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Fall 2023 Biomedical Sciences U.S. Ph.D. Program Applications


crienna
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Hello All! I checked to see if there is a new forum for this year's Fall 2023 Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program, but found nothing so decided to make one for the team!

Feel free to follow the forum and post any questions, updates/status, suggestions on this years application season. Anyways, happy application season!! :)

 

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Hi y’all! I am going to be applying to biomedical sciences programs this year. I graduated undergrad with a 3.8 GPA and have spent the last 16 months working in a lab at a research hospital. I am coauthor of five publications (no first authors, mostly between third and fifth), and have presented two posters at conferences. I’m going to be applying to: 

University of Florida, University of Miami, University of Central Florida, UMass, UConn, Tufts, and Boston University 

 

this is my second application cycle, and I’m excited to see how it goes! Good luck to everybody 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi everyone! I applied for PhD programs the last two cycles and am currently starting as a first year in my top choice program! I wanted to post some advice here because I know this process is extremely stressful and there are things I wish I knew while applying that will hopefully help you guys. I am an American who applied to only US schools so if you are a non-American student and/or applying for non-US programs things may differ for you. 

1. Picking schools

- Know why you want to do a PhD: Doing a PhD takes a long time (up to 7 years or more sometimes!), and you won't be paid well. You'll probably be here for most of your 20s. You can still have fun of course (and you should!) but if you want to do a PhD for the Dr. title or because you think its "just what you do" or what your parents want you to do, take some time to reevaluate if this is the right choice for you. If you graduated with a STEM major, you will make more money working for a company (tech, biotech, pharmaceutical, etc.). If you have dependents or are struggling financially, doing a PhD will probably add to that stress. If you know this is what you want to do then make sure the school you choose is dedicated to supporting you.

- Each school's application will take a lot of time, effort, and (usually) money, so you will want to pick your school list carefully. I would recommend applying to 8-14 schools to give yourself a good spread while not overexerting yourself with too many apps. I applied to 11 the first time (rejected everywhere, no interviews) and 12 the second time (5 interview invites, all interviews I did led to acceptances). Don't get too hung up on applying to 'elite' schools. Apply to schools where the science that is being done there excites you. If you're having trouble finding schools, look up research papers about the topic you want to study and note down which institution the authors are from.

- Know generally what you want to study, and have some experience in that or a related field. Research experience is extremely crucial - you'll have more to write about in your essay and talk about in your interviews. Having experience will also help you choose schools. Pick programs where at least three professors are doing research you are interested in. For any biomedical sciences programs, I would not recommend starting a PhD program if you have no research experience (even if you have a perfect GPA, etc.)

- Narrowing down your list: You'll be living there for a good chunk of time, so which locations do you see yourself thriving? Do you need to be close to family or friends? Do you need to be in a city with good public transportation, or are you ok being in a more urban or suburban area where you'll need a car? Will you struggle in an expensive area? Will you struggle if the elected officials in that area don't prioritize the well being of their citizens? Check what the stipend amount is - does it match the cost of living of the area?

- Check the schools requirements for standardized tests you need to take. If the school's website says you don't need to take the GRE, believe them! This is not a trick. I didn't take the GRE and I got into multiple "top" schools (and my GPA is nothing to write home about).

- ***IMPORTANT*** Look through the websites of each school. Do they post their admissions statistics? Some schools will use filters to weed out applications. They will all say that their GPA cutoff is 3.0 or 3.2, but secretly they are weeding out MUCH higher GPAs. If the school has not posted their average GPA, email the admissions coordinator to ask what it is. You don't want to waste hours of your time and up to $120 per application when a school is just going to look at your GPA and weed you out. If your GPA is more than ~0.2 below the average, you'll need to stand out to catch their attention, which can be a first author paper or many years of research experience.

- ***ALSO IMPORTANT*** Despite what you might think from doom scrolling through this website, you DON'T need to have a perfect GPA or first author paper (or any publication really) to get into an amazing program. Don't let people on here intimidate you from applying to your dream schools. No matter what your background or scores are, it is your love for science that should shine through on your application and will catch the attention of admissions committees (the exception being schools like the above bullet which you don't want to be at anyway). 

 

2. Starting applications

- Unfortunately, applying to graduate schools is not like undergrad, so there is no common app. This means you'll have to fill out your information separately for each school's application website, and this will take longer than you think. For this reason, I recommend filling out all this info first because it's somewhat mindless and will alleviate a lot of application stress to get this stuff done early. This info includes basic personal information, schools attended, GPA, CV, work experience, etc etc. Some schools use common application websites so you may luck out and get some overlap. For me, three schools used one of these websites.

- Ask your recommenders to write your letters of rec early (like at LEAST a month before, but I would recommend asking like 2-3 months before due dates and then sending a reminder a month before if they haven't done it yet). I know this part can be stressful, but the longer you wait the more the stress will build up. Here is a template email to ask professors, former PIs, etc.: Hi Dr. X, I hope you had a great summer! I had an awesome time in your class/lab and I learned so much! I will be applying for PhD programs in Y this cycle and I would be so grateful if you could write me a letter of recommendation. If you are able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me, I can send you a list of schools, due dates, and any other info you need right away. Let me know, thank you! Best, Z (The part about STRONG letter is important - make sure your recommender will write about you positively and not passively). 

 

3. The personal statement

- YES this is important. My first attempt I made the mistake of thinking this was not so important, and I honestly think that was my main downfall. It's hard to start writing your personal statement, because how do you begin? Here is a rough roadmap to help you out if you're struggling:

  a) Once you've made your school list, go to each school's application website and find their personal statement prompt(s). Copy/paste them all into a document. You will hopefully take comfort in the fact that you'll see a lot of common themes. Most will look something like this: Describe your research experience, research goals, and career goals. Why do you want to do a PhD? Why our school? 

  b) Start by describing your research experience (this will probably be in the middle of your statement). You might already have conference or talk abstracts you've written that you can spruce up to use here. Keep it interesting and succinct. In one or two paragraphs, start with a) what is the research gap you tried to fill? b) what was your hypothesis? c) what experiments did you do to test your hypothesis? d) what were your findings?

  c) Your first paragraph should describe your motivations for doing a PhD/research. Brainstorm why you want to do this and write down bulletpoints to help you get started. Example: Making discoveries in the lab with my colleagues has brought me immeasurable joy for the past two years. Learning more about X disease and how Y methods can be used to study it has driven me to pursue a PhD. I hope to one day lead the field in the study of Z and have a lab myself where I can mentor others and spearhead Z research.  

  d) Think about something interesting to catch the reader's attention in the first few sentences. It can be a personal anecdote (describe the feeling you had when you gave a talk or poster presentation, or when an experiment you struggled with finally worked)

  e) You can add a small paragraph at the end with other details like extracurriculars (but make sure it relates to being a graduate student, like "being the captain of the club soccer team was crucial to my development as a leader..."). 

  f) Wrap up the statement by reiterating why this school, why a PhD, why this field. 

  g) Get input on your statement from people in your lab, professors, friends, and family. Remember that everyone will have different opinions and you don't have to take everyone's suggestions. Send your drafts to people and ask for edits, then read through the edits and keep the bits and pieces that feel right to you. Thank everyone profusely!

  h) Up until this point, you will have a sort of 'master' personal statement, but you'll have to tailor it to each school specifically, so make sure you follow each school's specific guidelines before you upload it to each application website. Remember to focus on the SCIENCE at the institution, not how 'elite' it is. 

 

4. Try to keep calm!

- I know this is easier said than done, but try not to go on this website or Reddit too much. It will ruin your mental health and waste your time to continually refresh, panic read, etc. The best thing to do is focus on yourself, your application, and whatever you happen to be doing this fall be it school or work. 

- Treat yourself for getting parts of this process done. Keep a checklist and give yourself little rewards if that helps you stay on track. 

- Once you start getting interviews, sign up for interview preps at the institution you're at or try to find one at a different school. You can ask PIs at your institution to help you with interview practice. Practice your research elevator pitch so that it flows naturally (practice a 30 sec, 1 minute, and 5 min pitch). 

- If you don't get any interviews (which will eventually lead to rejections later in the winter) - I know it sucks. I've been there, it will get better! These PhD programs are extremely competitive and LOTS of people have to take 2 or 3 tries to get in. If you know that a PhD is the right path for you, take a deep breath, dust yourself off, and get yourself ready for another application cycle. The second time will be easier, because you already know what the application process will entail and you have a lot of things written already to use. However, DON'T use the same personal statement as your first try, ESPECIALLY if you're applying to the same schools again. Write it again from scratch, and make sure your second one is better than your first. From your first school list, you can apply to some of the same schools but try to find some new ones too. I applied to 3 of the same schools from my first attempt and got rejected from all three a second time. Be proud of yourself for tackling this process twice - it takes dedication!

- Take care of yourself. Spend time with loved ones, eat well, get enough sleep, move your body, do fun activities, etc! Your health is more important than getting into a PhD program. I repeat: YOUR HEALTH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN GETTING INTO A PHD PROGRAM!!! 

 

5. Celebrate!!! Here are some suggestions on milestones to celebrate:

- Finishing your applications

- Getting your first interview invite

- Finishing your first interview/all interviews

- Getting your first acceptance

- Committing to a program

 

6. Thank everyone

- Send thank you emails to your recommenders, everyone who helped you with your application, the program directors/coordinators at each school you interviewed at, every person who interviewed you (do this the day after your interview with them!)

- Keep people in the loop! Tell your recommenders when you commit, when you start your program, etc.

 

That's all for this extremely long post! Good luck everyone!!!

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