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After spending a lot of time searching, I finally get in touch with a famous neuroscience professor from one of the top institutes. I spent a great deal of time reading his papers and raised some good questions in my first email. I also asked if he would be taking new students next year, and I get a really positive response. He said a lot about the questions I raised, using words like "interesting" and "excellent" occasionally, and gave me the following response:


"I appreciate your interest in our graduate program and my laboratory.  At present I anticipate that I will be taking new students in 2016.  And of course in addition to my laboratory we have a rich diversity of neuroscience groups here at XXX.  Please feel free to contact me or any of our faculty regarding our program or our work.  I look forward to seeing your application to our program for the 2016-17 academic year."


I know it was a really encouraging response, however, I haven't mentioned my credentials to the professor, so far. My GPA (3.3/4.0) has always been my great concern. Though I know most schools give a minimum GPA of 3.0, I heard that most top schools especially for competitive programs like Neuroscience usually don't consider students with a GPA less than 3.5. So I am very nervous. 


I then followed a email asking about other PhD programs in which this professor participated. This time I found he was very nice and told me that his students were/had been from all these programs and it didn't make much difference. He only mentioned that he always suggests his students who are not from the neuroscience programs taking courses as neuroscience students do. He encouraged me again on applying their programs. My GRE scores are V160/Q170/AW3.5, so GPA is literally my biggest concern. I also had a paper accepted recently but the journal's IF is only 1.7, so I doubt if it could polish my application. I will keep in touch with this professor, however, should I tell him about my GPA? I am very worried that though he might be interested in me, my documents may even not be handed to the committee. So what should I do?

Edited by bishengke
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First of all, sounds like you already have a very solid application judging by what you've described. GPA is always a factor for a lot of people, but I personally think that making the right connections, being open-minded and positive in terms of communication with potential PIs, and showing your interests through your SOP will go a long way. 

I would say that as long as your GPA makes the minimum cut-off for the programs and schools you apply to, you should at least have a shot of not being triaged by the graduate committee. The next step, and ones that will be really crucial, is finding the right references that will highlight your capability in research and neuroscience. This is VERY important, in my opinion. If your references (2-3 depending on your program) are diverse and can give you strong to excellent referrals (and if they are recognized in their fields), that will propel you. Finally, as an undergrad, having your name in a journal, regardless of the IF, says a lot about your importance on a research team. Clearly you have demonstrated the aptitude and responsibility to have your name as an author. 


Discuss your GPA in your SOP (if you find it necessary), but I don't think you need to downplay yourself from the onset. Always play to your strengths, and discuss anything that is limiting in a way that still sheds a positive light. If you jive well with the PIs (and kudos for you speaking to them so early), they can go out of their way to look at your application and recommend you. Not to mention, most graduate programs consider your last two years more closely than your earlier years.


Hope this helps!

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I think that connection with a PI *should* be more important than your GPA. Even if there is an "unstated" cutoff, if a faculty member want you to do research in his group, an exception can be made.


PD: I am arguing based on references, not experience. I have a below 3.5 GPA too, but never had contact with PI's in advance. 

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