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Chances for an international (UK)? Should I wait? HELP


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Firstly, here's the stats:


Undergrad Institution: one of the top University in UK (UK  undergrad lasts 3 years, not 4!)
Major(s): Biochemistry
GPA in Major: High 2i ~ 1st (which is around 3.5~4.0 US standard. I've heard however that the conversion differs with undergrad uni?)
Position in Class: (No numbers needed, but are you top? near top? average? struggling?)
Type of Student: (Domestic/International, male/female, minority?)

GRE Scores: QR 170, VR 165, AW 5  
Research Experience: 1 month last summer, 10 weeks this summer. 


My dilemma lies in my lack of research experience. I have done the maximum I could during Uni, as we cannot work during school in the UK (which I have read that many US undergrads do!). I feel however that I am comfortable working alone, and together as a team in the lab. If i apply this year, this is all the experience I will have. If I apply next year, I will be able to include my thesis research (which lasts for about 8 weeks), as well as another summer project (maybe).


Also, if I apply next year, I will be able to get a LOR from my thesis research PI. I have 2 LORs that I know will be strong, or near strong.


1st LOR: from my academic advisor, who will be able to vouch for my exponentially increasing grades as well as positive comments from my small-group supervisors/tutors (they basically support our learning by going over lecture materials and our questions in really small groups, often 2-3 students per supervisor every week for every module)


2nd LOR: PI from my lab this summer. Though I only met him a couple times over the summer, I think we got along superbly well for the number of times we were able to sit together and talk. He also complimented me many, many times on my potential as a researcher, so I think this LOR could be great.


3rd LOR: THIS IS THE PROBLEM!! I've just emailed the PI from last summer whom I worked with for one month and saw a total of 5 times. We barely talked. He was also extremely moody when I worked (He and one of his grad students were in a feud resulting in the grad student quitting!). However, if I wait till next year, i can replace this one with my thesis PI, who I shall try to get along with and get to know better! He also will be closer to the field I want to work in. 


tl:dr - Applying next year means more experience (by a project or two) as well as a stronger LOR. Is it not logical to apply next year, or will I be able to overcome my one mediocre LOR and slightly lacking experience with other elements of the application like the SOP? What tier schools could I aim for this year, and how would that differ next year?



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Why would you deprive yourself opportunities to get into graduate school? If you do not apply this year, you will surely not get in this year. Waiting another year just means you have less chance to get into graduate school since you will always have the same opportunities next year.

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  • 3 weeks later...

There's nothing keeping you out of grad school this year, but I think if you waited a year you'll be able to get into some top tier schools. While a mediocre third letter isn't great, it shouldn't keep you out of anything as long as it's not negative. What you'll really benefit from is a full year working in the lab. It'll make it easier for you to convey your decision to go to grad school and make you more comfortable during interviews. 

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I read an article not too long ago written by a guy who went through a Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley during the 1960s.  He wrote that his cohort began with ~160 students, but ended with only 5 earning the Ph.D.  The premise of the article was around the high attrition rates of Ph.D. students, which is roughly around 50% and discussed the many reasons why.  One of the top reasons being that they realized they simply do not like doing research.  This is also evidenced in the "Officially Grads" section here on GC, where many users are considering dropping out.    


So the more research experience one has prior to graduate school the more likely they are familiar with the ins/outs of doing research and the least likely they will be to drop out.  You also got to keep in mind that in the U.S. it is generally one professor who is carrying the majority, if not all, of the graduate students funding.   It is in their best interests to take on the students who are least likely to drop-out. 


Also in the U.S. students have many opportunities to take part in research both on and off campus (volunteer, paid, internship, research-focused course offerings, etc.).  


Many (most?) schools in the U.S. have policies that try to limit the amount of work a student can do both on and off campus, some even flat-out prohibit it.  However, these policies are loosely, if ever, enforced for anything happening off-campus.   

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