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Application Etiquette and Multiple Programs

Emma M.


Hi all! I have a few questions that are all sort of related to the application process, and then one that'll be more based on my personal experience. 

To introduce myself and give you all a bit of background, I'm a current undergraduate student at a small liberal arts college who will be graduating in Spring 2020 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Biology. My areas of interest are animal behavior, cognition, welfare, social behavior, evolution, ecology, etc. I want to start applying to graduate school for a PhD in a related field this fall to enter the Fall 2020 cohort, and ultimately go into academia. I have a LOT of presentation experience, internal and external, and a lot of lab experience both participating in studies led by a P.I. as a lab assistant and creating my own small-scale study for a class/capstone. I also have animal handling/husbandry experience working with mice, non-human primates, various invertebrates, as well as experience doing research with (but not handling) a few bird species. Last but not least, I'm working on two manuscripts, one on developmental/behavioral neuroscience, and one on industrial/organizational psychology that I hope to at least have submitted by the time grad school applications start.

I've identified a lot of possible PhD mentors, all in psychology/neuroscience programs (Emory NAB, IU CISAB, etc), but many of them are at the same school/in the same program. My first question is, what is the most polite way to "cold call" a possible mentor, and what should I request? A tour of the lab, or an interview, or an informal meeting? Also, if I have mutual connections with the mentor, should I drop the connection's name, or have the connection contact the mentor themselves and namedrop/CC me?

In regards to having multiple possible mentors in a single program, is it polite/appropriate to apply to more than one mentor in the same program? Or should I meet with them and choose just one to apply to?

My last question is, based on my background, would it be possible for me to apply to mentors in programs that are more aligned/directly affiliated with biology departments (like GSU's Neurobiology and Behavior program)? There's a lot of intersection between biology and psychology in my desired field, but would they not accept someone who only minored in biology? (Let me know if you need more information about me to answer this question).

Thank you for letting me ask you all a billion questions, and thank you in advance for your help!

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So, in psych, it is very common and usually expected that your research interests intersect with multiple faculty (things happen such as someone switching jobs, personality clashes, etc.). A lot of apps will actually ask you to identify up to 3 faculty of interest. Faculty also traditionally do not schedule lab tours or anything for prospective students. If you make it to the interview phase, that's usually when you tour the lab and meet face to face. You can definitely seek out faculty at a conference and strike up a conversation. Also, if you do email faculty, it should be only if you have a specific question that is not answered on their lab website, faculty bio, program website, etc. If you have a connection, I would speak with that contact and see if they would be willing to name drop you and "put in a good word." That person would also be a good person to ask for a letter of recommendation. 

I can't speak to the last question directly, but check out the program websites. Usually they have admission requirements. If you meet the class pre-reqs, it shouldn't hurt to apply. 

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I definitely got better results from the (social) psych programs where I'd emailed a faculty member before applying!

I think the main questions to ask are, more or less:
- Are you taking graduate students this year?
- Do you think I might be a good fit for the program?

I got a few possitive answers, and a couple of answers that saved me from applying to schools that would have been a waste of time! (For example, one professor said she was leaving the school that year.)

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