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Apply to umbrella PhD programs despite having a clear research interest?



Are applicants with a clear research interest discriminated against when applying for umbrella programs (especially when the known field of interest is very competitive)? I'm concerned because my understanding is that these programs are to expose students to a variety of fields and help them decide on a topic of interest.


Details, if interested:

I'm not a very competitive applicant for neurobiology (GPA ~3.5, GRE ~75% but retaking in a month, strong letters of rec, and 3 publications with maybe a first author before I apply). Additionally, I've had ~8 professors at a state school (several who have been on a neurobiology grad admission committee) tell me that I'm not competitive. 

But I really want to continue neurobiology research. I've been suggested to apply to umbrella programs, or other programs, that provide access to neurobiology labs, but my concern is my clear research interest:

  • my undergrad degree is in neurobiology (with an emphasis in computational neuroscience)
  • all of my research experience (in 3 labs for 2 years each) are neurobiology oriented
  • my extracurricular activities includes neurosci outreach programs and writing brain articles for newsletters
  • I even have an instagram account where I post paintings of neurons

I've also created a narrow path for myself to study neurocircuitries by expanding my technical skillsets to complements each other as I jumped between labs (though this maybe subtle to pick up on if unfamiliar with the field). 

Anyway, will my motives be transparent and off putting to admission committees? 


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