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Hi everyone!

I applied to 10 PhD programs in Neuroscience for admission in Fall 2016. I have yet to hear from two schools, but they have had their interview weekends, so I have accepted the fact that I have been rejected from all of them. I definitely aimed too high, but I'm not sure where else to apply. I want to do research in neurodegenerative diseases and I've found that lower tier schools do not have labs with this research. I have four years of research experience in behavioral neuroscience (addiction and fear learning) with three publications and more to come. 

So, here are the numbers:

BA from Boston University in 2014 with honors for completing a senior thesis

Overall GPA: 3.23     Major GPA: 3.3  with a very large upward trend in my last two years (semester GPAs of 3.4 or above)

GRE: V 155 67%       Q 152 48%         W  4 56%

I took the GRE a second time and did worse. I do not do well on standardized tests and I'm not sure I'll be able to do better on this. 

I know numbers wise I'm not strong, but I have great research experience and I know I can be successful. Any advice will be very greatly appreciated! Thank you!

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I know Monica Carson at UC Riverside does some neuro research that relates to degenerative diseases.  

You probably won't find a lower tier school that has a focus on neurodegenerative diseases, but you can probably find researchers at schools that do that.  Look for multidisciplinary programs or umbrella programs that have a researchers that focus on neuro. 

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20 hours ago, Bioenchilada said:

What schools did you apply to? Who wrote your rec letters?

Top tier schools (because they had the research I was interested in) NYU, Columbia, Mt Sinai, UChicago, Northwestern, Wash U, UCLA, UCSD, USC, UCSF. My current PI and my former PI at BU both wrote me recommendations, as well as a professor from BU who is a co director of the Alzheimer's research group at BU and a Harvard and BU medical school professor. 

 

20 hours ago, Effloresce said:

did you have someone read over your SOP?

I had several people (both in science and not) read over my statement of purpose. 

 

20 hours ago, HopefulPHD14 said:

I know Monica Carson at UC Riverside does some neuro research that relates to degenerative diseases.  

You probably won't find a lower tier school that has a focus on neurodegenerative diseases, but you can probably find researchers at schools that do that.  Look for multidisciplinary programs or umbrella programs that have a researchers that focus on neuro. 

That is mainly been my problem, just being able to find the research I want at lower tier schools. Most PIs I have spoken to have basically told me to give up on doing a PhD in neurodegenerative diseases and look for another topic, but that's what I'm passionate about. I don't think I want to compromise on that. Is that being selfish? Should I suck it up and just get the degree where ever I can?

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1 hour ago, acd10 said:

That is mainly been my problem, just being able to find the research I want at lower tier schools. Most PIs I have spoken to have basically told me to give up on doing a PhD in neurodegenerative diseases and look for another topic, but that's what I'm passionate about. I don't think I want to compromise on that. Is that being selfish? Should I suck it up and just get the degree where ever I can?

Yes and no....

1.  Don't get a Ph.D. just to get one.  If you are doing something you are not happy with then...well...you won't be happy.  That a. wont be fun and b. probably makes it harder to be motivated to graduate.

2.  With this being said, the research you do in grad school isn't the most important thing in your life.  If you can do any sort of neuro you will be equipped with the tools and knowledge to study something different in the future.  Many people do post docs on different types of projects.  Find a project that you will like and that will help you for the future.

3.  "Understand that your interest might change" (or so I've heard).  This is the number one thing people have told me during my application and interview process.  I have been told time and time again to not settle on a lab or project because things change and in a year or two when I have to pick a lab I might not have the same interests or goals or whatever.  

4.  Find a school where they are doing something similar and bring your interests with you.  I was talking to a guy a few weeks ago who was interested in mRNA.  The lab he joined studied pathways of tumor suppressor genes.  He brought his interest in mRNA into the project and is able to study modifications to mRNA that influence those pathways.  There can be some flexibility in your research and your adviser (although in some labs this is also not possible...sometimes you are just given a project to work on).

Keep looking!  Read papers and find things you are interested in and then look at the labs that are producing the research.  You might end up in a neurodegeneration lab....or a neuro lab that helps your interests....or a lab that studies degeneration of non neurological systems...or something completely different.

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4 hours ago, acd10 said:

Top tier schools (because they had the research I was interested in) NYU, Columbia, Mt Sinai, UChicago, Northwestern, Wash U, UCLA, UCSD, USC, UCSF. My current PI and my former PI at BU both wrote me recommendations, as well as a professor from BU who is a co director of the Alzheimer's research group at BU and a Harvard and BU medical school professor. 

 

I had several people (both in science and not) read over my statement of purpose. 

 

That is mainly been my problem, just being able to find the research I want at lower tier schools. Most PIs I have spoken to have basically told me to give up on doing a PhD in neurodegenerative diseases and look for another topic, but that's what I'm passionate about. I don't think I want to compromise on that. Is that being selfish? Should I suck it up and just get the degree where ever I can?

"Should I suck it up and just get the degree where ever I can?" NO. You have to do your Ph.D wherever you think you will be happy but at the same time being aware of your chances to get admitted into the schools you're applying to. I think that to aim for the schools you did, you really have to put a lot of work into trying to improve your GRE score and maybe even excelling at a subject test to make yourself stand out. Overall, the GRE doesn't really matter but it becomes more important as your GPA decreases. If you had above a 3.8, I wouldn't know what your problem was. The thing is that while your experience and your rec letters indicate that you're a great candidate for a doctoral program, there are also many people in your position... with better numbers. Also, maybe you could improve your SOP one way or another to make your passion more evident, it can REALLY make a difference. Feel free to PM me if you want feedback or anything :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Completely agree with @Bioenchilada. Also, I'm glad I came across your post, cuz what I'm about to tell you should boost your morale.

I met a guy in my interview batch at Yale, with your exact same GPA (3.3), exact same situation (great research, great letters, renowned in the field), and he completed his undergrad in 6 years. Despite that, he got into Yale, Princeton and Stanford.

Difference: He and I became best buddies, and he told me his story. He had genuine heartbreaking reasons (family-related) for his decent GPA and duration of his undergrad, which he lightly reflected upon in his SOP, and expressed therein how he turned those life events into a motivation for research and academic excellence. He, also like you, had a huge upward GPA trend to back that claim up with. 

Then, with his less-than-stellar stats, he pretty much cold emailed his way into working as a lab tech into the labs of some of the biggest universities, and although he got no publications, he got overwhelmingly stunning rec letters from big people in his field. Combine that with great GRE scores (90%+ of both quant & verbal - no subject tests), and he got into all the three schools he applied to.

Moral of the story: Everyone hates standardized tests, put in a little effort, and get a 90%+ on both the sections, not too hard. Your GPA is decent. Also, if you have some good research projects you've worked on, in the next cycle, email some PIs working on similar/near similar projects and tell them very crisply about your experience and skills, and how it would play into their lab. With a decent GPA, good scores, work experience, letters, and an interest from PIs, you should definitely be called in for the interview! As bioenchilada said, there could've been people with your same profile, but better stats - sure they could've been preferred over you right?

On 3/10/2016 at 5:25 PM, Bioenchilada said:

"Should I suck it up and just get the degree where ever I can?" NO. You have to do your Ph.D wherever you think you will be happy but at the same time being aware of your chances to get admitted into the schools you're applying to. I think that to aim for the schools you did, you really have to put a lot of work into trying to improve your GRE score and maybe even excelling at a subject test to make yourself stand out. Overall, the GRE doesn't really matter but it becomes more important as your GPA decreases. If you had above a 3.8, I wouldn't know what your problem was. The thing is that while your experience and your rec letters indicate that you're a great candidate for a doctoral program, there are also many people in your position... with better numbers. Also, maybe you could improve your SOP one way or another to make your passion more evident, it can REALLY make a difference. Feel free to PM me if you want feedback or anything :)

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