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PhD in Microbiology - UK/International Student


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Hello everyone! 


I'm starting the final year of my Biochemistry BSc program this fall so I've started to look at PhDs. As I'm doing my degree in the UK (although I'm an international student) I'm not familiar with most of american universities and that makes things a bit more difficult.


My grades are not great (2:2 in the UK system which is about 3.0) but I have taken part of 2 summer projects (iGEM) and an 8 weeks summer internship in a lab. I don't have any scientific publication whatsoever and I don't think it is very common to have one before graduating here in the UK.


I want to do a PhD in Microbiology or Bacterial Pathogen related topics (also, I would consider virology but I don't have experience on it yet as it's a final year module). So at the moment the only programs I've found interesting are:

  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville - Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (<5% internationals are accepted)
  • University of California, San Francisco - Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program ("small number of international students")

I don't know how realistic these two options are so any thoughts are much appreciated. Of course I've had a look at places like The Rockefeller University but some posts on this forum of people with 6 publications being rejected made me see I was being too ambitious (if there is such a thing :P). 


To sum up: I'm an international student, I want to do a PhD in Microbiology and I'd love to hear suggestions on good places or any sort of advice.




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There are tons of programs which fit those really broad interests; I'm surprised you only found two! UCSF is going to be a stretch with that GPA. You will need stellar GRE scores and amazing recommendation letters. I'm not sure on if your research experience is going to be on the good side for UCSF or not. You're right that most students don't have publications going into their PhD. I had two in prep, but I was also almost done with a MS. I thought about applying to UCSF for a similar program, but they also required the subject GRE, and I decided my GPA and general GRE weren't going to cut it.


If I had your GPA, I would probably either do a MS (and work your tail off to get a better GPA and gain research experience) or a post-bacc to raise my GPA while working as a lab technician and show I can be a serious graduate student. I'm not international, but I entered my PhD program with a 3.68 UG GPA and a 3.7 MS GPA plus 6 years of research experience (all of UG and MS, these aren't short research projects). I was accepted into other top-20 institutions than the one I ultimately attended, but I likely would not have been accepted into UCSF as I fell below their cutoffs. There are a select few that make it in despite that, and, while you can still apply there, you should have other really viable options.


What I would do is look into tons of programs, particularly umbrella programs, to make your choices for application to about 6-10 of them. You can have a couple of schools you're not sure you will get into, but also pick several you like that you think you have a chance at. Your GPA may really kill you, though, if these schools have cutoffs they use. Look into that before deciding to apply. Also look for professors you're interested in... the best thing is to pick a school with several professors you think you might be interested in working under. University of Florida has a good umbrella program and lots of  microbiology people. Baylor College of Medicine has several professors working with different pathogens, as well as a giant microbiome research presence. They also have a Tropical Diseases department.


To apply THIS application cycle, you need to take your GRE as soon as possible, as well as the TOEFL if it is required, unless you're wanting to take a year off. If you take it in September, you have time to retake the computer-based test in early November, but you may miss some deadlines. You should probably look into who will write your letters of recommendation about now. Some deadlines are as early as November, and since you're international, you may have earlier deadlines than US students (for example, UCSD makes you submit a pre-application).


Feel free to message me if you have questions. Good luck! :)

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