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6 Tips for Success in Applying to Grad School HAVE A PURPOSE FIND THE RIGHT ADVISOR HAVE A PLAN B EMAIL A LETTER OF INQUIRY PREPARE BEFORE YOU APPLY VISIT YOUR FIRST FEW CHOICES 1. Have a Purpose Why do you want to go to grad school? What are your career goals?

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6 tips for success in applying to grad school
6 Tips for Success in Applying to Grad School
1 have a purpose
1. Have a Purpose
  • Why do you want to go to grad school?
  • What are your career goals?
  • How will the grad program and lab you’re applying to help you reach your career goals?
ms versus phd
MS versus PhD
  • Most jobs in biology require a Master’s degree
    • Government agencies
    • Research labs and Consulting firms
    • Community colleges
    • Hospitals
    • Public schools
  • Research Scientists and Professors need a PhD
    • Government and Private Research Scientists
    • University and 4-year College professors


2 finding the right professor
2. Finding the Right Professor
  • For most areas of Biology, finding the right Advisor is the most important step
    • Establishes the kind of research you will be doing
    • Teaches you to think, write and become a scientist
    • Genetics and Molecular Biology areas emphasize programs
      • Lab rotations help you find the right advisor
    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Wildlife Biology emphasize faculty advisors
      • Must identify the person who will be your advisor BEFORE you can be accepted into the program

Biological Sciences Graduate Admissions:Programs of Study: The graduate programs in Zoology (Biological Sciences) and Microbiology offer the MS and Ph.D. degrees. The Zoology program offers specializations in: (1) Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (2) Cell and Developmental Biology (3) Comparative Organismal Biology The Microbiology program offers specializations in: (1) Cellular and Physiological Microbiology (2) Microbial Genetics and Molecular Microbiology (3) Environmental Microbiology Applying to the Graduate Programs in Zoology or Microbiology: The first, and most important, step in applying to one of the graduate degree programs in Biological Sciences is to identify and contact a faculty member with whom you have similar research interests and discuss potential opportunities in his or her lab for graduate research. Students are not admitted to either the Zoology or Microbiology degree programs without a faculty member having indicated willingness to serve as Major Advisor. Information concerning opportunities in specific fields of study and faculty research interests, including email contact information, is found at http://www.clemson.edu/biosci/graduate/interests.htm.


Graduate Program in Zoology--Faculty Research Interests

Michael J. Childress, Assistant Professor, Ph.D., Florida State University, 1995. Behavioral ecology, marine ecology, comparative sociobiology, invertebrate zoology, animal behavior, communication, evolutionary biology. (http://www.clemson.edu/~mchildr/E-mail: mchildr@clemson.edu)

James M. Colacino, Associate Professor, Ph.D., State University of New York, 1973. Comparative respiratory and circulatory physiology; Invertebrate hemoglobin function. Mathematical models of physiological systems. (E-mail: jmclc@clemson.edu)

Saara J. DeWalt, Assistant Professor, Ph.D., Louisiana State University, 2003. Population ecology and genetics of invasive plants; community ecology of woody plants with emphasis on lianas (woody vines); tropical ecology. (E-mail: saarad@clemson.edu)


Margaret B. Ptacek, Associate Professor Contact Information:Phone: 864 656-6964 FAX: 864 656-0435 Email: mptacek@clemson.edu

Research Interests:Our Lab has a Web site we would like you to visit.My main research interests lie at the intersection of behavioral ecology, population genetics and speciation. Specifically, I am interested in processes that control genetic divergence among populations and the contributions of these processes to local adaptation and speciation. My work investigates mechanisms causing divergence among natural populations and addresses questions regarding gene flow and its influence on phylogenetic relationships among populations and closely related species. In my research, I apply molecular techniques to phylogeny reconstruction and use these phylogenies to address a variety of issues of significance in evolutionary ecology.



Ptacek, M.B., M.J. Childress and M.M. Kittell.  In press.  Characterizing the mating behaviours of the Tamesí molly, Poecilialatipunctata:  a sailfin with shortfin morphology. Animal Behaviour.

Kittell, M.M., M.N. Harvey, S. Contraras Balderas, and M.B. Ptacek.  In press.  Wild-caught hybrids between sailfin and shortfin mollies (Poeciliidae, Poecilia:  Mollienesia):  morphological and molecularverification.  Hidrobiologica.


Jones, M.T., S.R. Voss, M.B. Ptacek, D.W. Weisrock, and D.W. Tonkyn.  2005.  River drainages and phylogeography:  An evolutionary significant lineage of shovel-nosed salamander (Desmognathus marmoratus) in the southern Appalachians.  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.


Ptacek, M. B.  2002.  Patterns of inheritance of mating signals in interspecific hybrids between sailfin and shortfin mollies (Poeciliidae: Poecilia: Mollienesia). In W. J. Etges and M. A. F. Noor, eds., Genetics of Mate Choice: From Sexual Selection to Sexual Isolation, Invited participant, Genetica, 116(2-3):329-342.


The Moran Lab

Research Publications

Curriculum Vitae Positions Available

Information for Prospective Students 


Department of Biological Sciences

Clemson University

Clemson, SC


Interested in pursuing of Ph.D. or Masters degree in marine invertebrate ecology, conservation, or evolution? This may be the place for you. The Department of Biological Sciences at Clemson University is a large and growing group of organismally-oriented scientists who are interested in many aspects of evolutionary biology, ecology, functional morphology, and physiology. Access to marine facilities through the Baruch Institute is available, and we have marine colleagues in the department and at other South Carolina institutions such as USC and the College of Charleston.

Information about graduate degrees in the department is available here and here. If you are interested in applying specifically to the moran laboratory, please contact me in advance; I'd like to hear from you. Your degree of "fit" with laboratory interests is very important, and of course there is not space for new students every year.

3 have a plan b
3. Have a Plan B
  • Identify several professors as potential advisors
  • Identify a number of programs
    • Some faculty won’t have room
    • Some schools won’t work out
4 email a letter of inquiry
4. Email a letter of inquiry
  • Tell about
    • Your current status
    • Your research interests and experience
    • Why you are interested in their lab
      • Read their papers so you can talk about their research
    • How you could contribute to their research
      • Skills, techniques, coursework
    • Your long term career goals
    • Attach your CV (include GPA and GRE scores if you have them)
5 prepare before you apply
5. Prepare before you apply
  • Research programs, potential faculty advisors, research interests and their publications
  • Take the GREs
    • Some programs require the Biology Subject Test
  • Write your statement of purpose
    • Get a faculty member or graduate student to read it
  • Line up good letters of recommendation
    • Faculty with whom you’ve done BIOSC 491
    • Supervisors from summer intern programs
    • Faculty in whose courses you have made an ‘A’ AND an impression!
5 prepare before you apply14
5. Prepare before you apply
  • Find out entrance requirements
    • Look on the web
    • Talk to the Graduate Program Coordinator
  • Find out about assistantships
    • Teaching assistantships
    • Research assistantships
    • Fellowships
  • Find out about support for graduate research
    • Departmental research funds
    • Graduate school research funds
    • Research Travel Awards

Guidelines used by GAC for Graduate Programs Admission Acceptability:

GRE score: A combined score of 1100 on the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE and an Analytical Writing score of ≥ 4.0.

GPA: A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 from undergraduate degree institution and Master's degree institution (if applicable).

TOEFL (international students): ≥ 89th percentile; Minimum score of 600 (out of 677) from paper exam or 267 (out of 300) from online exam.

Strong letters from recommenders that speak to an applicants academic skills and research potential: 3 required for Ph.D. applicants; 2 required for M.S. applicants.

In addition, the Zoology program has the following undergraduate course requirements: Calculus (1 semester) Inorganic Chemistry (2 semesters) Physics (2 semesters) Organic Chemistry (2 semesters) Plant Diversity (1 semester) Animal Diversity (1 semester) Genetics (1 semester) Evolutionary Biology (1 semester) At least one course in the following: Cell and Molecular Biology, Physiology and Structural Biology, Ecology and Animal Behavior.

In addition, the Microbiology Program has the following undergraduate course requirements:Calculus (1 semester) Inorganic Chemistry (2 semesters) Physics (2 semesters) Organic Chemistry (2 semesters) Genetics (1 semester) Biological Sciences (1 semester)

6 visit your first couple of choices
6. Visit your first couple of choices
  • Ask Program Coordinator and potential Advisor about arrangements for visiting
    • Some schools have travel awards
    • Some programs do group visits
    • Some advisors have funds to interview prospective students
  • Make appointments ahead of time
    • Advisor(s)
    • Potential committee members
    • Graduate Program Coordinator
    • Graduate students in advisor’s lab and other grad students
6 visit your first couple of choices17
6. Visit your first couple of choices
  • Ask Questions, Questions, Questions!
  • Your potential advisor(s)
    • How does he/she see you fitting into the lab’s research program
    • What expectations does he/she have for grad students
      • time to graduation, number of pubs, work on projects other than your own, comprehensive exams and defenses
    • Funding sources
      • Research assistantships, funds for research supplies, funds for travel to meetings
    • What are former graduate students doing these days?
      • Help getting into PhD programs, postdocs, jobs
6 visit your first couple of choices18
6. Visit your first couple of choices
  • Ask Questions, Questions, Questions!
  • Other faculty members
    • What types of research are they doing?
    • Based on your interests and project (you tell them) what role will they play on your committee?
  • Other graduate students
    • Is your advisor a good advisor to his/her students?
    • How are Tas in terms of time and money
    • Where to live, cost of living?
    • Is the basketball team any good?
  • Be prepared to talk about yourself
    • Your research interests
    • How you fit in advisor’s lab
    • Your career goals