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Getting Into a Top PhD Programs- Should I take a year off or do a Masters? Help Please!

94dino94dino Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
edited May 2016 in Graduate School
Hello I have just graduated Rutgers University the New Brunswick campus with a a major of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minor of Statistics. My GPA at the end of college was a 3.3 out of a 4.0 scale. I know this is a very low GPA. I want to do PhD, in the life sciences, and have done research for the past two years and completed an Honors Undergraduate Thesis. I was planning on taking a year of, so i could study for the GRE in the summer and take them in September or October so I could try to get a great GRE score so it could offset my low GPA.

During this time I applied for a masters program, M,A in biotechnology at Columbia University which did not require a GRE. I got into the masters program, however I am now unsure if I should still take a year off or i should rather take this prestigious opportunity and then after the Master program apply for PhD which would then enable me to get into a stronger PhD program which i would be unable to after just undergrad. I have also been told I might be published end of this year. I have listed the Pros and Cons below. Please let me know if in your opinon i should still take a year off or I should take the Master program and then apply to PhD program. i really want to attend Columbia but wanted to get others opinion.

Pros:
-Attending Columbia's Master program will ;provide me the ability to get into a top PhD program due to the prestige of the faculty and status of the school
-Help me expand my network of connections
-Expand my Knowledge
-ITS COLUMBIA LOL
-Columbia might give me that distinction which might differentiate me from other candidates when applying for PhD.

Cons:
-I will be spending 65K for a a`1 year master program. (Very expensive)

My C.V
Education: Rutgers University, School of Arts and Sciences, New Brunswick, NJ
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Minor: Statistics
Relevant Courses: Molecular Pathways, Gene Regulation in Cancer and Development, Special Topics in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry: The Biology of Aging, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Introduction to Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Laboratory, Organic Chemistry, Computer and Graphical Applications Statistics, Regression Methods, Introduction to Experimental Design, Statistics for Quality Control, Basic Statistics for Research, Introduction to Computing Statistics, Basic Statistics and Probability, Calculus, Physics, Biology, Chemistry
Experience
1. Undergraduate Research Assistant at Rutgers University- September 2014- Current
• Received Highest Honors after successfully defending my Honors Thesis titled, "The Role of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 1(GRM1) in Exosome Production and Melanoma Metastasis: Determining the Cellular Origin of Exosomes in Circulation".

2. Research Assistant at Avatar Biotechnologies (Brooklyn) - June 2nd 2014- August 23rd 2014
• Worked on an independent project to see if certain insertions in Influenza Virus’s Hemagglutin would provide an in-vitro headless HA molecule.
• Provided assistance to an intern, on how to perform certain assays
3. Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for Basic Statistics for Research (Rutgers University) January 2014-December 2014
• Provided assistance to the professor in preparation of assignments.
4. Worked for Barbra Buono for Governor Campaign (New Brunswick, New Jersey)- May 30th 2013- August 15th 2013
• Voters were informed of Barbara Buono’s belief’s allowing me to develop strong communication skills.
• Supervised volunteers and other interns.
5. Internship at International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (Manhattan New York)- August 2011
• Learned about the different components of a non-profit organization and learned how to apply money saving tactics in research.
• Understood the process of quality control, writing grants, and the functionality of non-profit companies.

Honors/Awards
1. Highest Honors Awarded to my Senior Thesis (Rutgers University)
• Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry awarded me highest honors after successfully defending my thesis and on the quality of my thesis.
2. School of Arts and Sciences Paul Robeson Scholar (Rutgers University)
• Distinction given by the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, to Undergraduates completing an Honors Thesis.
3. Aresty Research Center Undergraduate Research Fellowship (Rutgers University)
• Awarded funding allocated towards my Honors Thesis
4. Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (Earnest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers University)- May-August 2015
• One of the 24 students who were accepted into the program.
• SURF fellow at Rutgers and also an American Society of Pharmacological and Experimental Therapeutics SURF Fellow.
5. Dean’s List
• Given to students who have obtained a 3.5 GPA at the end of the semester.
6. Eagle Scout
• Only 5% of boys entering Boy Scouts are awarded Eagle Scout rank. This status defines me as a strong leader, someone who can be trusted, and be given responsibilities. The two leadership roles I held were: senior patrol leader and troop guide.
• Developed a project that would help beautify Edison High School, by planting plants around ten trees, using bricks to make a boundary around each of those ten trees and make a bench and place an Eagle Statue on pedestal.


Projects
1. Basic Statistics for Research- Fall 2013
• Created projects which incorporated ANOVA, Regression Analysis, Pareto Analysis, and the Cause and effect Diagram/Ishikawa diagram was used to study various lecture topics.
2. Computing and Graphics in Applied Statistics- Fall 2015
• Worked in a group of three to develop a 30 minute presentation on the topic, Regression Model Building using Multiple Comparison Testing. In our presentation we built a regression model to analyze the relationship between the length of the cuckoo egg and the host bird species. We used ANOVA for our multiple comparison test for the four different variables, hedge sparrow, pied wagtail, meadow pipit and robin, to conclude which variable (bird) was significant to be included in the model. The conclusion the multiple comparison test lead to the rejection of the null hypothesis for Hedge Sparrow = Meadow Pipet. This allowed us to determine that the hedge sparrow and meadow pipit are significant in the regression model.

Laboratory Skills
• Total Exosome Isolation
• Transform and Transfect Cells
• Minipreps and Maxipreps
• Genomic DNA Extraction
• Protein Extraction
• Polymerase Chain Reaction assays
• Gel Electrophoresis
• Immunoblotting
• Elisa
• Protein Assay
• Spectrophotometer
• Microscopy
• Write research proposal
• Knowledge of proper laboratory ethics
Computer Skills
• Proficient in using ImageJ software
• Proficient in the use of excel to do statistical analysis, using the tools data analysis and pivot.
• Familiar with R- Programming and SAS-Programing
• Proficient in using Microsoft Office, Google Documents.



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Replies to: Getting Into a Top PhD Programs- Should I take a year off or do a Masters? Help Please!

  • mademoiselle2308mademoiselle2308 Registered User Posts: 411 Member
    Under no circumstances should you pay $65,000 for a masters degree regardless of where it is from to study any of the life sciences!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I would advise you to look for a job as a research/laboratory technologist/technician/associate (many different names for the same job) to gain more research experience, earn some money, take the GRE, research grad schools appropriate for your research interests, and apply to grad school.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,550 Super Moderator
    If you have no debt from undergrad, $65,000 for an MS isn't so bad. You can earn a salary that will allow you to repay that kind of debt. (If you already have debt from undergrad, that changes the a calculus.)

    The real question is will an MS actually help you get into a PhD program? You seem to be assuming that it will, but it may not. First of all, if you are applying for fall 2017 you'll be applying three months into your MS program - your new faculty won't know you well enough to support that application yet. You won't have a GPA from your graduate classes to show off yet. You'd have to wait to apply for fall 2018 if you want the MS to count.

    Also, prestige alone doesn't help you get into PhD programs. What helps you is what YOU do. You can go to the most prestigious MS program in the world, but if you don't perform well and don't do the things that appeal to PhD programs you won't be admitted. 3.5 of your pros are essentially the same thing - you think that the prestige and name of Columbia will be a huge factor in your admission to a PhD program when it will probably be a moderate factor at best. (I say .5 because the networking thing is partially that, and partially something else. But the networking for a one-year MS in biotech is unlikely to help you a whole lot in applying for PhD programs, particularly if you are trying to apply for fall 2017. Again, you'll only have been there for three months.)

    Secondly, it's debatable whether it would help - as @mademoiselle2308 pointed out, working as a research technician/associate/whatever for 2 years and auditing or taking some non-degree graduate classes would probably make you more competitive and would certainly cost less money.

    Actually, the Columbia biotech MA explicitly says that their deegree program is designed for people who want professional careers in biotech, not for PhD hopefuls:

    The program is intended for students who would like a career in biotechnology without making the 5-7 year commitment to attain a Ph.D.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 25,543 Senior Member
    sorry, but Columbia's masters program is a cash cow. It has the Ivy name, but the program is not that competitive to get in and therefore, not prestigious by itself (unlike Columbia College and Columbia's PhD programs). There is a reason that it did not require a GRE score.

    when my D was applying to grad schools, several folks she interviewed with had attended William & Mary for a MS.
    Designed as a way to obtain research before applying to a PhD program, they also have some funding. W&M does require a GRE.

    http://www.wm.edu/as/biology/graduate/funding/index.php

    If you want NYC, consider NYU?
  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN Registered User Posts: 2,894 Senior Member
    ^ Yes, the purpose of the Columbia program is to bring revenues into the university, not to get students into better PhD programs.
  • AuraObscuraAuraObscura Registered User Posts: 599 Member
    As previous posters have said, Columbia's MA in biotechnology is intended to be a terminal Master's for a career in industry. It's not designed to help you get into a PhD program.

    Pedigree matters a little bit in academia, but your research experience is the most important aspect of your application for a PhD program. A non-thesis, non-research based Master's will not be very helpful for you if your goal is a PhD, and I think you're vastly overestimating how much anyone will care about the name of the school.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,550 Super Moderator
    sorry, but Columbia's masters program is a cash cow. It has the Ivy name, but the program is not that competitive to get in and therefore, not prestigious by itself (unlike Columbia College and Columbia's PhD programs). There is a reason that it did not require a GRE score.

    I just want to be clear that a program's status as a "cash cow" doesn't mean that the program isn't prestigious. Nor does the selectivity a program really reflect its quality or reputation in a field. A great example is top 10 MPH programs. The MPH is an expensive degree and is certainly a cash cow - it brings a lot of revenue to the school and is almost never subsidized by scholarships or grants. Here are the acceptance rates for MPH programs at the top 10 schools of public health:

    Johns Hopkins: 42%
    Harvard - 34%
    UNC - 42%
    Michigan - 50%
    Columbia - 60%
    Washington - 35%
    Emory - 51%
    Minnesota - 48%
    Berkeley - 26%
    Boston U - 51%

    Yet these are prestigious programs in the public health world, and graduates go on to do some very excellent things within the public health world.

    Another example is top MBA programs. They're all pretty competitive, but they're also cash cows - they exist in large part to draw revenue to a university and almost never hand out scholarships or grants to students. The expectation is that you borrow the cost of attendance but then earn a salary that enables you to repay it later.

    The determination of quality of a program is the quality of the faculty and instruction, the networking, the resources the university and the department/school have, the curriculum design...aspects like these. How selective the program is isn't necessarily an indicator of quality - it kind of depends on the field. A program being a revenue generator for the school doesn't necessarily mean it's low quality, either. (Unless, of course, you are using a more colloquial definition of the term "cash cow".)

    So my comment wasn't meant to say anything about the actual quality of Columbia's biotechnology program - I have no idea how it is regarded in the biotech world, although given Columbia's strong reputation in the biological sciences, biomedical/health sciences, and computer science I'd wager it's a pretty good program. It was simply about whether or not paying all that money would be helpful for getting into a PhD program. Besides, as was already mentioned, the prestige of your MS program doesn't really matter all that much for getting into a PhD.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 25,543 Senior Member
    edited May 2016
    Another example is top MBA programs. They're all pretty competitive...

    in admissions yes; in other words, darn selective. Stanford's B-school, for example, has a 6% admissions rate, only 1 point higher than its undergrad program. I would assume that Harvard, Wharton, and Columbia are also in/near the single digits. (too lazy to look them up.)
    The MPH is an expensive degree and is certainly a cash cow - it brings a lot of revenue to the school and is almost never subsidized by scholarships or grants.

    Things must have changed since the dark ages, bcos I know plenty of folks who attended H or H, w/ a merit scholarship. (I was one of them.)
  • 94dino94dino Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Thank You guys! I am taking all of these comments into my decision. I just want to make the best decision for me, since I want to trying to aim for good PhD programs. In the future I would love to work in academia and have my own research lab (PI/Professor). I have noticed that most faculty who go to top PhD programs in their respective fields such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, John Hopkins, Cornell, Cambridge, Oxford and other top schools have attended a top Undergrad such as Cambridge, Harvard, John Hopkins and other amazing top undergraduate school and ended up in top PhD programs. So i thought that maybe if I imitate them I would possibly increase my chances of getting a academic position.

    I know academic positions are scarce, and requires tremendous amount of hard work and struggles but I was maybe thinking that maybe a master from Columbia would differentiate me in application process for PhD programs.

    I am just so unsure about what the future has in store and do not want to lost this amazing opportunity. For me getting into the Columbia program is something I never imagined.
  • xraymancsxraymancs Forum Champion Graduate School Posts: 4,572 Forum Champion
    A 1 year terminal master program is unlikely to be of great value in getting into a PhD program since you will not be able to gain significant additional research experience in this time or in this particular program. The most you will gain is an additional GPA and a bit more time to take the GRE. As others have said, your PhD program application will be dominated by your undergraduate record if it is for 2017.

    A research-oriented MS is probably better for you but that will take 2 years and application deadlines are already past. It is not even clear that an MS is necessary to get into a good PhD program. The most important thing about getting a PhD is who you do your dissertation with. You can compete for a good job in academia with a degree from a program which is not one of the ones you name be you need to have a well-regarded advisor.

    My advice would be to work for a year in a research lab, use a fraction of the $65, 000 you would have to spend on the Columbia degree in subsidizing your living expenses, and get a lot of research experience, some publications and possibly take a graduate course or two to show that you can handle the load. Over this year apply to a few solid PhD programs and one or two that you are pretty sure you can get into with support. Maybe even a research-based MS too. it will cost you less and give you a better boost toward your ultimate goal.
  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 Registered User Posts: 5,651 Senior Member
    edited May 2016
    @94dino, as much as you have stars in your eyes about Columbia (Columbia!), re-read post #9: @xraymancs knows what he is talking about, including direct experience in PhD admissions.

    Also, here you are conflating several things:
    I have noticed that most faculty who go to top PhD programs in their respective fields such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, John Hopkins, Cornell, Cambridge, Oxford and other top schools have attended a top Undergrad such as Cambridge, Harvard, John Hopkins and other amazing top undergraduate school and ended up in top PhD programs.
    .

    Yes, many students who have the ambition, drive, maturity, etc. to get into and do well in top undergrads end up at top grad schools, but if you look at (for example) JHU primary appointments, in alphabetical order the PhDs are from URochester, SUNY, JHU, Chinese Academy of Science, Northwestern, UWi, Northwestern, UDundee, Yale, UEdinburgh, Ohio State, UNC, Yale, JHU, Stanford, USheffield, UMontreal. Some high profile names, to be sure- but also a lot of names that I don't think you see as 'top'- yet those people are in the job you say you want. Of particular relevance for you, the person who got their PhD from University of Dundee did their Masters at Oxford, which goes exactly to @xraymancs point:
    The most important thing about getting a PhD is who you do your dissertation with. You can compete for a good job in academia with a degree from a program which is not one of the ones you name but you need to have a well-regarded advisor.

    And that well-regarded advisor could be in Ohio, Dundee or a lot of other places.

    Even if $65K is not a meaningful amount of money to you, the taught Masters is probably not your best path towards your goal as you have stated it here. If it is a meaningful amount of money for you, well....
  • 94dino94dino Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    @xraymancs this Master requires you to do supervised research in a lab as a requirement to graduate with your Master along with thesis.
  • 94dino94dino Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    @collegemom3717 thank you so much! This Master requires you to do supervised research in a lab as a requirement to graduate with your Master along with thesis.
  • AuraObscuraAuraObscura Registered User Posts: 599 Member
    I don't understand how a Master's with a thesis could possibly be completed in one year.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,550 Super Moderator
    in admissions yes; in other words, darn selective. Stanford's B-school, for example, has a 6% admissions rate, only 1 point higher than its undergrad program. I would assume that Harvard, Wharton, and Columbia are also in/near the single digits. (too lazy to look them up.)

    Yes, but this completely ignores the second half of what I said, which is that MBAs are also cash cows. The point is that a program being a cash cow doesn't mean it's not good.

    Harvard's MBA admission rate is 11% and Columbia's is 18%. Wharton's is not possible to accurately calculate because they only report the number of applicants and the number of people who enrolled, but 13% of the people who applied to Wharton enrolled there, so if you assume that nearly all but not all of Wharton's applicants attended I think it's safe to assume that the admission rate is somewhere in the 15-20% range.
    I don't understand how a Master's with a thesis could possibly be completed in one year.

    It's because they give you three different options to complete the thesis. You can write what is essentially an extended literature review ("review articles with strong "views"...), or you can write a grant proposal for an NIH NRSA predoctoral fellowship. That application takes a lot of time but it's only 6 pages long.

    The third option is to write a scientific report, but it's only allowed for students who have done independent research beyond that of their supervised research course. Also, they instruct you to write it in the format of Nature Biotechnology, a scientific journal. A quick look at that journal's requirements reveals that their articles are limited to 3,000 words, 8 figures/tables and 50 references. 3,000 words is about 10-15 pages of text. (My own master's thesis was 14 pages long, excluding references. It was also a scientific journal article; I published it the following year.)

    It's not a thesis like a mini-dissertation or long format paper. Honestly, it's more useful than that.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 25,543 Senior Member
    Yes, but this completely ignores the second half of what I said...

    With all due respect, you ignored the second half of what I said, which focused on selectivity. :-)
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