Jump to content
blc073

Ask questions about the PhD application process!

Recommended Posts

On 4/10/2018 at 10:26 AM, facelessbeauty said:

Hi all,

I am in the process of drafting personal statements for graduate school, and I was wondering how open I should be about pursuing a non-academic career after completing the degree. If I do decide to mention it, will it hurt my application?

It should NOT hurt your application. If it does, you don't want to go that institution, anyway. While a lot of PIs still want their students to go into academia, they and the institutions have to be realistic about where their students will end up. That's why my institution, BCM, now has an awesome career development center to help students figure out what skills they need to hone for their future careers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I am fresh out of the Ph.D. admissions process (see my results in my signature below post) and committed to Notre Dame Biology Ph.D. program, I am happy to answer any prospective Ph.D. applicants for next year's cycle including how the interview process works if you get invited to interviews next year. Btw interview weekends are awesome and so much fun and be warned you will gain pounds from those interview weekends! (Us swimmers have no problem burning those pounds off quickly though. lol.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi everyone! This is a bit specific (and also early to ask), but I figure I'd put it out there anyway for anyone who has similar experience. My significant other will start his PhD (in a social science field) next year at a prestigious Ivy school, and I'll wrap up my master's degree in Toronto and apply next year to PhD programs in biology in the US. It would be ideal to attend the same school with him, though I do have a number of options for programs that are a bit further away but still convenient to get to. My question is, should I mention my relationship anywhere in my application for the Ivy school that my SO attends? The program is top-notch and there are many PIs I want to work with there, so it's already a very appealing program for me and my SO is an extra reason, not the only one, that makes me want to go there. I definitely don't plan on elaborating on my personal relationship in my SOP, but would it help or hurt my chances to mention it elsewhere in the application?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, thinhtran said:

Hi everyone! This is a bit specific (and also early to ask), but I figure I'd put it out there anyway for anyone who has similar experience. My significant other will start his PhD (in a social science field) next year at a prestigious Ivy school, and I'll wrap up my master's degree in Toronto and apply next year to PhD programs in biology in the US. It would be ideal to attend the same school with him, though I do have a number of options for programs that are a bit further away but still convenient to get to. My question is, should I mention my relationship anywhere in my application for the Ivy school that my SO attends? The program is top-notch and there are many PIs I want to work with there, so it's already a very appealing program for me and my SO is an extra reason, not the only one, that makes me want to go there. I definitely don't plan on elaborating on my personal relationship in my SOP, but would it help or hurt my chances to mention it elsewhere in the application?

I don't think it would help your application, and in fact might hurt it. Talking about your SO, even briefly, probably doesn't belong in your application and may stand out in a red-flag kind of way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 4/17/2018 at 8:18 PM, thinhtran said:

Hi everyone! This is a bit specific (and also early to ask), but I figure I'd put it out there anyway for anyone who has similar experience. My significant other will start his PhD (in a social science field) next year at a prestigious Ivy school, and I'll wrap up my master's degree in Toronto and apply next year to PhD programs in biology in the US. It would be ideal to attend the same school with him, though I do have a number of options for programs that are a bit further away but still convenient to get to. My question is, should I mention my relationship anywhere in my application for the Ivy school that my SO attends? The program is top-notch and there are many PIs I want to work with there, so it's already a very appealing program for me and my SO is an extra reason, not the only one, that makes me want to go there. I definitely don't plan on elaborating on my personal relationship in my SOP, but would it help or hurt my chances to mention it elsewhere in the application?

I agree with @eevee. It's something you could mention briefly were you to get to the interview phase (interviewers are also gauging how likely you'd be to attend the school were you to be admitted), but definitely not on the application. Emphasize the academic reasons why you want to and are qualified to go there.

Edited by BabyScientist

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 4/17/2018 at 10:18 PM, thinhtran said:

Hi everyone! This is a bit specific (and also early to ask), but I figure I'd put it out there anyway for anyone who has similar experience. My significant other will start his PhD (in a social science field) next year at a prestigious Ivy school, and I'll wrap up my master's degree in Toronto and apply next year to PhD programs in biology in the US. It would be ideal to attend the same school with him, though I do have a number of options for programs that are a bit further away but still convenient to get to. My question is, should I mention my relationship anywhere in my application for the Ivy school that my SO attends? The program is top-notch and there are many PIs I want to work with there, so it's already a very appealing program for me and my SO is an extra reason, not the only one, that makes me want to go there. I definitely don't plan on elaborating on my personal relationship in my SOP, but would it help or hurt my chances to mention it elsewhere in the application?

I agree with everyone else who says I don't think it belongs in your application. I also agree with @BabyScientist that if it comes up naturally during the interview or visitation process I think it is perfectly acceptable to mention it then. I say this because this is exactly what I did during my application process with my partner this year. I never mentioned that I was jointly applying with my partner in any of the application stages but if it came up naturally during an interview or a school visit I would mention it then. I did this because I didn't want to be taken any less seriously and I really was most interested in the science I would potentially be doing with that advisor. I did find though when it came up during an interview or visit it was received well and I don't think I was treated any differently afterwards, at least in my experience thankfully.

I will say though only bring up that this part of your application process if it comes up naturally and you are the one to mention it. I don't think interviewers have the right to ask what your relationship status is because if they maybe didn't choose you because of the relationship component of the application, you would have grounds for a pursuing action of being discriminated against because of your relationship circumstances. So only bring it up if you are the one initiating that conversation and want to be clear that one of the other reasons you are very interested in a program is the proximity it would put you to your partner.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Everyone! I am not new to the forum but have not been here for a while. I previously applied to PhD programs for the Fall 2015 cycle and didn't get one interview. Not even a rejection email (ouch). Since then I have worked on trying to better my application to make me really stand out. I would like advice on what else I can do to make me be a better candidate.

I have completed a Master's in Molecular Biology with a 3.75 gpa. My undergrad GPA was pretty low (3.03) so I know that really hurt me. 

 

I have worked a year in Alzheimer's research and now currently work as a Lab manager for a gastric cancer lab. I have been at this position for the past 3 years.

 

I have 2 First author publications, 1 second author publication and will have a third First author publication before the end of the year. 

 

I have 3 poster presentations and have learned a lot of new skills.

 

My GRE scores are pretty subpar so I know I have to retake them. Is there anything else I should be doing to make me stand out?

 

I am looking into Cancer biology or Immunology/inflammation programs in the NY/NJ area.

Edited by Ivey0126

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here we go with the neurotic questions....

  • My stats:
    • GRE: 161V, 164Q, 4.5W, (58th percentile Biology Subject test).
    • GPA: 3.3 undergraduate (majors: Physics, Philosophy). 4.0 post-baccalaureate.
    • Experience:
      • 6 years bioinformatics (4 years undergraduate, 2 years post-baccalaureate, 2 summer undergraduate programs). 
      • 2 papers (one 1st author, one 2nd author).
  • My grad school list:
    • Bioinformatics PhD's: UNC, Duke, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, U Penn, UCLA, WashU in St Louis, U of Washington, Cold Spring Harbor, NYU.
    • Computational Neuroscience PhD's: USC, UCSD, U of Washington, Boston U, U Chicago, Caltech.

Does this grad school list seem realistic?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/11/2018 at 1:46 PM, Logic said:

Here we go with the neurotic questions....

  • My stats:
    • GRE: 161V, 164Q, 4.5W, (58th percentile Biology Subject test).
    • GPA: 3.3 undergraduate (majors: Physics, Philosophy). 4.0 post-baccalaureate.
    • Experience:
      • 6 years bioinformatics (4 years undergraduate, 2 years post-baccalaureate, 2 summer undergraduate programs). 
      • 2 papers (one 1st author, one 2nd author).
  • My grad school list:
    • Bioinformatics PhD's: UNC, Duke, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, U Penn, UCLA, WashU in St Louis, U of Washington, Cold Spring Harbor, NYU.
    • Computational Neuroscience PhD's: USC, UCSD, U of Washington, Boston U, U Chicago, Caltech.

Does this grad school list seem realistic?

I think the chance of you landing an interview and acceptance from one of these programs with your profile is very high. I had similar numbers (3.3 undergrad gpa biology, 3.6 gpa masters, 154V, 156Q, 4.5 W) but tremendous research experience in cancer immunology which landed me with a lot of interviews including UNC (results in signature). Make sure to get ALL recommendation letters from your PIs and related faculty who knows you and your research skills well. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Your stats overall look awesome, though you might not want to include the biology subject test (58th percentile probably won't help your application, and most schools don't require a subject test). I might also recommend that you try to narrow down your school list a bit -- 16 programs is a LOT, especially given that 1) you're going to be tailoring your SoP and potentially also Personal History Statement (some schools I applied to asked for both) to each program, and 2) the application fees + cost of sending GRE scores can easily add up to over $120 per program, and you probably don't want to be out $2000 just for applications. If you can, see if you can bring the list down to 8-10 programs; it'll be more realistic and manageable. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If this is my second year applying to grad schools, can I use the same SOP I used last year, and just add the research I've done in my gap year, and add to the last paragraph how I am now ready for grad school? Will they be able to find out that my SOP is the same from the year before except for the 2 paragraphs?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/8/2018 at 4:00 PM, champion321 said:

If this is my second year applying to grad schools, can I use the same SOP I used last year, and just add the research I've done in my gap year, and add to the last paragraph how I am now ready for grad school? Will they be able to find out that my SOP is the same from the year before except for the 2 paragraphs?

Generally speaking, this is a bad idea. If you're applying to the same schools, it is possible that the same professors will be reading your application. Whether they will remember it after reading dozens of other SOPs is another question, though some schools may have a procedure in place for tracking repeat applicants.. More to the point, if you want to be successful with your second round of applications when you weren't in your first, there should be major differences between your first and second applications, and those differences should manifest as more than two new paragraphs in your SOP. You should take the opportunity of applying a second time to do a serious, critical review of all aspects of your application, including the SOP. For starters, you should have some other qualified people read your SOP and give their comments on it , and you should definitely give how you can improve your SOP some serious thought yourself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey all, 

After suffering a pulmonary embolism, a house fire in which I lost all my belongings and a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment during grad school, I finally have a defense date for February, 2019 (after 6.5 years!)! 

I'm feeling nostalgic about my application process and sadness at the thought of leaving Washington University in St. Louis. I just want to offer my input if anyone would like any insider info on WashU, applying here, living in St. Louis or finding a lab at a large institution. I'm going to do my best to keep track of gradcafe. 

Best wishes and best of luck to all applying! Hello to everyone I recognize from years ago! :D

~glow

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Generally, is it very frowned upon to back out of an interview? I was offered an interview for a good program, but there are a number on my list I prefer that I haven't heard from yet. Would it be really impolite and bad to register for the interview and then, if a conflict arises, back out later? Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi! New user here. I was super happy to stumble upon this forum as my undergrad experience didn't prepare me for the application process. My school/degree mainly catered to prospective MD careers. So I apologize in advance for the long post. 

I am looking to apply to stem cell/regenerative medicine programs, but not until the cycle after next (so for the class of 2021). I graduated from a mid-tier college with a a kinda low GPA (3.55) in biology. I am terrible at standardized tests. I have been looking at requirements for programs and all either don't want or don't require the GRE. I have therefore come to the conclusion not to take it, as it would be a waste of time and money. 

Luckily, I was hired only 2 months after graduating with my BS as an Associate Scientist at one of the top 3 Pharma companies in their R&D department working on cell transport. So, by the time I apply, I will have been working for there for 2 years (and fingers crossed, with a promotion my boss has been hinting at). In addition to my current job, my school had a co-op system through which I worked at Harvard Medical School for a year as a glorified lab tech. I also did a research project for 4 months in a lab at my university, working with ovarian stem cells. I plan to get my recommendations from these three places. 

So TL;DR, I'll be banking on writing a good SOP/application in order to get into a program. But, as I remember from applying to undergrad, writing is not my strong suite either. Does any one have any advice for writing a good SOP/application? I don't want to be too concise, but I also don't want to ramble on. How long should the SOP be? Also, is there anything else I can do in the next couple of years to bolster my application? I.e. volunteering? Building a relationship with PI's about their work that I find interesting?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/4/2019 at 8:18 AM, StemCells4Lyfe said:

Hi! New user here. I was super happy to stumble upon this forum as my undergrad experience didn't prepare me for the application process. My school/degree mainly catered to prospective MD careers. So I apologize in advance for the long post. 

I am looking to apply to stem cell/regenerative medicine programs, but not until the cycle after next (so for the class of 2021). I graduated from a mid-tier college with a a kinda low GPA (3.55) in biology. I am terrible at standardized tests. I have been looking at requirements for programs and all either don't want or don't require the GRE. I have therefore come to the conclusion not to take it, as it would be a waste of time and money. 

Luckily, I was hired only 2 months after graduating with my BS as an Associate Scientist at one of the top 3 Pharma companies in their R&D department working on cell transport. So, by the time I apply, I will have been working for there for 2 years (and fingers crossed, with a promotion my boss has been hinting at). In addition to my current job, my school had a co-op system through which I worked at Harvard Medical School for a year as a glorified lab tech. I also did a research project for 4 months in a lab at my university, working with ovarian stem cells. I plan to get my recommendations from these three places. 

So TL;DR, I'll be banking on writing a good SOP/application in order to get into a program. But, as I remember from applying to undergrad, writing is not my strong suite either. Does any one have any advice for writing a good SOP/application? I don't want to be too concise, but I also don't want to ramble on. How long should the SOP be? Also, is there anything else I can do in the next couple of years to bolster my application? I.e. volunteering? Building a relationship with PI's about their work that I find interesting?

It looks to me like you've got a really solid profile. Very similar to mine actually (3.5 GPA @ a mid tier college, 2 years undergrad part time research, 2 years related but different post-grad full-time research). I applied this cycle and got interviews at 9/10 places I applied, most of which were top tier programs (stanford biosciences, Berkeley mcb, Columbia biosciences etc.). I think a strategic set of high quality recommendations and well-revised SOP helps a lot. I didn't submit my GRE scores unless it was a requirement because they were very average - only one school required them anyways. 

As far as advice, I would make sure that your letters of rec are going to be really strong by staying in touch with your potential recommenders and then spend a lot of revision time on your personal statement especially if writing isn't your strongest suit. Most places will give you length guidelines for your SOP, I would shoot for 2 pgs/ 1000 words or so-- start with a more flowery intro if you like but then get into talking about the research you've done and how it ties into what you want to do in graduate school. I think volunteering or other outside activities are only useful if they fit into the story you're trying to tell with you SOP - don't just do it for another bullet point on your resume.

Edited by DevoLevo

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey everybody, 

Recently, my PI and I have not been getting along with each other well. He has been saying negatives about me behind my back to my labmates, shifted the majority of my project duties to the other RA, and all in all has been very indirect and passive aggressive with me. Needless to say, he will not make a good candidate for a LOR writer unless we reconcile somehow.

I'm wondering what I should do-- wouldn't not having him as a writer send off red flags to admission committees? I don't care about getting into a prestigious program, but I'm scared that either having 2 non-research references (1 of my decided letter writers is just a professor I took classes with already, and I won't have any other research professors to write a letter in my current PI's stead) or an unflattering one from him will destroy my chances of getting into any program in general.

Please advise.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/19/2019 at 9:01 PM, DaddyBenzene said:

Hey everybody, 

Recently, my PI and I have not been getting along with each other well. He has been saying negatives about me behind my back to my labmates, shifted the majority of my project duties to the other RA, and all in all has been very indirect and passive aggressive with me. Needless to say, he will not make a good candidate for a LOR writer unless we reconcile somehow.

I'm wondering what I should do-- wouldn't not having him as a writer send off red flags to admission committees? I don't care about getting into a prestigious program, but I'm scared that either having 2 non-research references (1 of my decided letter writers is just a professor I took classes with already, and I won't have any other research professors to write a letter in my current PI's stead) or an unflattering one from him will destroy my chances of getting into any program in general.

Please advise.

If you aren't getting along with your PI to that degree, I suggest finding a new lab. That environment won't be conducive to your success anyway.

You should have your current PI as a letter writer when you apply, which is why I suggest finding a new letter writer asap.

Alternatively to your PI, if you work directly with a postdoc and have a good relationship with them, they can write your letter.

It matters less who wrote the letter than that it's a great letter. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/8/2019 at 1:53 PM, DevoLevo said:

It looks to me like you've got a really solid profile. Very similar to mine actually (3.5 GPA @ a mid tier college, 2 years undergrad part time research, 2 years related but different post-grad full-time research). I applied this cycle and got interviews at 9/10 places I applied, most of which were top tier programs (stanford biosciences, Berkeley mcb, Columbia biosciences etc.). I think a strategic set of high quality recommendations and well-revised SOP helps a lot. I didn't submit my GRE scores unless it was a requirement because they were very average - only one school required them anyways. 

As far as advice, I would make sure that your letters of rec are going to be really strong by staying in touch with your potential recommenders and then spend a lot of revision time on your personal statement especially if writing isn't your strongest suit. Most places will give you length guidelines for your SOP, I would shoot for 2 pgs/ 1000 words or so-- start with a more flowery intro if you like but then get into talking about the research you've done and how it ties into what you want to do in graduate school. I think volunteering or other outside activities are only useful if they fit into the story you're trying to tell with you SOP - don't just do it for another bullet point on your resume.

Thanks for the response, that's super encouraging to hear. You mentioned to keep in touch with my recommenders. What is a good way to keep up with past PI's and mentors? I haven't worked with some of them in over 4 years and they are several years my senior. I don't really know how to talk to them outside of the lab now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey all! I have a quick question. How do schools tend to view if you email them, with an update regarding your application? I interviewed recently for a school, and now am about to submit a second-author manuscript for publication consideration, sometime this week. I was wondering if it would be appropriate to provide them with this update, as it was not listed on my initial application/essays, and I didn't bring up this project/manuscript during the interview. This is a school I still haven't heard back from regarding final admission decision, btw

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/28/2019 at 10:53 AM, StemCells4Lyfe said:

Thanks for the response, that's super encouraging to hear. You mentioned to keep in touch with my recommenders. What is a good way to keep up with past PI's and mentors? I haven't worked with some of them in over 4 years and they are several years my senior. I don't really know how to talk to them outside of the lab now.

Of course its a little easier if you're already in touch with them to begin with, but I would just reach out with an email and tell them what you're up to. PIs/ mentors love to hear what their former students are up to and just a little email asking how they've been and telling them what you've been doing (work, science, whatever) since you last spoke can start the staying-in-touch process up again. They'll pretty much always be interested in hearing about cool science.

If you're in the same area as they are it would be even better to swing by their office to do this or see if they want to grab coffee and chat.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey guys, kind of a niche question but if you have any insights please reply!

I'm a junior thinking of applying to graduate schools in fall 2019. I have 5 years of summer experiences in various laboratories (all 10 week programs) and a lengthier stay in a lab at my current institution. While I've been accepted to some competitive summer programs and worked in some high profile labs, I have no publications and probably won't by the time I apply. Should I be worried about this/try to find a masters or postgrad environment where to continue doing research to aim for a publication, or shoot my shot in this coming fall?

Otherwise, I envision my rec letters from the labs I've worked in are pretty solid, and I have a ~3.7 from an Ivy with a double major in Bio/Stats.

The second question I had is regarding the program I'm looking for--after years of wet lab experience I'm thinking of a possibly switching out and aiming for a more computationally focused/systems biology PhD. Is admission to any more quantitative bio programs not feasible for me seeing that I have no real experience in a computational bio lab? Any suggestions and comments are very appreciated!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, mat10d said:

Hey guys, kind of a niche question but if you have any insights please reply!

I'm a junior thinking of applying to graduate schools in fall 2019. I have 5 years of summer experiences in various laboratories (all 10 week programs) and a lengthier stay in a lab at my current institution. While I've been accepted to some competitive summer programs and worked in some high profile labs, I have no publications and probably won't by the time I apply. Should I be worried about this/try to find a masters or postgrad environment where to continue doing research to aim for a publication, or shoot my shot in this coming fall?

Otherwise, I envision my rec letters from the labs I've worked in are pretty solid, and I have a ~3.7 from an Ivy with a double major in Bio/Stats.

The second question I had is regarding the program I'm looking for--after years of wet lab experience I'm thinking of a possibly switching out and aiming for a more computationally focused/systems biology PhD. Is admission to any more quantitative bio programs not feasible for me seeing that I have no real experience in a computational bio lab? Any suggestions and comments are very appreciated!

It sounds like you have good amounts of experience. Have you presented at any conferences? I didn't & don't have any papers out during the application process, though one in prep, and I didn't feel like it hurt my chances at all.

Not sure the answer to your second question since I am not in the computational/systems field.

Good luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.