What to do with my year off - bio phd

<p>I'm a senior and will be applying for cell/cancer biology ph.d programs next winter during a year off. I have about 3.5 years of research experience, most of which was done at Brigham & Women's (Harvard), will have a 2nd author publication (likely in a top journal) by the time I graduate, and have done independent projects at both my labs. I'll have strong LORs from the two PIs I worked with--one from the harvard lab and the other from my home institution.</p>

<p>But, my GPA is super mediocre, around 3.1. I take the GREs in a few weeks and expect low 700sQ and 600sV. I also plan on taking the subject GRE next april since my GPA is low.</p>

<p>Since I have a year off and could use another LOR, I have been considering finding another research position. I'd like to compensate for my GPA as much as possible and am happy to do more research, but would more experience really benefit my application?</p>

<p>Finally, it's a little far off, but any input on what types of schools I'd be competitive for? My PI seems optimistic about my chances, but I'm still worried about my GPA and have no idea where I should be looking. I'm interested in several mid-tier schools, but I'd also like to apply to a few top schools (maybe uchicago, upenn, columbia).</p>

<p>I’m in pretty much the exact same situation as you are - I’m a graduating senior, 3.0-3.1 GPA, 780M/730V GRE, top 20 university, worked in a lab for 2 years, taking a year or two off before (God willing) applying to microbiology PhD programs. High five! I’m super scared about my GPA too… working multiple jobs in college + elderly ill parents = not conducive to a good college career haha</p>

<p>Some graduate students I’ve talked to said they worked as lab techs for a few years (some worked at the school they ended up matriculating into for graduate school), and others worked in government jobs like the USDA or FDA. I’m beginning to apply to work as a research assistant in labs at some other universities, I really hope something pulls through… I don’t even know how long the process takes, if saying “I can start next July” is okay or if they want someone who can start almost immediately. I’m pretty clueless! I will say, though, that I’ve only heard positive things about getting more research experience after undergrad (from profs, grad students AND admissions directors).</p>

<p>Down the road I’m thinking of just applying to safety schools (if there is such a thing for graduate programs?) but I’d really like to stay somewhat towards the east coast, so that might make it a little more difficult… I’ll keep you updated if I learn anything that might help us!</p>

<p>This is a good question. I’m not a PhD (I am applying this year), so take what I have to say with a grain of salt. However, I have worked full-time in an academic lab setting for over 5 years and seen enough PhD interview weekends now that I’ve become pretty familiar with the way these admissions processes work. </p>

<p>If you are definitely going to take a year off before applying, I would emphatically recommend that you keep doing research. If you don’t do research, you would need to have a really good reason why you decided to do something else. Otherwise, admissions committees may think that you are unsure what you want to do after college. Doing research in your year off will demonstrate your commitment. The only other thing that comes to mind that will look great to committees (and fellowship sources like NSF) is something service related, like educational volunteering. Most schools consider research experience, publications, and rec letters the best indicators of grad school success, and I don’t think there is ever such a thing as “enough” experience. Doing an extra year of research may also allow you to narrow in your research interests and write a clearer personal statement about your long term career goals.</p>

<p>I would also recommend that you do research at a different institution, or at least in a new lab, unless you have a current project that is going really well or can’t bear to part with your current PI. It sounds like you already have a publication and stellar rec from your current research group. Admissions in grad school (especially in the biological sciences) is at least as much about having great recommendations and research as it is about test scores and GPAs. If you can get another PI, especially a well connected PI in your field, to write you a letter, you will increase your odds of being admitted. </p>

<p>As far as getting a job goes, I personally think it is much easier to get them when you are actually near the campus than by applying online. The unfortunate truth about many university research jobs is that the PI often has a specific candidate in mind when the job is posted online. In order to follow University rules they post the jobs online and allow “open competition” for the spot, but really there is no spot. However, when you are on campus you can walk around and look for postings on billboards. These are generally real positions for which there is no pre-assigned candidate. When I graduated college, I had very low success with applying online (1 interview for about 50 applications) but high success with applying for jobs that were posted on campus (1 for 1, which became the job I had for two years after college). I think it would be hard to get a job several months in advance, usually they have specific projects in mind that they want to move along immediately. If you are interested in pharma, industry, or government, well that’s a different story and I wouldn’t know much about that.</p>

<p>With your test scores you will be fine on that front, I don’t think very many schools have hard cut offs and even if they do you should be above them. A 3.0 GPA is a little low, but if you want to demonstrate competency at the graduate level you could take one or two graduate courses as a non-matriculated student during the next year. Most schools will let you take a few courses this way, and if you do well it will be a plus on your application and may temper your slightly low GPA. If you work at the school where you are taking the course, you will likely be able to get tuition reduced or waived depending on the school’s policy. As someone who has taken graduate courses while working full time, I can say that the work load for most bio grad courses is pretty manageable compared to undergrad courses. Usually it’s lots of reading of journal articles with a couple tests and maybe a paper or presentation, but not much other homework. </p>

<p>Finally, I have friends who have had mediocre to low GPAs and have gotten in to good schools (UCLA and U Chicago come to mind).</p>

<p>whoa… thank you busterbluth!!! That may be the best advice I’ve heard from anyone on what to do after graduation. Thank you so so so much for your lengthy response. I will definitely make sure to visit other campuses to look for job postings. I’ve also already taken two graduate-level courses as an undergrad, and plan to take more while working if possible… everything you said is a real relief to hear. :D</p>

<p>Hope you found that very useful too, parafilm :)</p>

<p>Best of luck to you, laffietaffie. Also, just to clarify, I wouldn’t give up on applying online, just don’t get frustrated if you don’t get many returns on those applications :)</p>

<p>definitely useful advice, really nice to get some other opinions. Thanks! Will probably start looking into jobs in the next few weeks… in the mean time I’ll continue living vicariously through the stickied biosciences applicant thread…</p>

<p>“The unfortunate truth about many university research jobs is that the PI often has a specific candidate in mind when the job is posted online.”</p>

<p>Sometimes, but not always. I got an academic tech job by applying to the university website for specific job openings. I remember the week it went down, I had been working in biotech and my company was on the verge of running out of startup funding and I applied to seven open positions and had the new job within the week.</p>

<p>Not every job moves that quickly and most job hunts are not that short or successful. Also beware of labs that are hiring techs that they don’t know, it’s a possibility that there is something so horrible about the job that they can’t keep people. That wasn’t the case for me, but academic lore is full of stories of labs that only keep techs for a couple of months at a shot.</p>

<p>The way that most PI’s hire a tech is by recommendation of their colleagues. “Hey, I have an undergrad in my lab who did well but wants to work as a tech before grad school. He is thinking of moving to Boston, would you be interested in meeting him?” Ask you current PI for a letter of introduction to a few different PIs whose labs you would like to work in.</p>