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Chances to get into biology PhD programs

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I graduated this past spring with a BS in pharmacology and I'll be applying for fall 2021. I want to pursue a career in R&D in the future. I'm especially interested in joining a PhD program for neuroscience tied to pharmaceutical sciences, but I don't actually have much background in neuroscience. It would be super helpful if I could get some insight into where I would be standing in regards to applying for graduate programs.

I was a transfer so I did 2 years at a community college (got a 3.83 GPA) and then graduated from a university with a 3.83 GPA. I did undergraduate research for almost 1.5 years where my project was involved in studying a chronic disease and its metabolic changes. There is a paper still in the works that I will be published in, but not as first author. It's also been delayed due to Covid-19, but I'm hoping that it will be out before I apply. Besides this, I don't have any publications. Since graduating, I've been working as a staff research associate at my current lab, so that's what I will be doing for the next year. I have two professors who I will be asking for a letter of recommendation from. One is my PI, who I know will give me a strong letter. The other is a professor who I have taken 5 classes with (both lecture and lab courses), but they do not know me nearly as well as my PI. They basically only know my name and face, and that I have had As in all of their classes. I'm not too sure where I will get my third letter of recommendation, but I'll likely ask another professor who I've taken classes with.

I go to school and live in California, so I'd prefer to stay here. I am thinking of applying to UCSF, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and Scripps. I will probably also apply to some out-of-state places. These are just some schools that I've been thinking about, but definitely not the only ones I'm open to applying to. I know it's hard to gauge how PhD programs will choose their applicants, but I'd like to get a general idea of what sorts of schools would be my reach schools and my safety schools. Thanks in advance. :) 

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Hi, so I think you have a good GPA and good research background so I think you would be a good candidate for a PhD program, but I do suggest looking at more schools as well because it is better to be safe than sorry. The only Cali school I applied to was USC so I do not have much to say about the ones you want to apply to. I believe they are more on the competitive side so it would be beneficial to look at additional schools who have research you are interested in. I was told that those who want to go into a more industry-based career should go to a school in a location that does have a lot more industry-based jobs so that may be something to consider for an R&D career.

In terms of not having a neuroscience background, that is okay. Use it to your advantage to say that your previous research experience in disease and metabolism will give you a unique perspective of the neuroscience field. Make sure you come across as committed to learn about the field and to complete the PhD, capable of doing independent research, and can think critically. That is more important than what your previous research experience has been.

For your letters of recommendation: Make sure to give your CV and draft of your personal statement to the professors you only took classes with (in addition to your PI) so they know what to emphasize when writing your letter. It could be beneficial to highlight to them what you think is important for them to include, especially those who do not know you as well as your PI. 

Anyways, good luck!

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