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Application Strategy... Tiers?


Giraffe19
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Hello everyone!

 

I'm new to this forum (or any forum ever for that matter) so forgive me if I'm asking redundant questions! I'm a rising senior and am planning to apply to Ph.D programs in Chemistry. However, I'm really struggling putting together a list of programs. I'd like to apply to several top 10 programs (MIT, Harvard, Caltech, ect...), but I know these programs are extremely competitive and that I'm going to need a much more diverse list. I've been hearing the descriptors "top-tier", "mid-tier", and "low tier" thrown around quite a bit. Are these tiers based on the rank of the program? In particular, what schools are included in the mid-tier (top 20-60?, 30-100???)? I know that rankings/tiers are not the most important factor in choosing a school, but I'm overwhelmed but the shear number of choices and need to categorize them somehow!

 

I'm also really unsure about where I am competitive realistically. I'm from a fairly small college and don't really know who else is out there.

 

These are some of my statistics for context:

  • Chemistry/Biology double major (ACS certified) at a public "ivy" (high 20's, low 30s in ranking)
  • GPA: 3.99 (cumulative), 3.99 (chem), 4.0 (bio)
  • I've worked in a stem cell biology lab since my first semester freshman year. I worked for credit on my own project every semester since, as well as full-time for two summers. This has resulted in 3 posters (2 for in school conferences, 1 for a regional conference), and one platform presentation at an international conference. I'm working on two papers (1 to be submitted mid-July, the second sometime before graduation). I'm going to complete an Honors Thesis on this well.
  • One NSF-REU program for a summer
  • Beginning my junior year, I began to work in biochemistry lab for credit as well. I will continue until graduation.
  • I've TA'd a molecular biology class and an organic chemistry laboratory. I will TA either a gen chem or physical chem lab next semester
  • Goldwater Honorable Mention, full tuition scholarship at my university, several small undergraduate research grants 
  • Hopefully strong letters :)

I have yet to take either the general or the subject GRE. I'm most worried because of my lack of publications and comparatively little experience in researching the subject I want to actually research in grad school (physical biochemisty... new spectroscopic techniques for biomolecules probably). I decided my true passion was chemistry a little late. Do you think these things will work against me?

 

Sorry for the long post! I'd appreciate any advice. I feel very overwhelmed over here!

Thanks! 

 

 

 

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Welcome to the forum Giraffe19!

 

I can relate to the overwhelming feeling right before starting senior year.

 

You'll soon find out how irrelevant "tiers" are to the whole grad school process, but they can be a good place to start. I remember going through the schools that I thought were "top" schools and looking for professors whose research I was interested in. That search led me to read up on professors' work from schools not as prestigious. You can then start making a list of professors at each school, and then you'll have a list of schools for consideration. You want at least 2 professors (aim for 3) for each school. If you're lucky, you'll have a fairly long list of schools and then you can narrow down the list using other factors later on.

 

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Another resource would be professors at your university that do research in the field that you might want to study in grad school. They will know which professors do related work and which universities they are at!

 

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Your stats are great. You most definitely have a chance of being accepted into "top" schools (but once again, you'll soon find out that the rankings are more irrelevant than made out to be). Aim for the professors.  

 

Good luck!

 

DTB

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These are some of my statistics for context:

  • Chemistry/Biology double major (ACS certified) at a public "ivy" (high 20's, low 30s in ranking

Wait... what?

 

Chemistry/Biology double major... worked in a stem cell biology lab since my first semester freshman year... 3 posters (2 for in school conferences, 1 for a regional conference), and one platform presentation at an international conference...  working on two papers (1 to be submitted mid-July, the second sometime before graduation)... One NSF-REU program... Beginning my junior year, I began to work in biochemistry lab... TA'd... Goldwater Honorable Mention, full tuition scholarship at my university, several small undergraduate research grants

 

Need: 3 strong LORs, general +/- subject GRE. worried because of my lack of publications and comparatively little experience in researching the subject I want to actually research in grad school (physical biochemisty... new spectroscopic techniques for biomolecules probably).

Have you consider biophysics programs and labs that does spectroscopy technique development / uses spectroscopy? just for the record, there are many different kinds of spectroscopy and I think that it is unlikely to find a lab that does every single spectroscopy possible (e.g. cell biologists / geneticists often use fluorescent spectroscopy instead of electron microscopy). I would say that it is very different to consider "physical biochemisty" as "traditional" chemistry. Research gets more interdisciplinary nowadays and therefore if you are going to do things that are "new spectroscopic techniques for biomolecules", then you probably need to know the physics of the technique, the biophysics and (bio)chemistry of the biomolecules, and the big picture of this particular biology/biological question.

 

Therefore, if your true passion was chemistry but not the other stuff, then you'll probably consider programs and research that studies small molecules instead of biomolecules. Just my 2 cents.

Edited by aberrant
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