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GutLogic

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  1. GutLogic

    Passions

    Yes, I actually agree more with what Eigen said- I think I doubled back on my own words halfway through my earlier post. Oops! Although I should note that "vague" is relative, and how vague you can be (or should be) going in depends a lot on the specific field. It's important to strike a balance between focused interest and open-mindedness that is considered appropriate for an incoming graduate student in your given area of study. To answer your question, Irhellman, what you are doing sounds a lot like what I did. I did a lot of reading, but I also did a lot of reflecting- if I found a specific study interesting but not another, or found I wanted to know more about a particular topic, I had to keep asking myself why that was, and really try to pick it apart. On top of that, having past research & professional experiences to draw on really helped. It was frustrating not being able to leave my job and get experience more closely related to what I was considering doing, but that turned out not to be the dead end I thought it was. I did the same type of reflection on my research/professional experiences as on the reading I was doing, and really picked apart what I did and didn't like about them. I also started looking at programs and lots and lots of faculty research pages. When I did that, it was much easier for me to see how my interests cross-cut various fields, see trends in the sort of research that caught my eye, and start to put together a more coherent story of what my interests were. Also, casting a bit of a wide net in my reading and then narrowing it was time-consuming but ultimately worthwhile- before I stumbled on my current program, I had no idea that the sort of approach they use existed, and I hadn't been looking at departments in that field at all. I had been trying to find programs that would allow me to think about problems in a certain way, and it was surprising to find that a much more sophisticated and formalized version of my preferred approach actually existed. I thought my topic of interest would integrate well with their approach, so I pitched the idea to them. Turned out they liked it, and there you go. So, that's my story of how I figured it out. All this took me over a year, two if you count the application process, and I was still figuring things out during that. I hope your route doesn't end up taking as long as mine, but regardless I hope that you find someplace that is a good fit, however long it takes!
  2. GutLogic

    Passions

    I have to disagree slightly with the first response. You're going back and forth between 2 very specific fields, which sound like they might have some overlap between them, or at least some significant similarities (although I really don't know). I think that if you are excited about intellectual stuff, enough to want to go to grad school, you are often not passionate about a thing, but a process and way of thinking. I was in a very similar situation applying last year, and I feel like I ended up exactly where I needed to be and am very happy with my choice. However, it was a long process. I would advise trying to pick apart and analyze what about those areas excites you, what they have in common and what is fundamentally different- not about the subject matter, but about their overall outlook and research process. If you have some ideas of research that interests you that straddles the two fields, you may end up just applying to programs in both that would be most likely to allow you to pursue your interests. For me, I applied to 4 programs in 3 different fields. But in my thinking, there was a definite continuity in what I was looking for, and what sort of research I wanted to be doing. It just happened to fall into different fields, whose approach to similar problems would be somewhat different. I ended up in the right place in part because I felt the most affinity to the holistic approach of the field I ended up entering, in part because it was the program that would give me the most freedom in pursuing the questions I wanted to, and in part because of practical considerations in terms of money, location, etc. Hope that helps!
  3. I think that coming from the perspective of almost any other field, going for the Master's would be a great choice, but since you say you are in Immunology/Biomedical I just want to throw in some caution. I did my undergrad in & currently work in a biomedical field, and I would feel out very, very carefully how the PhD programs you hope to get in to would view an MS. Unfortunately, the practice by a lot of universities of giving MS degrees to people who didn't cut it in their PhD program has led to the MS in this field being devalued, and depending on the attitude/culture of the programs you are looking at it could actually hurt your chances of admission. I think the best-case scenario would be if the university offering you an MS sees it as a test-run or bridge into their PhD program. I would definitely find out about that, because having it may not actually improve your chances at other PhD programs- they might assume you didn't make it through the PhD program at the school where you got the MS, and wonder why you would expect your success at their program to be any different. I know it sucks and makes no logical sense because an MS would definitely add education & great experience to your application. However, that just seems to be the sad reality right now. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news- I really hope it works out for you.
  4. Haha this is like how news anchors dress! I've seen it!
  5. Wow, that is a great predicament to be in! Congratulations! It looks like you can't make a bad choice at this point... Since from what you've said, you would be happy at either Berkeley or UCSF, I don't think it's silly at all to choose Berkeley for the fellowship. As long as both programs would allow you to do the research you want to do, I don't think it matters too much if they're more or less focused on certain things. As long as they have some people you can work with, you can make things happen once you get there. As for funding, I think if you have already been guaranteed funding, it doesn't matter that much how well-funded the schools are beyond that. From your description, the only advantage one of them really has over the other is Berkeley with the fellowship. However, if there are other factors making you lean towards UCSF, then that's another matter. Good luck with your decision!
  6. If you don't see any official job openings or summer research programs, you can try identifying professors whose research you are interested in, and e-mailing them directly. A lot of professors are pretty relaxed about having undergrads come in to get some research experience. This is how I got involved in research in undergrad, and I just saw it happen in the lab I work in. An undergrad cold-contacted my PI, and was working in the lab within a week.
  7. For vocab, I can't say enough good things about this flashcard program: http://www.brain-scape.com/. Instead of just flipping through flashcards, it has the words divided into manageable decks, and as you get to each card it has you rate how well you knew the answer. The rating determines how soon you see the card again, and you can watch your overall mastery of the deck increase as you go, which is encouraging. It was way more efficient than normal flashcards or vocab lists, and since it gave me more reinforcement for words I didn't know as well, I ended up remembering the words a lot longer. I also found the list matched up really well with what was actually tested.
  8. I only applied to 5 schools... I knew very specifically what I wanted in a program, and because of outside factors my location was somewhat limited. It was more important for me to get in somewhere that fit my requirements, than just to get in. If I hadn't gotten in this year, I would have tried again next year.
  9. When I was studying for the GRE Verbal, this program worked like magic: http://www.brain-scape.com/ It's just a simple flashcard program, but the way it's set up it kind of feels like a game, which makes it less painful, and it just has a couple simple differences from basic flashcards that make it way easier to remember the definitions later. I ended up with a 780 verbal score after I used this (I spent a lot of time studying).
  10. When I was looking for a job after college, I signed up with some lab staffing agencies, which mostly filled short-term contract positions, like a temp agency for lab work. I ended up getting a permanent position so I didn't need to use it, but they were generally really helpful when I talked to them leading up to graduation. If you sign up with them early, they're probably more likely to find something for you that suits your schedule. Only thing is, I've heard that some of them can be shady so I'd ask your school's career services office for recommendations. Just an idea, it would probably be repetitive work rather than research but it at least requires some skills and you would probably get paid more than you would in customer service or traditional temp jobs.
  11. I'm glad this conversation is on here as well... My SO of 6 years is moving with me, but it took a lot of difficult conversations to get to that point. Fortunately, we had those way back when I was deciding whether to apply or not, and he has been a part of the whole process from choosing schools to apply to, to the final decision stage where we are now. For me, personally, I figured out the hard way that I can't separate career from personal happiness. I moved far from family & a (now ex) boyfriend for my education before, and although things have worked out in the long run, I was miserable for a long time and everything in my life suffered for it. Grad school will at times be difficult, exhausting, lonely, and discouraging. If I don't have anyone to turn to for support, I know I won't succeed. Also, if we did long-distance, he would have our dog (I wouldn't have time to take care of her), so that's not happening. I've found it's been awkward explaining to LOR writers and faculty at interviews why I didn't apply to programs in a broader range of locations. Most of the time I settled on saying rather vaguely that I had family obligations, which is basically true. Now the final decision comes down to two programs- one is an excellent program and also an amazing fit for me in every way, but it is in his least-favorite location (There are things about the location I don't like as well, but to me they are outweighed by the advantages of the program). The other is a program that, while definitely great in terms of rankings and prestige, is not a very good fit for me at all. However, the location is somewhere he would love to be. So at this point, I've explained to him all the reasons program 1 is better for me, and all the issues I foresee having at program 2. I also told him that if I went to program 2, although it would be harder, things would still work out just fine and I would go on to a great career. Therefore, if the difference in the two locations is important enough to him, I will go to program 2. He's said he wants me to go to the best program possible, and he will go with me wherever that is. I plan to hold off accepting an offer until almost the deadline so we both have time to think things over. It is high stress for both of us right now, but on the plus side there isn't any tension between us over the decision, since we feel we are in this together.
  12. For me, it's been a gradual process over several years of figuring things out- narrowing my options and then broadening again as I learn about new things, then narrowing again. This process is not over and I don't think it ever really will be. I have gradually adjusted my career path between entering college and applying to grad school, and I couldn't have guessed where I'd end up now from where I started. Also since I have at several points felt completely lost about choosing a career, the process for me has been very deliberate. Fortunately, now I'm extremely confident about where I'm going- I know what I want to do for grad school, I have very specific ideas about the research I would like to do, and I have a few vague ideas about how I would like to apply that education when I finish school. I feel that is exactly as focused as I need to be, since I know that as I go through grad school I will find out about a lot of career options that I don't know about now. I guess what I'm saying is you need to find a balance between having a plan & direction for the future, and being open to change. It might be best to start by thinking of a few general fields or areas you might be interested in getting into and learning more about those, rather than specific job titles. I think that figuring out a career is a combination of knowing what's out there, and knowing yourself. As for knowing what's out there- it's true that a lot of people have jobs that nobody has ever heard of. I think that a lot of that is because most people haven't heard of most jobs outside of the particular area they have worked/studied in. You can start looking at career areas that interest you, and from there find other areas related to those. College career services websites might be helpful for that. I've also spent a lot of time with the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oco/. It tells you what education you need for each career, and it's especially useful for exploring because it links to related careers at the bottom of each entry. You mentioned not having the educational background for some careers you're considering- in that case, I think there are plenty of ways to test it out and see if it's for you without having to go back to school. You can probably get a lower-level job where you would be working closely with people doing the work you're interested in, or you could volunteer. Also, I think it's common to overestimate the value of directly related formal education- If you have the right level of education in the wrong field, but you are enthusiastic enough about the field to learn about it on your own, I think you'd have a good chance- especially if you network. In addition, it's not uncommon that people coming to a job with an unusual background are valued because they bring unique skills & knowledge. Of course, if you find a field you definitely want to be in, it would be worth it to go to school if that's what it takes to advance. In any case, for finding what was out there and what interested me, my process involved doing lots and lots of reading. If you find you keep coming back to a topic, perhaps on career websites or in the news, try going for more depth in that topic- read some material geared towards professionals or researchers and see if it still interests you. The second part, knowing yourself, is hard work as well, or at least it was for me. A first step would be to think back to the work experiences you've had so far and ask yourself what you liked and disliked about each one, and why. If you decide to go try some possible careers, dissecting the experience afterward in this way will make it really valuable. Do the same for the activities you enjoy, and the ones you've tried that you didn't enjoy. Activities may be a good place to start looking for career areas, but keep in mind that it is very common for people to enjoy something as an activity but not as a job. Whenever I was looking at careers based on activities, it was a lot more helpful if I really dissected those activities and got down to the root of what, exactly, it was about the activity that I liked. Often there would be a common theme at the root of several of my activities and interests, which would lead me in a direction that was not obvious from the list of activities themselves. For self-evaluation, I highly recommend the book What Color is Your Parachute. It can be a bit cheesy, but the exercises really make you think and prioritize. Just know that it doesn't spit out a career based on your responses- I wouldn't trust guides that do. You have to do the other part- knowing what's out there- in order to make use of the really extensive self-evaluation you end up with. So, this is a really long post but I hope it helped. I really feel for you- it often seemed like figuring out a career was much harder for me than for everyone else. My intuition told me practically nothing, so I really had to go about it in an intensive, systematic way. I'm really happy with the way things have worked out for me though. By the way, looking at your list of activities, I can give you one possible starting point- have you looked at Behavioral Health Sciences or anything of that sort? It would be under the umbrella of Public Health (a great field that my career is going to stay close to). Here is a short overview of that career area. Good luck!
  13. I think if you can make a good case for yourself, you can absolutely make the transition. I have a biology background, but got accepted into a really good PhD program for biological anthropology. I have never taken an anthropology course, and I don't even have that strong an evolutionary biology background. I think what will be important is being able to demonstrate an interest in anthropology in general & knowledge of the field beyond your research interests (even if it's just by reading some books), and being able to connect your background to a research question that the department you're applying to would be interested in. Anyway, I can tell you first-hand that it is possible to make that transition, although when you initially contact faculty or talk to people about it, they may be skeptical. Just don't get discouraged- I almost didn't apply because I thought I didn't have a chance, but I'm so glad I decided to put in that application anyway.
  14. I have to agree that, for the most part, it isn't worth doing a graduate program without funding. In a research-based program, at least, grad students do a good part of the work of the department. Programs want to attract competitive applicants because those applicants will do good research while they are there, which will bring in money and bolster the department's reputation. Getting an acceptance without funding to that kind of program is kind of like having a company you applied to work at tell you, "Well, we think you can add value to our organization, and we'd like you to come work for us, but we're not going to pay you. In fact, you have to pay us." While it does ultimately further your education, I tend to think of grad school- or at least a PhD program- as a career-track job. It is not at all the same as undergrad. I'm in the same boat as a lot of people when I say that I'm used to getting paid for my work, the type of work I'm doing isn't going to change drastically when I go into a grad program, and I expect to be extremely productive as a graduate student. I don't think asking to be paid to work more than full time, at something one has already proven they can do professionally, while increasing the research output of the department & the advisor's lab, is asking to be "pampered". If I wasn't going to be funded it would be a better use of my energy to get a research assistant position in the department & use my employee benefits to take classes on the side. It would require about the same amount of work because I'd be doing almost the exact same thing, while learning the same skills. But maybe this all only applies to the sciences. I don't know what other fields are like.
  15. If you are willing to commute a little further, Dublin is very nice, affordable, and from what I hear has excellent schools. It's about a 20 minute drive if you can avoid the worst traffic. It seems like a lot of faculty live out that way, and I've even met some grad students who do. Most students prefer to live closer to campus, but Dublin is definitely more family friendly than the campus area.
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