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synapticcat

Neuroscience Fall 2018 applicant - Looking for advice and school suggestions

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Hi all. This site was recommended to me by the folks over at /r/gradadmissions on reddit. I've never posted here before so let me know if there is a more appropriate forum to direct my questions to!

I'm a rising senior studying neuroscience who will graduate this coming spring and am looking to apply to PhD programs for Fall 2018. I am primarily interested in translational neuroscience. Despite all the help from my advisors, mentors, and a very enthusiastic PI I am quite nervous and could use some help gauging how applications work, if I should consider not applying this cycle, and if the schools I'm applying to are realistic (or complete reaches), etc.  I want to give you guys as much info as possible, so this might get a little long. I am really thankful to anyone who reads all the way through!

  • School: top-25 liberal arts school with a well-regarded program in Neuroscience
  • Major & Minors: Neuroscience major, Chemistry & Philosophy double minor
  • Cumulative GPA: 3.73 cumulative
  • Major GPA: 3.81
  • Background: White female, parents hold college degrees or higher in non-science related fields
  • GRE: Taking in a few weeks! I expect to have to adjust my list based on how my scores come out. Based on my practice tests I feel good on verbal reasoning, but am really reaching to hit a good quantitative score. Holding off on taking until I'm more sure of my GRE-math skills. 

Research Experience: 1 1/2 years at home institution, 2 summers of research programs

Spent my junior summer at a state university through a program funded by their molecular medicine department working in an MS lab that was developing & characterizing a novel transgenic mouse line. Got a LoR from the PI there that helped me land an NIH-funded translational neuroscience REU program this summer, which I am currently wrapping up. I've been working in an epilepsy lab that primarily uses optogenetics and e-phys to study learning and memory (in rats). At my home institution, I have been in a neurodevelopmental lab for ~6 months, and will have 1 1/2 years of experience there by the time I graduate. We use zebrafish to study the neurodevelopmental effects of environmental toxins associated with autism. I will have no publications, but will have a couple poster & oral presentations under my belt, and my home lab is presenting at a regional conference this fall. I'm familiar with common cellular/molecular, e-phys, and behavioral techniques, animal models (rats, mice, zebrafish) - including husbandry/colony management, etc. 

Awards/Honors: I was inducted into my school's chapter of Nu Rho Psi (nat'l honors society in neuroscience) this past May. We do not have a dean's list or anything similar. 

Relevant Jobs & Activities

  • I was elected marketing chair for our majors' committee, which means I produce advertisements for all of our activities in coordination with our faculty, sell merchandise, and handle all things communications related for our group - this position will continue into the fall semester.
  • I will be taking over as Chapter President for Nu Rho Psi this coming fall, where I'll work with the major's committee and faculty to bring speakers to campus, organize community outreach activities, social events in the department, etc. 
  • Media Associate in my school's IT department. I have a background in graphic design and like to bridge the gap between art and science. I help labs with technical support in everything from ImageJ to "how to make my poster not look shitty". This is nice because it's landed me in the acknowledgements of posters from some diverse departments - and I really like helping people!
  • Neuroscience tutor - I get paid to tutor people in our introductory neuroscience course 
  • Chemistry grader - I get paid to grade problem sets for the prof I took genchem with 

Letters of Rec: One of the pro's of going to a small school is knowing all the professors in your department. I have a very enthusiastic PI who is 100% on board to write me letters (and who has offered to help me refine my school list, edit my statements, etc), a PI from the summer program I'm currently at who I have great rapport with and who I will be asking to write a letter for me soon, and a couple of advisors at school who I can ask for letters who have written for me in the past. 

Programs I'm interested in: Schools where I like the location and have identified PIs with research I am interested in. I have lived in the midwest my whole life and am not particularly interested in staying here unless it's for a fabulous program in a town I like 

  • University of Michigan NGP (my home state and my parents' alma mater. love AA, many friends in the area, fantastic medical system and translational research, close to home, PI went here and may be helpful if I decide to apply)
  • University of Vermont NGP (my program this summer is here. I love the town, the people, research atmosphere, and have gotten favorable reviews from the program director)
  • University of Washington
  • UC San Francisco 
  • Northwestern University NUIN (love the program, am originally from the chicago area, have friends and family around, etc)
  • UC San Diego (probably another top choice of mine)
  • UC Davis
  • Case Western (toured Case and Cleveland Clinic and loved it but......cleveland)
  • Dartmouth College Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine (PEMM)
  • Scripps Research Institute (possibly my top choice? I would kill to work in so many of the labs here)
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

I am planning to apply to 10-12 schools because I am nervous, so that is not an exhaustive list (and I am still figuring it out). I am essentially wondering (a) if I am choosing schools too far out of my reach, (b) if I should consider taking time and working as an RA to strengthen my application (or if I'll be okay as-is), and (c) if you have any programs that come to mind that you think I might be interested in looking into? I am especially interested in finding more "mid-tier" programs - but grad admissions are so individualized that it's so hard to gauge!

Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this! I really do appreciate it. 

Edited by synapticcat

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Nobody ever responded to this so I will chime in on the off chance you check this site:

Your application looks strong. If you can get GRE scores around the 90th percentile and write a really strong SOP, I think you can apply to mostly top tier programs as well as any other programs that you feel fit your interests especially well. UCSF and UCSD are excellent programs that you mentioned you were interested in, and I would highly encourage you to apply to them. Harvard also has a great translational program that you should look into if you can stand the cold. 

10-12 schools is probably too many; try to narrow it down to 7 or 8 so that you are only applying to the schools that are highly suited to your interests. Go through the faculty pages of each school, and if you can't find 3 or 4 PI's who you would be excited to work with then you shouldn't bother applying -- going to a program you aren't interested in is far worse than waiting another year to strengthen your app. Feel free to message me if you have any questions!

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Your application actually looks great! I second the GRE/SOP statement above. Also, I think your choice of schools is pretty reasonable, but I'll throw in a shameless plug for Emory.

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On 9/24/2017 at 6:00 AM, AD said:

how is uni of alberta, canada?? for neuroscience?

It depends completely on your interests - I don't think I've heard much about U Alberta but that doesn't mean much. if you look at their faculty page and can easily pick out several PI's whose work appeals to you and who seem to be publishing somewhat regularly, it could definitely be a good choice. You can also see if you can email some current graduate students there and ask what their experience in the program has been like.

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On 9/28/2017 at 10:58 PM, Janiejoneswoah said:

It depends completely on your interests - I don't think I've heard much about U Alberta but that doesn't mean much. if you look at their faculty page and can easily pick out several PI's whose work appeals to you and who seem to be publishing somewhat regularly, it could definitely be a good choice. You can also see if you can email some current graduate students there and ask what their experience in the program has been like.

hmm...done that. I have had conversation with the possible PI that i want to work with. He is also interested in me joining his lab. He was all about you should work hard and forget about weekends.. ;P... i just wanted to know the impact of Neuroscience in University of Alberta.

I also have offer from Louisiana state Uni.....dont know what to do...

Anyways thanks

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