RISE Program

PREPARING FOR GRAD SCHOOL:

Application Primer and Picking the Best Program



A. GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATION PRIMER

Your grad school application usually consists of 4 or 5 parts:

  1. General GRE Test
  2. Personal statement
  3. Statement of purpose (some schools don’t ask for this)
  4. Resume/CV
  5. Letters of recommendation

1. GENERAL GRE TEST. Your scores on the three parts of this test are part of your application package. Be sure that you take the test in time so that your scores are ready when you file your grad school application. Register and attend one of the periodic CSU-RISE workshops to prepare for the test. Scores are reported by ETS online approximately one month after you take the test and by mail a week later. So, plan ahead so that you have the test results in time for your grad school application. CSU-RISE students are eligible for a partial fee waiver for the test. See Dr Sherman for instructions on how to apply for this.

2. PERSONAL STATEMENT is your introduction to the Admissions Committee. It’s different from your CV – the CV is just a list of what you have done. In the PERSONAL STATEMENT the Admissions Committee is looking for:

  • passion for science
  • whether you know what science is about
  • what makes you special

 

2.1 HOW TO GO ABOUT WRITING THE PERSONAL STATEMENT

  • Write an outline to cover all points
  • Write a first draft
  • Show the first draft to your research mentor for input and comments
  • Highlight the parts that you want to stress
  • Show that you are a good match for the position that you are applying for.
  • Share your statement with faculty who will write recommendations. You want the letters of recommendation to be consistent with your personal statement.

 

2.2 PERSONAL STATEMENT SECTIONS

PARAGRAPHS 1, 2:Describe your interest in science. Let them know what makes you special.

  • How have your background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, educational or other opportunities or challenges motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at ### University.
  • How will you contribute to the diversity of the ### University student body? Have you been active in organizations or activities that promote diversity? What adversity did you overcome to achieve your academic and personal goals?

 

PARAGRAPHS 3, 4, etc: Summary of your past research experience.

  • Whose lab(s) you worked in.
  • What was important in the work
  • Big picture of research
  • Your role in the project(s).
  • Outcome(s) of the research – publications, presentations, awards for presentations, etc

LAST-BUT-ONE PARAGRAPH:

  • Knowledge of specific programs at ### University.
  • Knowledge of faculty at the institution that you are applying to.
  • Fields of research at the institution that you are applying to.
  • Show that you have done your homework about the institution that you are applying to.

LAST PARAGRAPH:

  • Writing about past academic issues. For example, extenuating circumstances for low grades in a given semester*. 
  • Personal challenges*
  • Financial struggles*

* If any of these existed in your past. Some admissions personnel say that it’s best to have the faculty who write your references talk about these issues.  It’s up to you if you want to address these kinds of issues, but try not to come across as too whiny.

2.4 FINALLY:

  • Don’t miss deadlines – it makes a very poor impression from the get-go!
  • Don’t apply to too many or too few schools.  But have a mix of safe and dream schools.
  • Avoid spelling & grammar errors
  • Write concisely – admissions folks have to read many, many applications. Don’t waste their time waffling!
  • Don’t use large blocks of text. Use headings or bullet points to emphasize important points.
  • Use good vocabulary
  • Be honest – don’t exaggerate.
  • Once you have finished, read it out load. The narrative should flow.
  • Be comfortable talking about everything you have written in the future interview.
  • Ask for help from mentors, professors, advisors, peers, but not from relatives!  And . . . .
  • Important: take the PERSONAL STATEMENT with you to the interview. You may have written it weeks or months before so you need to remind yourself about all the points you covered since the interview panel will have it front of them and will be sure to ask questions about the points you make in the PERSONAL STATEMENT.

 

3. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

What should I include in my academic statement of purpose? This is the place to provide evidence of your extensive research experience.  (NOTE: Not all grad schools ask for a STATEMENT OF PURPOSE, so be sure to read the specific application instructions!)

Be sure to include:

  • Descriptions of all research experiences. What was the overall goal of each project?
  • What hypothesis did you test and how did you test it in each project?
  • Who did you work and interact with? What were your results? How were they significant and how did they fit into the overall goals of the lab?
  • Have you presented your work at a scientific conference or symposium? Are you a co-author on a scientific abstract or paper? Is it published (give citation) or under review?
  • How will earning this PhD help you to achieve your life goals?
  • Why ### University? Are there specific programs or researchers there that interest you?

4. RESUME. In the Resume/CV, be sure to list:

  • Academic honors
  • Relevant academic and professional experience
  • Research projects you worked on
  • Full citations of conference presentations and any publications that you were the co-author on.
  • Citations of programs that supported you.  Include the NIH RISE Program grant R25 GM059218.

 

5. LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

From whom should you request letters of recommendation?

  • At least one of your letters must be from a primary research mentor.
  • Other letters may be from professors, the director of your academic program, or a research supervisor at any off-campus internship.
  • Remember, it is important that your letter writers know you well and can speak to your potential in research.
  • Do not request letters from fellow students, from non-research-related employment supervisors, or from personal/family friends.
  • Share your PERSONAL STATEMENT with persons writing your letters so that they can address the items that you want them to.
  • Letters of recommendations are very, very important! So don’t leave it to the last moment to request these. Give the person you are requesting the letter from enough time to write a good one and cover all the points that you might want them to cover (see Section 2.3, above).

  

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B. PICKING THE BEST GRADUATE PROGRAM FOR YOU

1. FIRST QUESTIONS

  • Why do you want to go to grad school?
  • What is your career goal after you earn the PhD?
  • What kind of grad-school experience will be needed to reach your career goal?

 

2. ARE YOU READY FOR GRAD SCHOOL?

  • Academic preparation – have you completed the needed courses?
  • Have you written a PERSONAL STATEMENT and taken the GRE test?
  • Ability to work in a research group?
  • Ability to read and understand research papers?
  • Time management skills?
  • Finances?
  • Freedom to relocate, if necessary?
  • If needed, is child-care available?

3. IF YOU ARE NOT QUITE READY – WHAT DO YOU DO?

  • Do a POSTBAC program.  (i) at a university, the NIGMS PREP Program; at the NIH, the IRTA Program.
  • Take the appropriate classes at CSU, or elsewhere.
  • Work as a technician on a CSU or other university research project.

 

4. QUALITY OF THE DEPARTMENT

  • Reputation of the department and institution. 
  • Does the graduate school have research areas that interest your?
  • Number of research mentors in the area you are interested in.
  • Does the department have a commitment to training graduate students?  A test of this is whether the department has funded training programs from the NIH (T32 and IMSD; ttp://www.nigms.nih.gov/training/pages/instgrantlists.aspx; scroll down to “Predoctoral Research Training Programs.”) or the NSF (IGERT; http://www.igert.org/).
  • Scientific resources – research space, core facilities, access to patient populations if your interest is in medical applications; access to fieldwork if that is your interest.
  • Financial resources – does the department have funding to support you (see training programs from the NIH and NSF, above)?
  • Mentors – numbers, research funding, publication history, tenure, track record of their students graduating within reasonable time frame, track record of placing alumni in academic positions or other employment.

 

5.  OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

  • Diversity – in the student body, faculty and community.
  • Morale of current grad students in the departments you are considering.
  • Geography – distance from family.
  • Needs of spouse, partner, dependents.  Are there daycare arrangements for young dependents?
  • Financial – cost of living.

 

 

Acknowledgments:  This page is based, in part, on workshops presented at the 2013 and 2014 ABRCMS Conferences by Dr Joel Oppenheimer, NYU, Dr Victoria Freedman, Albert Einstein University, and Dr Sharon L. Milgram, NIH.

 

Page updated 12/01/14



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