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Victorious Secret

Please Evaluate my applicant profile

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Applying for 2019 admission cycle. What I want to do, using quantitative tools to accelerate the development of therapies for cancer and other diseases, is a field that lies at the interface of chemical/biological engineering and biology, hence my program choices for graduate school. At this time I am still studying faculty research interests and narrowing my list. Please let me know how competitive I appear to be for my top choices, and where the soft spots in my profile appear to be. Thank you!

Undergrad Institution: mid-tier, large public research university
Major(s):  Chemical Engineering (concentration in Bioengineering) and Biology (concentration in Biotechnology)
Minor(s):  Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering (using almost all graduate courses to complete these)
GPA in Majors:  3.96
Overall GPA:  3.7 (due to poor initial showing in college 15 years ago; returned to school in 2013 and GPA is 3.91 over last 4 years)
Position in Class: top 5% in major classes at current institution
Type of Student: Domestic white male, non-traditional, first-gen college student, below poverty line

GRE Scores (revised/old version): (estimates based on practice exam)
Q: 165
V:  168
W:  5.0
B:  Not going to take 


Research Experience: 

4 overlapping years, spread across 4 faculty labs. Mix of bio/chemical engineering and chemical biology.

  • 1 year pharmaceutical powder process modeling/simulation for NIH-funded project
  • 1 year honors fellowship, mammalian cell culture engineering/analysis. -> led to symposium presentation
  • summer REU in cancer bioengineering/modeling -> led to a national conference presentation; first author publication in review. (LOR)
  • 3 years cell/bioengineering in nano and tissue culture lab. -> 2 presentations and 2 publications, one first author review, A second author experimental paper in high IF journal (LOR)
  • 1 year in chemical biology, included computational modeling -> led to national conference presentation (LOR)
  • Yearlong Honors Research and Thesis forthcoming during senior year, will be following the theme of biology integrated with chemical engineering principles.

Planning to do another REU in Summer '18, and possibly a 4-month internship at a DOE national laboratory

Awards/Honors/Recognitions:

Goldwater Scholar, Honors College, several university scholarships, Dean's List, Honor Societies: Tau Beta Pi, Omicron Delta Kappa, Omega Chi Epsilon

Pertinent Activities or Jobs

  • I founded and am director of an NGO that designs, validates, and builds medium-scale (500L-2500L) sustainable biodigesters in developing nations. Founded in 2015, my organization has won various local innovation and engineering awards and raised large sums from various sources. 4 Grants total. Currently in an iterative experimental design/evaluation process at a farm near my campus, and looking to apply for EPA P3 funding in the next fiscal year.
  • 6-month biochemical engineering R&D internship at Pfizer (poster presentation from this)
  • Vice President and Secretary of two engineering student chapters on campus
  • ChemE Car Design Team for AIChE Student Chapter
  • Summer Internship Designing Fuel Handling Devices (oral presentation at competition)
  • Peer Tutor in chemical engineering and biology
  • Peer Mentor
  • Member of AIChE and ISPE societies
  • Honors Library Website Curator
  • Designed and maintained a website for a biopharm conference
  • My jobs have been mostly research-based in faculty labs, aside from some professional tutoring, web design, retail, and manual labor work.
  • My poor GPA years ago was due to a family illness that is related to why I want to enter this particular field, but I don't want to dwell on that in my SOP.


Special Bonus Points: 

  • Glowing LOR's, but not from particularly renown faculty
  • I have earned three online verified Coursera Specializations (around 5-6 courses each): Statistics with R, Systems Biology and Biotechnology, and Python Programming (Did this mostly for personal enrichment, is there any value in mentioning this on applications?)
  • I will have taken 4 honors courses and 16 graduate courses before I graduate, in math (experimental design, stats w/R), physics (medical physics), chemistry (computational biochemistry, quantum chemistry, advanced organic synthesis), chemical engineering (3 biochemical engineering courses), and biology (7 courses), with a 4.0 across the board so far
  • I am a strong in-person interviewer 
  • Skilled grant writer and fundraiser


Applying to Where: (my interests are based mostly on faculty fit; I have already researched which U's allow you to apply to multiple departments)

  • MIT (chemical engineering, bioengineering, biology)
  • Harvard (chemical biology w/ therapeutics certificate, systems biology, bioengineering)
  • Stanford (Either ChemEng or chemical and systems biology)
  • Berkeley (chemical engineering)
  • Caltech (chemical engineering)
  • Georgia Tech (chemical and biomedical engineering)
  • UCSD (bioengineering)
  • BU (biomedical engineering w/ biomolecular pharmacology sub-program)
  • UCSF (CCB)
  • Tri-Institutional Program in Chemical Biology
  • Rockefeller
  • Princeton (chemical engineering)
  • UTAustin (chemical engineering)
  • Delaware (chemical engineering)
  • Tufts (chemE)
  • Northeastern (chemE)
  • Brown (biomedE)

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2 hours ago, DiscoTech said:

C'mon. You know you'll get in practically everywhere ....

Thanks for your response. I like the reassurance, but my pessimism leads me to think that a few dark spots on my app may come back to bite me. My grades from 15 years ago included a C in a calculus course. I was out of school for about 5.5 years to care for my mom, during which time I had a bunch of W's while I was trying to take coursework and manage her care. I attended a very good community college for a few years (feeder program for a lot of UCB, Davis, and UCSD transfer students), and though I earned straight-A's in physics and organic chemistry there, I know that medical schools don't like to see foundational coursework at the community college level, and I fear that top PhD programs may be of the same opinion. I am also over 30 years of age, don't go to a top-25 institution, and neither my GRE scores, as they are now, nor my overall GPA will be truly exceptional. I fear that I will be seen as good across the board, but not outstanding, and thus have a hard time standing out during the selection process.

I sense that my next summer REU could make or break me for top-5 schools. If I can work my butt off again and develop something worthy of a publication, hopefully with a truly novel technical application or insight, or develop a working relationship with some well-renown faculty, that could be what I need to set myself apart. Either way, I would feel very honored and happy to attend any of the programs I have listed here, all of which have multiple faculty members I would love to work with, I really mean that. But I have seen the facilities and met students from a couple of the most prestigious programs, and was awe-struck by the resources at their disposal. Thanks again for your time.

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3 hours ago, Victorious Secret said:

Thanks for your response. I like the reassurance, but my pessimism leads me to think that a few dark spots on my app may come back to bite me. My grades from 15 years ago included a C in a calculus course. I was out of school for about 5.5 years to care for my mom, during which time I had a bunch of W's while I was trying to take coursework and manage her care. I attended a very good community college for a few years (feeder program for a lot of UCB, Davis, and UCSD transfer students), and though I earned straight-A's in physics and organic chemistry there, I know that medical schools don't like to see foundational coursework at the community college level, and I fear that top PhD programs may be of the same opinion. I am also over 30 years of age, don't go to a top-25 institution, and neither my GRE scores, as they are now, nor my overall GPA will be truly exceptional. I fear that I will be seen as good across the board, but not outstanding, and thus have a hard time standing out during the selection process.

I sense that my next summer REU could make or break me for top-5 schools. If I can work my butt off again and develop something worthy of a publication, hopefully with a truly novel technical application or insight, or develop a working relationship with some well-renown faculty, that could be what I need to set myself apart. Either way, I would feel very honored and happy to attend any of the programs I have listed here, all of which have multiple faculty members I would love to work with, I really mean that. But I have seen the facilities and met students from a couple of the most prestigious programs, and was awe-struck by the resources at their disposal. Thanks again for your time.

Hello Victorious Secret,

You won't have any trouble getting into a top 25 school if I did.  I think I would have got into MIT if I had published during my second undergrad and had a more focused research proposal.  As it happens that was the only school outside of Canada that I applied to and I was able to gain admission at the University of Toronto (Electrical Engineering).  And I can tell you without going into too much detail that my academic past was well below yours and it still worked out extremely well for me and my family.  I also don't go to a school that appears on any rankings...

Honestly you have a stellar application and virtually nothing to worry about.  If people are going to worry about something that happened over 10 years ago and not what you have been accomplishing since you are better off elsewhere...

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I agree with the previous two replies. I really don't think you'd have any trouble getting in anywhere, and your GPA/GRE are more than fine. Besides, given that virtually every applicant to the programs you want has done well in those areas, they wouldn't be the distinguishing factor even if you had a perfect 4.0 and 170's on both sections of the GRE. They serve more as a cutoff - having good numbers won't help you as much as having bad ones will hurt you, and if you look at some of the admissions results from previous years posted on this site, there is no shortage of people with really good numbers who were flat-out rejected. What makes you stand out is the fact that you have a clear plan for exactly what you want to research in graduate school and have more than enough experience outside the classroom to back it up. So at this point, I would worry less about what's already done (i.e. your poor grades from a decade ago) and concentrate on writing a strong personal statement for each of your schools that really conveys the message you want to send. 

Best wishes! 

(edited for typos/clarity)

Edited by Agent_Crimson

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