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Can I just share / vent / get some input? (Biology Ph.D.)


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In 2011, I applied to 6-7 Ph.D. programs (Biology.) Not even a single interview. It was devastating. I remained composed enough to do a master's, and I'm re-applying now to just one program (the least competitive one--at my school) for next year. I was told by one of the professors who was helping me that I most likely didn't get in before due to my GRE and that they decided to not interview anyone below a cut-off point, but otherwise my application was fine. I'm not sure how true this was since they state that there is no minimum GRE score they're looking for. Who knows? That might be BS, or the professor just told me this since it would be not as bad as saying my grades were shit or I didn't have enough experience. I dunno. I'm only applying to one program now because I couldn't stand multiple rejections again. At least with one, it's not that much effort in applying, so if I don't get in it wouldn't have been a HUGE waste of time on applications. I honestly do not think I can do better with the GRE, so I'm applying with the same scores but with hopefully a better overall application. For comparison:

 

2011

Bachelor's, 3.2 GPA

~1 year of relevant lab experience

430 Verbal, 610 Quant, 4 Writing

3 (weak) recommendation letters --I now realize that this was probably a big problem. The recommenders didn't really know me that well, and most likely wrote very general things

 

2014

Bachelor's, 3.2 GPA

Master's, 3.4 GPA

~2 years of relevant lab experience

Scientific conference presentation / authorship on an abstract

430 Verbal, 610 Quant, 4 Writing

2 very strong / detailed recommendations from people who know my work / academic abilities well, and probably 1 weak-ish one.

Better personal statement, IMO. More focused / coherent with more clearly definied goals

 

 

I don't want to want it, because I dunno how I could handle a rejection again. What do you guys think? Is this enough improvement over three years to warrant an offer?

Edited by maybethisyear
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2 things.  1. yes you should do it again and 2. retake the GRE!  If someone told me this was why, and to be honest your verbal is low, then I'd try to change what I could.  You have the time if everything else is to take the test again and you should.  Doesn't mean you have to send those scores...What could it hurt?

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Your V GRE score is about a 149 on the newer revised GRE.  Q is about a 151.  Both are near the 44th percentile.  This was probably more of a problem than those three "week" recommendations you mention. Your Master's GPA is 3.4, yet your uGPA is 3.2.  Probably not that big of a deal but also not that big of an improvement.  It seems odd to me that you do not want to retake the GRE, but it seems more odd that your same program would want you to. 

 

And what is the difference, in terms of wasted time, from only applying to one program and being rejected by one program, or applying to ten programs and being rejected by ten?  Aside from the money (which you did not mention as a factor), it should still equal a 1:1 ratio in terms of investment compared to reward.  However, your odds increase for every number of programs greater than one that you apply to.  You GRE scores are not impressive and you stated you will not retake the GRE because you feel like you cannot do better.  Really? For your sake I hope you do not have to.  

 

If you do not want to feel rejection, or cannot handle it, than why are you even bothering?  Seriously. I read all sorts of discussions by biology grad students (accepted, obviously) who now question why they are in graduate school, I don't like grad school, it was all done on a whim anyways, and so on. This website has some of them.  My numbers are not the greatest, sure.  But I was waitlisted to my number one program last year.  In the end, I was rejected.  I know the reasons why, I contacted the program to inquire about my application and its deficiencies...but every time I read posts by once ecstatic undergrads who now have no clue what they are doing or if they even want it anymore or...or...I keep wandering if I was edged out by some twerp who only applied on a whim, and accepted the offer because why not?, and a year from now he, or she, is not going to be interested anymore. 

 

If you want grad school then want it.  If you don't want to want it, then don't.  Don't take a spot from someone who has a reason and solid desire to be there.  

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Your V GRE score is about a 149 on the newer revised GRE.  Q is about a 151.  Both are near the 44th percentile.  This was probably more of a problem than those three "week" recommendations you mention. Your Master's GPA is 3.4, yet your uGPA is 3.2.  Probably not that big of a deal but also not that big of an improvement.  It seems odd to me that you do not want to retake the GRE, but it seems more odd that your same program would want you to. 

 

And what is the difference, in terms of wasted time, from only applying to one program and being rejected by one program, or applying to ten programs and being rejected by ten?  Aside from the money (which you did not mention as a factor), it should still equal a 1:1 ratio in terms of investment compared to reward.  However, your odds increase for every number of programs greater than one that you apply to.  You GRE scores are not impressive and you stated you will not retake the GRE because you feel like you cannot do better.  Really? For your sake I hope you do not have to.  

 

If you do not want to feel rejection, or cannot handle it, than why are you even bothering?  Seriously. I read all sorts of discussions by biology grad students (accepted, obviously) who now question why they are in graduate school, I don't like grad school, it was all done on a whim anyways, and so on. This website has some of them.  My numbers are not the greatest, sure.  But I was waitlisted to my number one program last year.  In the end, I was rejected.  I know the reasons why, I contacted the program to inquire about my application and its deficiencies...but every time I read posts by once ecstatic undergrads who now have no clue what they are doing or if they even want it anymore or...or...I keep wandering if I was edged out by some twerp who only applied on a whim, and accepted the offer because why not?, and a year from now he, or she, is not going to be interested anymore. 

 

If you want grad school then want it.  If you don't want to want it, then don't.  Don't take a spot from someone who has a reason and solid desire to be there.  

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Some people do grad school because they want to prolong the wait for career searching. I've found that those people do poorly and wonder why the heck they are there.

It is a commitment. It is also not for everyone. You are no worse of a person for not going to graduate school.

 

As for rejection, you're going to need to be able to take in criticism if you're going to a career or grad school. You can't take it personally. It is what it is.

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I think that its incredibly immature to place some kind of value judgement on why someone goes to graduate school. This person wants to go to graduate school, who are we to tell them why they should or should not go? This person obviously wants to go, so it's important that we give advice that can actually help.  

 

For those who aren't in graduate school, but are stating some universal reason why someone shouldn't go, citing that its hard to be successful, there is something you should know: Promising students fail all the time. Students who were almost on the reject list rise up. Graduate school is as much as a grind as it is about brilliance or hard work. Sometimes something traumatic happens and you drop out. But this is life, and as we become educated, what we need and want changes. Why is it wrong for someone to commit to something that they are unsure about to only find they might love it? Why is it wrong to be in love with something, or someone, and then quit when you grow tired of it? 

 

Why should we be able to define what some else's values should be? 

 

I know it is impossible to view the world from any reference frame other than the one in which you are the center, but the true power of education is that for moments we can project on those reference frames. It takes work, it is not easy, but it is something we should try and do in all our posts and lives. 

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I had a larger, more eloquently worded reply, but laptop battery died and I'm annoyed now, so here:

 

  • GPA: Your UG GPA isn't a dealbreaker, but for an "improvement" masters, a 3.4 isn't an improvement, it's a hold-steady at best.
  • 1 yr vs 3 yrs lab experience: Good improvement. You've presumably (assuming a thesis-based masters) shown dedication to a project.
  • 0 presentations vs 1 abstract, no pubs: Moderate improvement, though considering the timeframe, is this from your UG or masters? No pubs mentioned in the pipeline out of your master's research? Not exceptional, but an improvement.
  • GRE: I can't believe this even needs to be addressed. Study. Prep. Retake it. It's not a hard test, and these scores are just not good. Even in a field like biology where the verbal scores aren't emphasized, I would take this as a warning sign considering communicating your research is kind of in the job description.
  • 3 weak LORs vs 2/1 strong/weak: Decent improvement, considering the 3 weak LORs are quite possibly what totally doomed your previous application. Most applicants are expected to have 2-3 strong letters, the 1 weak one may be masked by the strong support, or taken as evidence of growth depending on the timing of your relationship with the writer.

 

I also need to emphasize what others have said about your drive/desire for grad school. If you've taken this much criticism this poorly just getting in, what do you think your comps/quals/defense or peer-review for pubs is going to be like? Time to shape up.

 

Finally, and semi-related to your final comment, what is the point of applying to solely the least competitive program? Ever hear of big fish, small pond? Once you get to the job market, it's all big pond, and coasting through the small pond will do you no favors. The PhD is no guarantee of employment. All you're doing is signing yourself up for more competition. I strongly advise that you consider your reasons, motivation, desire, and purpose for continuing in grad school. This is by no means meant to discourage you, but I hope it serves as a little bit of a wakeup call.

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Your V GRE score is about a 149 on the newer revised GRE.  Q is about a 151.  Both are near the 44th percentile.  This was probably more of a problem than those three "week" recommendations you mention. Your Master's GPA is 3.4, yet your uGPA is 3.2.  Probably not that big of a deal but also not that big of an improvement.  It seems odd to me that you do not want to retake the GRE, but it seems more odd that your same program would want you to. 

 

And what is the difference, in terms of wasted time, from only applying to one program and being rejected by one program, or applying to ten programs and being rejected by ten?  Aside from the money (which you did not mention as a factor), it should still equal a 1:1 ratio in terms of investment compared to reward.  However, your odds increase for every number of programs greater than one that you apply to.  You GRE scores are not impressive and you stated you will not retake the GRE because you feel like you cannot do better.  Really? For your sake I hope you do not have to.  

 

If you do not want to feel rejection, or cannot handle it, than why are you even bothering?  Seriously. I read all sorts of discussions by biology grad students (accepted, obviously) who now question why they are in graduate school, I don't like grad school, it was all done on a whim anyways, and so on. This website has some of them.  My numbers are not the greatest, sure.  But I was waitlisted to my number one program last year.  In the end, I was rejected.  I know the reasons why, I contacted the program to inquire about my application and its deficiencies...but every time I read posts by once ecstatic undergrads who now have no clue what they are doing or if they even want it anymore or...or...I keep wandering if I was edged out by some twerp who only applied on a whim, and accepted the offer because why not?, and a year from now he, or she, is not going to be interested anymore. 

 

If you want grad school then want it.  If you don't want to want it, then don't.  Don't take a spot from someone who has a reason and solid desire to be there.  

 

Sorry about your rejection.

 

I think you misunderstand when I say "I don't want to want it." Of course I want to get in. The last 3 years of my life has been dedicated to trying to improve and to try again. Sure maybe you were able to handle the crushing defeat a bit better than I did. But it's not as easy for everyone to regroup and apply again without it possibly affecting other areas of their lives, so the re-application process can vary immensely. Seeking jobs in the intermittent time between applications would have exhausted recommendation / reference resources. (This is an example of how the experience would be different for some people. It might be absolutely necessary to get a salary.) Eventually professors will get sick of your pestering.

 

The program didn't officially tell me I need to retake. It was sort of 'inside-info' that it wasn't high enough. And no, I do not think I could do a whole lot better. I might improve verbal a bit, but quant would suffer more than the verbal improvement. The master's program and the lab research don't really require anything more than basic algebra. I feel I'm too out of practice to even match what I got in Quant before.

 

The difference between applying to one program and ten is how much I have to bug people to write recommendations, which is already a delicate situation (see above.) And to be honest, it seems like you're downplaying the value of strong recommendations, or maybe I wasn't clear as to how weak they probably were. My focus is on quality, not quantity. I played the quantity game the first time around (if 8 programs count as quantity.) Additionally, it's really not a 1:1 ratio in terms of investment/reward. I hope you're not submitting the same personal statement to every program--it needs to be tailored to each one, including knowledge of what type of research is going on at each and who you might be interested in working with (probably not required for all programs.)

 

As for the GPA, the masters courses are essentially 2/3 of the total courses required for the Ph.D program--the exact same courses. The point is being able to show them that I can handle that level of work and maintain a GPA above what they ask for Ph.D students (3.0+)

 

"I keep wandering if I was edged out by some twerp who only applied on a whim, and accepted the offer because why not?, and a year from now he, or she, is not going to be interested anymore."

 

So essentially you're saying that if you're not sure you want it, you shouldn't accept? What's the alternative to accepting and deciding a year later that you don't want to do it? Not accepting then applying again if you realize you do want it? This is kind of a bitter attitude. I don't have stats to quote you, but I get the feeling that the large majority of people who start grad school, end up finishing it, and I highly doubt that they all enter with 100% conviction that they want to do it. You can't really blame people for keeping their options open.

 

 

Can you even use your GRE scores anymore? A lot of the programs I looked at last year required the scores to be no older than two years from the time of application.

 

Valid for 5 years according to the program I'm interested in.

 

 

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Some people do grad school because they want to prolong the wait for career searching. I've found that those people do poorly and wonder why the heck they are there.

It is a commitment. It is also not for everyone. You are no worse of a person for not going to graduate school.

 

As for rejection, you're going to need to be able to take in criticism if you're going to a career or grad school. You can't take it personally. It is what it is.

 

It sounds like you haven't really experienced what the job market is like for Bio degrees. I do not see it as prolonging the wait for career searching. It's preparation for a better career and also gaining sense of accomplishment--the latter is more important to some than others, which is one of the main reasons I want to do it. Lots of people go to grad school simply because they feel like it's the next logical step and they finish just fine. The people who whine about it and drop out are a loud minority on the internet.

 

 

I think that its incredibly immature to place some kind of value judgement on why someone goes to graduate school. This person wants to go to graduate school, who are we to tell them why they should or should not go? This person obviously wants to go, so it's important that we give advice that can actually help.  

 

For those who aren't in graduate school, but are stating some universal reason why someone shouldn't go, citing that its hard to be successful, there is something you should know: Promising students fail all the time. Students who were almost on the reject list rise up. Graduate school is as much as a grind as it is about brilliance or hard work. Sometimes something traumatic happens and you drop out. But this is life, and as we become educated, what we need and want changes. Why is it wrong for someone to commit to something that they are unsure about to only find they might love it? Why is it wrong to be in love with something, or someone, and then quit when you grow tired of it? 

 

Why should we be able to define what some else's values should be? 

 

I know it is impossible to view the world from any reference frame other than the one in which you are the center, but the true power of education is that for moments we can project on those reference frames. It takes work, it is not easy, but it is something we should try and do in all our posts and lives. 

 

Thanks for this. I kind of tried to explain the same thing above, but not as eloquently.

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I had a larger, more eloquently worded reply, but laptop battery died and I'm annoyed now, so here:

 

  • GPA: Your UG GPA isn't a dealbreaker, but for an "improvement" masters, a 3.4 isn't an improvement, it's a hold-steady at best.
  • 1 yr vs 3 yrs lab experience: Good improvement. You've presumably (assuming a thesis-based masters) shown dedication to a project.
  • 0 presentations vs 1 abstract, no pubs: Moderate improvement, though considering the timeframe, is this from your UG or masters? No pubs mentioned in the pipeline out of your master's research? Not exceptional, but an improvement.
  • GRE: I can't believe this even needs to be addressed. Study. Prep. Retake it. It's not a hard test, and these scores are just not good. Even in a field like biology where the verbal scores aren't emphasized, I would take this as a warning sign considering communicating your research is kind of in the job description.
  • 3 weak LORs vs 2/1 strong/weak: Decent improvement, considering the 3 weak LORs are quite possibly what totally doomed your previous application. Most applicants are expected to have 2-3 strong letters, the 1 weak one may be masked by the strong support, or taken as evidence of growth depending on the timing of your relationship with the writer.

 

I also need to emphasize what others have said about your drive/desire for grad school. If you've taken this much criticism this poorly just getting in, what do you think your comps/quals/defense or peer-review for pubs is going to be like? Time to shape up.

 

Finally, and semi-related to your final comment, what is the point of applying to solely the least competitive program? Ever hear of big fish, small pond? Once you get to the job market, it's all big pond, and coasting through the small pond will do you no favors. The PhD is no guarantee of employment. All you're doing is signing yourself up for more competition. I strongly advise that you consider your reasons, motivation, desire, and purpose for continuing in grad school. This is by no means meant to discourage you, but I hope it serves as a little bit of a wakeup call.

 

Thanks for the feedback.

 

I know the master's GPA isn't spectacular. From my previous reply: "As for the GPA, the masters courses are essentially 2/3 of the total courses required for the Ph.D program--the exact same courses. The point is being able to show them that I can handle that level of work and maintain a GPA above what they ask for Ph.D students (3.0+)" Not sure if this makes it a little better, but I hope so.

 

Unfortunately, the master's was not thesis-based. Since there's no salary for a master's, I need to work in order to pay the tuition and didn't really have time to spend in the lab, so I went the course-based route.

 

The abstract / conference presentation is from my job, unrelated to the master's. There's definitely a paper that will come out of it, but it's still in extremely early stages (manuscript now starting to be written), and I'm not sure it's even relevant to mention. I also have an aknowledgement in a publication (but this doesn't seem all that useful either.)

 

My response regarding the GRE: "no, I do not think I could do a whole lot better. I might improve verbal a bit, but quant would suffer more than the verbal improvement. The master's program and the lab research don't really require anything more than basic algebra. I feel I'm too out of practice to even match what I got in Quant before."

 

Of course it doesn't hurt to retake it, and I most likely will. But I really need to seriously consider the merit of my application with the low scores as they are.

 

As for drive / desire. I don't think I've taken criticism poorly--I've taken rejection poorly, and for legitimate reasons, like the availability of relevant recommendation providers as mentioned previously.

 

"what do you think your comps/quals/defense or peer-review for pubs is going to be like?"

 

I'm sure these are tough, but not sure if it's an entirely fair comparison to getting into grad school in the first place. When you're in, you expect those things and it's all open to discussion. But acceptance and rejection are black and white and not open to discussion or appeal. Responding to peer reviewers or adding a few more figures to your paper isn't exactly the same thing as a three-year delay between grad school applications and exhausting more and more of your resources each time.

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