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Undergrad research dissimilar to PhD program


zoologyandc
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Hello, everyone! I’m an undergrad senior (zoology/EEB major) who spent the last 3.5 years working in an arabidopsis and algae phenotyping research lab. That happened to be where the job openings were, so that’s where I’ve been working ever since. Problem is, I’m applying to a PhD program in comparative biology and zoology, so sort of the opposite side of the spectrum. My question is: will the fact that my undergrad research experience was in plants hurt my application to zoology PhD programs? Thanks, and I apologize if I’m posting this in the wrong place - first time poster!

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From my experiences so far in grad school (finishing up my Master's and just finished the decision of where I will attend PhD) I don't think it matters maybe what kind of research you have done as long as you have solid research experience. I definitely applied to labs where the research being done isn't necessarily things I have done before and I was a very competitive applicant based off of the fellowships I received and such.

Do you have publications that are going to come from your time in that research lab? Or presentations? Because I think those things go a long way in showing you are familiar with the workings of science and academia and greatly improve your application. Also you will have someone who has done research with you who can write you a letter of recommendation and that should help too. I think most professors understand that not everyone is going to have experience in the exact subfield they want to do their PhD in so I ultimately don't think it will hurt you. Some professors might not be as keen, but they might not be the type of professors you want to work with anyway.

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Hey, I was in exactly your situation and I also had the same concerns. In undergrad, I did around 3 years of research in a neurobiology lab that investigates neuronal recovery after ischemia to the caudal forelimb area of the motor cortex. My career interests are in pursuing a totally different direction - mainly molecular virology and antiviral immunity. I've interviewed at four schools and was accepted at all four in their respective phd programs for my topic of interest. I did have a few interviewers ask why I did undergraduate research in neurobiology instead of virology to which I just explained that I joined a lab where there were ample opportunities for undergraduates. My PI was known to be a great mentor for undergrads and would offer a lot of independent research opportunities. Professors that you interview with will mainly want to see your interest/passion in science, if you have had  a significant research experience, and if you are able to communicate to others what you did and why it was important. You will also have to defend the work you did from probing questions. All in all, I think what's most important is if you are able to get a publication out of your work (which would be great! but also not an absolute), present at conferences, or make some significant contribution to the lab you joined to demonstrate that you did some science rather than wash lab dishes for all that time.

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It shouldn't! Just be prepared to clearly talk about what caused you to change interests- that it comes from some type of experience, how you found out you definitely want to do it, and why your previous work has prepared you for this job (you can even think outside the box a bit for this one).

I just got accepted to an ecology and evolution department, and I studied mostly physical chemistry/biology as an undergrad. My research experience has been all over the place though, because, as you also pointed out, you kind of have to go where there are opportunities, especially at state schools. :)

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