Graduate Program help!

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Izawwlgood
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Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Jul 28, 2008 9:31 pm UTC

I've been brushing up on the GRE's, and hope to take the April Bio test. I will likely proceed to apply to grad programs and take a year off (or take a year off and then apply to grad programs, perhaps retaking the GRE if needed)

Soo... Any advice on how to seek out programs that are a good fit if a college councilor is not available? Internet browsing only gets you so far, and frankly, I don't really trust the legitimacy of the school websites ("9/10 students report loving [this town]!", or "World-ranked facilities and nothing but Harvard graduate professors!"). Is there a Princeton review for Biology graduate programs I've been unable to find?

I've babbled a bit on the forums about this, but I want to hear from people who have either applying to, graduated from, or currently in graduate programs. How did you find your program, how did you find a lab/prof that was a good fit, were you impressed/unimpressed with the intelligence of the students/rigor of the program, what cities are great/awful?

I'm interested in the following, in order of most intrigued by, to 'only-keeps-me-up-at-night-once-or-twice-a-week'; Parasitology/Virology, Bioengineering (biomaterials), and Biospherics.

So, please help fellow forumites!
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Mon Jul 28, 2008 10:14 pm UTC

Caveat: I know only about USA rankings, because that is where I live and have worked. US News and World report
http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/grad/sciences.html does a ranking. The highest ones [in physics] look reasonable to me, and very brief sampling didn't find anything obviously strange. Read over their methods and decide if you want to believe them.

The National Academy of Sciences used to do an excellent evaluation of the relative merits of graduate programs in the sciences. If they are still doing them, take a look at a recent one.

You will need reference letters from faculty members at your current or most recent undergraduate school, at least barring really exceptional circumstances. Talk to them about the quality of various graduate programs. If necessary, you can do this by telephone.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby hipp5 » Tue Jul 29, 2008 2:50 pm UTC

For some reason I was under the impression that you are like 50 years old. I guess I was wrong. Or maybe I wasn't wrong and you're just deciding to go to grad school later in life?

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jul 29, 2008 2:59 pm UTC

I'm 24, will be applying to attend when I'm 25. I took some time off during my undergrad, and upon graduating last year, signed on for a 2 year work contract.

I have the eyesight of a 50 year old, does that count?

What about GRE prep courses? I never took a kaplan or such for the ACTs back when applying to college, but I'm considered one of the test preps now. Any experience or suggestions?

My old roommate was a kaplan instructor, man did I miss the lucky break that would have been
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Sungura » Tue Jul 29, 2008 11:36 pm UTC

I took the GRE last October (and apologies in advance as I don't remember the technical section names) I studied from the Kaplan book. The math part wasn't hard, I scored well above average, it's just logic and the book explains how they try and trick you (there are a few that if you are trying to get through, as you do have a little less than a minute per question, you probably will miss if you don't know what to look for). I'm a good writer, so the essay part wasn't bad either, I got full points for that. The part that tripped me up HARD was the vocab section. Now, I'm good with answering questions about the paragraphs just read. It was the analogies and synonym/antonym thing that messed me up really bad. I'm great with these...normally...but normally I know what the heck the word means! I wonder if the only one I got write was genotype:phenotype::(I forget what was here): ___ Hey! Science words! I know them! ha-ha :P But, yeah, half the words I had no clue on. And I read a lot, but the books I read don't use crazy fancy words. I'm not a sesquipedalian (uh, I hope I spelled that right), but apparently the GRE thinks I am.

For the schools I applied to, they strongly suggested taking a subject test but I opted out because I was taking 24 credits and working. Due to my strong lab background (already been in a lab for the past 5 years) I didn't feel the need to show off book knowledge as I feel I have practical knowledge. Of course, to CMOA, I spoke with the graduate admissions officer from each school I was interested in to get "approval" for not taking it. Every one agreed that with my coursework, grades, current courseload, and extensive lab experience I did not need to take a subject test. So, I can't help you there. Although I have heard from people don't take it the same day you take the general GRE, and don't take more than one subject test per day. The GRE was the most tiring test I ever took. It is double the length of any practice, as they give you two of each section because they are testing for the next round to get a standard scoring established...and you don't know which one is the "real" section and which isn't so you can't blow one off ;) It is a LONG time for anyone's brain to work. I was fried for the next week. My brain went on strike.

Edit: As to selecting a graduate school, how I did it was I searched out the ones that researched what I am interested in. I picked four. From that I narrowed it to two as even though I liked the other two, I knew logistically I could not attend. For all though I just searched through the pages of the PI's to see what people were doing, specifically. The most interesting people I emailed and inquired about their research. Professors LOVE to talk about their research so you usually get an earful. From that I figured out who I would be most interested in, and so I go in even knowing who I want to do lab rotations with before settling for sure. Of course...if you don't know what you want to research then this might not help. But still, you can see what the people are doing and see if you think, "wow, that's really cool, that would be a lot of fun!" If so, contact them! I even used this itself as a "weed-out". There was one university that I was very interested in. I did not get ONE SINGLE EMAIL back, and I sent out a second email to people too. Seeing as how I did this over the school year, I found it quite odd to not get a single response. If the prof's don't care to email me back and discuss research, then why would I want to go study there and do research? I don't care how "prestigious" a university or research group is, not responding at all is just plain rude.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:12 am UTC

amysrabbitranch wrote:
For the schools I applied to, they strongly suggested taking a subject test but I opted out because I was taking 24 credits and working. Due to my strong lab background (already been in a lab for the past 5 years) I didn't feel the need to show off book knowledge as I feel I have practical knowledge. Of course, to CMOA, I spoke with the graduate admissions officer from each school I was interested in to get "approval" for not taking it. Every one agreed that with my coursework, grades, current courseload, and extensive lab experience I did not need to take a subject test.


For the record, check with both the graduate admissions officer and the department you are applying to if the school "requests" or "advises" a subject test and you can't take it. The department makes the final decision, although the admissions office will probably filter out anyone who doesn't satisfy formal requirements like getting some minimum score on the GRE. You want to be dead certain that the department accepts your not submitting a subject score. Sometimes the test is optional but the department almost never accepts a student without one. "Optional" may be a code word for some departments want them and others don't care.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby DarkLordofSquirrels » Wed Jul 30, 2008 11:00 am UTC

While we're on the subject, about how many schools is it advisable to apply to? Is it like colleges, where you do 3-4 "reach" schools, 3-4 mid-schools, and 2-3 shoo-ins? Or might this affect your chances, due to departments talking about their applicants or something? I'd kinda like to apply to a lot, just to have my bases covered, but those $40 application fees stack up fast :-\

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:06 pm UTC

DarkLordofSquirrels wrote:While we're on the subject, about how many schools is it advisable to apply to? Is it like colleges, where you do 3-4 "reach" schools, 3-4 mid-schools, and 2-3 shoo-ins? Or might this affect your chances, due to departments talking about their applicants or something? I'd kinda like to apply to a lot, just to have my bases covered, but those $40 application fees stack up fast :-\


Your total number, 8-11, strikes me as a bit high, but the number required probably varies quite a bit with your subject area. If your record is consistent and your judgement good, you need fewer. If you are hoping someone will see the quality hidden in your mixed record, the more the better. Basically, apply to as many as you can afford. Your faculty advisor will probably have a good idea of what is normal in your academic area, as well as a feeling for how your application is going to look to the schools you are applying to. You may be able to find statistics on the average GRE scores of the students now at the schools you are thinking about, which will give you an good idea of where you stand. A you should definitely do the distribution over different quality schools that you describe. It is pretty unlikely that any school will have any idea how many applications you have sent out, and they automatically assume that there are other schools you might go to, so there is no hidden downside that I am aware of to sending out many applications.

Looking ahead, what if you get in one of the mid-schools and haven't heard from a "reach" school? Call the department you would prefer, tell them you have an offer from a school you would be willing to go to but that you would prefer theirs, and ask them where you stand. Be prepared to tell them what your acceptance deadline is. A student that a department would be happy with and who is definitely coming is especially attractive, since he reduces the department's uncertainty about support money needed. Very likely you will precipitate a decision about your application before your acceptance deadline at the other school. Tell them if there is a chance you would turn down the other school and wait for their decision (if that is true). This will improve the chance that they will keep your application active even if they can't respond on time, but remember that this contact can leave you without an offer from a school that might give you one later. You should not do this unless you really will accept an offer from the school you are talking to.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby DarkLordofSquirrels » Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:27 pm UTC

My subject is physics, and my record is pretty good. It is my judgment I worry about :-P. And so I want to apply to more "reach" schools. I feel like I have a good chance of getting in, but that the chance is magnified if I apply to more... but I don't want to throw caution to the winds and wind up not going anywhere, so my application number goes up. Bleh.

Thanks for the advice though, I feel like it might be very useful in the future :)

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Wed Jul 30, 2008 1:18 pm UTC

Specifically for physics, the American Institute of Physics puts out a book called "Graduate Programs in Physics and Astronomy" (or something like that) which has statistics on all US (and Canadian I think) programs. It has number of admissions, percentage acceptances, average GRE scores of students, support levels, and all sorts of other statistics. Each department that fills out the form gets a free copy, so if your library doesn't have the book the department office should have it. Everybody applying to physics graduate school should look through this publication.

It may also be on the web; I haven't checked for it.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 30, 2008 8:22 pm UTC

What about having an MS/not having an MS? I've heard some schools are impressed, and look upon it favorable, while others think it is a waste of time and would rather train you themselves? Aroo?

Interview process? What about with rotations, if you find a prof right off the bat (by perusing the schools website for example) that you want to do research with, is it bad form to go directly and put forth a proposal? Or should proper rotation protocols (are there any?) be observed?
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:10 pm UTC

Remember again that I am familiar only with physics as done in North America. Once you get a Ph. D., your masters work is pretty much irrelevant. Very occasionally a student who moves from a different undergraduate major into physics (or who suddenly start studying more seriously just when he enters graduate school) will be able to transfer to a stronger school after doing a M.S. Someone who decides or is told to stop pursuing a Ph.D. can get some benefit from a M.S. Otherwise, the less time spent on the masters the better. I myself got a masters degree mostly because I was unnecessarily worried about being able to finish the Ph.D. My advisor signed the forms, and 1 month later he had forgotten that I had applied for the degree. I doubt many schools are prejudiced against admitting a student with a M.S., but it will take you longer to get a Ph.D. if you get your masters in one place and your doctorate in another.

It can help to contact one of the professors at the school directly, if you make a point of really knowing what he is currently doing. Every researcher is happy to talk or write about his own work. Lately, however, I have been getting a number of EMails from applicants who are clearly broadcasting to everybody in the department. They don't even know that I have retired and am not supervising students! Appearing to do something like that will make a bad impression. Most places, as far as I know, do not have a formal system for contacting faculty about doing research, although they may have some method for educating their incoming students about what is happening in the department. If you were to run afoul of some such system, and you had shown knowledge of the professor's work, I doubt that anything would happen other than your being told what the procedures were for choosing a research advisor.

Remember that good graduate students are valuable to a research program. The department wants better students just as much as the students wish to go to a better department. Maybe the top schools view dealing with applications as a burden -- I would have no way of knowing actually -- but for most schools that you have a chance of getting into, they want you as much as you want them. Just be courteous; they don't want you more than you want them.

There are, incidentally, considerable differences among schools in how well they treat students. One of the best uses of a visit to to try to detect the level of morale among the graduate students. You want a program where they really do want you there. Among other things, there is always attrition, but a program with an unusually low number of Ph.D.'s granted per student admitted is probably not going to be a very pleasant place.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Sungura » Thu Jul 31, 2008 1:16 am UTC

ThinkerEmeritus wrote:Lately, however, I have been getting a number of EMails from applicants who are clearly broadcasting to everybody in the department. They don't even know that I have retired and am not supervising students! Appearing to do something like that will make a bad impression.


I never thought about this. I wonder if that is why the one school I didn't hear back from, if they were being blasted like that? In my inquiry emails, usually just to one or two, three at most, professors though I was specific. I approached it from a, "I notice from your webpage that you are studying ___. I find this intriguing as I would like to study chronic pain. My mom suffers from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome type I (CRPS, formerly known as RSD) so I do my own research and pour through journal articles. I am curious about ___ which seems to fall in with where your research interests lie because of ___ and it's relation to ___", type of thing. Being a (I presume) a professor emeritus, would this be the sort of email you would have responded to? Or does it sound like a general email? I guess I just never thought about the possibility that I'm not the only one who emails asking about research.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Thu Jul 31, 2008 10:45 am UTC

That is exactly the type of EMail that I personally would have been pleased to receive. It shows knowledge of what the researcher is doing and reasons for being interested.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Sungura » Fri Aug 01, 2008 3:34 am UTC

Whew, thanks, I'm glad. I became curious after your post if that sounded like a "broadcast" email.

Maybe in 10 years or so I'll be the lucky one getting a ton of emails! Although I fit in well with the rest of academia - every professor seems to love talking about their research (everyone I've spoken with I'm honestly interested in what they do, so it usually turns into a couple hour long conversation ha-ha) and I'm no different. If I am really into something, I can go on for hours nonstop.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Aug 01, 2008 12:27 pm UTC

What about after grad school if one isn't particularly interested in going tenure track?
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby sgt york » Sat Aug 02, 2008 8:04 pm UTC

Once upon a time, there was a rabbit in graduate school. One day, while stepping outside to gather some samples for his project, he encountered a fox. The fox jumped out to attack the rabbit, and the rabbit calmly looked at the fox and said, "It's no use. You shouldn't even try to attack me, you will fail."
The fox replied, "What are you talking about? I'm a fox. You're a rabbit. Foxes eat rabbits."
"No, it's true. In fact, I'm in grad school and my thesis is 'The superiority of rabbits over foxes and wolves'. I have some compelling data, you're welcome to come look at it."
Befuddled, the fox agrees and follows the rabbit into his hole....and is never seen again.

A few days later, the same rabbit is once again outside, gathering samples for his project. Again, he encounters a hungry predator. A wolf this time. The wolf quickly pinned the rabbit, who softly chuckled and said, "It's no use. You shouldn't even try to attack me, you will fail."
The wolf was shocked, to say the least. He replied, "What are you talking about? I'm a wolf. You're a rabbit. Wolves eat rabbits as light snacks. I've eaten three just this week myself!"
The rabbit is unfazed. "No, it's true. In fact, I'm in grad school and my thesis is 'The superiority of rabbits over foxes and wolves'. I have some compelling data, you're welcome to come look at it."
Befuddled, the wolf agrees and follows the rabbit into his hole....and is never seen again.

Let's go on down that rabbit hole. On one side is a rabbit sitting at a desk, piled high with papers and notes. A bench is covered with arcane reagents and equipment, bubbling away. The other side contains a purring lion, reclining on a pile of fox and wolf bones, picking its teeth with a rib.

The moral of the story: It doesn't matter what your project is. It doesn't matter what school you go to. It doesn't matter what your data is, and it doesn't matter who opposes you. All that matters is who your advisor is.

Find a lion. The rest is just ribbons and bows.

How do you find a lion? http://crisp.cit.nih.gov/

Find a lab with scads of money and you've found a lion. Money doesn't make a lion, but lions do get money. Try to find someone young and motivated. It does you no good if you find a lion that has no problem letting the wolves have their way with you. Getting in the lab of a Nobel Laureate who talks to you twice a year is useless. Getting in the lab of a young (<40) person with 2-3 RO1's or an RO1 and some industry or private support is GOLD.

Other bonuses involve the department. Is it growing? Good. Does it support its students? good. Are there several lions? Could be good...if they get along.

Good luck, and brace yourself for the long haul.

It is good to pick a project that looks interesting, though. Bonus points for a fun place to live, but don't bank on it. Lots of good schools are in unfun or mediocre places.

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Sungura » Sun Aug 03, 2008 1:08 am UTC

Wow. I love that story! Nice!

Yes, one of the first things I did was check how often the lab I'm interested in publishes. So many old profs sitting around with tenure not putting papers out means a dead lab, IMO.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby marshlight » Wed Aug 06, 2008 9:07 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:What about GRE prep courses? I never took a kaplan or such for the ACTs back when applying to college, but I'm considered one of the test preps now. Any experience or suggestions?

I just took the GREs a month ago and have to say, as long as you don't slack off with whatever prep book you buy, the courses are probably a huge waste of your money. I mean, buy a book for $30 or pay on the order of thousands of dollars to learn the same thing? Going through the entire Barron's book served me pretty well, although like amysrabbitranch said, the verbal will be pretty gross.

I'm really glad I found this thread, as I've been on the hunt for potential grad schools for something in the sustainable area - my undergrad degree will be in chemical engineering (class of 2009), but I'd like to concentrate more on the green eng side of things. Problem is, finding the specifics about this stuff and not just national rankings is really hard. I wish there was a fastweb for grad schools... I don't even know if I ultimately want to go to grad school or whether it'd be more effective for me just to go headlong into the workforce. I'd just like to be prepared. Is anyone familiar with this sort of quest or should I just evaluate all the grad schools in my area separately?
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby hitokiriilh » Wed Aug 06, 2008 9:11 pm UTC

Unfortunately I can't give much advice. I just wanted to say the thought of the GREs makes me cry right now. I need to sign up to take them and start studying. Freaking rapid-fire intro physics questions. :cry:

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby danpilon54 » Wed Aug 06, 2008 10:15 pm UTC

Im with you hitokiriilh. Im so worried about the physics gre that I couldn't care less about the regular one. How is answering 100 multiple choice physics questions with little more than 1 minute per question a good measure of my physics abilities? You have to memorize formulas just to answer the questions in time, even if I can derive the formulas and fully understand the problem. You forget the formula you cant do the question. THIS IS NOT PHYSICS. Yet it is immensely important for my future so I must sit here and memorize everything even though Ive spent 3 years doing the opposite in my studies.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby hitokiriilh » Wed Aug 06, 2008 10:25 pm UTC

danpilon54 wrote:Im with you hitokiriilh. Im so worried about the physics gre that I couldn't care less about the regular one. How is answering 100 multiple choice physics questions with little more than 1 minute per question a good measure of my physics abilities? You have to memorize formulas just to answer the questions in time, even if I can derive the formulas and fully understand the problem. You forget the formula you cant do the question. THIS IS NOT PHYSICS. Yet it is immensely important for my future so I must sit here and memorize everything even though Ive spent 3 years doing the opposite in my studies.


You echoed my sentiments 200%. It's irritating as all hell. With a little love and luck, MIT won't just burn my application. I understand things like GPA and GREs are just cutting blocks for them and the most important stuff are the letters of rec. and research experience. If I recall you should have no problem with those. ;) Hopefully other universities are very similar.

Good luck in memorizing whether the overall sign is supposed to be plus or minus in the various freshman formulae. :lol: Frankly I couldn't give a damn about diffraction pattern formulae when I can always reobtain it via elementary arguments or from brute force with the Kirchoff diffraction integral - which is also something one can just rederive from Green's 2nd identity, which is something one can derive from the divergence theorem, which is something one can derive from the generalized Stoke's theorem, which is pretty fundamental :lol: (sorry, the regression just struck me as funnier than it should have been. I was going to leave it at the integral, but realized I could push the joke).

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Wed Aug 06, 2008 10:38 pm UTC

Look at the example exams for the physics GRE's. It is amazing how many of the answers you can eliminate by analyzing units, demanding reasonable sizes of things (atoms are way smaller than cars, for example), linearity, and looking for reasonable directions of variation of physical variables with each other in formulae [force goes up with acceleration, for instance]. To be sure you need some pretty darn esoteric details for a significant number of the problems, but the total number of questions you get to think about goes way up if you first eliminate ridiculous answers. I'm sure that this is a deliberate feature of the exam, to try to get some measure of the logical-thinking processes of the examinees.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Aug 06, 2008 11:08 pm UTC

I hear that's what the study courses are all about though, how to take the test effectively (yet another example of wealth begetting success).

My old roommate was a kaplan tutor, and was a pretty smart guy but in no way shape or form capable of getting the high scores he consistently nailed, simply because he was familiar with the test.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby danpilon54 » Thu Aug 07, 2008 2:46 am UTC

about the units thing, I've heard that you used to be able to do that, but they've changed it so all the answers have the same units. I confirm this my class did a few practice exams for a baseline analysis of our skills and all the answers had the same units. Most differed by a constant here and there, and god knows how to know which constant is right without solving the whole problem completely.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Caligynemania » Wed Aug 13, 2008 6:15 am UTC

Since you know what you're interested in, get a subscription to some Bio journals and start reading like crazy. When you find an author that strikes your fancy send an email off to them letting them know youre interested. Then apply to their program.

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby sgt york » Tue Aug 19, 2008 7:43 pm UTC

Caligynemania wrote:Since you know what you're interested in, get a subscription to some Bio journals and start reading like crazy. When you find an author that strikes your fancy send an email off to them letting them know youre interested. Then apply to their program.


Or better (and more importantly cheaper) yet, keep an eye on Pubmed. There's a little known feature of Pubmed that you can even set it up as an RSS feed. Do your search for whatever you're interested in (be specific, Pubmed supports combination searches pretty well). There's a pulldown box that says "Send to." Click that and select 'RSS feed.' You can plug the feed link in to whatever RSS reader you use. I love it; I have about a dozen of them set up and I get daily updates on my field.

Read the abstracts, and if something tickles your fancy, check the article. If you don't have access, try any nearby med school library or grad school library (you can normally just walk in during normal business hours. As long as you don't mess with anyone, people generally don't care if you're a student or not). Also, a lot of articles are free on PubmedCentral or become free after a month or so.

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby qetzal » Tue Aug 19, 2008 8:47 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:What about having an MS/not having an MS? I've heard some schools are impressed, and look upon it favorable, while others think it is a waste of time and would rather train you themselves? Aroo?

Interview process? What about with rotations, if you find a prof right off the bat (by perusing the schools website for example) that you want to do research with, is it bad form to go directly and put forth a proposal? Or should proper rotation protocols (are there any?) be observed?


Some really good advice on this thread. I hope my $0.02 will be helpful as well. For context, I got my PhD in mol biol from UCSD ~ 20 years ago. So I've been where you are, but it was quite a while ago. YMMV.

I didn't get an MS; went straight from BS to my PhD program. I don't know how biol grad schools view an MS these days, but I don't think most of the other students in my program had one.

One thing an MS does show is that you've done some independent research. That's pretty critical, IMO. It's hard to get a good feeling for what real research is like based only on lectures, lab classes, and reading. That can lead to unfortunate situations where people who really like science go to grad school, only to learn that they really hate actually doing research. Hopefully, you did some independent research study projects as an undergrad, so that you got some exposure to real research. That also reassures grad schools that you have an aptitude for research.

If you haven't done any independent research, and if you're planning to take a year off before grad school, I strongly recommend trying to get a temporary job in a working research lab. I think it will greatly help your chances of getting into grad school, and help you be sure that grad school is right for you.

Of course, that's not essential. To be honest, I was too naive to do that myself. I was lucky and still go into a good program, and found that I did have an aptitude for research. But I saw others who weren't so lucky.

Izawwlgood wrote:What about after grad school if one isn't particularly interested in going tenure track?


I've spent my whole career in biotech. Going into biotech was a bit looked down on when I was getting my PhD, but I don't think that's the case any more. Big Pharma is also an option. What I like about biotech is the ability to combine my skills and specialty with the skills and specialties of many other people. I've worked with chemists, engineers, clinicians, business & marketing professionals, etc. It would be very difficult to do that in most academic settings. But there's no such thing as tenure in biotech, and you're generally not free to pursue whatever interests you unless it fits with the company goals (which can change quite substantially at times).

sgt york wrote:Or better (and more importantly cheaper) yet, keep an eye on Pubmed.


I second this. Another option is register online with <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/">Science</a>. They have a feature called CiteTrack that will email you weekly summaries of noteworthy papers in various fields. That can be pretty useful. If you're like I was at your stage, you may not have a good idea of what's really interesting and 'sexy'. That can make it hard to decide what in PubMed is worth searching for. The CiteTrack blurbs let you know what professionals think is really important, and often provide some context to help you understand as well.

A number of the other top tier biology journals have similar email features. Check out Nature, Nature Biotechnology, & Cell, for starters.

Good luck!

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Tue Aug 19, 2008 9:29 pm UTC

danpilon54 wrote:about the units thing, I've heard that you used to be able to do that, but they've changed it so all the answers have the same units. I confirm this my class did a few practice exams for a baseline analysis of our skills and all the answers had the same units. Most differed by a constant here and there, and god knows how to know which constant is right without solving the whole problem completely.


The key is limiting cases- how should your answer behave if such and such quantity gets large, such and such gets small, etc. Often, two or three of the right limiting case can pull an answer out of the different choices fairly quickly and without solving the problem.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Sat Aug 23, 2008 6:24 pm UTC

danpilon54 wrote:about the units thing, I've heard that you used to be able to do that, but they've changed it so all the answers have the same units. I confirm this my class did a few practice exams for a baseline analysis of our skills and all the answers had the same units. Most differed by a constant here and there, and god knows how to know which constant is right without solving the whole problem completely.


Since a number of people disagreed with my comment, I dug out an official sample physics GRE test from the web and read a few of the problems. It is certainly true that they don't give candidate answers with the wrong units, but applying the units is very often a large step toward getting the correct choice. The exam seems to me to have few problems that require just plugging numbers into a formula, and few problems that you can get without knowing what the true formula is! For most of the questions I looked at, knowing the principles thoroughly was enough to find the answers, and knowing how to handle ratios greatly sped up the process. I certainly wouldn't advise tackling this test without being able to write a lot of important physics equations down verbatim, but the exam will be a lot easier if you think physically instead of merely "plugging and chugging."

Don't expect to do as well on the physics advanced test as on the general GRE's, however. It is percentiles that matter, and students who are prepared to take the physics exam tend to do very well on the math part of the GRE, and rather well on the verbal as well.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby danpilon54 » Sat Aug 23, 2008 11:04 pm UTC

Yea I havent even cared to think about the general gre yet. Apparently on the physics one, you can answer half correct and leave half blank and still do exceptionally well percentage wise.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Sun Aug 24, 2008 1:08 am UTC

On the sample exam I referenced, answering half the questions correctly would put you in the 67th percentile. There is a table near the end of the file.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby danpilon54 » Sun Aug 24, 2008 1:32 am UTC

is that half right half wrong or half right half blank?

if its the latter I was misinformed.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby ThinkerEmeritus » Sun Aug 24, 2008 2:28 am UTC

danpilon54 wrote:is that half right half wrong or half right half blank?

if its the latter I was misinformed.


Half right, half blank, if I read the table correctly. However, I believe that the scoring varies from test to test depending on the difficulty of the questions. They mention that the possible scores vary from test to test.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Sungura » Wed Aug 27, 2008 8:59 pm UTC

I remember the worst thing about my GRE (general) they make ya take TWO. Yeah, that's right. TWO. Because one is your true one, and the other is for the next round to set the standard scoring. Pair this with the only time I could do it was 7:00pm start time, I was there until about midnight. You try getting up at 7:00am, going to classes all day, rushing off to take the GRE after your last class at the test center. Yeah. Not a good idea. I managed to do an acceptable job, but certainly not as good as I could have.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby meat.paste » Wed Sep 03, 2008 6:20 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:What about having an MS/not having an MS? I've heard some schools are impressed, and look upon it favorable, while others think it is a waste of time and would rather train you themselves? Aroo?


I know in my program (PhD in analytical chemistry about 7 years ago), a MS is looked upon as a sign of failure. The only people who got MS were those who couldn't pass the qualifying exams to the doctorate program. Sometimes, it was even a dreaded "terminal" masters, which meant that you had to leave after acquiring the MS. We had one person in the program who already had a masters degree, failed the qualifiers, and had to leave. The qualifying exams happen in year 2, so it was a large waste of money and time for him.

Please take my advice with NaCl, though. I only know about my experience and not about the way other schools work.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Nov 17, 2008 6:56 pm UTC

Dredging up this topic with a question:

I'm thinking of taking a gap year between this job and going to school to travel a bit, and more specifically, teach English somewhere exotic (Thailand or Japan). I'm pretty set on this being a positive experience, but have a passing hesitation about it being viewed as 'just dicking around' by a potentially admission board. I have nothing to base this fear on.

So, can anyone chime in with a perspective on how an admissions board for a program in biology would view a candidate who spent about a year teaching English abroad?
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby sindustries » Mon Nov 17, 2008 9:13 pm UTC

sgt york wrote:The moral of the story: It doesn't matter what your project is. It doesn't matter what school you go to. It doesn't matter what your data is, and it doesn't matter who opposes you. All that matters is who your advisor is.

Find a lab with scads of money and you've found a lion. Money doesn't make a lion, but lions do get money. Try to find someone young and motivated. It does you no good if you find a lion that has no problem letting the wolves have their way with you. Getting in the lab of a Nobel Laureate who talks to you twice a year is useless. Getting in the lab of a young (<40) person with 2-3 RO1's or an RO1 and some industry or private support is GOLD.

Other bonuses involve the department. Is it growing? Good. Does it support its students? good. Are there several lions? Could be good...if they get along.

Good luck, and brace yourself for the long haul.

It is good to pick a project that looks interesting, though. Bonus points for a fun place to live, but don't bank on it. Lots of good schools are in unfun or mediocre places.


York speaks the truth. I'm finally getting close to finishing my Ph.D in physics, and looking back now, I would say the single most important decision is your advisor. My advisor is completely useless as someone to guide me in my research and actually finishing.

Visit the schools that you are interested in and talk to the faculty you may be interested in working with. Also, speak to the other graduate students at the school to get their opinions on the faculty, because very often just talking to a faculty can be misguiding as they are often very good at selling their research, even if they don't actually get anything done. Try to make contact with recently graduated Ph.Ds, they will probably be happy to also give you advice. Ideally, you want an advisor with money, does interesting work, and will kind of kick your butt in the lab to make you get your degree in a timely fashion.

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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby danpilon54 » Tue Nov 18, 2008 2:53 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Dredging up this topic with a question:

I'm thinking of taking a gap year between this job and going to school to travel a bit, and more specifically, teach English somewhere exotic (Thailand or Japan). I'm pretty set on this being a positive experience, but have a passing hesitation about it being viewed as 'just dicking around' by a potentially admission board. I have nothing to base this fear on.

So, can anyone chime in with a perspective on how an admissions board for a program in biology would view a candidate who spent about a year teaching English abroad?


I am not a grad student yet but I work with a few. It is actually very common that graduate students dont start school right after undergrad. Teaching english abroad would actually be something that could distinguish you from other potential grad students. The one I work with the most is 28 and took 4 years off to join the navy. He says that most of his grad student friends started graduate school a few years after undergrad. So no worries.
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Re: Graduate Program help!

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 18, 2008 7:21 am UTC

I currently work in a lab, so my coworkers are mostly grad students and postdocs. Of the grad students, two took time between college and graduate school, so I'm not worried as much by 'time between', as much as how a year of teaching in a foreign country will look.
I.e., should I do another year of something science, or... nevermind, I'll just ask the admissions hotline.
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