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pangenome

General suggestions and life advice for a concerned junior

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Hello all!

Just joined - glad to be here!

I'm currently a junior and have been considering going to graduate school for quite some time but I'm not exactly sure what to do to prepare myself as fully as possible for the applications. I've been enjoying my time in college and doing lots of academic and nonacademic stuff not related to graduate school, but I'm kind of a mess when it comes to planning and working towards grad school.

I'm an international student double majoring in computational biology and mathematics at an R1 university in the US and enjoying it immensely - and I want to continue in the intersection of the two fields (computational genomics, high-throughput tech analysis and design, network inference, systems biology). I've been in and out of research assistantships throughout college but never stuck to one that I feel strongly about (the one I'm working on right now has been going on for about 3 months). I also don't yet know any faculty close enough to ask for a recommendation letter. I was co-author on two papers from a past research assistantship not related to my field (materials engineering), and I have a sole-author manuscript up on arXiv. Current project may result in a pub (according to my research supervisor) but I'm not sure.

My GPA is around average for my major (around 4.6-4.7 on a 5.0 scale), although I have been taking graduate courses and an above-average load in recent semesters. My goal is to finish undergrad with my current GPA but I am not quite sure if that's enough for what I'm aiming towards for graduate school (either continue at this university or another R1).

My university also has a one-year Master's program that requires a 4.25 technical GPA that I'm confident I will reach, and I'm considering spending a year post-undergrad for that to do research and prepare better for grad school.

No clue about the GREs yet.

I have also been dealing with mental health issues since freshman year and diagnosed with ADD a year and a half ago. I am accommodated by the university but it shows on my work and grades.

I mainly wanted to post just to get an idea of what should I be focusing on for the future. Maybe it's too early, I don't know; but I can't help but get nervous when my classmates are getting incredibly lucrative job offers and such. I wanted to be a professor in academia my whole life and I'm my best and most passionate self when doing research. Right now I'm kind of lost.

I would be grateful for any advice! How do I connect with faculty and research supervisors for possible assistantships/projects? Is my GPA enough for R1 institutions? Will the Master's program benefit me in preparing for grad school? Should I take the GREs for a potential added plus for GRE-optional schools? Should I mention my mental health issues and disability to research supervisors/advisors and in grad school applications? I'll take any advice.

Thank you so much in advance!

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4 hours ago, pangenome said:

Hello all!

Just joined - glad to be here!

I'm currently a junior and have been considering going to graduate school for quite some time but I'm not exactly sure what to do to prepare myself as fully as possible for the applications. I've been enjoying my time in college and doing lots of academic and nonacademic stuff not related to graduate school, but I'm kind of a mess when it comes to planning and working towards grad school.

I'm an international student double majoring in computational biology and mathematics at an R1 university in the US and enjoying it immensely - and I want to continue in the intersection of the two fields (computational genomics, high-throughput tech analysis and design, network inference, systems biology). I've been in and out of research assistantships throughout college but never stuck to one that I feel strongly about (the one I'm working on right now has been going on for about 3 months). I also don't yet know any faculty close enough to ask for a recommendation letter. I was co-author on two papers from a past research assistantship not related to my field (materials engineering), and I have a sole-author manuscript up on arXiv. Current project may result in a pub (according to my research supervisor) but I'm not sure.

My GPA is around average for my major (around 4.6-4.7 on a 5.0 scale), although I have been taking graduate courses and an above-average load in recent semesters. My goal is to finish undergrad with my current GPA but I am not quite sure if that's enough for what I'm aiming towards for graduate school (either continue at this university or another R1).

My university also has a one-year Master's program that requires a 4.25 technical GPA that I'm confident I will reach, and I'm considering spending a year post-undergrad for that to do research and prepare better for grad school.

No clue about the GREs yet.

I have also been dealing with mental health issues since freshman year and diagnosed with ADD a year and a half ago. I am accommodated by the university but it shows on my work and grades.

I mainly wanted to post just to get an idea of what should I be focusing on for the future. Maybe it's too early, I don't know; but I can't help but get nervous when my classmates are getting incredibly lucrative job offers and such. I wanted to be a professor in academia my whole life and I'm my best and most passionate self when doing research. Right now I'm kind of lost.

I would be grateful for any advice! How do I connect with faculty and research supervisors for possible assistantships/projects? Is my GPA enough for R1 institutions? Will the Master's program benefit me in preparing for grad school? Should I take the GREs for a potential added plus for GRE-optional schools? Should I mention my mental health issues and disability to research supervisors/advisors and in grad school applications? I'll take any advice.

Thank you so much in advance!

Hi there, and welcome to GradCafe!

So I first off wanted to say that it is great that you are already starting to think about how to prepare for applying to grad school. It's a smart move and will definitely make you feel more prepared when you have to do it. So, here is some advice I will provide based off my own experience:

1. Start looking into programs now. When looking for programs, you want to look at a variety of things. Before doing this, I suggest making a list of deal breakers either in your head or written down so you can narrow down the list of schools you would like to apply to as you go about doing your research. These deal breakers could be funding, location, the number of professors doing work in the field you want to study, etc. But because you don't to apply to schools you really don't want to go to, it's best to start eliminating them as soon as you can in this process.

So, once you start finding schools you do want to apply to, I would highly suggest organizing the information of the programs in Excel. The information you could put of this sheet is this:

  • The name of the school (duh!)
  • The specific department and degree (another duh!)
  • Tuition costs (usually you can find the tuition for the previous year)
  • The location of the school
  • The specifics of the programs
    • The types of classes you are required to take (core classes plus electives). Do they interest you?
    • Are you required to TA?
    • How are the facilities, like equipment and institutes, in the department?
    • What do you have to do for the qualifying and general exams?
    • Are their any training programs or certification programs a part of the department that can help you gain more experience outside of your doctoral research?
  • How is funding? Do they typically give students a stipend while also covering fees and tuition and providing healthcare insurance?
  • Application materials
    • When does the online application portal open?
    • Number of recommenders
    • CV or resume
    • Essays such as personal statements, statements of purpose, diversity statements, etc. (you could start writing these over the summer, the earlier the better)
    • Application fee (look into waivers)
    • Official or unofficial transcript (do you need to send an official transcript to them before or after being accepted?)
    • Required test scores (GRE, etc) and information on how to send them to the school
  • The professors you would like to work with
    • I would maybe write down a few bullets summarizing their research and maybe save one or two of their recent papers

2. Start working on applications as soon as possible. I would highly suggest working on applications during the summer, but you can obviously start working on it once you get the information above. Usually schools/department have some general outline of what their applications will be like, including the essay topics/questions. I would also start creating or updating your CV and resume. I know you said that you don't really have anyone to ask as recommenders, so I would try establishing relationships with professors and research advisors so they can comment on you as a student and/or researcher when the time comes to ask if they can write you a STRONG letter of recommendation. You typically want to give them a month before the deadline, but I would give them at least two months in my opinion.

3. Search for fellowships and scholarship you can apply to for grad school. In grad school applications, they usually ask if you applied to any fellowships and scholarships. I think it looks good when you say you have applied to some. Also, funding is always good in grad school. While you are researching schools, some of them may have a list of internal and external fellowships. Definitely take a look at those!

4. If you have to take a test, start studying now. I would sign up for a test in late summer or start of your fall semester before school starts to get super busy. I would also do this just in case if you need to retake the test. You need to provide enough time for scores to be processed by the test company and then enough time for the school to receive them on time.

 Additionally, read this forum.⬇️⬇️

So, now onto the answers to your question. Also, FYI, I am no expert, so I am just going off my own knowledge and opinions.

1. How do I connect with faculty and research supervisors for possible assistantships/projects? I would email professors that you would want to work with. This is where your CV will come in handy. In the email, introduce yourself, shortly talk about your research interests and how they correlate to the research done in the professor's lab. Then say you are interested in joining their lab and ask if they are available to talk about their research with you in person, and that you have attached your CV for them to look. Also, you can connect with professors that you are taking classes with by going to their office hours, and then maybe you can ask about their research and see if they have any spots open for an undergraduate researcher. You might have to work without funding, and if you are okay with this, be open with the professor about this fact.

2. Is my GPA enough for R1 institutions? I honestly don't know much about GPAs on a 5.0 scale. As a warning, most schools you apply to might ask you to convert your GPA to a 4.0 scale. Sometimes they don't and allow you to enter the scale, but be prepared to not able to do that. I found a website that could possibly help you with the conversion: https://www.admissions.iastate.edu/apply/gpa_calc.php

Anywho, I think a 3.5 out of 4.0 is really good. I even think if someone has a 3.0 out of 4.0, they still have a chance of getting into a R1 institution. Look at the GPA requirements for each school, though. When it comes to graduate school applications, establishing fit within the program is probably one of the most, if not the most important, part of your application. You could have a top-notch application, but if your only flaw is that you didn't establish fit, I am 98% sure you aren't getting in. However, it seems like your GPA is really good, and you shouldn't worry about it.

3. Will the Master's program benefit me in preparing for grad school? I think getting a Master's will only benefit you if you feel like you need more research experience before getting into a PhD program. However, it seems like you had a good amount, especially if you had published papers. I think this all depends on how prepared you feel. With PhD programs (if you just have a bachelors when you start), the first year or two involve pretty much getting a Master's, so it is all dependent on your feeling. If you have about a year of research experience, I think that's good, but more is always better.

4. Should I take the GREs for a potential added plus for GRE-optional schools? If you have the time and money to study for and take it, I would. It won't take away from your application if you don't take it, but it will add to it if you do take it and the scores are decently good.

5. Should I mention my mental health issues and disability to research supervisors/advisors and in grad school applications? In the applications, if I remember correctly, I think they ask about disabilities (and I think mental health follows under that). However, I am not sure what to do beyond this. I think if you feel comfortable to talk about it, I would, but expect some people to sadly not take it well. I would think this is a red flag because people should be understanding and welcoming, and this could help you determine who you feel comfortable working with. This is a tough one to answer, though, because you can't predict how people will take it.

I am sorry for bombarding you with some much info all at once, but I really hope this helps! Good luck with your grad school adventures!

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Hello!

I'm disabled too. I didn't tell anyone right at the beginning, because I wanted my academic performance to speak for itself. Once I got to the stage of developing relationships with potential advisors and had it narrowed down to three or four programs, I informed them of my disability and the accommodations I would be seeking in grad school. This was received pretty well, but my accommodations are really limited. This was really nerve-wracking for me, but I'm glad I did it because I wouldn't want to work with any ableist person anyways. 

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Posted (edited)

Hi! I am HoH and applied for graduate school for this Fall 2019. I emphasized this in my applications. The reason I did so was for a couple of reasons: 1) being HoH impacts daily navigation and academic performance, but it also indicates that I can advocate for myself in terms of seeking accommodations and 2) like the post above, you should NOT provide your labor to someone who is ableist. My experiences as a differently abled scientist offered me insight into how I can form outreach programs during my PhD to work with groups often marginalized from science -- in this way, I can both talk about I own experiences and how we can make science (and academia in general) a more welcoming space for differently abled people. That being said -- talking about your experiences is your right alone. Do what makes you comfortable only; nobody has a right to information you would feel uncomfortable sharing.

I recommend reaching out to PI's at institutions you like! Look at papers ahead of time. Do it this summer when things are quieter, though (everybody is stressed during the spring!). Ask to talk about research interests over Skype/phone and discuss the possibilities of working together or if they have a position opening. If you have a nasty response from someone -- they weren't worth working with during your PhD anyway... :)  Remember, these people are great scientists, but they should also be great people and mentors for you as well. 

Edited by ferns

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I would add to the other responses, that if you want to go into academia, the research experience aspect is REALLY important.

I would make getting more (AKA longer) research experience your top priority rather than worrying too much about GPA or GREs (by the time you apply, I think there's a good chance that most schools won't even be looking at GRE scores). This also goes for your question as to whether a masters degree will be useful - I think masters degree is mainly useful in the fact that you get more research experience and that you can do without it if you just get the research experience without the (expensive) degree. The other really important aspect of significant research experiences is getting great LORs which are arguably the most important aspect of a grad application and really need to be able to prove to admissions committees that you can do all the stuff you claim to in your resume / have promise beyond just following protocols/ scripts in a lab. 

In general though, computational biology people are really in-demand right now, as most of us come from one side or the other and have a hard time building up the background knowledge in either the computational stuff of the experimental bio stuff.

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