What should I be doing to position myself for grad school? I'm a freshman biology undergrad and my long-term goal is to earn a doctorate and start a career in research, either private or academic. What should I be doing now and over the next few years to open doors and set myself up for success?
posted by Scientist to education (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
So, I'm 26. I dropped out of my first attempt at college (anthropology) at age 20, and after several years of academic hiatus, traveling, and general soul-searching, I've finally figured out what I want to do. I want to earn my doctorate and become a research biologist – probably focusing somewhere in the general vicinity of molecular biology, biotechnology, bioengineering, etc. – and last spring I went back to school full time.
So far, so good. I've been getting excellent grades, I'm keeping up with my schoolwork, I'm managing a job which pays my bills, and I'm maintaining some semblance of a social life – all of which keeps me well balanced, busy, and sane. It's a little stressful at times, but I'm keeping my academics in the forefront and so far it's going well. I absolutely adore the subject I've chosen, and I finally feel like I've found something among my many interests which I am comfortable devoting my life to. Life, in short, has never been better.
However, this fall will be my last semester as a freshman, and I am vaguely aware that good grades are not going to be enough to achieve the highest level of success when it comes time to make the next step – applying to graduate programs. I'm aware that I've embarked on a rather long journey (and that I'm starting out fairly late – if anyone has insight into how much this will hurt me in the long run, I'd love to hear about it) but I don't want to get too relaxed and just chug along in my rut, only to find when I get to the end that I wasn't doing enough to achieve at the level that I desire. I want to rise as high as I possibly can in my field, and the last thing I'd want to have happen is for me to sabotage myself through ignorance.
I'm attending a state school – the University of New Orleans. So far I'm pretty satisfied with the quality of the actual courses I'm taking, but then so far the courses I've been taking have been pretty basic ones – general chemistry, biodiversity, trigonometry, with a smattering of language, social science, and humanities courses to round out my major. It's a largish school (about 12,000 students) and mostly a commuter college, and it suits my needs very well. I'm not sure I'm getting enough academic counseling right now, but I've recently joined the honors program which among other things promises to provide more individualized advisement. Once I have a working relationship with an adviser, I intend to ask him or her the same sorts of questions that I am asking in this space.
So I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: aside from getting good grades, what sort of time-line should I be on to ensure I have the greatest possible success in finding a top grad school? Should I be looking for a job as a lab tech at some point? Should I be participating in extracurricular activities, student government, cultural societies? Should I be searching out conferences or trade shows or academic fairs? Researching grad schools to try and find the ones with the most attractive programs, so that I can target my studies to appeal to the people I want to take me on? What should I be doing, how might I go about it, and at what point in my undergraduate career do I need to start doing them?
Thanks for reading, everyone. I know there are quite a few of you out there who are further along this road than I am, or who have traveled similar paths and might have insight for me at the beginning of mine. Any and all advice is completely welcome.