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Is 1.5 years of research experience enough? Or should I wait an extra year?


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First of all, I graduated in 2011 from a mid-sized public state school that not many people outside the state know about. Majored in Biology with minors in Chem and Physics. My overall GPA was 3.65 and major is 3.5.


I'm taking the GRE next week, but my last practice test score was 162V/167Q so I'm not too worried.


What I am worried about is my research experience. I have 1 semester from my senior year where I worked as an intern in an immunology lab. I was only there ~10hrs/week so I can't say I had a major impact on the research; mainly I did some cell culture and flow cytometry. No analysis of the data.


As of October 2012, I joined a stem cell lab where I am my PI's only technician. I've gotten a lot of valuable experience thus far, and work independently, though I don't create my own projects. By the time I apply, I'll have one or two papers in review in which I am a second author. 


With the economy as it is, I know that admittance has been tougher these past few years; that said, will I have a decent chance at acceptance? I want to apply for a PhD to biomedical sciences umbrella programs. I plan to apply to 5-7 schools of varied ranks. 

Edited by persimmony
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Hi persimmony!


I just finished my application cycle for admission for Fall 2013, and I applied to 6 umbrella Biomedical Science programs. I was invited to interview at 4, and turned two down. The two I was rejected at were WashU St. Louis DBBS (they had a ton of applicants) and UWashington Immunology (only accepting 3 students this year with over 400 applications). In my humble opinion, research experience is incredibly important, but at least a year of good, hands-on research should be sufficient. If you feel like you can spare the cash, go ahead and apply this year and cast a large net. You can always get more experience and apply next year if you don't get the program you want. I know students who have gotten in the first application cycle after their undergrad with about a year of experience and the same GPA, though I don't know the rank of their schools.


My UG GPA was a 3.68, and my masters will be the same. GRE was above average, higher than 70th percentile. I'm positive that what got me into the program was my research experience. I will have 6 years experience to the day when I defend my thesis (4 years undergrad, 2 years masters) and I come from a school that isn't well known. Professors at my interviews had things to discuss with me because of the experience, and I was able to demonstrate a broad knowledge-set... My SOP, Research Statement, CV, and probably my letters of rec were all oozing research experience.


For you, I think a large part of it is going to be how you portray yourself on paper for starters. You need to make sure that they can see you're passionate about science and whatever area it is that you like within the biomedical sciences, and even though we're going into highly specialized fields, that you're well rounded; apparently seeing Marching Band and Leadership on my resume were welcome sights for them.


I've said this before other places, but you want your SOP to reel them in so they remember your application. I was taught to think of admissions committees as monkeys in desperate need of a cigarette and a beer, and you're supposed to make them forget that and want to keep reading within the first paragraph. I would start drafting ideas for that, now. Make sure you talk about being the only technician in the lab, and how that has been important for your scientific development.


Pick your letter writers, wisely, and early. Baylor College of Medicine allows 4 letters, but most only allow three. Three of mine were research advisors, and the fourth from someone not in science. I had my letters for my schools by November for the December deadlines.


Make sure your CV has some of the things you do in the lab listed. Mine has a "Relevant Skills" section where I have everything listed, "Western Blot, DNA extraction, Chromatin IP, Etc."


I think... you'll be fine. :)

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As opposed to biotechie, I'm less optimistic about your chances based on the number (1.5 years). Depends on the the people who are on the admission committee, some pay more concern on the quality of your paper (should you be published) -- quality of the work, what part of the published work did you do, how much citation of that publication you get, were you working on a hot topic with bazillion competitors, or a topic that have very few groups/labs study that making one easier to get published, etc. I know a few people from my alma mater and current school put more attention on evaluating applicants, while there would probably be quite a lot of people just acknowledge the fact that one has a publication (or two) under his/her belt -- just because s/he contributed a SDS-PAGE gel and a western blot.


While I'm would like to think that you will get in somewhere (assuming you'll have great LORs and strong SOP/PS), you may want to prepare for the worst scenario for not getting into the top schools (I just saw your list on the other thread, and one of them is my alma mater).


imho, if you are applying UCSF, and money isn't an issue, you definitely should consider other schools that are on par with it, given that UCSF is extremely2 competitive. though my perspective came from my experience as an international applicant and knowing a couple other friends (both local and international) that applied grad school in the past couple years.

Edited by aberrant
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As far as my contribution to the papers go, I feel like I had a large role. I embedded, sectioned, and stained experimental and control tissue. Then I imaged them and compiled all the data into Prism, producing graphs that are in the paper. Like I said, I am my PI's only technician so we worked side by side in some experiments like flow cytometry, or I worked independently. 


As of now, I'm still having trouble narrowing down the huge number of PhD programs. I don't necessarily want or need to get into the top programs. Really, my top choice would be UC Denver because of its proximity to home, and it's ranked at only 68. I emailed the woman in charge of the program and gave her my stats, and she told me I was right in line with the accepted class.


I probably shouldn't apply to UCSF if my chances are slim to none. Could you recommend any other schools that might be more lenient to someone of my experience? 

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Persimmony, I didn't apply to UCSF for similar reasons (and because I didn't like their program!).


As far as publications go, I have one, and it isn't even in my field (it was about cephalopod DNA). My research experience and being able to talk about my projects was what made up for that, as well as what my PIs had in their letters. If you can, get permission from your PI to take some copies of slides from a presentation you've done (that maybe have been published already) just to have in your portfolio at interviews so you don't have to draw pictures!


Try applying to:
WashU (Ranked somewhere in the top 20, but getting better ranked every year)

University of Florida Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences (Ranked 50-something)

University of Utah Molecular Cell Biology (Fairly low ranked, but have some good Epigenetics people)


I turned down an interview at UCSD off of the wait list even though they're more highly ranked than the school I ultimately picked. I'd been to their campus before, and I just didn't see myself as successful there as I think I will be at my new school, which will be at Baylor. UCSD's application system is a little annoying since the system doesn't e-mail you, but e-mails you to tell you to log into the application to read the e-mail. >.<


The cool thing about WUSTL's umbrella program is it is in the middle of a giant Med Center in St. Louis, and there are at least 3 universities right there with different programs. It is also interinstitutional, so you can take courses at other universities. Faculty can come from any department. Classes, equipment, etc will be open to use. 


I found when I interviewed at UF that a lot of the students were from Florida, and that I outnumbered nearly all of them with the amount of research experience. I think about a year or so was the average for those students.


I didn't interview anywhere else because the other interviews were offered after I went to these, and I didn't like the others as much. :P


If you apply this year, just make sure you cast a larger net. Maybe go for one or two "reach" schools where you think you could be happy/successful, and then apply to other schools that you feel you have a good chance at. Go for at least 6 schools you think you've got a chance at! I know being close to home is nice, but PhD is also a chance to get out there and live somewhere you may never live, again. I don't think I will LIKE living in a city, but I can't diss it until I've done it.

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  • 1 month later...

Hey, I know I'm moving off on a tangent here but I'd be very grateful if anyone could help me out with my issue. 


I am an international student that holds an undergrad degree in Biomedical sciences from Newcastle University (England). I've been quite unsuccessful with my PhD applications to the USA despite having 2 years of independent laboratory experience. I am currently considering getting into a Masters program in the USA in an attempt to substantiate my educational background and to further my research experience. Could anyone advice me on if this is a foolproof plan or if there are any alternative ways to improve my chances of gaining admission into a PhD program in biological sciences? 


Any suggestions or advice would be much appreciated. Thank you

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The additional experience of a Master's Degree will definitely help your chances if you perform well, however you will find that most US programs are not funded. Generally funding is reserved for PhD students who will be a longer contributor to the lab while a Master's is usually two years or less.

Do you know the reasons you were unable to get a place in a PhD program?


I did a MS, and I am positive it helped me get into my PhD program, but I also think that my 6 total years of research contributed. I think that is you do very well in a masters program, you may also be given the opportunity to accelerate where you are studying into their PhD program. Otherwise, strong grades and strong research should help you get into a PhD school. Just be prepared for the cost and try to get scholarships to cover it.

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It can't hurt to try. If you're really on the level of other top applicants, you should get a spot. It's like freshman that make varsity. Time is sort of a vague way to measure how much research experience a person has. Number of projects, skill sets learned etc. are probably more informative to a potential supervisor. 

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