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Advice for where to apply


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Hi everyone!


I'm a senior from a small liberal arts institution and I'm starting to look at graduate schools for next fall. I constructed a list of schools based on a couple of different factors, but I'm just wondering if I have an actual shot at getting into some of these programs. Also, I want to try to shave down my list a bit, and any advice of which schools I should cut would be appreciated. I'm planning on applying for either Neuroscience or Biochemistry PhD. Stats below:


Major: Biochemistry

Cumulative GPA: 3.99

Major GPA: 3.98

GRE Scores: Scheduled to take GRE in August - scoring in the 85-95% on practice exams. Also planning on taking the chemistry GRE in late September/early October so as to get in some more inorganic chemistry and PChem.


Research Exp: Two summers at the Cleveland Clinic with a very well known PI, should get a publication from this by the time I apply. Manuscript is in revision at the moment. Not first author.

One summer and four semesters of undergraduate research at my home institution. Applied and accepted for Departmental Honors upon graduation. Planning on submitting first-author publication in mid-October if last few experiments of a side-project go well. This is not a guarantee though unfortunately. 


Recommendations: 1) Very strong rec from the PI at the CC

                                2) Very strong rec from my research adviser at my home institution

                                3) Strong rec from Ochem and biochem prof - I also TA'd Ochem for this 



Other EC stuff: Poster presentations - 1 at the Cleveland Clinic, 1 at the national ACS meeting this year in Denver, CO, 1 at spring symposium. Am planning on attending the ACS meeting in San Diego in spring 2016.

Presented two research talks at the annual spring research symposium at my home institution.

TA for general chemistry (1 year), TA for organic chemistry (1 year), TA for biochemistry (1 year), shadowed a neurologist for a month (~100 hours). 

Treasurer for chemistry club on campus, member of an on-campus organization that tests and implements water filters in developing countries where access to clean water is a huge problem, member of the ACS, member and VP of the math and science honors society, member of the honors program.


Where I want to apply: 


Johns Hopkins



Penn State University


Mayo Clinic

Baylor College of Medicine

UNC Chapel Hill



I'm just worried because the college I go to is small and not super well known. Will my high GPA and research experiences help that? Also, I need to shave down the list above and add some fallback schools - I know most of the one's above are super competitive and I probably won't get in. Anyone have good suggestions of fallback schools for me or advice on which one's to cut? Thank you all so much for your help!


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I really don't think you need to worry about your list, in my opinion. From my experience at interviews, there was plenty of representation from smaller, liberal art schools. Just make sure your Statement of Purpose/Personal Statements are top notch and have people input suggestions as much as possible.


I went to a well known, flagship research university with stats way less impressive than yours and I got interviews at a couple of those places you mentioned. Don't sweat it, you'll be fine!

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You have a very competitive application and it seems like you have some excellent research experience. I agree with Ragneo in that your personal statement needs to be as strong as possible. Also I come from a small state school, not highly ranked at all, only local people have heard about it. My point is that when I went on interviews no one cared where I was from or what school I went to, they only cared about my research, if I could explain it to them and why I wanted to get a Ph.D.  

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I went to an unknown school and was accepted to several of the schools on your list. I would apply to the schools you have listed here. I don't think you need fall backs.

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Echoing the others I went to a pretty small school (well known in certain circles but not every large circle) and got into most of the schools I applied. Have a strong SOP and you should be fine. You should start to zero in on your research interests for grad school since depending on what specialization you look into neuro and biochem are quite different. 

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Thanks for the feedback all! That makes me feel more at ease  :)

Another question - what are "umbrella" programs exactly? I've seen that word a few times in the forum. I'm under the impression that they're programs where neuroscience is included in the general biology PhD as opposed to being in its own separate program?

Also, would you all recommend emailing potential PI's at this point in time? I don't want to bother them or be an irritation, but I do want to show initiative. 

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Not sure which program at Penn State, but you'll be extremely competitive. (Chemistry is the most competitive program in the sciences) Like others have said, you'll be fine.

Edit: if you have any specific questions feel free to PM me

Edited by ERR_Alpha
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Umbrella programs (in this case) are programs where researchers/PIs from all the various branches of the biomedical sciences (and related areas) to a centralized place to foster interdisciplinary research. It usually is not an actual physical place but allows students who do not know which area they'd like to specialize in the opportunity to interact with various PI's and their projects (usually via lab rotations).

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