Stressed out biology major looking for advice

<p>Hey everyone,</p>

<p>Let me introduce myself,
I am a current Junior at a small liberal arts college. As you can tell, I am a Biology major with the dream of getting my phd in some kind of research, perhaps microbiology or molecular biology. I recently started looking at possible graduate schools and like most people, I'm starting to get very stressed out about it all. My current GPA is a 2.9 and my Bio major gpa is also a 2.9. I've been doing research with one of my professors for almost a year now and I've grown a close relationship with him and I am pretty intricate to his research, I conduct most/ if not all of the research, as well as directing the other people in the lab and teaching them the workings of the lab when they join. This summer I received one of the more prestigious grants to do research with my professor and I plan on continuing he research till I graduate. My question to you is, where is it realistic for me to aim as far as a graduate school goes? Is ivy league out of the question due to the low gpa? I can imagine that when I take my GRE it will have a huge influence on this, but if you guys could give me a better understanding of where it is likely that I can get in. When I graduate my GPA will no doubt be above a 3.1. My initial two years having a low gpa can be accounted for the fact that I played on my schools very competitive sports team and it took a lot of energy and time from studying.</p>

<p>Long story short: 3.1ish GPA, tons of research experience, great recommendations. What are my chances of an ivy league program?</p>

<p>First of all, you are pretty "integral" to his research, not "intricate."</p>

<p>Second of all, you want to understand that graduate school rankings are not like undergraduate rankings. The Ivies are not always the top-ranked programs in graduate fields, and many flagship public universities have the best programs in those fields. For example, in biological sciences, there are only three Ivy League universities in the top 10 (Harvard at #2, and Princeton and Yale tied for #7). And out of the top 25 programs in biology, only an additional three show up - Cornell at #11, Columbia at #15, and Penn at #20. Higher ranked than these three are Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and UCSF. Also in the top 25 are WUSTL, Duke, Chicago, Rockefeller, UCSD, U.Washington, Wisconsin-Madison, UC-David, Michigan, UT-Southwestern Medical Center, UCLA, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Don't aim for an "Ivy League graduate program," aim for a top program that is a good fit for you and your research interests.</p>

<p>My initial two years having a low gpa can be accounted for the fact that I played on my schools very competitive sports team and it took a lot of energy and time from studying.</p>

<p>Understandable, but this is not a very desirable reason for a graduate application and I would NOT explain this in a statement of purpose. It will make you look like you are not serious about graduate work.</p>

<p>You might want to consider earning an MS in biology before trying to do a PhD program. Your lower GPA will limit you, especially since it is also lower in your major. Many MS programs int he natural sciences are funded, so investigate those possibilities. Apply widely, making sure that you apply to some decent MS programs as well as excellent PhD programs. You may - surprise - get into a really good PhD program with good funding, but in the event that you don't you can complete an MS and then apply again.</p>

<p>I love it when their English skills match their GPA. The world is crazy but at least some things still make sense.</p>

<p>@Julliet Thank you so much for the advice, it is much appreciated. I wrote this post in a rush, so I'm sorry if it was tough to read.</p>

<p>@Denizen. This world is crazy, but at least we can always count on someone taking the time to make a rude comment.</p>

<p>Honestly denizen, that was incredibly rude. Especially considering how you post on this forum frequently for OUR help.</p>

<p>Actually I re-read the first post and it wasn't as bad as I originally thought. So I apologize. And yeah, I'm not one to talk given my typos on past statement of purposes. :eek:</p>

<p>One thing you gotta know about me though is sometimes I call it like I see it. I like to have fun on this board. Most of the time I try to answer things I answer seriously. But every once in a while I can't help myself. </p>

<p>To answer you for real:
Your chance at an Ivy League is not good, unless you explain in detail why that school is a match for you. If you can do that then you can feel good about your chances there.</p>

<p>I am starting to consider the option of maybe getting an MS first. How exactly does that work? Do I finish out and get my MS and then apply for a PhD program or do I transfer out of the MS program after a few years into a PhD program? What is the best option?</p>

<p>You apply for doctoral programs in the second year of your master's program.</p>

<p>I spoke with my adviser today, and he essentially said the same things that you guys have said. He told me that what he did after getting his BS, he worked as a research assistant/lab tech for two years, and in those two years he got a 1st author publication and he eventually went on to get his PhD at Harvard (so to say the least things worked out pretty well for him).</p>

<p>So my question is, how is the job market these days? Are positions as a research assistant in which they allow you to eventually become more independent and perform dynamic research, rather than just doing the same tasks over, and over, prevalent? What is the job market like for lab techs currently?</p>

<p>I am in the same boat as you. I went into my senior year, after taking all of my major classes with a 3.4, and my senior year ended with two D's. After an additional semister I ended up with a 3.19 (~3.2 if you round), and concluded that I have to get a MS before I pursue a PhD. You have two routes.</p>

<p>Route A is to go to the career fair at your school and look for companies hiring research assistants. This is a good route to pursue because, if hired, you can make an nice salary (~40K), pay off any debt, and take grad classes. You can also do research that has a big impact, like helping to launch a product that makes money for a company. This is the route that I took. Launching a product worth a couple million dollors for a Fortune 500 is actually very impactful, probably as much as publishing; although, I may be stretching that comparison, as the product that I worked on was awarded product of the year by the trade.</p>

<p>Route B is to talk to PIs who are doing the research that you want to pursue. Form a connection with these people, and politely ask if they have any funding for a research assistant. </p>

<p>Good Luck!</p>

<p>@Scaredbiomajro-</p>

<p>Your advisor did the exact same thing my brother did years ago.</p>

<p>My brother had good GRE scores, but "so so" grades. So after graduation, he got a job as a research technician at a biotech firm. After 2 years, he was able to co-author a couple of papers and then get into the MCB Ph.D program at Berkeley.</p>

<p>He could have gotten into a graduate program right after graduation; but not one with the pedigree of Berkeley. The extra two years he spent working had strengthened his application considerably, to the point that top schools wanted him badly.</p>

<p>According to my "bro", having a Ph.D from Berkeley was d@mn well worth it. Now that he is established, he has noticed that scientists that have Ph.D's from the top schools are generally perceived differently than those from lower ranked schools.</p>

<p>So my advice to you is to work a couple of years. Then go to a top school.</p>

<p>Good luck</p>

<p>Wow thanks for the response guys, I really appreciate it. </p>

<p>My adviser also said that generally it is a better idea to work for academia, rather than for a for-profit company. How do you guys feel about this? You said your brother worked for a biotech firm, how did he go about narrowing down where to apply for a job?</p>

<p>Dear Lordy, I hope youre right. I've worked in the industry for 2 years but have no papers. We'll see what happens to me in the next few months.</p>

<p>@Scaredbiomajro-</p>

<p>Fortunately, my brother and I are close, so he talks to me about a lot of things. In fact, I see him every couple of weeks:)</p>

<p>So to answer your question, I'll tell you how he approached it.</p>

<p>He applied and got interviews with 3 biotech firms. The interviews are the only real way of getting to the finer details of what a job involves. In the first two interviews, he found that the jobs were more production/quality control oriented, so he decided against them. The third job was basic research oriented. So even though it was at a biotech firm, it was run like an academic institution. Folks were free to publish.</p>

<p>The hiring scientist was a Cambridge trained scientist. He didn't care about GRE scores or GPA's. His interview simply consisted of discussing science, philosophy, approach to science, etc.</p>

<p>So when it was said and done, while the other 30 candidates had interviews lasting 15-30 minutes, my brother told me that he had a fascinating discussion with the "guy" that lasted well over an hour. That sealed the deal.</p>

<p>So remember, what's important is not where you work, it's what you're doing. If you want to get into a top grad school, you need to do research in your job. Then get stellar references.</p>

<p>Does it matter what kind of research you're doing? NO! So even if you're doing organic chemistry or are in an immunology lab, it doesn't matter as long as you're doing real research. By the time you get your Ph.D, it will most likely be in a different area anyhow. As an example, my brother was doing carbohydrate chemistry research as a research tech. Then in grad school, he spent a lot of his time doing genetics. Today, his knowledge/awareness of chemistry, biology, and physics allows him to ask a multitude of questions and not be limited by the constraints of a particular field. He actually sees the interplay of all 3 every time he does research.</p>

<p>He told me a scientist at Berkeley once said, "biologist are afraid to ask questions that can't be answered with a pipette and an eppendorf tube". He was right.</p>

<p>Just make sure you get good research experience. That will open doors for you to the best schools. Once in, you can peruse other areas.</p>

<p>Just remember to not constrict yourself by putting a label on yourself, such as "I'm a geneticist" or "I'm a molecular biologist". The exceptional scientists learn as much as they can about science (chemistry, biology, and physics). And they are great at gathering and utilizing information.</p>

<p>Great advice, thank you so much.</p>