How To Maximize Your Undergrad For Grad School
If you’re in undergrad majoring in a science and you are thinking about obtaining a PhD, there are some key features that will make you a good candidate. Before we begin, let’s give some baseline facts. All PhD programs have there own requirements, but they all want to know 2 things about their applicants, “Can you handle graduate level coursework?” and “Have you had research experiences to prepare you for graduate level research?” Some PhD programs require you to have a masters before you apply, but by in large, most programs do not require you to have a masters before applying. Dave is a perfect example of someone who had little research experience in undergrad (Premed track Human Biology Major, Biology Minor), but obtained a masters degree to get the research experience needed to gain admission to a PhD program.
The transition from Undergrad to a Doctorate program is definitely possible and may be favorable, if time is a concern. Here are 3 things that you should do during undergrad that will make you appealing to PhD programs. These points and this article are based on my own personal experience as a graduate student, as well as the perspectives of other students with similar experiences. These views and general guidelines, however, do not reflect the admission position or views of any university in particular.
Grades Are Important & Your Transcript Tells A Story.
There’s no denying your GPA is an important stat in determining what type of student you are, but its not everything. A 4.0 will not guarantee you an acceptance, just like a 3.2 doesn’t mean you will not get in anywhere. The important take way you should get from classes is learning how to approach and solve problems. Having a competitive GPA is important, but it also matter whats classes you are taking, and what else you are doing during those classes. The last 60 credits of your degree are the most important in the eyes of the graduate college, they usually make up upper division, or the main classes of your major. Its important to take these courses seriously and try and do was well as possible in them.
I can tell you from first hand experience, grad school is less about regurgitating facts and more about understanding the problem and being able to think of a solution. Critical Thinking is really the corner stone of graduate level learning and experience. As tempting as it is to pick the professor that has the “easy A” rating on Rate My Professor, that wont really benefit you in the long run. You want to get the most out of each class, and taking the easiest professor isn’t the best way to do that. Study effectively, use the resources the universities provides including; SI sessions and tutors. You need to have the mindset of passing is not enough. Rather, you need to shoot for mastery in each course. When you aren’t studying, you should be using that time to enhance your application in other ways. A great way to change your mindset from “make an A” to “mastery” is to seek out the learning center on your undergraduate campus. They will give you study strategies on how to truly master the material at a deeper level. You aren’t fooling anyone if your 4.0 is made from fluff courses, especially those who will interview you during the admission process.
Get Into a Research Lab As Soon As Possible!
There is simply no other way to phrase this, get in a lab as soon as you can! Most students don’t do undergraduate research to begin with, even the ones that do, usually don’t start until their junior year. The sooner you get into a lab, the sooner you can learn how laboratories flow, what research is like, and how research is conducted. You’ll also reinforce the information that you’ve learned in your classes. The more experience you have before you apply to grad school, the stronger applicant you will be. Science classes are already hard enough with the time you have, so if you are spending any significant time in the lab as well, you’ll need to develop superb time management skills. Being in the lab yields 2 benefits to you.
- It gives you valuable lab experience that graduate programs are looking for.
- Being involved in undergraduate research while taking classes gives you some much needed skills in time management.
Graduate school is going to push your ability to management time and cope with stress. You’re expected to get great grades, while simultaneously being productive in the lab in graduate school. Showing that you can manage multiple things while maintaining a competitive GPA , shows the schools you’re more likely to be productive in the graduate setting. While doing experiments in your research you should keep asking yourself:”Why am I doing “A”?”, “How does “A” answer my research question?”, “Do I understand the techniques being used to answer “A” ?” If you get an interview, I guarantee they will ask you to explain your research project. They are not simply looking for a summary of what you did (they can get that from your CV); they want to know: “Does this student understand the biology he was investigating?”, “Does this student know what and how experiments were testing for?” You don’t want to get asked a question about your undergrad research and draw a blank. Know your project inside and out. Even if the results were mostly or entirely negative, understanding the scientific process is the valuable part of your research experience.
Take Full Advantage of University Resources
You should have noticed a trend by now, to be a prime candidate you can’t be a one trick pony. Knowing the science isn’t the only thing that will make you successful. Of course, if you don’t have a firm grasp of the science, no other skill in addition is meaningful in this field. So you’ve got competitive grades and you’re doing undergraduate research, great start. These things alone are enough to get you into some places in the country (USA). So what is really going to set you apart from other candidates at your favorite institutions? What qualities are grad programs looking for outside of coursework and research experience? The intangibles!
Dedication, leadership, charisma, writing ability, the ability to innovate, and get ideas across. These are just a few things that are great qualities for any industry including science. Every university should and likely has a Career Development Center. USE IT, it’s a great way to step up your interview skills, and your ability to get your strengths across on paper in a clear and concise way. Just like time management, professionalism and leadership are unique qualities that aren’t taught in your base science classes, but will definitely help you in graduate school. Interviews and admissions committee members are humans too. When you are interviewed, they are well aware of the long treacherous journey in front of you. You want to show them that you have the dedication and determination to complete that a journey. Outside of expressing yourself verbally, being very well prepared is a great way to show that you are a serious candidate. If you know who is interviewing you, take the time to do some background reading and research on their particular interests, what they have recently published, and prepare some questions for them based upon that. Scientists love to talk about their work! Use that to your advantage. This doesn’t mean inflate their ego, talk about the science, not how wonderful it is. Unless you are uniquely interested in that topic, don’t try to fake it. Asking thought provoking questions about their research means you took the time to try to wrap your brain around it.
These are just a few things that I feel are worth the mention for undergrads considering graduate school. However, in no way are these points all encompassing, but they are good points to start with to make yourself more competitive. For Graduate students reading this, or recently accepted students, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org, (or comment below) so I can update and add your successful tips to this post and others!!! Or you can follow my Instagram on Lee The Scientist, DM or Comment on any post about this article. Lets pull ideas together that helps the next batch of applicants succeed.