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Opinions of a baby molecular biologist on life, science, and grad apps

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Hello fuzzy penguins,

Winter and I are just... we're really not friends. It's perpetually cold, I can't go outside and run, and it's always dark. So as I sit here, curled up in fleece with the space heater blaring, I find myself picturing the future and its promise of warmth. Most notably, this upcoming August and September, when I (theoretically) start grad school. ...And yeah, the last few apps I have under review are at schools with winters just as harsh as my current homestead, but I can't help but get excited for the simple prospect of a change in scenery.

In my quest for graduate admittance, meeting and talking online with applicants and current grad students coupled with a desire for better weather has possessed me with this fun and refreshing sense of adventure. I want to meet the POIs I've researched and see if they're excited about what's going on in their lab and department. I'd like to meet professors in fields I'm inexperienced in and see what cell adhesion pathways or trinucleotide repeat dynamics or parasitic biology is all about. I'm thrilled to hit the town with recruiting grad student reps to talk shop. And more than anything, I wanna make cohort friends. It's just.. it's one of those times that you know is going to have some of the cutest moments in your career.

Til then, I guess, I will need to make do with this polar-vexed season. Travel might be good. Stay warm, kids.


Hi Bunnies,

After spending all my free time in my sketchbook for the last week (as well as splurging with Avengers tonight, weee) I thought I should take a few moments off and try to write down some thoughts on grad school. Since I've been bad at blogging lately, I should try to rectify my lapse with at least some thoughtful words.

You people, man. You're all so smart, driven, and accomplished. Overcoming all sorts of feats, earning all sorts of accolades, so well versed and talented. And in all honesty, it is intimidating. Personally, I feel like I haven't really experienced the rest of the "field" before stumbling upon GradCafe. As a wee little undergrad, I was thrown into a world of astoundingly smart people. However, I was more exposed to computer scientists and mechanical engineers than other biology majors. This made it hard to gauge myself against my peers. College also encouraged collaboration and solidarity by snubbing the "summa cum laude" title and making p-sets so hard that you usually could not solve every question without working it out with others. Being out of school for a few years doesn't help matters much either. Comparison to peers just.. never really went down for me.

When it's your first go at the grad app grind and you don't have a good gauge of the field, you go to sites like these and see a mess of people with higher scores and more interview invites than you can imagine. Fellow applicants post their scores in threads, on the results pages, in signatures. You find yourself comparing scores of applicants to your programs of interest and seeing if your own manage to make the cut, and it gets damned dehumanizing. For people like me, this site was really scary.. at least at first. However, word on the street is that the stats people post on GradCafe are skewed from the average--people with better scores tend to be more confident in posting their wares. After some time and some talking and interaction, you find that people here want to advise, support, and inform. It's the best. And the few instances I've seen of blatant arrogance have been quickly shot down as inappropriate, which is awesome too.

All in all, I guess I would just like to say: shine on, you crazy diamonds. :P


Hi little Otters,

When I started this grad school app silliness, pretty much everything was horrifying. I thought the feat of studying for and performing well on GREs was terrifying. The prospect of asking LORs for letters was intimidating. Bearing my experiences and shortcomings in my SOP was like facing an angry, objective mirror that kept yelling at me for mixing up effect and affect. (I still think I've probably got them switched them around wrong somewhere :unsure:) However, nothing has been nearly as distressing as that wait for that magical first response.

Gawd, that wait. That check your email/phone/application website/GradCafe every five minutes kinda wait, hoping someone somewhere in the scary world of adcomms will reach out, pat you on the head, and tell you that you happen to be what they're looking for. The emotional toll has been surprisingly harsh, and the first few weeks after getting that last app in was rough. It's just this terrible roller coaster between feeling super competent and qualified and feeling simple and mediocre (especially compared to the many fine applicants on this site, but that's another post). I'm sure that adcomms are aware of these kind of psychological stressors they're putting on us, and I'm curious about how they handle it within their admissions procedures. Relatedly, I'd kinda like to see data on the applicant pool's average stress levels and how it correlates with phone call frequency to their offices during different points in the app season, but I digress...

Personally, I think I have gotten over that initial spat with self-doubt (for the most part, anyways). After a bit you just kind of.. chill out, realize you've done all you can, and know the world won't end if the outcome isn't what you had originally planned. Also, distractions. My current favorite is splurging on pretentious 90's sitcoms with Nexflix. Other activities include getting myself to write things like this, and painting, and running and rebuilding my tiny race car and other silly things like that.

I am, however, having trouble re-establishing a cycle for meaningful productivity, and of course I still catch myself compulsively checking the results page at every spare moment. I see a lot of people complain about stress on these forums, both for application requirements and the post-app wait. However, it seems like threads that explicitly address methods for dealing with it seem few and far between: there's an occasional de-stress music thread or maybe even a game thread or two, but nothing really approaches the topic directly. My few bits of anecdotal evidence claim that the distraction of school can alleviate grad app anxieties. (Lucky you, you young'uns.) Another strategy I've heard is exercise complemented with a stringent routine. (Hopefully I'll get back on the treadmill come Monday, cold weather be damned.)

Are any of you fellow applicants having problems like these? How are you dealing with it? What do you think about GradCafe's approaches to reduce application anxiety?


Hey there kittens,

Recently I've been granted a blog on this here wonderful site and I thought a quick intro post was in order. While many of these blogs are documentations of personal experiences during the harrowing graduate school application process, I'm hoping to focus more on general topics that affect many of us who have been wearing down our F5 keys to nubs. I'd like to hash out the nuances of talking to other grad applicants (both in terms of peers and anonymous members of online communities, such as GradCafe), methods for dealing with anxiety, and the problems facing graduate students today like funding, funding, and funding.

For a little background on why I'm joining the application fray: I'm a little molecular/cellular biology kid. I graduated from one of those scary top 5 college a few years back, then spent the last 2 years as a lab tech. Most of my experience is in cardiomyocyte differentiation techniques/cell cycling, and I also have worked on neuronal regeneration and microbial antibiotic resistance. For apps, I've been looking at a lot of labs working on heart regeneration as well as dsDNA repair. My ultimate goal: become the sassy and wise professor I've always imagined my old self to be, and I know I can't get to that point without that pretty PhD.

Any queries about topics you all would like to address or if I'm ever missing a crucial perspective, please don't hesitate to comment. I'd love to know how you all feel about this crazy experience we all get to share!


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