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Admission factors


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19 replies to this topic

#1 Kitkat

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 05:12 PM

There is a lot of talk about what the important parts of an application when applying to grad school. And many places say that they look at the whole package of the applicant. So I am curious to what people think are the important things in Earth and environmental Sciences. I am not saying that one thing is necessarily worth more then another, and therefore you can say GPA is the number one thing.

I bring this up specifically for this part of the Forum because my PI says that while he got into a good program with a great GPA and decent GRE, he thinks that he could have done better if he had done research (which he didn't do as an undergrad).

So how much weight do people think research has in applying to these programs? GPA and GRE? Does it matter how well you do in the other criteria, and that implying that in the geosciences that they actually do look at the whole package of the student?
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#2 InquilineKea

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 07:53 PM

My impression is this: compared to many other programs, it does seem to matter more if you have contacted the professors beforehand, and have relevant research. In fact, this is often one of the only things that helps to distinguish applicants, simply because it's hard to compare applicants with each other due to the factor I've mentioned below.

GPA is probably less important than it is in most programs since there are people from all sorts of majors who apply to the geosciences (so it's simply hard to make comparisons between people - unlike physics, where almost everyone has gone through the same core curriculum). Physics majors with lower GPAs often end up doing better than people in other majors with higher GPAs. In fact, geosciences is one of the few areas where you can get into a top school with a GPA lower than 3.50 (I've seen some cases of this on physicsgre.com).

Also, the core isn't nearly as important as it is for other fields as well. It's not like physics where a good portion of the students do risk failing out.

Edited by InquilineKea, 29 September 2011 - 07:54 PM.

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#3 Kitkat

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 08:06 PM

I agree with the fact that some people can get into schools with a less then a 3.5. I'm sure that you would still want above a 3.0 GPA. It's a general thing, not a hard rule, but generally recommended. I have seen cases of that even on the forums here, on the results page. But at that point, you need something to back you up other then grades to say that you are good.

I think what I am wondering is how important is something like research when you apply to grad school? Or contact that you have made with profs at those grad schools you are looking at? Letters of rec, how much do they help with applying with a lower GPA? How about fit to the program when you are talking about it in your SoP?
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#4 George2248

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 09:13 PM

What do you mean by contacting a professor before hand? Should I start emailing the professors of the faculty I am interested in applying to?

If this is true, how should I do that? what would you say to them?

thanks...
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#5 Kitkat

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 09:27 PM

In a lot of fields, when applying to grad school, lots of people recommend that you email the profs you want to work with to see if they even have the space to take new students. Its more common practice in hard sciences/math. Less common in humanities fields. I would suggest if this is normal for what you are applying for.
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#6 George2248

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 11:12 PM

What about Engineering Management? I have interest in many of the Professors subjects but I dont know if these Programs are that focus on research, especially since is not a Phd.

Also I wouldnt know how to talk to them, what am I supposed to say?
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#7 Kitkat

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 11:02 AM

I don't know about Engineering Management. You can try asking people in the fields of engineering or management. But there is this, it might be less of an issue if you are looking at a masters rather then a PhD, especially if they are not research based masters. The main reason to talk to people in a program is to see if they are even taking new people into their lab. So if you aren't going to be doing research, this isn't going to be an issue for you.
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#8 sfugradstudies

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Posted 28 October 2011 - 10:07 PM

I think what I am wondering is how important is something like research when you apply to grad school? Or contact that you have made with profs at those grad schools you are looking at? Letters of rec, how much do they help with applying with a lower GPA? How about fit to the program when you are talking about it in your SoP?


Contact with a faculty member is incredibly important in the sciences. In fact, grad programs in the Faculty of Science at SFU don't even want you to apply unless you've already made contact with a faculty member.

There are two parts:
1. Find a faculty member who's doing research in an area of your interest
2. AND is accepting new graduate students

For environmental science -- I've just written a profile of a master's student who just started his program this fall, and his faculty member is new so he's her first student, which means that she is still accepting new graduate students who want to do work in her research area: climate modeling research.

(Please let me know if this last paragraph is unacceptable -- I want to provide a tip for potential students who are looking for faculty members, but I don't want to be overtly advertising and I hope I haven't crossed the line.)
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#9 Kitkat

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Posted 29 October 2011 - 05:32 PM

I think your fine with the last paragraph. For students who are just starting to look for schools, its a good tip to start off at. I think they just need to remember to make sure that it would be a place they would be happy at.

I know that its important to contact faculty. I mention it as something that is important, but I am wondering how important people think it is to getting in. I know that one of the applications for one of the schools that I am applying to asks if you have contacted anyone in the area you are interested in, and give three spaces to list who.
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#10 hope4fall2012

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 09:51 AM

I hope I am not digressing with this post.

I have been mailing a few professors over the past couple of weeks. I would like to think Ive put some considerable effort behind this process. I've checked pages, read few papers and tried to make my e-mails as insightful as I could. By some coincidence, all the professors whose research I liked (and hence mailed) have been assistant professors who have started their teaching jobs around 2008-2009.

I have heard back from no one.

I'm asking this question because I don't know how the education system works in the US. Aren't Assistant Professors allowed to take graduate students ? Or am I choosing the absolute "wrong" set of professors?
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#11 waddle

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:01 PM

I'm asking this question because I don't know how the education system works in the US. Aren't Assistant Professors allowed to take graduate students ? Or am I choosing the absolute "wrong" set of professors?

As to your first question, short answer: yes, assistant professors (fun fact: "junior faculty" might be more accurate than "assistant professor", since at some institutions, promotion to "associate" rank (a bump up in the pay scale) usually occurs before tenure) can accept students. Long answer: depends. New faculty may not have the political capital within the department to be able to recruit a student this year, especially if that would require the department to pony up money to support the student, given the financial situation of many U.S. institutions.

It's near impossible to give you a good answer to your second question, without knowing how you've approached pre-admissions contacting of professors. It's a good idea to do it, but doing it the wrong way could kill your application. Maybe if you gave a little more detail we might be able to help?

Good luck!

Edited by waddle, 18 November 2011 - 05:02 PM.

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#12 hope4fall2012

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 04:27 PM

Hello Waddle,
Thanks a ton for the reply and the offer to help out.. :)

What I do is this : Look at the relevant departments of schools I'm interested in and then look at the webpages of faculty whose research is in more or less the same vertical as my current research. I look at the research interests, projects and also the publications. If possible, I read one of the papers. (not to grasp each line in it, but to get the general idea of where the author is going with it). I then mail the professor, telling them what I do currently, what my interests are, what I would like to do in grad school and which one of their projects/papers I found interesting. I end by asking them whether there are any openings in their research group. I keep the length of the mail to within a screen-size.

Am I doing it the right way? Thanks again for the help.
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#13 waddle

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 06:26 PM

What I do is this : Look at the relevant departments of schools I'm interested in and then look at the webpages of faculty whose research is in more or less the same vertical as my current research. I look at the research interests, projects and also the publications. If possible, I read one of the papers. (not to grasp each line in it, but to get the general idea of where the author is going with it). I then mail the professor, telling them what I do currently, what my interests are, what I would like to do in grad school and which one of their projects/papers I found interesting. I end by asking them whether there are any openings in their research group. I keep the length of the mail to within a screen-size.


That's more or less what I did, and I got responses from most (~75%?) professors/scientists I contacted. I also posted my CV on Academia.edu, and slipped a link into the part where I "tell them what I do currently"--as in something along the lines of "if you would like a little more background on these projects, please see my CV at LINK". Some of the professors actually looked at it, but not all/most.

A couple of factors might be at play here. Perhaps they're hesitant to reply positively to an international student when they haven't seen the entire application (including scores, statement, etc.)? Or maybe they are just very busy (it is that time of year--everybody is trying to submit grant proposals/papers before the holidays and end of semester) and didn't have time to get back to you?

Perhaps you would want to broaden some of your research interests--perhaps try emailing some of the more established faculty. Often, they have research projects in their mind or just getting started in their group that aren't necessarily reflected on their publications or website. This might be why you've only found assistant professors to have a good research fit with you--often it's the untenured faculty who actually have the updated websites, many older professors don't bother. Besides, it's good to have at least 2 faculty at each institution to which you apply who you'd want to work for, in case you actually end up there and something falls out with one of them. In my emails, I also sometimes asked the professors I contacted to suggest anybody else within that school with whom my research interests might fit, and with whom I might want to talk or work.

Good luck!
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#14 hope4fall2012

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 06:14 AM

I have to thank you again for all the help. This is a lot of helpful perspective. :)

I also posted my CV on Academia.edu, and slipped a link into the part where I "tell them what I do currently"--as in something along the lines of "if you would like a little more background on these projects, please see my CV at LINK". Some of the professors actually looked at it, but not all/most.

What I did was just leave a link to my website (google sites webpage) in my signature. What you did is definitely more effective.

A couple of factors might be at play here. Perhaps they're hesitant to reply positively to an international student when they haven't seen the entire application (including scores, statement, etc.)?


I was worried about this too. But I'm scared of applying to a professor (Focusing your SOP on 1-2 profs is more effective, yes?), who doesn't have any openings. This will mean I've wasted a precious slot. (I can only apply to 8 universities)

In my emails, I also sometimes asked the professors I contacted to suggest anybody else within that school with whom my research interests might fit, and with whom I might want to talk or work.


Wow. Is it OK to do this? Would it be OK if 2 professors found out later that I had mailed both of them?
What if I mail one prof and after getting a reply, mail someone else in the same dept ? Is this OK too?

I know that these are really newbie questions, but I'm clearly out in the deep end here. I don't want to end up being too cautious and lose out.

Edited by hope4fall2012, 20 November 2011 - 06:15 AM.

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#15 waddle

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 07:36 PM

I was worried about this too. But I'm scared of applying to a professor (Focusing your SOP on 1-2 profs is more effective, yes?), who doesn't have any openings. This will mean I've wasted a precious slot. (I can only apply to 8 universities)

Is it OK to do this? Would it be OK if 2 professors found out later that I had mailed both of them?
What if I mail one prof and after getting a reply, mail someone else in the same dept ? Is this OK too?

8 applications is plenty--probably more than average. Only apply to a place if you would actually go there if they accepted you. If only your last pick accepted you, would you go there, or reapply next year? If the latter, don't even bother applying; it's just a waste of money.

It's not a crime to be interested in more than one person's work! You haven't committed to them, nor have they committed to you yet. Think of it as a business deal--the contract doesn't come into effect until both parties have agreed on something. :) Feel free to explore--that's why you're applying to Ph.D. programs. You want to be cautious, too, just like them, so it shouldn't be a big deal if you talk with other professors. I made it clear that I didn't know exactly what I wanted to study yet, and I named a couple of professors in my SOP who I thought I would be interested in working with at each school. It doesn't mean that I've committed to working with them.
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#16 InquilineKea

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 09:51 PM

I think when it comes to the earth sciences, many people are so interdisciplinary that working with multiple professors is even a plus. Many graduate students have numerous co-supervisors. And many professors have encouraged me to get into contact with their collaborators.
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#17 waddle

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 02:38 AM

I think when it comes to the earth sciences, many people are so interdisciplinary that working with multiple professors is even a plus. Many graduate students have numerous co-supervisors. And many professors have encouraged me to get into contact with their collaborators.

With a caveat: beware of conflicts (personality- and research interest-wise) associated with co-advising. You don't want to be the rope in a tug-of-war between two faculty members trying to take the project in different directions.
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#18 InquilineKea

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 07:37 AM

Wow - good point. I've never heard of that happening before.

Does that mean that the project is centered around the grad student or something?
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#19 waddle

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 05:24 PM

Does that mean that the project is centered around the grad student or something?


Well, yeah ... it's your dissertation project, right? :huh:
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#20 InquilineKea

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 08:14 PM

Yeah - that's true. But do the professors care *that* much about it? I mean, they have their own research too. :)

And jointly-supervised research is most likely less burdensome on a professor than research with a single supervisor.

But with that said, if they have a project that they REALLY need labor on (from a grad student), then I suppose that it would matter to them.

Edited by InquilineKea, 05 January 2012 - 08:20 PM.

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