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  1. Hi All, I'm reaching out to the community for some advice. I've been applying to PhD programs in Ecology and or Marine Science for 3 years now without any success in obtaining a coveted position in the programs I've applied to. I have done a lot of research into how to best apply to these programs, including being proactive with contacting faculty directly, selecting strong references, applying for the NSF-GRFP, and truly catering my admissions essays to each institution. My interests genuinely lie within the subjects of Ecology and Marine Science, specifically I would like to investigate anthropogenic influences on marine ecosystems, species diversity, and impact of habitat protection and restoration efforts. I've done a lot of research into these topics independently through literature search, but obviously would have much more to gain through a formal education. I want to pursue a PhD to create a career for myself in these fields that would be both personally fulfilling and hopefully make a positive contribution to the scientific community. I really feel like my heart and mind are in the right place for this pursuit. Additionally, I now have about 11 years of research experience (graduated in 2012) through academic research at my undergraduate college in animal behavior and ecology, research pre-and post graduation in academics studying effects of invasive insect species on ecosystems, and more recently through industry research in microbiology and next generation sequencing. My undergraduate GPA could have been better (3.21, 2.8 in Science); however I did double major, participated in varsity sport the full 4yrs, and am a stronger researcher than student (although I think my studies will improve with my current maturity). The people I work with really value my contributions to the team through research skills, experiment planning, and overall work ethic- but I do have knowledge gaps that I would love to fill through continued education. I generally have had a lot of success with phone interviews with faculty, who seem very encouraging about my research experience and over all goals; however, when I've applied to PhD programs there always seems to be funding issues, sudden shifts in interests, or even feedback that my experience doesn't match the labs needs (which is always hard to swallow after positive phone and email interactions). I have had some in person interviews that seem to go well, but have not resulted in an offer to the PhD position. I have been accepted to a funded MS program in Marine Biology, but at this point in my life I am hesitant to walk away from my career for the MS degree when I really want the PhD. The program I would be entering cannot guarantee that I can transfer to the PhD, and the statics on students who have successfully done so are low. The question becomes is it worth it to my career and viable for my lively-hood to survive on a student's salary for 7yrs for a 2yr MS program + 5yr PhD (If I get in anywhere...). I am located in Boston and considering taking classes through the Harvard Extension School towards the Master's of Liberal Arts, Biology graduate degree. My work agreed to partially fund this endeavor and I'm hopeful that it could help me as I apply to PhD programs in the future. In the meantime I can come up with some savings to support myself and husband in the future. My broad questions for the community have multiple parts: Given my application attempts, research and work experience, GPA (3.21, 2.8 in Science), and GRE scores (155 Quantitative; 163 Verbal; 4 Writing) - why am I having such a difficult time securing funding a position in a PhD program? Could my undergraduate transcript be having a significant impact? Do you have any specific advice in improving my application? Is it worth the risk to pursue this funded MS program, although a path to PhD is not guaranteed through the program? Does anyone here have experience with the Harvard Extension School? Would an HES Master's in Biology be as valuable as an MS when applying to PhD programs? Thanks to all who read through this long post. I know there's a lot going on here, but at this cross-roads in my life I could definitely use some advice from this community. I know I have options, so I'm grateful for that- but at the same time I am so eager to get started with higher education in the way that suits my career/research goals. Please be aware that at this point I am a non-traditional student and have significant financial concerns to consider.
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