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Question about undergraduate research experience and PhD programs


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Hi all,

I am curious about how the subject of an applicant's undergraduate research experience is viewed by graduate admissions. Specifically, does my previous research experience have to directly relate to a faculty member's research that I am interested in? I have almost three years (6 semesters/3 summers) of research experience in innate immunity and bacterial pathogen-host interactions, but I am also interested in other sub-fields of immunology, such as autoimmunity and mucosal immunity, etc. Would I be better off further diversifying my research experiences after undergrad or does my current research experience make me competitive for immunology PhD programs?

Thanks for any replies. 

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Any research experience is good experience, and you have more than many students coming into grad school. I think your current experiences make you a good candidate for graduate school. However, if you're interested in those other areas, it doesn't hurt to try and get into labs studying those things. If you decide to stay in the lab you're in now, though, you can just state your interest and try and attend relevant seminars on the areas you're interested in.

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Most of what makes research valuable is not the field/subfield specific nature- it’s learning how to take a project through a longer time period to see ups and downs. That’s usually more about depth (sticking with one area) than breadth. 

You can pick up new techniques pretty fast in a new lab in grad school, most profs don’t care as much about the specific skills (one assay or a type of instrument) as they do a long period of in depth work in a research environment. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree with the other posts. If you're interested in immunology, and your experience is immunology, the subfield is irrelevant. Any experience is good experience, so long as you have good reason why you're interested in the program your applying to itself.

Being in the same lab for at least a year shows commitment to a project - that's important. If you like the lab you're in and the work you're doing, stick to it. Starting in a new lab right before applications are due will not benefit you.

PhD programs are long (5+ years), and require a commitment to one project the entire time. You want to show perseverance - prove to them that tough times when your experiments don't work won't make you want to drop out of grad school.

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