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Did I mess up in the application process, and can this be salvaged?


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Hi there,

A few months ago, I applied to UC Berkeley's (UCB) ecology PhD program. I thought that now all that was left to do was to await UCB's response. However, a recent conversation with a friend (PhD, Engineering) got me wondering as to whether I left stones un-turned. Granted, his advice might not be applicable to my case... Can anyone offer thoughts on the following:

(1) Is it bad that I have not met with my prospective mentor? I contacted my would-be mentor well before applying to UCB. He responded (via email) that I have an impressive background, that I should apply, and that we could talk by phone after his travels. Then, after his travels, he wrote: "Apologies I haven't had time to connect on all this - it's been busy. These possibilities [research options] are intriguing - I suggest you apply and indicate interest in my lab. Then, if I receive your application among those highly ranked by the admissions committee, we can follow up and dive more deeply into possibilities and the potential fit of your interests/aspirations and my lab and funding."  l took this at face value... but am now having second thoughts. Should I have been pushing to meet/talk with him before he sees my application, despite what he wrote? I recently emailed him to ask if he'd be at a conference that I might attend, but no response.  

(2) Should I have met with the Dean & the Department Head? Some folks think that I should be meeting with these people, telling them about my research plans, persuading them that my research would be a great addition to their program, showing them that I'm already finding funding, and making sure that they remember me. But, if I have no project plan yet, is this even applicable?...

(3) Why do so many people tell me that I can raise my chances of getting into a PhD program if I find grants in advance? After I got my MS in biology, I've been working as a field tech on seasonal jobs, but none of these projects are "my own." I'm not a regular employee at a university or organization, so I don't see how and with whom I could put together a project and apply for grants in advance of applying to a PhD program. Am I missing something? Are there organizations that would actually award would-be PhD students money, even if they don't have a project plan yet? 

Any thoughts about these questions that are tormenting me in my sleep would be appreciated :) 

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