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On 9/14/2016 at 3:14 PM, LoveMysterious said:

Thanks for creating this thread! I was wondering if I should be reaching out to PIs of interest regarding research opportunities for graduate students in their labs. Or is it more appropriate to wait until I am admitted to a program? How important is networking?  

Secondly, I took a medical leave of absence in college, which will show up on my transcript. I would like to briefly mention my chronic illness, as it is why I have chosen to pursue a career in biomedical research, and it catalyzed my love for science. I know that admissions boards don't care for a personal narrative and I certainly don't want to make an excuse - we've all got challenges in our lives. I would appreciate any advice on how to tactfully acknowledge my condition in a way that will benefit my application rather than hinder it.    

I don't think there is anything wrong with reaching out to PIs. It is important to remember that your relationship with a PI will likely not affect your admissions. With that being said, it is very important to be familiar with the PIs at the university. Mention names in your SOP. Networking is important for your scientific career, but again, it probably won't affect admissions. 

I would either use one sentence in the first paragraph or the last paragraph to mention your condition. "While in college, I took a medical leave of absence [for this reason], which opened my eyes to the importance of biomedical research and is the reason why I am so passionate about this field." Contrary to popular belief, admissions committees do not care about your personal life. They want to see that you can think and write like a scientist. That's it. 

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Around this time last year I began preparing my applications for graduate school. It was an incredibly stressful time, and I know I would have loved the opportunity to ask someone who successfully com

YESSSSSSS.  Preach!  The schools are acutely aware of the fact that they are good.  (I had someone at Harvard say, "We know we're Harvard, you don't have to tell us."  Instead, do exactly what @Bioenc

How do you feel about your programs now that you're on the other side?

I know research fit is very important, but putting that aside, is doing research in a different city really all that different? do you think you'd be able to get a similar educational experience elsewhere?

Please and thank you!

 

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1 hour ago, cumulina said:

How do you feel about your programs now that you're on the other side?

I know research fit is very important, but putting that aside, is doing research in a different city really all that different? do you think you'd be able to get a similar educational experience elsewhere?

Please and thank you!

 

I absolutely love my program. PM me if you want to know more about how great Harvard is. :D

I did undergraduate at a small school in Oklahoma. I was able to get work done, but in general, research there es un chiste. Moving to Boston for graduate school was a big change in pace. The environment here is unreal. We have a high number of PhDs per capita, and a quarter of the population is college students. It really is an intellectual hub. The collaboration here is also phenomenal. Harvard uses BU facilities, Tufts works with MIT, and everything in between. Harvard is affiliated with a bunch of hospitals (MGH, Brigham, Beth Israel, Dana Farber, etc.) so there is essentially an unlimited amount of resources. My favorite part of all of it is cross-registration with MIT. As a student at HMS, I can take courses at MIT, so I am currently taking a course in which two Nobel Laureates give lectures (Phil Sharp and Bob Horvitz). 

As far as research training, I think other schools are comparable. As far as resources and networking, I think Harvard and Boston are unparalleled. 

 

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8 hours ago, cumulina said:

How do you feel about your programs now that you're on the other side?

I know research fit is very important, but putting that aside, is doing research in a different city really all that different? do you think you'd be able to get a similar educational experience elsewhere?

Please and thank you!

 

In terms of my program, I am incredibly happy with the opportunities that I have available at UPenn. There is so much interesting research and faculty doing research in my area of interest, and every professor has been incredibly nice! In my opinion, doing research in a different city can make a HUGE difference. I did my undergrad in Indiana and  the differences between that and Philly are extraordinary. There is so much going in Philadelphia ( historical sites, clubs and bars, LOTS of restaurants, various universities, etc...), so you'll always have some way to spend your spare time. PhD programs are renowned for being incredibly difficult and there will be lots of frustrating times, so it's good to know that you have options to clear your mind. I think you could get a similar educational  experience, quality-wise,  at MANY places, but the environment and people will make a difference in the quality of your life while you're there. 

For example, in my case, Cornell had been my dream school for a rather long time since a part of me had always wanted to be a veterinarian. I got into their PhD program within the vet school and they had offered me the most competitive financial package by FAR; however, even though there were professors I would have happily worked for there, I really couldn't see myself being in another rural campus for 5+ years. 

TL;DR: Research fit is one of the most important things, but keep in mind that you are not an emotionless machine and that the environment and the people you surround yourself with during your PhD will ultimately play a HUGE role in how good your experience is. 

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On 9/16/2016 at 7:46 AM, cumulina said:

How do you feel about your programs now that you're on the other side?

I know research fit is very important, but putting that aside, is doing research in a different city really all that different? do you think you'd be able to get a similar educational experience elsewhere?

Please and thank you!

 

I'm waiting for my FBS to thaw so I thought I'd chime in.

I love LOVE Vanderbilt.  The research here is so interesting to me and the faculty here have amazing connections to all the other top institutions.  Everything is disease-focused, either from a basic science standpoint or closer to translational research, all of which was something that I did not have in my undergrad.  I could go on for forever about how amazing I think Vanderbilt and it's medical center and the IGP program are, but I really want to focus on the other part of your question.

I feel like it's not the city that makes the research different, it's the institution.  For instance, when I spent the summer at Harvard, I was dumbstruck with the quality of research ideas that flowed through that place.  It was vibrant, it was bustling, and all the researchers had this underlying sense of urgency to investigate and it truly was an intellectual powerhouse.  However, I had some experiences personally that showed the flip side to that (which is not to say that these experiences are pervasive at all at that institution, just an anecdote) which saw my PI and the others he "collaborated" with as fierce competitors.  The labs weren't tense, but relations among faculty in that particular division were.  I knew that I wanted that vibrant research atmosphere more than anything, which wasn't present at my undergrad.  My undergrad mentor was letting her lab die off, which was an issue and contributed to me feeling less than excited about research in basic science-only institutions.  However, Princeton is a good example of an institution that does basic science solely but really is a leader.  I wanted disease focus, so I stayed away from institutions like my undergrad.

Research here has been much faster pace, a much steeper learning curve, and more interesting than my undergrad projects.  The PIs are motivated, enthusiastic, and well-connected.  All in all, the institution is what has made the difference in the research environment, not the city.

That being said, I LOVE NASHVILLE.  It's so funky downtown (not the tourist part but all the other parts) and there are so many concerts.  I'm really into theater and alternative music (great combo, I know) and there has been a huge Shakespeare festival going on and there's always alt rock bands coming in.  And there's some really awesome hiking, cliff diving, canoeing, and camping sites within a 20 minute drive of the campus.  But then again, remember, I'm not a city girl.  I like to have it accessible but I grew up in the Midwest with a literal cornfield in my backyard, so I like space to breathe.

And the weather's bomb here, which can't be said for the Northeast. *Shots fired*  (I'm kidding.  Sort of... in New England they get an INSANE amount of snow at once... when we lived in the Boston area it could be 1-2 feet at once, at least 2x a month November - March/April.)

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  • 2 weeks later...

   Hi, everyone. I hope that each of you is doing well. Here is my question. I am almost graduating from a college in South Korea, and I suddenly I understood that I want to go to Ph.D to study diseases like cancer or neurology. The thing is that I don't have any prerequisites. I have to complete some courses that will make me to stay in college for one or one and half year. That means. Also, I love doing Computer Science and there is a high probability I will also like doing job in my area and that I will get a good job offer with good salary. I have thought what if I work for 2-3 years in my area and then how can go to a graduate school for PhD program to study neurology? Is there any premed one or two year courses that are accredited within the United States. Actually I would love to aim at good med schools. I just wonder isn't there ANY WAYS to do this? My friend has the same dream but he is already working and he doesn't want to go to ungergrad college to study for 4-5 years. I hope that there are some people who can help me out. Thanks everyone! Have a nice day!

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Hello,

I am applying to 4 programs to study disease ecology. I want to list the pros and cons of each of them to try and determine my top choice. My main question is about how important the prestige of the school and professor is. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Princeton

Pros: highly prestigious university, well regarded professor will take me into his lab, his research is exactly what I want to do

Cons: professor is very busy and won't be available for much help, I worry I'll get burnt out at an ivy, I don't think I'd like living there

Stanford

Pros: prestigious university, very friendly and welcoming mentor that is very hands on and will meet with me at least twice a month, would like to live there

Cons: great research but a little bit away from my interests, associate professor there is not really known yet but she's very promising (I guess this isn't really a pro or con), extraordinarily high cost of living

UCLA

Pros: well regarded school, would like to live in LA, incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic potential mentor, would always be available to help me

Cons: research is only tangentially related to my interests, potential mentor is a complete unknown as she is just beginning her career, high cost of living

UOregon

Pros: fantastic professor that is very friendly and will meet with me twice a week (once independently and once in a lab meeting), want to live there, low cost of living, research is phenomenal, program would prep me well to become a professor, professor is relatively well known though not nearly as much as the one at Princeton

Cons: school doesn't really have any prestige

So, UOregon and Princeton are my top choices and UCLA is my last choice. How important is the prestige of the school and professor for a career in academia? In government? Princeton certainly wins on both counts and both do fantastic research, but I think UOregon may be a better fit in terms of personality of mentor and location.

How is one to decide?! (Also I know I'm totally putting the cart before the horse since I haven't actually gotten in anywhere yet.)

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16 minutes ago, ITISRED said:

Hello,

I am applying to 4 programs to study disease ecology. I want to list the pros and cons of each of them to try and determine my top choice. My main question is about how important the prestige of the school and professor is. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Princeton

Pros: highly prestigious university, well regarded professor will take me into his lab, his research is exactly what I want to do

Cons: professor is very busy and won't be available for much help, I worry I'll get burnt out at an ivy, I don't think I'd like living there

Stanford

Pros: prestigious university, very friendly and welcoming mentor that is very hands on and will meet with me at least twice a month, would like to live there

Cons: great research but a little bit away from my interests, associate professor there is not really known yet but she's very promising (I guess this isn't really a pro or con), extraordinarily high cost of living

UCLA

Pros: well regarded school, would like to live in LA, incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic potential mentor, would always be available to help me

Cons: research is only tangentially related to my interests, potential mentor is a complete unknown as she is just beginning her career, high cost of living

UOregon

Pros: fantastic professor that is very friendly and will meet with me twice a week (once independently and once in a lab meeting), want to live there, low cost of living, research is phenomenal, program would prep me well to become a professor, professor is relatively well known though not nearly as much as the one at Princeton

Cons: school doesn't really have any prestige

So, UOregon and Princeton are my top choices and UCLA is my last choice. How important is the prestige of the school and professor for a career in academia? In government? Princeton certainly wins on both counts and both do fantastic research, but I think UOregon may be a better fit in terms of personality of mentor and location.

How is one to decide?! (Also I know I'm totally putting the cart before the horse since I haven't actually gotten in anywhere yet.)

It depends on what you want to do within academia. If I look at the universities the professors here graduates from, they're mainly prestigious schools. So, I'd say that school prestige will most likely make it easier for you to get a job, along with your PI's reputation. HOWEVER, you shouldn't go someplace you're not going to be happy at just for the name, it'll affect your performance and what you get out of your PHD.

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On 9/29/2016 at 0:23 AM, simplybetter said:

   Hi, everyone. I hope that each of you is doing well. Here is my question. I am almost graduating from a college in South Korea, and I suddenly I understood that I want to go to Ph.D to study diseases like cancer or neurology. The thing is that I don't have any prerequisites. I have to complete some courses that will make me to stay in college for one or one and half year. That means. Also, I love doing Computer Science and there is a high probability I will also like doing job in my area and that I will get a good job offer with good salary. I have thought what if I work for 2-3 years in my area and then how can go to a graduate school for PhD program to study neurology? Is there any premed one or two year courses that are accredited within the United States. Actually I would love to aim at good med schools. I just wonder isn't there ANY WAYS to do this? My friend has the same dream but he is already working and he doesn't want to go to ungergrad college to study for 4-5 years. I hope that there are some people who can help me out. Thanks everyone! Have a nice day!

I do believe there are programs in the US that allow students to do research and take courses for a couple of years before applying to graduate school. I am not sure if they are open to international students. 

Since I am not an international student, I am not familiar with that process. Perhaps you could contact graduate programs directly to ask for advice? You might also post in the international student section of this site. 

Good luck! 

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2 hours ago, ITISRED said:

Hello,

I am applying to 4 programs to study disease ecology. I want to list the pros and cons of each of them to try and determine my top choice. My main question is about how important the prestige of the school and professor is. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Princeton

Pros: highly prestigious university, well regarded professor will take me into his lab, his research is exactly what I want to do

Cons: professor is very busy and won't be available for much help, I worry I'll get burnt out at an ivy, I don't think I'd like living there

Stanford

Pros: prestigious university, very friendly and welcoming mentor that is very hands on and will meet with me at least twice a month, would like to live there

Cons: great research but a little bit away from my interests, associate professor there is not really known yet but she's very promising (I guess this isn't really a pro or con), extraordinarily high cost of living

UCLA

Pros: well regarded school, would like to live in LA, incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic potential mentor, would always be available to help me

Cons: research is only tangentially related to my interests, potential mentor is a complete unknown as she is just beginning her career, high cost of living

UOregon

Pros: fantastic professor that is very friendly and will meet with me twice a week (once independently and once in a lab meeting), want to live there, low cost of living, research is phenomenal, program would prep me well to become a professor, professor is relatively well known though not nearly as much as the one at Princeton

Cons: school doesn't really have any prestige

So, UOregon and Princeton are my top choices and UCLA is my last choice. How important is the prestige of the school and professor for a career in academia? In government? Princeton certainly wins on both counts and both do fantastic research, but I think UOregon may be a better fit in terms of personality of mentor and location.

How is one to decide?! (Also I know I'm totally putting the cart before the horse since I haven't actually gotten in anywhere yet.)

I would focus on making a list of schools to which you will apply. Once you know your options, you can consider these questions. 

To your point, the work you do is more important than who your PI is. The goal of graduate school is to be well trained. Save prestige for your post-doc. 

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2 hours ago, Bioenchilada said:

It depends on what you want to do within academia. If I look at the universities the professors here graduates from, they're mainly prestigious schools. So, I'd say that school prestige will most likely make it easier for you to get a job, along with your PI's reputation. HOWEVER, you shouldn't go someplace you're not going to be happy at just for the name, it'll affect your performance and what you get out of your PHD.

Actually, I would counter to say that's not always the case. Where you POST DOC is most important for doing well in academia. You need to be productive and publish lots to be successful, but you should focus on getting a good education to be a good postdoc. My PI is not yet well known as I am his first student, though I think he will be in a few more years. However, I'm getting a killer education, and it's going to help me kick ass and get a good post doc, hopefully in a big name lab. Once there, the goal will be to put my skills to the test and do as much of the best science that I can.

@ITISRED, if your programs do rotations, you should pick a school that has several PIs you're interested in. Not just one.

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34 minutes ago, biotechie said:

Actually, I would counter to say that's not always the case. Where you POST DOC is most important for doing well in academia. You need to be productive and publish lots to be successful, but you should focus on getting a good education to be a good postdoc. My PI is not yet well known as I am his first student, though I think he will be in a few more years. However, I'm getting a killer education, and it's going to help me kick ass and get a good post doc, hopefully in a big name lab. Once there, the goal will be to put my skills to the test and do as much of the best science that I can.

@ITISRED, if your programs do rotations, you should pick a school that has several PIs you're interested in. Not just one.

Most top programs are extremely dedicated to their student's training and success, so I think that most graduates will be rather productive and well-prepared. Wouldn't you agree that the network you make at top schools gives you an advantage in terms of landing a postdoc position at another top school, or a big name lab?

I feel that completely disregarding the effect of name in terms of job prospects, especially in academia, is rather unwise. HOWEVER, as I previously stated, name does not grant you happiness, and you should attend the program where you think you not only will get the best training, but will also be happy for the next 5+ years of your life.

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3 minutes ago, Bioenchilada said:

Most top programs are extremely dedicated to their student's training and success, so I think that most graduates will be rather productive and well-prepared. Wouldn't you agree that the network you make at top schools gives you an advantage in terms of landing a postdoc position at another top school, or a big name lab?

I feel that completely disregarding the effect of name in terms of job prospects, especially in academia, is rather unwise. HOWEVER, as I previously stated, name does not grant you happiness, and you should attend the program where you think you not only will get the best training, but will also be happy for the next 5+ years of your life.

I think too much emphasis is placed on getting into a "top program." It really doesn't matter for grad school, but it DOES seem to matter for post doc. The PIs I know did their graduate work at a variety of different institutions, but they all post-doc'd either somewhere well known or with someone well known. Students graduating from my program are placed into post doc just as well as the ones others view as ranked higher, and I think this says a great deal. I'm not at one of those top programs, but I'm definitely having no problem building collaborations or networking. Besides, there are so many great research institutions that excel in different areas that to me it makes no sense to rank them 1 to 100+ like we do. I would much rather see them ranked by research area and that would give it more weight.

Anyway, it is most important to join a program where you will truly get what you need to be successful. I urge people to not think about the name or prestige when they interview, but rather the fit they have, there. If you feel comfortable, you should be there. Of my friends here, the ones that are happiest actually turned down offers from schools that others would have drooled over.

You would be surprised how many students work their way through graduate school, defend the PhD and realize they've actually just done the bare minimum to graduate, not what actually needed to be done to survive in their field doing what they aimed to do. I see this happen all the time, especially in people who think they want to stay in academia. That "big name" school on your degree isn't going to get you a faculty interview if you've done nothing productive over your post doc when someone from a "no name" school has published often.

The one place where school name or assumed prestige might come in handy is if you plan not to remain in academia when the PhD is over. Much more emphasis will be placed on where you did your studies when you don't have post doc(s) lined up as well.

 

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Thanks everyone!

I didn't think about the importance of the postdoc. I'm good at networking, so I think I have a fair chance of getting a good one. Besides, I'm not 100% sure I want to go into academia. Right now that's my preference, but government (ideally the CDC, USAMRIID, or someplace similar) may be the way for me. I don't think I'd need a postdoc for that. Do you know biotechie?

I was talking to my potential future PI at UOregon today and as we were hanging up, he said that the most important thing is the fit. I guess he was getting at the same thing that you are, bioenchilada. That's definitely going to be a big factor.

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3 minutes ago, ITISRED said:

Thanks everyone!

I didn't think about the importance of the postdoc. I'm good at networking, so I think I have a fair chance of getting a good one. Besides, I'm not 100% sure I want to go into academia. Right now that's my preference, but government (ideally the CDC, USAMRIID, or someplace similar) may be the way for me. I don't think I'd need a postdoc for that. Do you know biotechie?

I was talking to my potential future PI at UOregon today and as we were hanging up, he said that the most important thing is the fit. I guess he was getting at the same thing that you are, bioenchilada. That's definitely going to be a big factor.

I don't think you need a postdoc for government positions, maybe if it's a research branch (?).  They are mainly needed for academic positions. And yeah, research and personal fit with the institution trumps everything.

 

9 minutes ago, biotechie said:

I think too much emphasis is placed on getting into a "top program." It really doesn't matter for grad school, but it DOES seem to matter for post doc. The PIs I know did their graduate work at a variety of different institutions, but they all post-doc'd either somewhere well known or with someone well known. Students graduating from my program are placed into post doc just as well as the ones others view as ranked higher, and I think this says a great deal. I'm not at one of those top programs, but I'm definitely having no problem building collaborations or networking. Besides, there are so many great research institutions that excel in different areas that to me it makes no sense to rank them 1 to 100+ like we do. I would much rather see them ranked by research area and that would give it more weight.

Anyway, it is most important to join a program where you will truly get what you need to be successful. I urge people to not think about the name or prestige when they interview, but rather the fit they have, there. If you feel comfortable, you should be there. Of my friends here, the ones that are happiest actually turned down offers from schools that others would have drooled over.

You would be surprised how many students work their way through graduate school, defend the PhD and realize they've actually just done the bare minimum to graduate, not what actually needed to be done to survive in their field doing what they aimed to do. I see this happen all the time, especially in people who think they want to stay in academia. That "big name" school on your degree isn't going to get you a faculty interview if you've done nothing productive over your post doc when someone from a "no name" school has published often.

The one place where school name or assumed prestige might come in handy is if you plan not to remain in academia when the PhD is over. Much more emphasis will be placed on where you did your studies when you don't have post doc(s) lined up as well.

 

I'm just answering the question shortly. Does name matter for job prospects? Yes, especially for academia. I'm not saying anything about the amount of networking you can do at your school, I'm saying that at top institutions, GENERALLY, you'll be exposed to a LOT of people that are very well known and might be able to give you an advantage when it's your turn to look for a job, including a post doc. Coming from a school that was not regarded as a top school for my field for undergrad, I can feel a REALLY BIG difference in the opportunities that I had there vs. my current institution. Even if I were a master at networking, the inevitable fact is that it is easier to be exposed to people that are regarded as brilliant scientists at my current institution.

Also, I don't know about you, but when I talk about my particular field when I address my school's reputation, not it's overall prestige. Field specific rankings are a thing that exist, and that's what people should use if they wanted to gauge their school's reputation. Rankings tend to be very subject and variable so they should only be taken as a grain of salt, and many sources should be used before reaching a consensus. Again, I am by no means saying that a decision to go to grad school should be based on name alone, fit and prospective happiness are key when determining where to attend and are more important than prestige.

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7 minutes ago, Bioenchilada said:

I don't think you need a postdoc for government positions, maybe if it's a research branch (?).  They are mainly needed for academic positions. And yeah, research and personal fit with the institution trumps everything.

 

I'm just answering the question shortly. Does name matter for job prospects? Yes, especially for academia. I'm not saying anything about the amount of networking you can do at your school, I'm saying that at top institutions, GENERALLY, you'll be exposed to a LOT of people that are very well known and might be able to give you an advantage when it's your turn to look for a job, including a post doc. Coming from a school that was not regarded as a top school for my field for undergrad, I can feel a REALLY BIG difference in the opportunities that I had there vs. my current institution. Even if I were a master at networking, the inevitable fact is that it is easier to be exposed to people that are regarded as brilliant scientists at my current institution.

Also, I don't know about you, but when I talk about my particular field when I address my school's reputation, not it's overall prestige. Field specific rankings are a thing that exist, and that's what people should use if they wanted to gauge their school's reputation. Rankings tend to be very subject and variable so they should only be taken as a grain of salt, and many sources should be used before reaching a consensus. Again, I am by no means saying that a decision to go to grad school should be based on name alone, fit and prospective happiness are key when determining where to attend and are more important than prestige.

I chose my grad school based on prestige alone. Did I goof!? ?

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3 minutes ago, Bioenchilada said:

I'm just answering the question shortly. Does name matter for job prospects? Yes, especially for academia. I'm not saying anything about the amount of networking you can do at your school, I'm saying that at top institutions, GENERALLY, you'll be exposed to a LOT of people that are very well known and might be able to give you an advantage when it's your turn to look for a job, including a post doc. Coming from a school that was not regarded as a top school for my field for undergrad, I can feel a REALLY BIG difference in the opportunities that I had there vs. my current institution. Even if I were a master at networking, the inevitable fact is that it is easier to be exposed to people that are regarded as brilliant scientists at my current institution.

On the big thing, we agree, which is that fit is most important. This is something that every applicant needs to know and needs to focus on. When I talk about this, I don't mean fit with a PI. I mean how you feel and how you fit with the institution and program you're choosing. For me, this is what made my decision. I felt completely comfortable at one place in a way I didn't at any other.

We also agree that prestige plays a big role future success in academia. However what part of your career matters most for that prestige is I think where we will have to agree to disagree. I'm going to maintain that post doc is where being in a big-name lab or at a well-known institution is what matters most. It is fine to disagree, but my advice is going to mirror what I've learned from experience (nearly 3 degrees and 10 years in academia) and from what every advisor has told me from day 1 in a lab. Working hard, getting publications, and presenting at conferences is going to do you a world of good no matter where you do to school. Good post docs will be within reach.

@ITISRED whether you need a postdoc or not for government jobs, it depends on what you're doing. Some NIH positions require a short post doc, and I think some CDC positions also require it. In general, if you want to run a research team, a short post doc, even an industry post doc is going to be a good idea to get you a little more experience running projects with a minion or two under you. Other things, like being part of a large research team or being a consultant, might not require it. Lots of these want experience in the field, though, which is hard to get during the PhD. However, if that's the route you think you want to go, you should be able to do some additional career development during your PhD including policy or short internships to help you in that direction.

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2 minutes ago, biotechie said:

On the big thing, we agree, which is that fit is most important. This is something that every applicant needs to know and needs to focus on. When I talk about this, I don't mean fit with a PI. I mean how you feel and how you fit with the institution and program you're choosing. For me, this is what made my decision. I felt completely comfortable at one place in a way I didn't at any other.

We also agree that prestige plays a big role future success in academia. However what part of your career matters most for that prestige is I think where we will have to agree to disagree. I'm going to maintain that post doc is where being in a big-name lab or at a well-known institution is what matters most. It is fine to disagree, but my advice is going to mirror what I've learned from experience (nearly 3 degrees and 10 years in academia) and from what every advisor has told me from day 1 in a lab. Working hard, getting publications, and presenting at conferences is going to do you a world of good no matter where you do to school. Good post docs will be within reach.

@ITISRED whether you need a postdoc or not for government jobs, it depends on what you're doing. Some NIH positions require a short post doc, and I think some CDC positions also require it. In general, if you want to run a research team, a short post doc, even an industry post doc is going to be a good idea to get you a little more experience running projects with a minion or two under you. Other things, like being part of a large research team or being a consultant, might not require it. Lots of these want experience in the field, though, which is hard to get during the PhD. However, if that's the route you think you want to go, you should be able to do some additional career development during your PhD including policy or short internships to help you in that direction.

We can agree to disagree, though I think we're (almost) on the same page. Where you do your postdoc is incredibly important for academia, but I think that it'll most likely be easier to get there if you already go to a top school due to the amount of interaction that occurs between them. Of course, I also agree with that the work you do will dictate where you go. A brand name cant save a slackie.

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11 hours ago, ITISRED said:

Thanks everyone!

I didn't think about the importance of the postdoc. I'm good at networking, so I think I have a fair chance of getting a good one. Besides, I'm not 100% sure I want to go into academia. Right now that's my preference, but government (ideally the CDC, USAMRIID, or someplace similar) may be the way for me. I don't think I'd need a postdoc for that. Do you know biotechie?

I was talking to my potential future PI at UOregon today and as we were hanging up, he said that the most important thing is the fit. I guess he was getting at the same thing that you are, bioenchilada. That's definitely going to be a big factor.

Honestly, just go to the best school to which you are admitted. Everything else will fall in place. Interests change, so you shouldn't pick a program based on whether or not they have the exact research you want. 

You all can split hairs all day about rankings and what advice you have been given, but at the end of the day, the best programs place graduates into the best post-docs which place graduates into the best jobs. If you are going to do good research, you are going to do good research, regardless of where you do it. Why not do that good research at the best school within reach? 

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5 hours ago, blc073 said:

Honestly, just go to the best school to which you are admitted. Everything else will fall in place. Interests change, so you shouldn't pick a program based on whether or not they have the exact research you want. 

You all can split hairs all day about rankings and what advice you have been given, but at the end of the day, the best programs place graduates into the best post-docs which place graduates into the best jobs. If you are going to do good research, you are going to do good research, regardless of where you do it. Why not do that good research at the best school within reach? 

It's really better to look at like schools are in groups of rank.  There really is no one top school, looking at any number of factor.  There's a top 10, a top 20, sure.  But if you get admitted into 3 schools that are in the top 10 in your discipline (and I'd like to reiterate that you won't find these top 10 in a ranking system anywhere), then choose based on fit.  In short, there's a lot of factors going into this decision, and prestige is not a top concern nor is it a minimal concern.

Glad everybody's being so clear lol.

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On 10/3/2016 at 9:51 PM, biotechie said:

Actually, I would counter to say that's not always the case. Where you POST DOC is most important for doing well in academia. You need to be productive and publish lots to be successful, but you should focus on getting a good education to be a good postdoc. My PI is not yet well known as I am his first student, though I think he will be in a few more years. However, I'm getting a killer education, and it's going to help me kick ass and get a good post doc, hopefully in a big name lab. Once there, the goal will be to put my skills to the test and do as much of the best science that I can.

@ITISRED, if your programs do rotations, you should pick a school that has several PIs you're interested in. Not just one.

I think this is a chicken/egg argument. A lot of top labs recruit students from other top labs. My current PI (whom I just started with, think top of field level PI) gets at least 5 emails a month from other PIs looking to see if he has any students that are close to graduation and are looking for a postdoc. It's a great in, if you have it, couple with having a PI that has money to send you to national and international conferences, it's probably the surest way to get a top postdoc. If not, being at a well funded and well respected program also helps a lot. I came from a lower middle tier MS program, from an institution that didn't invest much in their graduate school, and getting money to go to conferences was a hassle wrapped in a fight. 

 

Newer PIs, just like older PIs, have risk involved, though they are inverse. Older PIs tend to have an easier time getting funding, but may be less motivated to publish, as they tend to be very secure in their positions. Whereas younger PIs may be highly motivated to publish and collaborate (to get tenure, to get funding, to get recognition), but may not be able to bring in the grants necessary to offer what older PIs can (money for travel, summer appointments if your university doesn't provide them, etc). In the end I think it comes down to being able to make a judgement based on a lot of factors as to who will be your best fit. And that really does require the student to really get to know the PIs that they might want to work with and see if they are on the same wavelength, so to speak.

 

PS. I navigated the faculty admission process, and am now making myself at home at my new university after defending my masters thesis.

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Is it inappropriate to ask people here to review my old SOP? I can send it in a PM. I applied last year, and was told (by LOR writers, and program advisors) that it was good but maybe there's something we're missing. I have started over, but my formula feels almost identical (brief intro, talk about research experience, mention program specifics), and I don't want to make the same mistakes that may have led to rejection.

Edit: Nevermind, I found the appropriate forum.

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1 hour ago, myhairtiebroke said:

Is it inappropriate to ask people here to review my old SOP? I can send it in a PM. I applied last year, and was told (by LOR writers, and program advisors) that it was good but maybe there's something we're missing. I have started over, but my formula feels almost identical (brief intro, talk about research experience, mention program specifics), and I don't want to make the same mistakes that may have led to rejection.

Edit: Nevermind, I found the appropriate forum.

I can take a look at your SOP, just PM me :) 

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17 hours ago, myhairtiebroke said:

Is it inappropriate to ask people here to review my old SOP? I can send it in a PM. I applied last year, and was told (by LOR writers, and program advisors) that it was good but maybe there's something we're missing. I have started over, but my formula feels almost identical (brief intro, talk about research experience, mention program specifics), and I don't want to make the same mistakes that may have led to rejection.

Edit: Nevermind, I found the appropriate forum.

I can have a look as well. Also PM me if you would like, though be warned I am a very harsh critic.

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Y'all -- a tad late to the game, but I just caught up with all the messages discussing fit/prestige/etc. It seems to me that fit, while incredibly important, seems like a rather nebulous concept. Any chance someone might be able to chime in on a more concrete breakdown of "fit"? 

My understanding is mainly:

1) research fit - interests aligned with multiple PIs. however, like blc previously mentioned, interests can also shift, so I've tried not to be too restrictive

2) location - place you would be happy living for 5-7 years

3) structure of program - e.g., clinical orientation, umbrella vs specific program admission

I, however, still have 3 schools too many. Namely, I'm on the fence re: Harvard, UCSF, Hopkins, partially because research fit is just okay (although they are excellent in cancer and immunology at large) and partially because $300/lots of time on applying to THREE MORE extremely competitive schools when I have plenty of schools on my list that are already super competitive. The fact that I have 10 schools on my list (even without the aforementioned 3) makes me think that I'm potentially not evaluating enough factors when considering "fit."

What are other factors that others have considered? What are these nebulous "things we need to succeed"? Student support for conferences, etc.? Opportunities for teaching (also, opportunities to avoid TA requirements)? Are these even things I should consider this prior to applying or after I gain admission to a few schools?

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