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Where to Apply... (Microbio? PhD)

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Hi all, I'm new here. Just starting to (seriously) make a list of schools I want to apply to, and I am looking for suggestions/advice!

I'm looking to enter a PhD program in fall of 2017. Mostly interested in microbiology and infectious disease, but also some interest in virology, immunology, and cancer biology. Since I'm not super sure about what topic I'd like to research, an umbrella-type program that would let me have diversity in my first-year rotations would be nice.

Undergrad Institution: Medium sized public school, very strong bio research but average otherwise
Major(s): Biology
Minor(s): Chemistry
GPA in Major: 3.869
Overall GPA: 3.889
Position in Class: Most likely top 10%
Type of Student: Asian female

GRE Scores: Not taken yet (currently studying!)

Research Experience: 

Currently an Amgen scholar, working on UTIs.

Also currently 2 years in pancreatic cancer lab at hospital affiliated with home university.

1 year working with yeast and transcription regulation, but mostly though being a UTA.

1 year freshman year working with respiratory pathogens.

Concerns: no publications or major presentations. Although I think my lab experiences are of substance, it's not spectacular; I have breadth but not depth, I guess. Hopefully my summer research will help in this regard...

Also interested in teaching. I've had 3 UTA positions and worked as a TA for a research program for high schoolers last summer.

Current potential schools list:

Harvard, MIT, Stanford


JHU, WUSTL, UPenn, Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan Ann Arbor, University of Washington, Baylor, Pitt

Tufts, BU

Definitely NOT applying to all of the above, just a list of schools I'm considering. Compiled mainly from rankings lists...


In terms of living, I come from a small city and would like to be in a similar environment for grad school. So no NYC, but also don't want the campus to be the only thing around for miles.

I'm also interested in applying to schools near Boston, since my SO will be going to law school there. Not a strict requirement, since we are not 100% sure if we want to stay together through grad school. The plan is to apply anywhere and decide later.

All suggestions welcome, from school names to advice on how to look for schools/programs!


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I think your credentials are great and that the diversith in your research experience will take you very far in the admissions process, assuming that you have good LORs and decent GrE scores. I would pick your "favorite" 7-8 schools and look at their program structure and even reach out to current students to assess if you're a good match. You can have Harvard-worthy credentials but still end up getting rejected if you don't fit into what the school/program is looking for. Think about where you want to live, consider stipend and how cost of living will impact the quality of your life, and look at how much funding and resources the school has. You have a lot of fields of interest and it's hard to rank umbrella programs, so I assume you're going by reputation? Though I guess that looking at cell/molecular biology rankings is a little better for your purposes. Try to gauge your ranking opinion of the school based on NIH/NSF funding and maybe by looking at places like the National Research Council Rankings since the US News dataset is incomplete for specialties, which is what truly matters for graduate school. Good luck in your applications! If you have any questions, you can PM me :)

Ps: You don't need publications to get into top schools.

Edited by Bioenchilada
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Try using NIH reporter (just google "nih reporter") and look up keywords(virology/immunology or be as specific as you want) and it'll show funded projects with PI's/institutions/funding amount/ and project descriptions. I think there's an actual "related projects" search once find an interesting one. It's a great way to get started plus it'll save you the trouble of shuffling through program websites one by one. I would also consider overall funding, like @Bioenchilada said, to get a sense of how much support a school can provide; more money is never a bad thing(in this case at least). 

As far as getting in w/o pubs, you'll be fine. I think they just want to see that you were involved and contributed to your labs which is where your recommendations and ability to talk about your projects can more than account for.  You have a great application. good luck!

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