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Research Experience, Publications, and Fellowships in Admissions


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Maybe someone could give me their honest opinion about my situation. I went to UCLA (GPA: 3.2) and GRE percentiles as 65% (both berbal and quantitative) and 84% (analytical writing). I have a first author publication (in a small journal but still peer reviewed), another first author paper that is submitted and in the review process at PLoS One, 1 paper where I'm a buried author but in reivew also at J Neurosci, 1 paper (which we hope to usbmit to Science) as co-first author that is being written up now and hopefully will be submitted in December, and 1 last paper that is being written up now but I am a buried author. I've presented a poster at an international conference in Rome, and have my name on several other posters. I have 5 solid years of reserach experience (2.5 years during undergrad, 2 years a research tech at MIT, and 1 year as a Fulbright Schoolar (currently) in Germany working at a Max Planck in a neuropsychiatry lab). My numbers (GPA and GRE) are on the low end but my research experience measured in terms of publications and productivity is good and I have a Fulbright. Also I'm applying for NSF and NSDEG predoctoral fellowships. I have good rec letters (form undergrad research advisor, boss as a tech and my PI for Fulbright). Overall, my question is does anyone think that I have a shot at a neuroscience PhD program at any of these places: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, WUSTL, and UCSF (these are my dream schools and the ones that are most competitive and I think realistically I cannot get in but want an unbiased opinion), Caltech and Rockefeller (these ones I think are a bit easier for admissions but still on the very competitive side) and Princeton, Yale, UPenn, Baylor, Utah and UIUC (these schools I think are not that hard for me because even though my numbers are low my research experience and publications give me a significant edge). Any opinions or comments are helpful ?

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think your strength is your research experience, which you need to emphasize when contacting profs/PIs at those schools, as well as in your application essay. Make sure you understand each paper which you co-authored front-to-back, as if you wrote the whole thing. One of the cheapest shots an interviewer will ask is 'what exactly did you do on this project?', in order to tease out whether your were just a pair of hands or that you actually understood the rationale for why these experiments were done. Look up faculty members at these universities, look at what they study, and contact the ones you actually find interesting. Do NOT apply to a school without reading some recent papers published by those faculty members and contacting them first.

Also emphasize that you are not applying to PhD program right out of college, but you wanted to make sure that you like academia research as a lifestyle. Because you worked as a research tech, now you know this is the life for you (or something like that). Profs/PIs hate students who come and quit during/after the first year. It's a waste of their money and time. They want dedicated students who realize that doing a PhD is nothing like getting an undergrad degree.

Don't worry so much about GPA, GRE score, etc. If a faculty member like you, they'll go to bat for you in terms of admission. A grad student only costs 25k a year plus health insurance, which is much cheaper than hiring a technician. If they have funding available for a PhD student and you impressed them, you'll get an interview.

Edited by bhmlurker
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