Applying to graduate school in the life sciences
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Applying to Graduate School in the Life Sciences. University of Notre Dame. Why Enter a Doctoral Program?. Because you want to do research The primary goal of doctoral programs is to train researchers You want to pursue scholarly subjects in great depth

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Applying to Graduate School in the Life Sciences

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Applying to graduate school in the life sciences

Applying to Graduate School in the Life Sciences

University of Notre Dame


Why enter a doctoral program

Why Enter a Doctoral Program?

  • Because you want to do research

    • The primary goal of doctoral programs is to train researchers

    • You want to pursue scholarly subjects in great depth

    • You want to make fundamental contributions to a field

      • Because you want to teach at the college level

    • A Ph.D. is required to be a professor at most universities


Poor reasons to enter a doctoral program

Poor Reasons to Enter a Doctoral Program

  • You enjoy taking courses

  • You are not in a hurry to get a “real job”

  • You didn’t get in to med/vet/etc school

  • You are trying to improve your salary


The graduate school lifestyle is it for you

The Graduate School Lifestyle:Is it for you?

  • Flexibility is everywhere

    • Classes, projects, hours, vacations, location

    • Supportive community of peers and mentors

    • Travel opportunities

      • Self-motivation is thus paramount

    • A 60-80 hour work week is typical

    • Without external deadlines, some flounder


Start looking for schools

Start Looking for Schools

  • No later than the summer before you apply

    • Time consuming process

    • Courses or credits might be required

    • GRE exams require planning

    • Still time to cultivate recommenders!


Choosing schools for application

Choosing Schools for Application

  • Narrow your interests

  • Begin with advice from current profs

  • Is there a professor doing work that interests you? More than one?

  • Prestige

  • Size

  • Based on geography (if necessary)

    • Apply to about 10 schools


Make contact with faculty before you apply

Make contact with faculty before you apply


The easy parts of the application

The Easy Parts of the Application

  • Spend the time to get it perfect

    • No misspelling, inaccuracies, missing info

    • Tailor to each school

      • The Graduate Record Exam

    • Study for this exam!

    • Take the summer before you apply

    • The general test is universally required but the subject tests are not always required


The statement of purpose or personal essay

The “Statement of Purpose” or Personal Essay

  • This is your main chance to sell yourself!

    • Should be concise, helpful and specific

    • Cute essays in style of UG apps are reviled

    • Use names of each university & its faculty

    • Customize the research angle to program

    • Keep it short; their limit or ~2 pages

    • What (have you done), Why (are you interested), Why (this school)?

      • Get feedback from UG professors


Topics for the essay

Topics for the Essay

  • Take their recommendations first!

    • If program request is general:

    • Your eventual career goal (AFTER the PhD!)

    • Field(s) of research that interest you and why

    • Your prior research experience (key)

    • A particular research question possibly

    • Discrepancies in your record (eg bad grades)


Letters of recommendation

Letters of Recommendation

  • Cultivate relationships and choose well

    • Should be professors (not TAs or staff)

    • Should know your course work and/or research experience well (no “character” references)

    • Supply writers with resume, statement, transcript, and information on your career goals

    • Organize materials carefully for ease of recommenders


The kiss of death in the graduate application process

The “Kiss of Death” in the Graduate Application Process

  • Not doing your homework

    • Applying to a program they don’t have

    • Proposing to work with deceased faculty members

  • Damaging personal statements

    • Altruistic personal statements

    • Excessive self disclosure

    • Nonspecific research goals

    • Professional inappropriateness

  • Survey from IUPUI and Idaho State University faculty of 88 programs


    The kiss of death in the graduate application process1

    The “Kiss of Death” in the Graduate Application Process

    • Academic problems

      • Erratic grades; blaming others for poor performance

  • Faulty letters of recommendation

    • Inappropriate authors; disclosure of undesirable personality characteristics

  • Lack of writing skills

    • Failure to proof; poor grammar or composition

  • Misfired attempts to impress

    • Name dropping


  • Summary

    Summary

    • Think deeply about your career & life goals

    • Start program research & applications early

    • Make contact with faculty before application

    • Study for the GRE exam

    • Produce a perfectly prepared application

    • Get input on your statement of purpose

    • Customize your applications

    • Cultivate recommenders and give them the right tools


    Departmental statistics

    Departmental Statistics

    • Currently 134 graduate students

    • Currently 45 faculty members

    • Student: Faculty ratio of ~3: 1

    • Over 40 post doctoral fellows

    • Close to 100% funding rate for Biology faculty (extramural grants)

    • Biology ranks #1 at UND in amount of extramural funding (~$20M per year)


    Advantages of our program

    Advantages of Our Program

    • Excellent support package

    • Flexibility in coursework and research

    • Well funded and active laboratories

    • Excellent facilities

    • Many interdisciplinary opportunities

    • Collegial and interactive faculty & students

    • Low student:faculty ratio = interaction


    How are biology students supported

    How are Biology Students Supported?

    • Teaching Assistantships

      • Typically teach 1 lab per week

      • About 10-12 hr per week for all teaching duties

    • Research Assistantships

      • Research in your advisor’s laboratory

      • Often linked to your own graduate research

    • Fellowships and Traineeships

      • University Fellowships

      • Training Grants (IGERT, CBBIP, etc.)

      • National Fellowships (NSF, USEPA, DOD, AHA, etc.)


    Level of stipend support

    Level of Stipend Support

    • $25,000 for 12 months in 2010-11

      • $18,750 for academic year (9 months)

      • $6,250 for summer support (from grants typically)

      • Same for TAs or RAs, Ph.D. or M.S.

      • Some fellows have enhanced stipends (e.g., IGERT)

    • Full tuition waiver provided

      • ~$38,270 per year

    • Five years of support toward Ph.D.

      • Three years towards M.S.

      • Assumes adequate progress toward degree


    Our admission criteria

    Our Admission Criteria

    • Research Experience

      • Undergraduate research & summer internships

      • Emphasize in your application & letters

      • Master’s degrees

    • “Fit” with the Lab and Program

      • Make contact with faculty before you apply

      • Do your homework on research programs

      • Make the case in your personal statement


    More admissions criteria

    More Admissions Criteria

    • Letters of Reference

      • Our favorite phrases:

        • “intellectual curiosity” “great work ethic” “team player”

        • “excellent writer” “problem-solver” “self motivated”

    • Undergrad Institution and GPA

    • GRE scores

      • General test required

      • Subject tests optional but desirable


    Graduate recruitment weekend

    Graduate Recruitment Weekend

    • 40-60 applicants visit at our expense

      • 2 ½ days of activities (meals, tours, boring talks)

    • Faculty Interview Questions:

      • What are your long-term goals?

      • What areas of research interest you?

      • What was your favorite undergrad class?

      • What are your hobbies?

    • Do your homework on the program & faculty!


    Applying to graduate school in the life sciences

    Predoctoral Fellowship Opportunities:

    Extramural:

    - NSF (GRFP)

    - Private Foundations (American Heart Association, etc).

    Intramural:

    - internal endowment funds

    - training grants

    - university programs


    Applying to graduate school in the life sciences

    University of Notre Dame


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