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blc073

Ask questions about the PhD application process!

233 posts in this topic

I received a formal notification of waitlist status from my top school about 2 weeks ago. However, like many of you, I'm feel the anxiety creeping up as the deadline draws closer. When is it appropriate to directly call the program division coordinator/councilor about your application status? Would it be considered rude/irritating?

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2 minutes ago, EatBread said:

I received a formal notification of waitlist status from my top school about 2 weeks ago. However, like many of you, I'm feel the anxiety creeping up as the deadline draws closer. When is it appropriate to directly call the program division coordinator/councilor about your application status? Would it be considered rude/irritating?

I think it is totally OK as long as your are polite and sincere during the call

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On 4/4/2017 at 8:33 AM, aquamarine said:

Did y'all contact potential PIs before accepting offers at programs? I'm really struggling on making a decision...

I did not, and I don't push people to do so if their program has rotations. If you don't word it properly, it can come across weird, and I also like to talk to people about things like that in person, which is something I got to do at my interview.

Don't get too hung up on picking the perfect project for your PhD; the most important thing is to find a mentor who can teach you in the way you need to learn, a lab environment that you can work well in, and a project that will both get you the publication(s) you need to graduate and the skills you need for your next step, whether that is postdoc, industry, or something else. If I had only rotated with the PIs I was interested in, I would not have met my current PI as they weren't even at the school, yet. I even changed fields and am now in love with this one, so I'll stay in it. However, as you're in neuroscience and those skills are highly technical, I would recommend you don't change fields because it would be really hard to get back into for postdoc. I'll look for the "perfect project" or "perfect corner of my field" for postdoc, which shapes what I'll do the rest of my life more strongly than my PhD studies.

What you should do is make sure there are several faculty at the school you're thinking of attending that have projects you think might be interesting. Perhaps not all of them are taking students, but there will be a few that are. Check online and see what their funding situation looks like. Then check their publication record and try to get a handle on how their students/postdocs are doing. Publications will usually help with this, but a lot of labs also publish awards and graduation events on their website. These are the things I did for the PIs I was interested in, though I didn't contact them until I accepted my offer as the program had over 100 faculty to choose from, so I was sure I could find someone good. If you're very sure you want to attend there, reach out to the PIs to find out if you would be able to do a rotation. I would only schedule the first and second as you may meet some PIs when you get there that are doing more exciting things. It is a little late to do so now as it is close to the April 15 deadline, but still worth a shot.

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On 4/4/2017 at 3:19 AM, LilyMira said:

So... I'm applying to grad school next fall, and I've got a big bag of festering questions (don't know how many of them are relevant to this particular post, so ignore/exile me if I'm out of line).

Me: attending medium-ish R2 state school, majoring in microbiology/molecular biology- ~2 years of research (and counting), with one funded summer program at my home institution, 4.0, a couple of poster presentations and undergraduate grants, but nothing published. I'm interested in environmental and community microbiology, and in genetically engineering microbes to solve problems (detoxification, biofuel feedstock breakdown, value-added products).

1) The elusive question of "Prestige": so I picked my favorite 8 schools with the conditions that (1) they have to pay for me, (2) they have to have at least 5 faculty I like, and (3) their microbiology program can't be part of their medical school/program (shocking how many schools this disqualified). The schools I ended up with were University of Georgia, UC Berkeley, UW Madison, Rutgers New Brunswick, U Minnesota Twin Cities, Michigan State, U Mass Amherst, and Arizona State University. Now obviously I have a couple of crazy prestigious schools, but others I can't find microbiology rankings for- should I be worried about the schools not seeming hugely renowned after a quick google search or am I being (characteristically) neurotic? I'm not planning on going into academia, as of now.

2) As for not wanting to go into academia... is that something I should shy away from mentioning on my application? Right now my dream career would be working in industry (I'm interning with the DOE this summer, and hopefully I enjoy the environment as much as I think I will), but I see a lot of people here saying that grad admissions committees want to admit future professors. 

3) Letter of recommendation by post-doc? Pretty sure this is a no-no, but just thought I'd get confirmation. The post-doc who oversees my work in lab offered to write me a great letter, but I figured it would be better for me to ask the professor who I've taken an upper-division biochemistry course with and am going to TA (an upper-division biochem lab) for next semester. (My other two will be my lab PI and the overseer of my summer project at the DOE- keeping my fingers crossed on that one)

4) Subject test: okay so tricky one: a couple of the programs recommend I submit either a BCM or biology subject test with my app. I was planning on taking the BCM test until... it got discontinued. I tried a practice biology test instead, but I know literally nothing about plants and neuroscience, and I landed in the 60th percentile. With scores like that, is it worth me trying to study and take the test over the summer?

Honestly I'll be happy to get into any graduate school. Whew, that was longer than intended. Anyway, thanks for reading my novel, and I'll appreciate any input (unless you suggest a gap year... then you're dead to me)!

1. As long as the schools have good research and would be a good fit, you shouldn't really worry about prestige. I will say though, with your GPA and experience applying to more prestigious schools should be fine. Prestige isn't everything but it still is correlated to funding and other opportunities.

2. I am fairly certain I want to do industry but I put that I was keeping both academia and industry in mind when I did my application. During interviews the professors didn't seem to have a problem with this but I heard there was one guy who had an interview go bad after he said he wanted to do industry. Your mileage may vary but I'd say the safe bet is to say you're keeping your options open.

3. If you already have 3 professors writing your letters you could maybe have the post-doc's letter as part of your PI's letter.

4. With your GPA and major the subject test is unnecessary.

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On 4/4/2017 at 3:19 AM, LilyMira said:

So... I'm applying to grad school next fall, and I've got a big bag of festering questions (don't know how many of them are relevant to this particular post, so ignore/exile me if I'm out of line).

Me: attending medium-ish R2 state school, majoring in microbiology/molecular biology- ~2 years of research (and counting), with one funded summer program at my home institution, 4.0, a couple of poster presentations and undergraduate grants, but nothing published. I'm interested in environmental and community microbiology, and in genetically engineering microbes to solve problems (detoxification, biofuel feedstock breakdown, value-added products).

1) The elusive question of "Prestige": so I picked my favorite 8 schools with the conditions that (1) they have to pay for me, (2) they have to have at least 5 faculty I like, and (3) their microbiology program can't be part of their medical school/program (shocking how many schools this disqualified). The schools I ended up with were University of Georgia, UC Berkeley, UW Madison, Rutgers New Brunswick, U Minnesota Twin Cities, Michigan State, U Mass Amherst, and Arizona State University. Now obviously I have a couple of crazy prestigious schools, but others I can't find microbiology rankings for- should I be worried about the schools not seeming hugely renowned after a quick google search or am I being (characteristically) neurotic? I'm not planning on going into academia, as of now.

2) As for not wanting to go into academia... is that something I should shy away from mentioning on my application? Right now my dream career would be working in industry (I'm interning with the DOE this summer, and hopefully I enjoy the environment as much as I think I will), but I see a lot of people here saying that grad admissions committees want to admit future professors. 

3) Letter of recommendation by post-doc? Pretty sure this is a no-no, but just thought I'd get confirmation. The post-doc who oversees my work in lab offered to write me a great letter, but I figured it would be better for me to ask the professor who I've taken an upper-division biochemistry course with and am going to TA (an upper-division biochem lab) for next semester. (My other two will be my lab PI and the overseer of my summer project at the DOE- keeping my fingers crossed on that one)

4) Subject test: okay so tricky one: a couple of the programs recommend I submit either a BCM or biology subject test with my app. I was planning on taking the BCM test until... it got discontinued. I tried a practice biology test instead, but I know literally nothing about plants and neuroscience, and I landed in the 60th percentile. With scores like that, is it worth me trying to study and take the test over the summer?

Honestly I'll be happy to get into any graduate school. Whew, that was longer than intended. Anyway, thanks for reading my novel, and I'll appreciate any input (unless you suggest a gap year... then you're dead to me)!

Why are you ruling out programs that are within medical schools? 

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On 4/4/2017 at 0:19 AM, LilyMira said:

So... I'm applying to grad school next fall, and I've got a big bag of festering questions (don't know how many of them are relevant to this particular post, so ignore/exile me if I'm out of line).

Me: attending medium-ish R2 state school, majoring in microbiology/molecular biology- ~2 years of research (and counting), with one funded summer program at my home institution, 4.0, a couple of poster presentations and undergraduate grants, but nothing published. I'm interested in environmental and community microbiology, and in genetically engineering microbes to solve problems (detoxification, biofuel feedstock breakdown, value-added products).

1) The elusive question of "Prestige": so I picked my favorite 8 schools with the conditions that (1) they have to pay for me, (2) they have to have at least 5 faculty I like, and (3) their microbiology program can't be part of their medical school/program (shocking how many schools this disqualified). The schools I ended up with were University of Georgia, UC Berkeley, UW Madison, Rutgers New Brunswick, U Minnesota Twin Cities, Michigan State, U Mass Amherst, and Arizona State University. Now obviously I have a couple of crazy prestigious schools, but others I can't find microbiology rankings for- should I be worried about the schools not seeming hugely renowned after a quick google search or am I being (characteristically) neurotic? I'm not planning on going into academia, as of now.

2) As for not wanting to go into academia... is that something I should shy away from mentioning on my application? Right now my dream career would be working in industry (I'm interning with the DOE this summer, and hopefully I enjoy the environment as much as I think I will), but I see a lot of people here saying that grad admissions committees want to admit future professors. 

3) Letter of recommendation by post-doc? Pretty sure this is a no-no, but just thought I'd get confirmation. The post-doc who oversees my work in lab offered to write me a great letter, but I figured it would be better for me to ask the professor who I've taken an upper-division biochemistry course with and am going to TA (an upper-division biochem lab) for next semester. (My other two will be my lab PI and the overseer of my summer project at the DOE- keeping my fingers crossed on that one)

4) Subject test: okay so tricky one: a couple of the programs recommend I submit either a BCM or biology subject test with my app. I was planning on taking the BCM test until... it got discontinued. I tried a practice biology test instead, but I know literally nothing about plants and neuroscience, and I landed in the 60th percentile. With scores like that, is it worth me trying to study and take the test over the summer?

Honestly I'll be happy to get into any graduate school. Whew, that was longer than intended. Anyway, thanks for reading my novel, and I'll appreciate any input (unless you suggest a gap year... then you're dead to me)!

I applied this year for microbiology, including overlap with some of the schools you listed. 

1. I know you said you eliminated programs associated with the medical school, but for example University of Washington, Seattle has a lot of environmental micro and it sounds like it would be a great fit for you. I wouldn't worry about "renown" but do pay attention to the funding situation. For example, I interviewed this year at UGA micro, and while it was an enjoyable interview and a great program, a lot of the students had to TA every semester in order to get their stipend because their professor couldn't always afford them. That sounds like a huge headache that would just make the grad school experience more stressful. So be weary of that.

2. I was honest about not wanting to go into acadamia in my applications and during the interview process.I was advised by one of my PIs to not emphasize the fact that I had no interest in academia in my SOP, so I said I was pretty sure I wanted to go into industry but was still exploring my options. I do think the one school where I didn't get an interview might have been  in part due to the fact that I said I was leaning away from academia, but its not one of the ones on your list.

3. Can the postdoc not collaborate with the lab PI on writing your letter? I think thats how its usually done in these situations.

4. Don't bother its a waste of money. I don't think any of the people I met on interviews had taken it. 

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Wow thanks to everyone for the thoughtful and EXTREMELY useful/pragmatic responses. Based on the advice, I'm going to go ahead and skip the Biology GRE, and not worry about switching up my list to add prestige. As for the reason I eliminated programs where microbiology is part of the medicine department, I started by looking through every program, but found out a few dozen in that faculty in the micro programs in the medicine department are (reasonably) slanted towards research in virology, immunology, etc., which I have no interest in. So I started "reading books by their cover" and just knocking them out right off the bat. Micro at UW Seattle seems very cool, though, so maybe I should go back and check out some of the ones I knocked off... still, I feel pretty happy with my list how it is (would be genuinely happy to get into even one of them, and I think I have a good chance), and I still have plenty of time (well, 4 months until I start putting everything together at least). Thanks again!

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37 minutes ago, LilyMira said:

Wow thanks to everyone for the thoughtful and EXTREMELY useful/pragmatic responses. Based on the advice, I'm going to go ahead and skip the Biology GRE, and not worry about switching up my list to add prestige. As for the reason I eliminated programs where microbiology is part of the medicine department, I started by looking through every program, but found out a few dozen in that faculty in the micro programs in the medicine department are (reasonably) slanted towards research in virology, immunology, etc., which I have no interest in. So I started "reading books by their cover" and just knocking them out right off the bat. Micro at UW Seattle seems very cool, though, so maybe I should go back and check out some of the ones I knocked off... still, I feel pretty happy with my list how it is (would be genuinely happy to get into even one of them, and I think I have a good chance), and I still have plenty of time (well, 4 months until I start putting everything together at least). Thanks again!

Being a gopher myself and highly involved in the micro community, I can't recommend UMN microbiology more. And keep in mind there are several very cool microbiologists who are not actually in the microbiology department but in EEB and Biotechnology Institute.

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