Calling all scientists: I need some advice about graduate school.
August 29, 2010 12:44 AM Subscribe
Is it too late for me to gain admission to the top PhD programs in the life sciences? What can I do to improve my chances besides the obvious?
posted by WhitenoisE to Education (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I realize this is a question best suited to my adviser. Unfortunately, my adviser is not very conversational (I don't hold it against her as she's an extremely busy woman) and I'd appreciate multiple perspectives anyway.
In about a week's time I'll be starting my junior year at UMass Amherst, majoring in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (single major). I was an exceptionally motivated student in high school and managed to graduate valedictorian while participating in numerous student government positions, academic clubs, varsity sports teams, volunteer programs, and working ~40 hours a week at a crappy job (I didn't sleep much). I was admitted into the Commonwealth College honors program and BioTAP (talent advancement program for the life sciences).
Unfortunately, I entered college with no study habits or discipline because for whatever reason I was able to consistently ace tests in high school with little to no studying outside of the classroom. I obviously realized college would be much more difficult, but what I didn't realize was that study skills are, well, skills that require practice to hone like any other. Simply putting in the hours wasn't enough. It didn't help that I lost my focus and began seriously questioning what I wanted out of life. I took 20 credits per semester and didn't fail or drop any classes, but my GPA was little over 3.0 by the end of freshman year and I barely kept my scholarships and honors status. By sophomore year I was much better at the game and newly motivated. I managed to raise my GPA to 3.39 at the end of sophomore year (fuck you very much Orgo).
I want to pursue a doctoral program in the biomedical sciences. By my calculations if I maintain straight A's for the rest of undergrad I'll end up with ~3.6 (I'll be taking slightly less credits). Realistically I expect closer to a 3.5. I'm not trying to shortchange myself but I'll be taking a lot of very difficult 500 level courses over the next two years with a few unpredictable professors. For better or for worse I've always gone with the more challenging sequence of science and math courses when given the option. I only have a small amount of research experience from freshman year and have not yet found a lab, but I've made it my goal to do so this coming semester. I've not yet taken the GRE but for what it's worth I've always performed very well on standardized tests.
Based on this information and assuming I perform very well but not super-humanly over the next two years, is it most likely too late for me to have hope for the top graduate programs in bioinformatics or molecular biology (such as UCSF or MIT)? What can I do at this point to improve my chances besides getting published? As far as I see it my pros are my honors status, BioTAP participation, trend of improvement, difficult courses, tendency to make a favorable impression on people, and the the fact that I can write a damn good personal statement. My cons are my relatively unremarkable GPA and that I might look a little boring on paper unless I do something extraordinary like get published or get the key to my city.
Thank you for reading my life story.