I am a first year student in the biomedical sciences studying molecular and cellular biology, so I went through the whole application and interview process, last year! I was not able to start my blog at that time because I was also frantically trying to recover some samples I lost in a crashed freezer and also generating my thesis at the same time (a story for another time).
I am mid-way through my first year of my PhD studies, am completing laboratory rotations, and will be doing my qualifying exam in about 8 months. 6 months ago, I had just defended my M.S. Thesis and was preparing to move. It is simply amazing how much your life can change in half of a year. You may look at my post and wonder why I am here and writing this blog entry. There were a ton of things that I was not told during my application process, and I want to be around to try to answer some of those questions for this years' applicants.
I want those of you in the life sciences to feel free to ask me questions. They can be about applications, your SOP or Research Statements, interviews, what to wear, etc. Feel free to ask me about things I might not have mentioned about my applications or about things you will do in your first year, such as lab rotations. I will address these questions in future blog entries and fill in things I remember about the application process as we go. This will probably have a mostly biomedical sciences slant, but may be helpful to others as well.
Right now, many of you have submitted your early-deadline applications and are freaking out about those that you have already submitted and also those you have yet to submit. Maybe some of you have heard back about interviews, already? This is the calm before the storm of interviews and frantic last things that will occur this spring. Make sure you take some time around this holiday season to relax and escape from the application frenzy for a little while. Since this is my introduction post, I feel like I can't offer much more advice than that. The rest of this post will include some information about me so that you know my background.
I'm from a very rural area and I also went to an undergraduate institution that was almost equally as rural on an academic scholarship with a Microbiology major. Starting my very first term of undergrad, I volunteered in a laboratory doing phylogenetics research under a zoologist, but by the end of my sophomore year, I joined a molecular physiology lab. There, I realized that molecular biology was my true passion. Though it was too late to change my major by that point, I knew that I wanted to pursue that route. Despite knowing over 20 lab protocols, I was worried that graduate programs would look down on my Microbiology degree since I was interested in eukaryotic cellular physiology, so I stayed on in that laboratory for a funded Master of Science.
My research interests lie in gene regulation, particularly at a transcriptional level, as well as epigenetics and autoimmunity.
Now for the stuff you really care about, the stats! I'm borrowing the format from the 2014 Biology Applicants thread:
Undergrad Institution: Public Research Institution, probably medium funding, very rural
Major(s): Microbiology Minor(s): Chemistry/Psychology
Overall GPA: 3.68 Position in Class: Top 25%
Master's Institution: Same place, but within the School of Medicine
Concentration: Cell and Molecular Physiology GPA: 3.61
Type of Student: Domestic Female
GRE Scores (revised version): All were right about 75th percentile at application.
Q: 156 V: 157 AW: 4.5
6 years research experience within my university, 4 years undergrad, 2 years masters. Experience generating transgenic mouse lines, generating primary cell lines, RNA extractions, DNA extractions, genotyping, PCR, Chromatin IP, bacterial culture, etc.
I have excluded all but the most important, including my undergraduate scholarship, which was academic in nature and covered tuition, room and board for my undergrad. I also was active in the Honors Program and was selected to travel to China as a student ambassador. I also received 4 small research grants during my undergrad (and 2 during my masters) and placed within the top 4 presenters at each of the 4 research forums I attended.
Pertinent Activities or Jobs:
Student Tutor for all 6 years, Teaching Assistant for 2. I also participated in science outreach to local schools as a supplement to their educational program. I would show up, teach them how to run PCR and a gel, and we would have all sorts of fun.
Special Bonus Points:
I was very well known on campus through involvement in various science-related groups and the honors program, but also the marching band and pep band (clarinet and trumpet for the win!). My research experience also sets me apart because we literally did not use kits for our experiments. If I wanted some DNA to genotype, I did a phenol:chloroform extraction. I'm easily able to adapt and trouble-shoot many different types of experiments, so this makes me a little more versatile for the places I applied to. I also ran a transgenic mouse colony for 4 years, which is a lot more complicated than it sounds. When I interviewed, my lab skills and mouse work were frequently brought up as something immensely positive.
Applied to Where:
I applied to programs that I felt would be interdisciplinary in nature because I did not want to be limited to a specific area. My two degrees also make me an interdisciplinary student, so I felt that my chances would be better at such institutions. I looked for places that had a large variety of research interests as well as things that fit my own interests and pushed my research skills as one of my biggest assets.
My Application Concerns:
My GRE scores and GPA were not stellar, and I was a little worried that my undergrad degree and the change of fields for my MS might raise some questions. However, I had research experience going for me, and I really banked on that.
I applied to 6 institutions. I was flat-out rejected from two, one of which I had a typo (the wrong schools' name in my SOP) and the other had hundreds of applicants for 3 spots. I was initially wait-listed at one school and invited to interview at three. After interviewing at my top two choices, I knew which I wanted to attend and declined the third interview. The "wait-listed" school later contacted me for an interview, which I declined.