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Should I apply to phD programs in microbiology for next fall or wait another year?? PLEASE HELP


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I am very conflicted on what direction I should do, any advice is appreciated.

I have graduated with a B.S. in biology about a year ago and my GPA is a 3.17. I understand my GPA is low. I did very bad my first two years of college due to dealing with anxiety and depression issues but my last two years I managed to raise my GPA from a 2.75 to 3.17 and got an A in all my upper level biology courses (such as cell biology, microbiology, parasitology, biochem, animal behavior, virology etc.) Anyway I have always dreamed of getting a phD and being a research scientist. My first two years in college have discouraged me from aquiring significant research experience with a  professor but I managed my senior year to work on a very small animal behavior research project with one of my professors (otherwise I have very minimal research experience in undergrad). My research interests are mostly related to microbiology (infectious disease related). 

Experience in undergrad related to graduate school programs include: being a TA for gen bio lab, TA for an anthropology course, a bunch of leadership experience, & directed study senior year, study abroad as well 

Right out of college I got a job as an Associate Scientist at a cosmetic company. My job pays very well (65,000 per year + bonus), the company has amazing benefits (unlimited sick leave, 401K, pension, tuition reimbursement, vacation time, health care and even more than listed), and it is an industry job. I work in a research lab were I am gaining significant microbiology experience (such as lab bench experience, writing SOP & protocols, bacteria identification, and testing etc.). But, I am lacking a lot of "flashy" molecular and genetic lab experience. This, I feel is making me less of a competitive applicant for a phD in micro program (such as doing research for a pharmaceutical company developing a drug etc.). But, I am not sure if this job I have now does make me a completive applicant?? I also have a significant amount of loans from undergrad and am able to pay them off (hopefully in 3 years with this salary) and do not want to acquire more loans than I need to. My boss also really likes me and is willing to let me work on more research projects than I am working on now.

I have signed up to take the GRE in a month as well. My recommendation letters will be strong (hopefully) I have two professors in mind and my Director and Executive Director of my lab can write me a strong recommendation. 

I do not know if I should: 

A: apply to PhD programs by this december for next fall and see if I am able to get accepted to a program and leave my high paying job (for a BS in bio out college) for this if I get an acceptance ? --> I have to start emailing potential research labs, being my personal statement etc. etc. etc. BUT i do not know if it is worth it to leave my company now considering I have a great job. 

B: get a part-time masters (apply for next fall- most application are due in April/May) in a related field IN PERSON such as biotechnology, biochem, or Biology with concentration that is either thesis based/internship based. There is no MS in micro or infectious disease or immunology in my area where I work. I would do this while working where I work now and get the tuition reimbursement from my company. --> I think the basis of the masters for me is to gain more lab/research experience (molecular and genetic)

C : finding a volunteer position at another lab (either within the company or at a local college) to gain that molecular lab experience AND then apply to phD NEXT YEAR for fall 2021 programs OR take a molecular lab class at local college in fall to gain this experience 

D : look at online masters options for next fall and get tuition reimbursement and apply to PhD programs after or just stay with masters ( I do not know how reputable or beneficial an online masters will be) 

I have though extensively about what a phD program entails (I have taken a seminar course in college that went in depth of how to apply and what you are getting yourself into. Also, I have read books and articles on what this would entail). I am just unsure on how worth it this will be to apply for next fall, should I be applying NEXT YEAR for fall 2021 programs?? 

I am not sure of the pay off between just having masters vs. just having a phD in programs related to biology and the jobs associated with each.  Will I be wasting my time JUST getting a masters OR getting a masters AND then phD (I know some PhD programs you can leave with masters if you choose too). I think right now my eventual goal is phD but I do not know how ready I am for this. I think I am also doubting my application strength and my ability to get accepted now. What do you think my chances are of getting accepted to a program right now? Or am I stupid to leave my job after a year for a phD program if I do get accepted to one. I know you can not do much with a BS in biology and graduate school is mostly necessary. 


I am very lost in what direction I should be taking. 

Edited by meghanx0919
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Okay so you have a lot going on here, but here are my thoughts/opinions as someone who applied to micro phD programs all across the US last year.

A) Your GPA may be an issue, but you'll have to look at specific program minimums. Pitt's Program in Microbiology and Immunology has a minimum of 3.2 for example. For programs like this, I would call the admissions office and ask how strict this minimum is considering your more recent semester GPAs were clearly much higher and your biology GPA is likely higher as well. Other programs either do not have a minimum GPA requirement (such as Michigan's umbrella program Program in Biomedical Sciences ) or do not publish GPA minimums on their website. Your best bet is to discuss your growth and improvement in your statement of purpose.

B ) Your experiences sound pretty good. A small undergraduate project shows you can develop your own project, and your work experience has granted you many lab skills important to a scientist. I wouldn't worry about "flashy" molecular or genetic experience. This is not the norm for applicants as far as what I saw on interviews. In terms of techniques, my undergrad project was mostly Western blot, with a little cell culture and some plaque assays sprinkled in. Nothing too "flashy" here. Your TA experiences in undergrad will also look good imo.

C) If you score well on the GRE, this could offset your lower GPA. However, I would look at the programs you plan to apply to first. All but 2 of the programs I applied to either removed the GRE requirement or did not accept GRE scores at all.

D) You talk briefly about loans/debt in your post. All of the phD programs I applied to are fully funded, so for a micro phD you shouldn't gain more debt. However, the stipends are roughly half of what you make currently (w/o bonus), and varying depending on the cost of living in the program area.

E) All of the programs I applied to have lab rotations, and thus, I didn't email any potential labs in advanced. I only emailed if the PI I was interested in was not available during my interview weekend. I am genuinely not sure what the norm is here.

F) As for a masters, I do not know your situations well enough to really give advice. However, I can give my general thoughts on the topic. I have been told that talked a masters is best for students who lack research experience or are not sure they want to pursue a phD. You seem to be neither of these, but that call is only one you can make.

Let me know if you have any questions about my experiences applying to micro phD programs.

Edited by cephalexin
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