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Old 12-07-2011, 07:47 PM
 
9 posts, read 7,481 times
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Hi all, Ill try to make this brief

I graduated from a liberal arts school (ranked in the top 20) back in 2009 and I am currently looking to start in a PhD in the sciences (my applications would go out in dec 2012). As you may have guessed, my academic performance during my first couple of years was less than stellar, leaving me with a GPA that doesn't really represent my abilities or level of intelligence. Although I managed to pull a mid 3 during my last two years, my overall gpa sits in the mid 2s. Im not attempting to make excuses for why I didnt do well, but given the following information I was wondering what my chances are of getting into a decent program. My field of interest isnt exactly a common subject, and the programs (as far as I know) are rather competitive.

During my undergrad time, especially in the last two years, I spent a lot of time doing research. I eventually ended up getting a departmental award generally reserved for those who show stellar academics for my research, and will end up with a publication as first author. I would have no problem getting awesome references from my mentor and other department heads from my undergrad institute.

Immediately after college I spent a year running the invertebrate husbandry dept of a marine life supplier, it was a personal interest of mine that I wanted to pursue. Although I started as an assistant I moved up quickly and was put in control of the inverts within a couple months.

Eventually I decided that If I was to enter into a graduate program I would need more applicable experience, so I left the husbandry job for an opening doing biomed research at a hospital. I will have spent 2+ yrs there by the time I put in my applications, and currently have the experience level equivalent to many masters students (not my own compliment, one given to me). My experience at the time of entry to a program would be substantial, and I wouldn't need anyone to "hold my hand" regarding experiments, grant write ups, stresses involved in research, etc. I would have no problem getting great references from MD/PhDs and the head of the research institution, and will have a few publications with my name (2nd author for most) by the time I leave.

The only unknown now is my GRE, to which Im honestly not too worried about. I have not taken it, but have no real issues with standardized tests.


The short of it is that Im worried my mistakes early in my undergrad are going to keep me from being accepted into a good PhD program. In the interim I plan on taking a few classes (one this spring semester, a couple over the summer, and a couple/few in the fall) in an attempt to show that my mistakes are not representative of my current abilities or work ethic.


If you all could give me your opinion or any advice regarding strategies to overcome this, I would greatly appreciate it. Also, sorry If I come across as a bit arrogant, Im just trying to put my skills down on paper
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Old 12-07-2011, 08:05 PM
 
3,764 posts, read 3,807,684 times
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It will be very difficult to get into a PhD program with a mid 2 GPA at a top program. You may have to work on a master's first.
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Old 12-08-2011, 06:51 AM
 
21,202 posts, read 30,404,475 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fibonacci View Post
It will be very difficult to get into a PhD program with a mid 2 GPA at a top program. You may have to work on a master's first.
I would ditch the prospect of a Master's and go for a less prestigious PhD program option. The OP has proven themselves via their practical experience and in my opinion would do well to incur fewer expenses and get the career track moving versus being mired in academics for a couple of extra years.
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Old 12-08-2011, 08:32 AM
 
2,612 posts, read 4,771,494 times
Reputation: 3943
Quote:
Originally Posted by HCBR98 View Post
Hi all, Ill try to make this brief

I graduated from a liberal arts school (ranked in the top 20) back in 2009 and I am currently looking to start in a PhD in the sciences (my applications would go out in dec 2012). As you may have guessed, my academic performance during my first couple of years was less than stellar, leaving me with a GPA that doesn't really represent my abilities or level of intelligence. Although I managed to pull a mid 3 during my last two years, my overall gpa sits in the mid 2s. Im not attempting to make excuses for why I didnt do well, but given the following information I was wondering what my chances are of getting into a decent program. My field of interest isnt exactly a common subject, and the programs (as far as I know) are rather competitive.

During my undergrad time, especially in the last two years, I spent a lot of time doing research. I eventually ended up getting a departmental award generally reserved for those who show stellar academics for my research, and will end up with a publication as first author. I would have no problem getting awesome references from my mentor and other department heads from my undergrad institute.

Immediately after college I spent a year running the invertebrate husbandry dept of a marine life supplier, it was a personal interest of mine that I wanted to pursue. Although I started as an assistant I moved up quickly and was put in control of the inverts within a couple months.

Eventually I decided that If I was to enter into a graduate program I would need more applicable experience, so I left the husbandry job for an opening doing biomed research at a hospital. I will have spent 2+ yrs there by the time I put in my applications, and currently have the experience level equivalent to many masters students (not my own compliment, one given to me). My experience at the time of entry to a program would be substantial, and I wouldn't need anyone to "hold my hand" regarding experiments, grant write ups, stresses involved in research, etc. I would have no problem getting great references from MD/PhDs and the head of the research institution, and will have a few publications with my name (2nd author for most) by the time I leave.

The only unknown now is my GRE, to which Im honestly not too worried about. I have not taken it, but have no real issues with standardized tests.


The short of it is that Im worried my mistakes early in my undergrad are going to keep me from being accepted into a good PhD program. In the interim I plan on taking a few classes (one this spring semester, a couple over the summer, and a couple/few in the fall) in an attempt to show that my mistakes are not representative of my current abilities or work ethic.


If you all could give me your opinion or any advice regarding strategies to overcome this, I would greatly appreciate it. Also, sorry If I come across as a bit arrogant, Im just trying to put my skills down on paper
The things that stand out to me and might also stand out to an admissions committee are

1- you don't have a master's degree or - and i can't tell exactly here - an undergrad degree in the sciences, if I understood correctly (maybe i missed something - you only said "liberal arts school") - how can the school be sure that you can handle graduate level work in the sciences without an academic background in science? Do you have the requisite academic skills, including specific math and science courses, that you would need in the graduate program?

2 - Is there continuity between your undergrad research and your professional experience and does it relate to the field you want to get a phd in?

If there is a connection between these things, then I think your chances of getting into a PhD program (assuming you don't need a master's first) is good. I don't think the undergraduate GPA will hurt that much if you have publications and research experience in the field. Of course, it really depends on the exact field and the department. Sadly, if you are willing to finance your degree yourself, many schools will accept you just based on that, even knowing you will never actually work in the field. Bear in mind that many academic job markets, even some in the sciences, are essentially paths to unemployability. Be very wary of taking out any loans to pay for a PhD.

To find out how the job market is for PhDs in that field, try looking at the Chronicle of Higher Education (Home - The Chronicle of Higher Education). You can find out how PhDs in the field are doing as far as getting tenure-track teaching jobs or jobs outside of the field. There are also forums where you can ask a question. I recommend finding out the truth now rather than after you have started a program.

Finally, the best thing to do if you still want to pursue a PhD is get in touch with the professors in the departments you want to apply to. Look for someone whose research interests match your own and email him or her. Ask what they think your chances of getting into the program are. Making a personal connection like that can actually help you get accepted. PhDs are much less about GPAs - actually not about them at all - and more about networking, research, publishing, presenting, and all-around schmoozing.
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Old 12-08-2011, 08:52 AM
 
Location: Cincinnati near
2,541 posts, read 3,527,005 times
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You will get into plenty of grad programs. Unlike medical school, which is hard to get in but most everyone gets a degree, graduate schools in the sciences are relatively easy to get accepted but have a much lower completion percentage.

I teach chemistry at a selective undergraduate institution, and my students have gone on to many fine programs. While only the top students go on to places like Harvard, Northwestern, UNC Chapel Hill, Caltech, and Stanford, even mediocre students, assuming decent GRE scores, don't have too much trouble getting into well respected state schools and quality but not elite private schools. I don't have data on how many of them actually complete the program for a PhD.

Academic pedigree does not mean all that much if one is a productive researcher. It may help you get your first job, but after that you are pretty much on your own. I know many scientists with top industry jobs and endowed chair faculty jobs that came from relatively unknown graduate schools. I also know people with degrees from elite programs with Nobel laureates on their committees who washed out of government lab positions because they could never write a competitive research proposal.

In short, you will get into a program, but not necessarily the best program. As long as you are productive, this is not a problem, and you should be able to have a fine career.
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Old 12-08-2011, 09:15 AM
 
Location: Maryland not Murlin
8,193 posts, read 22,338,552 times
Reputation: 6158
Quote:
Originally Posted by HCBR98 View Post
Hi all, Ill try to make this brief

I graduated from a liberal arts school (ranked in the top 20) back in 2009 and I am currently looking to start in a PhD in the sciences (my applications would go out in dec 2012). As you may have guessed, my academic performance during my first couple of years was less than stellar, leaving me with a GPA that doesn't really represent my abilities or level of intelligence. Although I managed to pull a mid 3 during my last two years, my overall gpa sits in the mid 2s. Im not attempting to make excuses for why I didnt do well, but given the following information I was wondering what my chances are of getting into a decent program. My field of interest isnt exactly a common subject, and the programs (as far as I know) are rather competitive.

During my undergrad time, especially in the last two years, I spent a lot of time doing research. I eventually ended up getting a departmental award generally reserved for those who show stellar academics for my research, and will end up with a publication as first author. I would have no problem getting awesome references from my mentor and other department heads from my undergrad institute.

Immediately after college I spent a year running the invertebrate husbandry dept of a marine life supplier, it was a personal interest of mine that I wanted to pursue. Although I started as an assistant I moved up quickly and was put in control of the inverts within a couple months.

Eventually I decided that If I was to enter into a graduate program I would need more applicable experience, so I left the husbandry job for an opening doing biomed research at a hospital. I will have spent 2+ yrs there by the time I put in my applications, and currently have the experience level equivalent to many masters students (not my own compliment, one given to me). My experience at the time of entry to a program would be substantial, and I wouldn't need anyone to "hold my hand" regarding experiments, grant write ups, stresses involved in research, etc. I would have no problem getting great references from MD/PhDs and the head of the research institution, and will have a few publications with my name (2nd author for most) by the time I leave.

The only unknown now is my GRE, to which Im honestly not too worried about. I have not taken it, but have no real issues with standardized tests.


The short of it is that Im worried my mistakes early in my undergrad are going to keep me from being accepted into a good PhD program. In the interim I plan on taking a few classes (one this spring semester, a couple over the summer, and a couple/few in the fall) in an attempt to show that my mistakes are not representative of my current abilities or work ethic.


If you all could give me your opinion or any advice regarding strategies to overcome this, I would greatly appreciate it. Also, sorry If I come across as a bit arrogant, Im just trying to put my skills down on paper
As I wrote in another thread, Ph.D. programs are interested in your abilities as a researcher, not in your ability for rote memorization and test taking. GPA is important, but good, solid, research experience will trump a lower GPA any day, and there are many examples of people with 2.X GPAs who got into top Ph.D. programs. The bottom line is that GPA is not a good measure of intelligence, and grad admissions committees know this. The only thing you really need to do "intelligently" is to think like a researcher, and it sounds like you are more than capable of that.

GPA is important in that it shows you know what is going on in the sense that if someone mentioned X or Y, you would not be completely lost.

Grad admissions committees treat GPA differently. Most focus on your last two years, which is a plus for you. Others will only add up the relevant courses to your perspective course of study at the graduate level and ignore all non-relevant courses. And others will employ an algorithm based on the rigor of your specific undergraduate institution to get a baseline GPA for comparison's sake against applicants from lesser institutions. To add even more confusion, some members of the admissions committee may not even look at your GPA.

The GRE is fairly easy as it is just a typical standardized test. It is the same as the SAT, but the math is slightly easier and vocab is slightly harder. The writing portion, for some odd reason, is the hardest part, though. I've known many proficient writers who scored a 3 to 4 on this portion of the GRE. I got a 4.5; and that is with three years of screenwriting courses (in a former life, before I became a biology student, I went to film school ), three years of writing for the student newspaper, and writing more research papers than I can remember.

Honestly, you sound like a good candidate for a Ph.D. program, I wouldn't rule out top programs--although you should still apply to one or two lesser programs just in case seeing as how the admissions process at the grad school level is idiosyncratic at best. You never know what or who they are looking for during any given admissions cycle and you can be rejected from ten "lower ranked" programs while being accepted into the #1 program for your particular area of study.

It is a good idea to take a few courses in the interim just in case. If you are weak in math, I would suggest taking a year of calculus and a year of calculus based physics. However, I would contact a member of the faculty at the schools you are looking at and ask him or her. Like I wrote, Ph.D. programs want researchers, not book-smart-good-test-takers. It sounds like you got the researcher part down, and any courses you are deficient in can be made up during your first two years of course work.

One thing you need to do now, is to find a potential advisor/mentor at the schools you are interested in. Look on the schools website for a list of faculty that teach in the department at the grad level and identify the ones that have research areas that are of interest to you (most, but not all, will have a personal website and/or blog). Get in touch with these Profs and get to know them (the idea is for them to get to know you). Read some of their published papers and discuss them (but not at length. Just say, This is very interesting. I am interested in it, too. What do I need to do in order to pursue this interest?) Somewhere in your Statement of Purpose, you can drop these Profs' names (just remember to keep the right prof to the right program at the right school )

On apps, there will be a section that asks you if you have identified a potential advisor (if you are not asked this in the application, you can include it in your SOP); which by the time you fill out the application you should have. The admissions committee will ask these Profs/potential advisors what they know/think about you. It is not 100% critical, but it works more often than not, and, can be the one thing that makes or breaks your application.


Good luck!

Last edited by K-Luv; 12-08-2011 at 09:24 AM..
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Old 12-08-2011, 12:44 PM
 
Location: Chicago area
8,815 posts, read 13,305,626 times
Reputation: 15990
I hope you are aware of what you are getting into with a science PhD.

One only 50% or less get the PhD once starting less in the really bad programs. Success depends heavily on finding an adviser that cares about you rather than uses you as a cheap technician and teaching assistant. Universities desperately need english speaking TA's to teach the premeds science and PI's need cheap labor in their labs. If you are good the professor will want to keep you there as long as possible (bad conflict of interest here) I've known students kept on the hook for 8 years that should have graduated in 4 (believe me I have even worse stories than this to tell you).

Once you've graduated you will find there is a huge glut of PhD's in the sciences. Jobs are scarce at the BS/MS level and 10 fold worse at the PhD level and nearly noone will hire a PhD for a BS/MS job. As a result, most post-doc. Industry is loathe to hire a PhD without industry experience. They see PhD's as snobby academics with no idea how the real world works (not true but that is the perception). As a result, I'd recommend working as a BS/MS level scientist for a few years in industry first. So after 5-7 years living on a $15-25k stipend you get a $35k post-doc. Most have their career dead end at this stage and are forced to do a career change around age 40 having spent 10-15 year in near poverty working slave hours in the lab.

This video is not a joke.

The Simpsons - Comments about PhDs and Grad Students. [HQ] - YouTube

Last edited by MSchemist80; 12-08-2011 at 01:21 PM..
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Old 12-08-2011, 12:47 PM
 
Location: Chicago area
8,815 posts, read 13,305,626 times
Reputation: 15990
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chemistry_Guy View Post
You will get into plenty of grad programs. Unlike medical school, which is hard to get in but most everyone gets a degree, graduate schools in the sciences are relatively easy to get accepted but have a much lower completion percentage.
Yea because it is not worth it, no American would pay to get a PhD, and in fact even with free tuition and a stipend it is still not at all worth it, finally there is a really good reason why admission is lax and a large portion of people in science PhD programs are not US citizens. For third worlders, science represents a way out of poverty but for Americans it is a way into it.
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Old 12-08-2011, 02:26 PM
 
9 posts, read 7,481 times
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Thank you all for weighing in. To answer one posters question; yes, I have an undergrad degree in Biology. My aim is for a PhD in tox/epidemiology, specifically how it relates to marine life or xenobiotics. This corresponds, to some degree, to my undergrad research which focused on work with Cone Snails.

MSchemist80, aside from the fact that I couldnt help but laugh at the pessimism, I appreciated your viewpoint. Im well aware that this is not an easy road to travel. I dont intend on working in industry, more likely (hopeful?) would be a job with the government (possibly a FF lab or CDC work) or even non profit before trying academia. Im hoping, though it may be a bit naive, that the relative rarity of tox/xenobiotic PhDs in the field would help me get a post-doc position. Am I wrong to think this?

Another point/question I wanted to bring up is the fact that from what Ive seen, most schools w/ a PhD program in xeno/tox are fairly high-tier, meaning that application to a "lesser" phd program is a bit difficult given the rarity of schools that even offer it. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
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Old 12-08-2011, 04:33 PM
 
16,600 posts, read 14,088,141 times
Reputation: 20568
Quote:
Originally Posted by HCBR98 View Post
Thank you all for weighing in. To answer one posters question; yes, I have an undergrad degree in Biology. My aim is for a PhD in tox/epidemiology, specifically how it relates to marine life or xenobiotics. This corresponds, to some degree, to my undergrad research which focused on work with Cone Snails.

MSchemist80, aside from the fact that I couldnt help but laugh at the pessimism, I appreciated your viewpoint. Im well aware that this is not an easy road to travel. I dont intend on working in industry, more likely (hopeful?) would be a job with the government (possibly a FF lab or CDC work) or even non profit before trying academia. Im hoping, though it may be a bit naive, that the relative rarity of tox/xenobiotic PhDs in the field would help me get a post-doc position. Am I wrong to think this?

Another point/question I wanted to bring up is the fact that from what Ive seen, most schools w/ a PhD program in xeno/tox are fairly high-tier, meaning that application to a "lesser" phd program is a bit difficult given the rarity of schools that even offer it. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
You aren't likely to get into any program at WHOI or Scripps with those grades unless your publications (I am not sure if you said they were multiple) are in top tier journals. Even Duke is a long shot but maybe one of the UCs?

Anything marine based is highly competitive and the "good" programs push their undergrads to publish before they graduate (I published at Rutgers as part of their chem oceanography program) so unless your cite count is through the roof, publication itself may not make up for a mediocre GPA. What programs did you have in mind?
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