. SOP and LOR are more common abbreviations and you'll see them on many graduate websites. But as with most professional emails, probably better to spell these out. Finally, there are certainly some abbreviations that you could (and should) use. These are the terms that you would never hear the long form spoken out. e.g. "CV" is a fine abbreviation. In my field, it would be quite silly to spell out things like NASA, NSF, PhD, GPA, GRE etc.
  7. I hope that student is being paid for this (or those hours count towards some kind of assistantship!)
  8. I agree with @Eigen: talk to the school for each specific case. It might be more likely if the PI is cross-appointed in both departments. Also, if the PI already has biology students in the lab, then they might know some of the rules, but I would certainly seek permission from my own department, just in case. So, talk to your own dept grad coordinator to find out the rules of your program. At my PhD school, biology and chemistry people work in the other department all the time. There, technically the Biochemistry program was housed in the Chemistry department, so people who wanted to "Biochemistry" on their degree applied to the chemistry program, however, many of them would work with biology faculty members. The reverse also happened: those who were in biology could also work in biochem labs with Chemistry faculty. And of course, many of them are cross-appointed. However, I don't know if my PhD school was the norm or not, since one of the major selling points of the PhD programs there was that the "borders" between departments in terms of research are very thin and multi-disciplinary approaches are highly encouraged. Many research groups have students from 2 or more departments and you can generally take classes in any department on campus (as long as you meet the requirements of your own program of course). So, it's worth checking, since every place can be different.
  9. I agree with fuzzy and I would definitely advise that you try to talk to the course professor as soon as possible, and certainly before you talk to the students again or make any changes. Find out what the professor expects of you and assess to what extent they will "have your back". As fuzzy pointed out, you have the least power in the situation (compared to your prof and the dept head), so I would want to first find out expectations. My other advice is to try to not take it personally or try to figure out why these students might act the way they did. I know this is easier said than done, but ultimately, it doesn't really matter what these students think of you. They cannot "command" you to attend the classes or to change their grades! In the end, your main role is to do the grading as the instructor provide and attend classes/do work as the instructor requests. So in that sense, I would try to put more barriers between you and the students when it comes to these "inappropriate" requests. Some strategies I have employed have been things like agreeing ahead of time that all grade changes / policy exemptions etc. have professor approval only and so when I get these emails, I forward them to the professor and copy the student. In most of my TA jobs, there is a limit to how many hours I'm supposed to put towards that TA position. Attending class takes a lot of time so I generally sit down with the professor ahead of time and we talk about how they want me to spend these limited working hours. Generally, we decide that it's a better use of my time to grade homework or provide feedback on projects and plan/teach review sessions (especially prior to an exam) than it is for me to attend class. Often, if students comment on things like whether I have enough office hours, etc. I tell them to the effect of that I have a set number of hours and the professor and I have agreed on a work schedule that will hopefully best meet everyone's needs, however, I welcome their feedback. I only say the last part if they worded the question/request/comment in a polite manner. And I do pass on their feedback to the professor, but it's clear that students do not dictate how I spend my work hours as a TA!
  10. I agree with the others that this is not really about having enough hours in a day/week but really about prioritization and time management. You need to decide what is important in your life and schedule your time accordingly! Whether this will be easy or hard will depend on the norms of your department, your potential research/lab group and your rapport with your advisor/PI. I think it's really important for graduate students to learn how and when to say no, especially to authority figures like advisors and other faculty members. This is much easier said than done, but it can be more manageable if students can find advisors that match their style. I think this is why "advisor fit" is the most important part of happiness in grad school: it is very difficult for a student to change how their advisors view work-life balance. If you are just starting out this fall, I would recommend finding a way to discuss expectations early on with your advisor (e.g. during the first semester). If you have some time to decide on which group/lab to end up in, definitely talk to current students to find out what it is like to work for each person. The other thing to keep in mind is that although our primary goal in grad school is to work hard at research, your own personal goals are also legitimate and important! I used to always feel guilt if I took time off for a personal thing, but then I learned that I work a lot better when I am happy and feel fulfilled as a human. Now I strongly believe that I do much better work when I remember that students and researchers are people, not academic automatons.
  11. If you are able to get the visa on time, you should stick to your plan to start this fall. It is very common for students in North America to only settle on housing a month before the lease begins and/or just after they arrive. (Some places have different timelines though). If your program begins at the end of August, you could also look for Sept 1 start dates for a lease and just stay in a motel or hotel between your arrival and Sept 1. I know many students who don't have any housing set up at all when they first arrive, and spend a week or two living in a motel to sort that out. Not ideal, but certainly doable.
  12. That sounds like a good reaction, to me, not just "neutral"! I think we just need to take what our advisors say at face value and stop trying to overinterpret their reactions. Everyone makes mistakes and I think everything is fine. If it makes you feel better, someone in my group once booked a flight to the wrong city for a work trip once! There was a small cost to change the reservation (few hundred dollars) but that was small compared to the total cost of the trip/work. And I have booked a flight home on the wrong day once (it was a red-eye and I misread the leaving/arriving dates). I wanted to leave late on the final day of the conference but I accidentally booked it for a late flight on the day following the final day! Everyone overlooked it because no one expects you to leave hours after the last talk ended, it's more standard to leave the next morning/afternoon instead. So, the change fee for the flight was an extra charge, but on the bright side, that fee was smaller than the cost of an extra night stay so the grant paid for it. Sounds good---just wanted to say though that if you are not sure if the samples you have now are pure enough, it might be a good idea to discuss this with your advisor to figure out if the work you're about to do on these impure samples will yield satisfactory results. Generally, it might be worth a few checks so that you don't sink more time/effort/money into a sample that won't be good enough.
  13. I am not in your field nor your lab so I can't say for sure, but you might also be overthinking this. Science costs money and your PI is prepared to spend that money. You should not blame yourself for spending your PI's money. And you should definitely not feel bad that you are costing your PI the amount of your stipend! You did the work and accomplished challenges. You deserve to be paid for your work, whether or not it results in a payoff. Your work has value on its own right. From your post, it's not clear if your pricing mistake is something that your PI was actually upset with you or if you are imposing this stress onto yourself. If you have not had a discussion with your PI about this incident, you should definitely do so. Apologize for your mistake, explain that you have learned the cause of that error and don't be afraid to ask more questions in the future about ordering materials. If your PI is too busy to help you on this directly, ask if they can point you to a resource to ensure you understand how ordering materials work (e.g. a senior grad student, a postdoc, a lab manager, admin assistant etc.) From this conversation, you can probably figure out if this was a big deal or if it was nothing. A lot of terms are subjective, e.g. do you know the actual dollar amount the the other prof had in mind when they said it was "super inexpensive"? For some research groups, this could mean tens of dollars, while for others, super inexpensive could mean thousands of dollars. Finally, for your current sample, you should talk to your PI about the quality. Before you come into this conversation, it could be helpful to figure out how much better the results would be if you had the purer sample, and then let the PI decide whether they want to spend the money for the increased in data quality. If you don't know how to do this, then come to the conversation by presenting the facts and asking your PI for input on how you could determine how much impact the impurity has on your intended results. It could help if you had come up with some ideas yourself (even if you are not sure they would work).
  14. @fuzzylogician's advice is great! I would also recommend that you research the policies of your school in regards to dissertation timelines and minimum requirements. It would be helpful to do this before the interview so that you can make a reliable estimate of completion date. You don't necessarily have to reveal this at the interview, but knowing for yourself can help you get a sense of timelines. For example, I've heard of some schools with very protracted timelines and you wouldn't want to be surprised about a mandatory 30 day delay between an internal and external defense (some schools have this!). If your advisor would be an ally for you, then talking to them would be really helpful. They can give you advice on how much you need to get done before you can graduate and their support will be crucial if the committee has doubts. Also, depending on the job, you can set a start date as part of the negotiation process and/or stretch out the process so that you have time to finish. I have a friend that interviewed for a position in February, the company told them they wanted to hire them a few weeks later, then spent the next 6 weeks negotiating a good package (it was a startup, so they were finding the right balance of options and pay, I believe). Once they agreed on all the terms, they were to start in 2 weeks. So this friend basically finished everything up within 8 weeks (they were in the same position as you.....knew that they would finish sometime that year but not sure of exact date). At my PhD school, the longest timeline is that you need to give 1 month's notice of your defense date and have a draft for your committee 2 weeks before the defense. We have no external examiners, so there's very little red tape---it's just a matter of getting your committee to commit to a time for you to meet. Another friend in the same program did something similar, but only took 4 weeks between interview and starting work. This friend was about halfway through the degree and the plan was that they would just quit the PhD program in favour of this job. So that extra time to settle job details was used to wrap up projects and arrange for smooth transition to the next student. My department is fairly supportive of students pursuing non-academic paths and I've noticed that most people mention the support their advisors provided when they were thinking about these options (they all told their advisors well in advance). Not all profs are as understanding though, but if you can get your advisor as an ally, they can be very helpful.
  15. One thing to note, in addition to the very good links above, is that your percentile rank gets updated every year. For example, @Concordia's link and @acceptme's links are actually for two different years. The first one is for the 2016-2017 year (i.e. the application season that has just passed) and your percentile score is calculated based on tests from July 2012 to June 2015. Let's say you took the test last year and got 162/170 for both the Verbal and the Quant. sections. Looking at @Concordia's table, you see that your score report would say that you were at the 90th percentile for Verbal and 82nd percentile for Quantitative. However, if you decided to reapply this year, your schools will receive score reports that calculate percentiles based on the current testing year, so now the percentiles are calculated based on testings from July 2013 to June 2016 instead. This is what ETS currently publishes and what @acceptme linked to. Looking at this table, you will see that your 162/170 score is now in the 91st percentile for Verbal and the 81st percentile for Quantitative. Just wanted to point out that your percentile ranks are calculated based on the most current 3 years of test scores, no matter when you actually took the test. Even though scores are valid for 5 years (i.e. you're not being compared to others who took the test at the same time as you, just the most current 3 years). However, this is just a curiosity, unless you happen to have very old scores. A 1-percent shift in percentile is meaningless (however, interesting to see that the data implies test takers in 2012-2013 did better in the V and worse in the Q compared to test takers in 2015-2016). This was more meaningful a few years ago, because the "Revised General GRE" happened in August 2011, so test takers in 2012-2014 ish didn't have the full 3 years of the "Revised" test score to compute percentile ranks, so each year added a lot more data and potentially a lot more shifts in ranks.
  16. In big cities *with good public transportation*, it can be easier to live without a car than if you lived in a suburb. Big cities generally have your necessities closer together and lots of buses/trains/etc to get you to where you are. In suburbs, public transit is harder to find and you might have to travel quite far to get to things. I lived in a suburb for my PhD and basically everything was a 25-40 minute car ride away, or over an hour on the bus (and most places don't even have good bus routes). Also, there is more incentive to avoid using a car in a big city where there might be a lot of traffic and/or very expensive parking so that walking or taking a train might be just as fast and much cheaper than driving!
  17. Setting aside whether or not you "should" have one for now, you should know that if you do not want your information listed, you could and should ask whomever manages this information to remove your info. There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose to eliminate this information. For example, maybe a student does not want someone to be able to figure out where they are living/working/studying now. If you are at a US school, FERPA generally considers things like your name as "Directory Information" which means that by default, they are able to publish this without asking consent each time as long as they have informed you what information counts as "Directory Information". However, you have the right to ask your school to not publish any of the Directory Information. If you are in another country, look for similar privacy laws. Now onto whether or not you "should" have one. My opinion is that unless you are worried for your own safety, there is no reason to hide your membership in this department. It's generally in our favour, as academics, to be more visible and noticeable. So, if someone does meet you at a conference, they can search for you and/or your contact information. As for your concern that you might change supervisors, topics, etc....well first, these things are very normal occurrences. Second, to be honest, when you're a new grad student, you're not very well known yet so it is very unlikely anyone will be tracking your profile page closely enough to even notice that you have changed those things. Still, if you don't want anything written down until your 3rd year, you can just not provide the information or keep it very very vague!
  18. Short answer: You should ask people in your department and find out. The most direct people to ask would be the professors you mentioned of course, but if you want to ask around for some info before approaching them (not necessary but I'd understand how that might make someone more comfortable), then ask the other students in your new program. Longer answer: In some places and programs, your grad research assistantship is also your dissertation work. But at other places and programs, it's common to work with one professor for your dissertation while also doing assistantship work with another professor for the purposes of funding. I don't know what the norm is in your field, so I am not sure if your situation is unusual or par for the course. In addition, it might be possible for you to get an assistantship with your thesis advisor in the future, if more money opens up later. Definitely talk to your desired advisor about this sooner rather than later. I can't speak for everyone, but most people I know prefer having the work they do for their funding and the work they do for their dissertation be the same when possible. Try to get the full answer ASAP because it's still early enough for some changes to happen if necessary. That is, would you really be happy if you have to switch your research field for your PhD? Is this still your first choice school if either you cannot work with your first choice lab, or if you have to get funding by doing unrelated work in a second lab? If not, I would consider checking in with other schools that accepted you and see if you can still be admitted for this fall. I would even consider deferring to Fall 2018 start if they are willing to take you but don't have any more funding room this year. I would also not rule out reapplying entirely and making sure you are in the right fit. However, before you take any action, it's important for you to get a realistic and accurate view of what your current department expects from you and what are some actual possibilities for your dissertation. You're about to start a 5-6 year (or more) chapter of your life, so it's okay to ask questions and ensure you're on the right path for you. Finally, this last part is too late to be useful to you, @AMB8706 (sorry!), but in case others are reading this, it's really important to confirm the process for research and teaching assistantship appointments prior to accepting an offer. It's not enough to assume that if you say you want to work in X or if you say you want to work with X that there will be a place for you. At many places, being accepted to the department and being accepted to a specific lab/group/professor are independent processes. Many places don't even assign you to a specific group/lab until the end of your first year, if you do rotations etc. prior to having a thesis advisor. At another department in my school, each year, about half of the incoming class wants to work with Prof. X and the majority of them will not be able to do so. Make sure you find out whatever the process is and that you're okay with that process (i.e. if it's a competition, do you have a backup plan in case you don't get to work with the person you wanted to?).
  19. Are you only applying to one (or a small number) of programs? If so, the best thing to do is just ask them directly before you apply. Although I didn't do this for my BSc->MSc transition, I defended and deposited my MSc thesis a few weeks before starting my PhD. When I started my PhD program (late Sept.), they wanted a copy of my MSc diploma and I explained that since I just finished in late August, I would not get the diploma until November. They said that is fine, I would have until December of that year to produce the MSc diploma. So I don't expect there to be any administrative problems, however, every school is different. And, it's your personal choice whether you want a break between your undergrad and grad programs! Also one thing to note: my PhD school was in the US so the only requirement was a BS/BSc degree (most people in my cohort entered straight from undergrad) which I did have. And I also have a note from my school saying that I had completed all of my degree requirements (when I deposited my thesis). So technically, the MSc diploma wasn't strictly necessary but since I put it on my application, they wanted me to show it. In your case, your undergrad degree would be necessary so you should ask the schools you're interested in to find out what are the ways you can prove that you've completed your program and what are the deadlines for producing these documents.
  20. For things like this, my advice is generally to follow the instructions that are the most closely related to the people reading your essays. So, to me, this means the second set of prompts makes more sense, as it is written by your department. That said, the first set of prompts is also consistent with what people expect when reading personal statements. If you compare the first set of prompts to other PS-like prompts around the country, you'll find a lot of similarities, I think. Therefore, I think you can also write about some of that stuff in your PS. Note that the second set says "some questions to consider are...", and does not expect you to answer all of them or limit yourself to only these questions. By design, this section is supposed to be very free form. You're not going to repeat the prompt at the top of your essay or anything like that. You should just write. Ensure that you meet some of the ideas from the second set of prompts but feel free to also include your experience from the first set of prompts as well. This and many other grad school essays will be free-form, you're meant to interpret the prompt as the set of themes you should write about and then produce something that satisfies that need, rather than to answer a specific list of questions. For what it's worth, when I applied to Berkeley (in a different department), my department's prompt had stuff from both of your "first set" and "second set" of prompts. Actually, upon further reading, the second set of prompt begins with a paragraph that discusses the same ideas presented in the first set of prompts. So, I would really advise you to consider all the questions you see as things you should touch on while writing this essya. To your other questions, yes, I think you should write about your disaster experience, but be sure to relate that to your graduate career in some way. That is, what did you learn from this experience that would make you a good colleague in the department? And as I wrote above, don't write the entire essay for Berkeley only on this experience, include your original ideas for the first set of prompts too. You can expect the committee to review both your SOP and PS but you should not expect them to have read them in depth, to have read them in any particular order, or even to have read them in the same sitting. You can't predict how your admissions committee is going to read your application. Some people might just skim the 100s of essays they receive and look for interesting things (whatever that means to them) and others might only go back to review an essay in depth once your application makes it past some first cut, or maybe another committee member mentions something about your package and they go back to look at that part. Therefore, I would advise you to ensure each essay is a standalone document. Don't refer to something you wrote in another essay. At the same time, don't repeat things too much. So, when you want to tell your story in each of the two essays, only tell the details that directly lead to whatever point you want to make. Don't tell a story just for the sake of telling a story.
  21. I don't think it made a difference in my department (different field, though!) The majority of students that visited my PhD program prior to applying did not get in. There is only one person who visited prior to applying and also got in, but I don't think the visit made much of a difference. This student won major fellowships and other honors that would to me, signal that they would have gotten in even if they didn't visit ahead of time. Fortunately, almost all visitors did so (or at least claimed) at very little extra cost to themselves. Most visitors were either within driving distance or visited because they were in town for some other reason (visiting family, attending a conference, etc.) My only advice is to not do what one visitor did and just show up one morning, unannounced, and expect to be able to meet with people. I feel like whether this is worth it really depends on each person and how far they have to travel to visit. For me, every program visit would cost around $700-$1000, so I definitely did not do any visiting prior to admissions. I was able to find other ways to help tailor my applications (meet prospective advisors and current grad students at conferences, email/Skype chats etc.). As for saving time on an application, I think I would rather spend the $100 app. fee plus 2 hours of my time (marginal cost) to apply to a school I wasn't sure about than to spend a couple of days and $700+ to visit! But if I had a program close enough that I could drive to and back in a day, then I might have done that The way I see it is that the info gathered prior to applying is mostly about the academics of the program, so I could do all that via electronic means and/or conferences. The stuff that you really need to visit in person for, things like department atmosphere, quality of life, affordability etc. can wait until after you have some offers. I personally find that things like quality of life is hard to assess in an absolute manner. It makes more sense, to me, to compare my choices against each other instead of evaluating each place against some absolute standard that might not even be attainable. But as I said, this is all a personal choice of how people want to spend their time and money!
  22. Seconding @rising_star's suggestion to avoid RMP reviews for selecting graduate advisors. From my experience, there is little correlation between teaching ability and mentoring/advising ability. I know many profs who are great teachers but I would never want to work with them. And many profs have rave reviews about mentoring from my friends but their teaching is a little lacking! In addition, I think that each student has their own set of criteria for what makes good teaching or mentoring/advising, so it's already very subjective anyways. I also think student reviews based on teaching should be taken with an extra grain of salt because I think students often do not have all the information at hand and will assess situations with missing or sometimes incorrect data. For example, my PhD school (like most schools) had end-of-term course evals for both the instructor and the TAs that the students fill out. I do read these reviews because they could provide good feedback, especially in the open-ended long answer feedback box. But, in one year, in this box, a student wrote saying that they really disliked the homework grading scheme but that they didn't blame me (the TA) since I had to follow policy. However, the grading scheme was actually my choice (with instructor approval) so the instructor got the blame for no reason! When we introduced the grading scheme, we felt no need to tell the students who came up with what, so I could understand why the student assumed that I was "just following orders", but it's an example where missing information / wrong assumptions led to an incorrect assessment.
  23. The most correct answer is probably not very satisfying: you should take as much space as you need to provide a strong answer to their prompt, and no more. Realistically, you want to stay within the norms of your field. I wrote what my field would expect above, and maybe others here can tell you more about yours. You can also have mentors read over your SOPs and look at the requirements for a range of programs in your field. If you see that most are asking for 1000 word essays, then it would be a good idea to write your other essays around 1000 words too. When there are no strict instructions on word length, it's nice because if you really want to add an extra paragraph or remove an irrelevant one, you can do so without worrying about being inconsistent with their directions. Or, if you are very unsure about a school's instructions, it's okay to ask after checking for the answer on their website.
  24. I agree with rising_star, for both wordings of the question. No school is going to automatically rank your application lower because you are below the max number of words. The SOP is definitely about quality of words, not quantity (other than limits). While a well-written 500 word essay will be better than a poorly-written 900 word essay, what's even better is a well-written 900 word essay. If the limit is 1000 words, then you will be sure that most applicants will be submitting 800+ words. Why wouldn't you use the space you have to include as many well-written sentences/paragraphs about yourself as you can? To the OP: If you are planning to write 500 word SOPs for most of your schools and that's what most of your schools ask for then that's great. But when a school sets a 1000 word limit, I'd plan on using more of that space! Take the extra time to write a 1000 word SOP (or close to it) instead of just stretching out your 500 word SOP. If you think this is not worth your time, then I would say it's a good sign that perhaps this is not a school you would want to apply to. (Note: I really don't mean this in a judgemental way: there are tons of good schools to apply to out there so only spend your effort and time on programs you think are worth it). For a reference point, my field's norms is about 750 words. Most schools say "less than 2 pages" and most people write between 1.3 to 1.7 pages. However, I did have one school that had a strict limit of 500 words and another of 300 words. I had to write a new SOP just for these two schools but I felt it was worth it since I was really interested in those programs. There was another school that had some annoying/ridiculous requirement (I forgot what, it might have been requiring LORs on letter-head) and in the end, I decided that program wasn't worth it and I wasn't really eager to go there anyways.
  25. Unless the programs you are applying to does "rolling admissions", the timing of the application is not important. Most programs set a deadline, compile applications 1-2 weeks later and then convene the admissions committee. They will definitely not fill up spots before the deadline! Usually programs that have a deadline are not rolling admissions, so if you say your programs have Dec 1 deadlines, then no action will be taken on these applications until Dec 1 (probably much later). Note that since the winter break happens in mid/late December, for many programs even with December deadlines, not much action will be taken before January! Some programs might compile a shortlist and start interviews before the break though. The majority of students apply in the Fall of their final year. Most schools do not expect to see Fall term grades for the application. Therefore, most applicants are only being evaluated on coursework up to the end of their 3rd year. Since you are applying at the end of your final term, you will already have a lot more grades to show than most applicants. I wouldn't worry about not having your fall term grades in your application. If the school really wants to see them, they usually instruct students to update their grades in January. If you really want to show them to the school, you can ask them in January if you can update your transcript.