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struggleknot

limited access to research, want to apply to grad school

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Hello folks! I'm currently a rising junior at a small undergraduate only liberal arts college in the USA. For anonymity's sake, I'm just going to just generally disclose that my science department is very small and somewhat complicated, has no graduate level courses, and has fewer resources per student than a larger university. I want to apply to grad school so I can go after I'm done with undergraduate. However, I know very little about the entire process besides the fact that research is very important. And that's part of the problem. I have a 3.88 cumulative GPA and a >~3.9 chemistry major GPA (physics, am I right?) but I've been rejected from nearly every single lab that I'm interested in within my science department, yes, even my advisor's (twice). I worked with a molecular biology professor for the duration of this school year, and she had to tip me off to an organic synthesis professor whose lab I'll be starting in in the fall. Over the summer, I'm participating in an REU. 

I guess my question is, can I still get into grad school (any grad school, not just the good ones) if my research situation is... messy? I'm confident that I can maintain my GPA above a 3.8, get decent letters of rec, and have good GRE scores. I'm just worried because I fell off the wagon so many times, and now I feel like no graduate school will take me because of lack of research experience. In addition, I now have little to no idea of what I should concentrate in (leaning towards organic or biochemistry, but still). For reference, I'm thinking about programs like UC Berkeley, Scripps, Caltech, Michigan, and UCLA (I'm a CA resident). 

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I was in a very similar situation last year. I, too, attended a small private university in SoCal for biochem. High-end research opportunities weren't widely available at my institution. Fortunately, I was offered an RA and TA position 2 years prior to graduation. I honestly believe my research experience and LoRs made the difference when I applied to doctoral programs. Contacting the professors 8-10 months prior to applying significantly increased my chances, since expressing interest early on keeps my student profile fresh in their minds (remember to maintain correspondence throughout the application process). Being passionate and specific about your research interests is very important as well. I made sure to draft my statement of purpose succinctly and to include the details surrounding my ambitions + academic history. This past fall I applied to 10 schools and was admitted into my first choice--a UC.

It seems that your stellar GPA and forthcoming GRE scores will make you a competitive applicant and will balance out your other deficiencies. However, I will say that many schools with limited funding/lab space will primarily look at your research experience and assess its relevancy to their current projects. If you have the time, I suggest getting at least 1 semester of research under your belt. I encourage you to apply to a breadth of PhD programs of varying selectivity in addition to MS programs. It's in your best interest to seek out funded programs and to select a sub-field in chemistry. If you don't get into the schools you're interested in during this cycle, you could always take a gap year to work or volunteer in a lab before applying again. This is what more and more STEM students are doing before going off to grad school. It's always good to keep your options open, but know that you can always bolster your competitiveness by having more experience to feature on your CV.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Hybrid said:

I was in a very similar situation last year. I, too, attended a small private university in SoCal for biochem. High-end research opportunities weren't widely available at my institution. Fortunately, I was offered an RA and TA position 2 years prior to graduation. I honestly believe my research experience and LoRs made the difference when I applied to doctoral programs. Contacting the professors 8-10 months prior to applying significantly increased my chances, since expressing interest early on keeps my student profile fresh in their minds (remember to maintain correspondence throughout the application process). Being passionate and specific about your research interests is very important as well. I made sure to draft my statement of purpose succinctly and to include the details surrounding my ambitions + academic history. This past fall I applied to 10 schools and was admitted into my first choice--a UC.

It seems that your stellar GPA and forthcoming GRE scores will make you a competitive applicant and will balance out your other deficiencies. However, I will say that many schools with limited funding/lab space will primarily look at your research experience and assess its relevancy to their current projects. If you have the time, I suggest getting at least 1 semester of research under your belt. I encourage you to apply to a breadth of PhD programs of varying selectivity in addition to MS programs. It's in your best interest to seek out funded programs and to select a sub-field in chemistry. If you don't get into the schools you're interested in during this cycle, you could always take a gap year to work or volunteer in a lab before applying again. This is what more and more STEM students are doing before going off to grad school. It's always good to keep your options open, but know that you can always bolster your competitiveness by having more experience to feature on your CV.

 

 

 

 

 

Ahhh I tend to confuse people when I talk about this, so let me make it relatively clear to say that I worked in an actual research lab this past year (unfortunately, the project only got so far because of unforeseen circumstances), and I'm starting my second year of research in a different lab in the fall. There's also a high probability I will be staying with this lab through my senior year for thesis. 

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21 minutes ago, struggleknot said:

Ahhh I tend to confuse people when I talk about this, so let me make it relatively clear to say that I worked in an actual research lab this past year (unfortunately, the project only got so far because of unforeseen circumstances), and I'm starting my second year of research in a different lab in the fall. There's also a high probability I will be staying with this lab through my senior year for thesis. 

Whoops, I seem to have missed that detail. It looks like you'll have an extremely solid application. Grad admissions are really hit or miss, even with top stats. Research similarity is often a determining factor, so pinpointing your interests early on will be very helpful. Best of luck!

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