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Where to apply? (Microbio PhD)


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Hi all. I just took my GRE and now want to start narrowing down a list of schools I should be applying to. I'm really interested in pursuing a PhD in Microbio, Infectious diseases, virology or something similarily related.

Undergrad Institution: Small private Liberal Arts College

Major: Biology

Minors: Chemistry and Philosophy

Major GPA: 3.89

Overall GPA: 3.849

Type of Student: Caucasian Male

GRE Scores:

160 Verbal

157 Quant

4.0 AW

Research Experience: Currently doing research in a Virology Lab on my undergrad campus. I've been doing research for about five months so far and will be continuing for the foreseeable future. By the time I submit my applications I should have at least 6 months. Also I will be submitting a paper but that will be after my applications are submitted. 

So far I've had two presentations at my undergrad institution. 

I also have 2 semesters of experience as a TA for an Anatomy and Physiology class.

Letters: I should have a really strong letter from my current PI and another strong one from a Professor who I know pretty well. I'll also have a third strong one from the Associate Director of Graduate Studies at my undergrad insitution who I know very well.

Schools I'm looking at:

University of Rochester

SUNY Buffalo

SUNY Albany


Washington University in St. Louis

 I'm just concerned because my GRE scores are a little low and I don't have alot of research experience.....

I'm not sure if I am competitive for these schools and what others I should have on my list.

Any input is appreciated.

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13 minutes ago, Bioenchilada said:

Your numbers are good overall, I'd say that your actual weakness is your research experience. Is there a reason why you started doing research so late? 

I had a tough time finding research opportunities at my undergrad institution because of the fact that it was so small and more focused on liberal arts. There were honestly not a large number of research opportunities available and they were reserved for those students who did intend to actually apply to graduate school. As a student who was unsure whether I would apply to medical school or graduate school I was constantly passed over for students whose sole focus was graduate school. 

I really wish I had started doing research earlier. I absolutely love the work I am doing now and my PI thinks I would be fantastic in graduate school and beyond if only I can get in. 

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There's is no doubt that you will get in, the question is more when and where. I think that if you want to aim for schools with more resources and prestige, you should consider taking a gap year to increase your amount of research exposure and potentially acquire a recommendation letter from another PI. It would be ideal if your three letters came from people that have supervised you in a research setting since your professors cannot fully assess your capacity to conduct research. With your current credentials, I'd advise to get apply to a wide range of schools to increase the likelihood of getting in, though I wouldn't apply to placed that you'd be unsatisfied being at. 

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15 minutes ago, MikeZ80 said:

Thanks but I really don't want to take another gap year. I just graduated in May and will be applying for Fall 2017 admissions.

You're aren't going to like this, but a gap year will be best for your application. An extra year of 40 hour weeks will really let you mature as a scientist. Right now you barely if it all are meeting what adcoms consider to be "required" amounts of research and it will show if you get to the interview stage. I'm not sure what your intentions are after grad school, but you are potentially leaving prestigious schools on the table because you want to rush into grad school. In all honesty, a gap year isn't wasted time when you are talking 4-5+ years of graduate school plus postdocs. Just my 2 cents. 

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On 6/28/2016 at 9:48 AM, MikeZ80 said:

Thanks but I really don't want to take another gap year. I just graduated in May and will be applying for Fall 2017 admissions.

So, I'm in a different field (cog neuro, psych), so I understand if you don't trust me. I was 25 when I graduated undegrad due to many uncommon problems. I applied to grad school (Ph.D), got in straight out of undergrad, and then declined my admission so my wife could get her masters. I thought that having a leap 2 years was the end of the world (I already felt like a failure for graduating late), but I got a job that strengthened my application and helped me focus my research interests.

Am I bummed that other people I graduated with are halfway done now, and I'm just starting? Sometimes. But I am mostly glad that I got into a better school, with a more solid background, and a verified focus. Thinking back now, I would have been miserable just going to grad school on my first shot studying a topic I'm now not interested in whatsoever.

So, I understand why you're against it, but it's something that can easily work in your favor.

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I really do think another gap year would be best... although don't think of it as a gap year.  Applicants who work in the field for 2 years (the time that's required to get a decent lor out of whomever you're working for just because of the application timeline) are viewed more mature, more focused, and more of a "sure thing" when evaluating the applicant's aptitude for finishing the full course.  You've had longer to think about it, you're doing it because of a certain goal, and you're motivated to get out quickly.  These are all good things.


However, you could get into grad school this application cycle... you just might sacrifice it being a top tier institution.  It's up to you if it's worth it.  If it is, apply to a few dream schools but focus on schools of the same caliber as the ones on your list, excepting Cornell and WUSTL.  Who knows, you might get into a top school, but don't focus there.

Edited by biochemgirl67
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