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Hi Guys, Give me Tips on Schools and Programs


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New member here. What a great community! I am slowly getting ready to apply this fall and I wanted to know what you guys think are the best cities to live in and which universities might have programs that are a good fit for me. I am a Georgia gal, been here too long and wish to move but don't really know what's out there. My biggest challenge is driving in the snow, so please no overly cold climates. :)


Here goes my situation, you guys let me know if you think there's a good program and city out there for me.



BS in Biology

Public state school out here in the country, it's an ok school (pretty large)

Finished with a 3.3 GPA

Travelled abroad to do research in the summer and then worked on it for another semester, but no publication and it was in ecology


Currently working on my

MS in Biology (molecular genetics) at GSU

Current GPA is 3.6

Working on a thesis related to neurobiology/molecular genetics

More than likely will have one first-author publication and possibly one second-author publication,

Plus the volunteering and helping out I do at my current lab with others' research.


GRE was 1320 (720Q/600V), or 316 new format

Essay was like a 4 or 4.5 (something like that)

No subject test


Currently enrolled in

an online Bioinformatics certificate program,

debating to convert it into a Master of Engineering program so my application maybe looks better with two graduate degrees, but not sure how much it would help me.


I worked 4 years in a lab, but it was not research, just basically a lab tech in a cytology lab. I did get promoted throughout, but it was one of those labs that are all about manual labor, not research.


I do have a couple of stories and achievements to add to my personal statement that are a bit unusual, so I think that will hopefully help me. I am least worried about my LOR's, so hopefully that will pull me out of the woods too.




I am looking for something related to molecular genetics, cancer biology, or developmental biology. I am in love with Emory's cancer biology PhD program, but highly doubt I qualify. They only accept 5 students per year and I was told less now with the economy the way it is.


Thoughts from you experienced applicants? Any suggestions for this native Georgia gal who rarely travels anywhere? Where to apply, how many schools to apply to, where to live...so much to decide... :(

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I would suggest applying to as many schools as you can afford or have time for, like you said times are tight and programs are becoming more selective. If you have had any mentors you should talk to them about which programs would be good for you, also refer to post-docs you know or other professors you have had good experience with. http://www.phds.org/ is a good reference to familiarize yourself with the programs that are out there and where they stand compared to other programs. Also take note of the programs rank...when applying i realized i was not the best candidate but still wanted to go to the best programs (UCSF, Princeton, UCB, UCSD, Stanford, MIT...etc), so I picked a few of the top tier programs to apply to and then applied to second and third tier schools as well. 


I don't know much about a lot of different programs, but i applied to a lot of "umbrella" programs because i am not 100% sure what i want to do. Look into so of the programs i applied to if you'd like....i liked UT-Austin, Northwestern, UMass, UW-Madison, and UCSF a lot when I went there, three of those programs however are colder climates so you might not like them. Most major cities in the country have at least one graduate program - Boston, San Francisco bay area, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, Houston, LA, San Diego, Seattle, D.C. I am biased based on places where I live, again refer to PHds.org


Give yourself a lot of time on the essay, mine took ~4 months of editing with a post-doc at my work. You need to go through it with someone that is familiar with science and ideally familiar with what your background is and what you want to do in the future. (Note : I needed a person like this, you might not....definitely will not hurt your app). At this point the only things you can improve upon is your essay, resume, and LORs. I think the essay is a major piece to the puzzle and needs to be supported by the LORs...resume is not a big deal i do not think. The LORs need to convey that you are 1) extremely enthusiastic about science 2) you have determination and perseverance when problems arise 3) you are creative and can think outside of the box 4) that you have done good work. I talked to numerous faculty about the LORs and what they look for and this is the list. I notice you have not done much actual research, you need to make sure that your recommenders avoid saying you are a good worker...they are not selling a worker, they are selling a scientist. In your essay, avoid stories about relatives with cancer or another disease and how that has motivated you to pursue science in search for cures.


message me if you have any more questions... i don't check this site very much anymore

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Best cities to live without cold climates = south, coastal region:

Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco (windy), Miami / South Beach, etc.


As for schools from these cities, certainly there are many big names one that you can immediately think of.


I am unsure with the credential from a online program. What helps would definitely be your research experience (not as a lab tech, but rather working on project(s) and conduct(ed) independent research.) Based on your description, lacking of research experience would be a major concern in my opinion. Hopefully your publication may help you out.


Make sure your multiple stories would gel into one, such that it convince the adcom to believe that you are a good candidate for their program. You also need to have good LOR, ideally from people in the same or relevant field, or someone that know you very well as a scientist. There is a thread about how many schools people usually I apple. In my opinion, you can apply as many as you wish as long as you are able to afford the application fee, the time to tailor a good SOP / PS for specific programs, learn the faculty member's research interest and etc. 6 to 8 may be a good range, more if you are less confident. Given that you rarely travel, I don't think it is fair for someone to give you their opinion on "which city is the best place to live"; after all, you are the one who will move to somewhere, and only you can tell if you like a location or not -- that relies on your experience during school interview / visit.

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Yes, my problem was that my undergrad wasn't a research school, the research that I did was considered the most you could do in that school at that time. I would put that on my SOP, but feel like it would be disrespectful to put the school down like that since this is the same school that's been giving me glowing LORs in the past.


I'm hoping that bringing my GPA up to 3.8 to 3.9 in my MS will help out since I only have the easy stuff left, and who knows, maybe 1.5 years of accumulated research in addition to my 4 years as a lab tech will at least get me an interview.

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I think you should be able to get into Emory so long as you get really good letters of recommendation from both your MS program and your undergraduate institute.  Or, you can just get LoRs just from your MS program, especially if you've done collaborations or work in other labs (might even be a good idea to talk to your adviser about which route to go).  I'm not sure what percentile your GRE scores are in, but if they're around the 80s you should be fine with those as well.  Most schools just want someone who is competent at lab work and knows how to critically think about problems.

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