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For Those Disappointed This Application Cycle


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I thought I would post my stuff. It might help future students make decisions and whatnot. My situation is kind of unique. I graduated from undergrad in 2011, worked in biotech for about 2 years, applied to PhD programs, didn't get in, ended up doing a masters instead, re-applied to PhD programs, had much better results this time around.

 

Undergrad Institution: Michigan State
Major(s): Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Chemistry
GPA in Major: Never calculated, but probably not much higher than 3.1
Overall GPA: 3.23
Type of Student: domestic, male

 

Grad Institution: University of Arizona
Major(s): Applied Biosciences Professional Science Masters - Molecular and Cellular Biology Specialization

Coursework: Grad-level Cell Bio, Molecular Bio, Nucleic Acid Biochem, Bioinformatics, Some business classes (finance, project management)

Overall GPA: 3.70

Thesis/No Thesis: The PSM program is designed for students to do internships and write a report on the internship experience. However, I negotiated with them to do my "internship" in an on-campus research lab and found one that fit my interests in regulation of gene expression and epigenetics. So, I'll be writing up my results in more of a manuscript format, rather than a thesis.

 

GRE Scores (2010):
Q: 630 (54%)
V: 560 (78%)
W: 5.0 (84%)

 

GRE Scores (2014):
Q: 156 (64%)
V: 168 (98%)
W: 5.0 (93%)

 

I don't know if anyone else out there took the old and new versions, but I found the new one much easier. My quant score is probably what landed my application in trash heap at some places, but I don't really think it's bad. You'd think really high scores in the other sections would make up somewhat, but I guess not. Davis told me, specifically, that my GRE scores weren't high enough. Kind of silly, I think.

 

Also, by the time I applied the first time around my percentile rankings for my 2010 test had dropped a lot (Q - 10%). Probably didn't help matters.


Research Experience:

  • 4 years during undergrad working with Arabidopsis genomics, finding genes related to metabolism. Lots of GS/MS, genotyping, some mapping of mutant phenotypes, etc.
  • A summer at Notre Dame working with malaria. I didn't really do anything more than extract DNA and genotype some stuff though.
  • 2 years at a biotech company. Did biodistribution studies of gene therapy vectors and stem cell stuff using qPCR. Mostly I just extracted DNA a lot, never loaded very many plates. Did some stuff with lab automation, and wrote experimental methods, trained people in the lab, ordered supplies, reviewed data. Everything was under FDA regulations, which means tons of paperwork. It was a bit of a departure, being animal-work. I couldn't have survived any longer at the place though.
  • About a year in my current lab at Arizona studying epigenetics in Arabidopsis. Mostly looking at DNA methylation effectors.


Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Dean's list until 2nd semester junior year at MSU, Dean's tuition scholarship at Arizona.

Special Bonus Points: I really get along well with my PI at Arizona, as well as several other faculty members. I probably have a lot more lab experience than some other applicants, although not all of it was very exciting, and I didn't get any publications.

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: qPCR, some very basic Python programming. My GPA tanked at the end of undergrad, but I have done very well in my master's coursework.


Applications:
Arizona - ABBS (MCB) - Admitted

Purdue - PULSe (Chromatin and Regulation of Gene Expression) - Admitted

UC Riverside - CMDB - Admitted + Fellowship (Only marginally higher than the stipend at AZ and PU, requires teaching in the first year, I think)

UC Davis - BMCDB - Rejected

Washington - MCB - Rejected

WUSTL - Molecular Genetics and Genomics - Rejected

Cornell - BMCB - Rejected

UCSD - Biological Sciences (Molecular Biology) - Rejected

Rutgers - Molecular Biosciences - Rejected

 

So, I got rejected by most places. However, several were reaches. My PI was more surprised than I was, since there are groups doing very similar work to ours at many of these places. I'm not as competitive of an applicant as some of the people around here, and I'm fine with that. I did my best. Life has a way of sneaking up on you and screwing up your plans, as happened during the end of my undergrad. I hoped I could make up for all that with solid grad-level grades and lots of experience. It worked well enough, I suppose. I've been asked several times why I'm bothering with a PhD when I might be able to get a decent job with my masters. Well, partially because this is a strange business/science hybrid degree (PSM) and I'm not sure how respected it will be since I don't think it's very competitive to get into. It sounds marketable, but not many people know about it. Secondly, my goal has always been to gather as much knowledge in my area, and now that I've been introduced to epigenetics I'm really excited to keep working on it. Also, in doing my masters I've worked with undergrads and high school students in the lab, teaching them. I've found I want to be involved in teaching science. It's vitally important.

 

My master's program allowed me to get experience on my OWN project. Despite my lab experience I'd never had one, just helped out with others'. Also, I realize that I could indeed do grad-level work, despite my lackluster undergrad performance near the end. I also developed good relationships with faculty and gained experience working in field I thought was interesting, rather than just whatever lab job I could find. It has been expensive though, so I will be paying student loans off for a long time. Some chastise me for this decision, but I had little choice in the matter if I didn't want to be a lab slave for the rest of my life. I would recommend this path to others having difficulty with rejections, but keep in mind it is costly. If you can, perhaps look for a lab tech job and get free tuition by being an employee (easier said than done). My point being, however, that it's not hopeless for you if you don't think you're that competitive but know you're capable.

 

Now it's essentially down to a decision between staying at Arizona vs going to Purdue. Purdue is a better ranked university, with lots of really good faculty, many epigenetics labs, and plenty of funding in those labs for me. Arizona has the advantage of allowing me to continue working on a project I'm already familiar with, and I know isn't a dead end, with a PI who is very supportive and other faculty that I really get along with, plus the fact that my coursework will transfer in from my master's. Purdue has minimal coursework requirements and several faculty are very interested in me though. A tough decision for sure, especially since our lab at Arizona has much less funding and I'll likely have to do more teaching and apply for grants myself. It may come down to deciding if I really want to pack everything I own in my car again and drive back to essentially where I came from, haha.

 

Sorry for the novel, but it might help someone out there. Good luck!

Edited by groverj3
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Hey Jeff, nice to see you here. Just joined this forum today. :) Congrats on your admits to Purdue, UA and UC Riverside. :) Good luck with your decision. 

I also received pre-application notification from UCSB saying my GRE scores are not high enough, so I decided to not go through with my application. I like the concept of pre-applications. They clear the picture on what to expect while making the application. 

Edited by nikitam3
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I'm in a very similar situation. Unfortunately, the biggest negative take away from this application cycle is that, since the application numbers are up and funding is down, lots of schools sort out otherwise qualified applicants (with lots of experience) based on lower ugGPAs. A positive take away is that even lower ranked schools have serious strengths in their research departments and can offer you (me?) plenty of resources, support, and mentoring. This thread is really important because a lot of 'applying to grad school' information is targetted at those still in undergrad. However, one of the sneaky things I've noticed is that not even half of my interview groups were direct from undergrad. Only about a third of them were. Taking 'time off' is *not* uncommon, and I've seen the statistics for the med school where I work (they send them out to staff in an email), and 75% of the matriculating class did not come directly from undergrad. This is a top 10 US med school.

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I'm in a very similar situation. Unfortunately, the biggest negative take away from this application cycle is that, since the application numbers are up and funding is down, lots of schools sort out otherwise qualified applicants (with lots of experience) based on lower ugGPAs. A positive take away is that even lower ranked schools have serious strengths in their research departments and can offer you (me?) plenty of resources, support, and mentoring. This thread is really important because a lot of 'applying to grad school' information is targetted at those still in undergrad. However, one of the sneaky things I've noticed is that not even half of my interview groups were direct from undergrad. Only about a third of them were. Taking 'time off' is *not* uncommon, and I've seen the statistics for the med school where I work (they send them out to staff in an email), and 75% of the matriculating class did not come directly from undergrad. This is a top 10 US med school.

I even met a few professors at my interviews who said they no longer take students in their lab who come straight from undergrad after some bad experiences. Personally, I'm very happy I took a few years off after undergrad. I got to expand my research interests, explore a new city, and enjoy having regular work hours for a few years. 

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Hey Jeff, nice to see you here. Just joined this forum today. :) Congrats on your admits to Purdue, UA and UC Riverside. :) Good luck with your decision. 

I also received pre-application notification from UCSB saying my GRE scores are not high enough, so I decided to not go through with my application. I like the concept of pre-applications. They clear the picture on what to expect while making the application. 

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I'm in a very similar situation. Unfortunately, the biggest negative take away from this application cycle is that, since the application numbers are up and funding is down, lots of schools sort out otherwise qualified applicants (with lots of experience) based on lower ugGPAs. A positive take away is that even lower ranked schools have serious strengths in their research departments and can offer you (me?) plenty of resources, support, and mentoring. This thread is really important because a lot of 'applying to grad school' information is targetted at those still in undergrad. However, one of the sneaky things I've noticed is that not even half of my interview groups were direct from undergrad. Only about a third of them were. Taking 'time off' is *not* uncommon, and I've seen the statistics for the med school where I work (they send them out to staff in an email), and 75% of the matriculating class did not come directly from undergrad. This is a top 10 US med school.

 

I was quite surprised by this as well since I'm coming from a Master's degree. I thought I'd be a bit on the older side but I'm glad to see that most of the applicants I interviewed with took some time off to do master's degrees or work as techs.

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I graduated from a top 200 university (... lol), got a 3.69 at graduation, honors in the major, 167V/163Q/4.0A GREs, a second-author publication in an excellent journal, supposedly good LORs, three semesters of research, am taking some graduate courses in the meantime, and...

 

I'M PROBABLY NOT GETTING IN A SECOND TIME EITHER!

 

... It's so bad I'm seeing a therapist.  Seriously.

Edited by acetylcholine
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I graduated from a top 200 university (... lol), got a 3.69 at graduation, honors in the major, 167V/163Q/4.0A GREs, a second-author publication in an excellent journal, supposedly good LORs, three semesters of research, am taking some graduate courses in the meantime, and...

 

I'M PROBABLY NOT GETTING IN A SECOND TIME EITHER!

 

... It's so bad I'm seeing a therapist.  Seriously.

 

i'm sorry acetlcholine, i may get a lot flak for what i'm about to say... from your stats it seems like you have a fine application but the problem seems a little bit deeper than just the GRE scores and good GPA. i've kinda been following your history on the other pages, too. i'm not sure what a top 200 university means honestly, but it seems like a little humility would help some. since this is your second round applying, i would really look past your honestly great stats (a lot better than i have to be completely honest with you) and look at yourself as an applicant to see how you can improve yourself overall. 

 

i don't say this to be mean AT ALL, i only want to help you out. improving your research probably be the best thing for your application. i think it might be helpful to take a masters or a job as a research tech not only to improve your research abilities but just improve on your maturity as a scientist. it just seems to me that for the powerhouse programs you are applying to, you may not have a strong research background for some of these places (but i could be wrong). three semesters is a bit on the shorter side in my opinion. i would really suggest getting more research experience and focusing on your statement of purpose. make sure you have an impeccable narrative of your research background and where you want to go in the future. make yourself stand out! anyone can get good grades, a publishing, and good LORs. 

 

i did the master's route because i didn't get into a phd program. i'm glad i did. looking back i was a total little shit who had no real knowledge about anything. but the past 2 years has definitely let me come into my own as a scientist and a person. i feel more well rounded and prepared for graduate life, with a little more direction. coming into interviews and looking at the undergraduate students its amazing how much more mature i feel and prepared for the long road ahead. i'm so glad i originally failed at getting into a phd program! in the end this master's program really improved my CV and SoP  and i've had adcoms tell me that my application has definitely stood out because of it. i feel more sound in describing my research and more confident in what i want to study as i go through my interviews, which may be what you need. i guess all i'm saying is that you should look past the stats and make yourself stand out, because you deserve it!

 

if you need to talk or vent about the application season, please feel free to PM me. i'm glad to help!

Edited by expandyourmind
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I graduated from a top 200 university (... lol), got a 3.69 at graduation, honors in the major, 167V/163Q/4.0A GREs, a second-author publication in an excellent journal, supposedly good LORs, three semesters of research, am taking some graduate courses in the meantime, and...

 

I'M PROBABLY NOT GETTING IN A SECOND TIME EITHER!

 

... It's so bad I'm seeing a therapist.  Seriously.

That sucks acetylcholine, sorry you are so stressed out. I do agree with expandyourmind, three semesters is really not very long at all. In general, the people I meet at interviews have at least 2+ years of research experience. My stats are similar to yours, but I have 3.5 years of research experience (2 years as a full time job). 

 

Would you consider working as a lab tech for a year? It is a great opportunity to take a break from school (woo 40 hr work weeks and actual money!) and a chance to explore some other areas of research. I know most people feel like they are wasting time by delaying graduate school, but personally I think waiting a year or two can be quite beneficial. 

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