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So you want to go to grad school?
Future grad students of the world unite!
A few questions 
12th-Oct-2013 06:17 pm
Hi all,

This is my first post here (or anywhere). I recently graduated from Reed College and am busy applying to graduate schools. My questions are:

1) How many graduate schools should I apply to? I know a few that I'd like to apply to, but not sure if I need to find more.

2) How many professors should I contact at each institution I'm applying to?

3) How much does a personal statement need to be customized to an individual program?

4) Can anyone suggest a few good plant genomics programs?

Thank you all in advance for the help.
13th-Oct-2013 03:53 am (UTC)
1) As many as are relevant to what you want to study. Many online search tools exist for locating schools and programs of interest. If you have a pretty narrow field of interest and these tools produce a handful of results (5-10) apply to all of them. If you have a broader interest or there just happen to be lots of schools (dozens or even 100+) then start applying further categories to narrow them down. Perhaps a region of the country you'd like to be in, or certain other features available within the program or school that aren't directly related to the program. Most people advise applying to at least four, based on the people I've talked to successful students will apply to anywhere between 6 and 15 schools. Choose a range of programs from state and private institutions including some that you think will be "easy" to get in to (perhaps because it is a smaller state school that has a high acceptance rate or smaller applicant pool), but don't be afraid to include a few "reach" schools and "top" choices that you know will be difficult to get into; if you work hard on your applications and have strong accompanying paperwork you could get in anywhere!

2) I think 2-3 is a good number but it will depend a lot on how the program is structured and what the expectations are in terms of the application process and the entry process for successful students. Some will explicitly state a number of professors you are expected to contact. Others it is not a necessary step.

3) Absolutely DO NOT submit a single generalized personal statement to all of your applications. You will not succeed doing this. Address each statement prompt individually and answer exactly what it is asking for. You can reuse paragraphs regarding your experience as applicable, but make sure you are answering what was asked in each case. Also make sure to leave plenty of time to EDIT, REVISE, and REVIEW each version of your statement before submitting it to the appropriate application. DO NOT MIX THEM UP. Attach the right file to the correct application, sending Cornell an essay about how much you want to go to Harvard is a great way to NOT get into Cornell.

4) I can't help you but if you google something along the lines of grad school search engines you will find various websites that will let you search programs.
13th-Oct-2013 03:57 am (UTC)
1) It depends on what your goals are.

For me, I felt like I'd have a better chance of finding a year-round, permanent job with a masters. But, I wasn't going to be heartbroken if I went to the work world with just a bachelors either. I sure as hell wasn't willing to pay for grad school. So, I only seriously considered three schools that a) taught what I wanted and b) were within a geographically acceptable region (AK, WA, BC). I wound up applying to two, after deciding the third wasn't quite what I was after. I got in to one and was offered an assistantship, so I went and got my degree.

My friend who really wants to become a professor searched nationwide. She applied to something like 10 top schools in her chemistry subfield, and got into several. When she went for her first and second postdoc she again applied nationwide. As a result she'd lived in four different states all over the country since starting college.

Whatever the case, it's not worth wasting your energies on applications to places you know you don't want to spend the next several years at. But if you're open to lots of possibilities then you can always apply, see who accepts & who offers what funding, and narrow things down from there.

2) Personally, I think you should contact maybe one to three professors per institution. You want to contact people who's interests at least line up with yours. Plus, you want to prep yourself a bit on their background and that all takes time.

The one thing I'll say about this is that before you accept an assitantship with someone, try your best to figure out if you'll get along with them. Know what their expectations are for your project and for you. I didn't do enough research going in and got a pretty terrible advisor (for me) at first. I wound up switching projects after my first year and had a much better professor to work with. You can't always tell, but in my case, I could've saved myself some trouble.

3) It should be customized. Think of it like a cover letter to a job. Why are you of value to them? What interests you about their program as opposed to a similar program elsewhere? Is there a particular professor or two that you'd be interested to work with?

13th-Oct-2013 09:03 am (UTC)
1) As many as you need to, and no more. Seriously, there's no set number - find the programs you're interested in and apply to them. Don't apply willy-nilly, as it's expensive and pointless.
2) Contact the professors you're most interested in working with. The goal of contacting professors isn't to raise your profile, it's to a) make sure that what you're thinking will fit into a potential supervisor's plans, and b) answer questions about the program. So that's how many you need to contact.
3) It needs to be customized to each program to the extent that it makes it clear that you're applying to that program particularly for reasons, and that your research plan fits into their program. You probably don't need to extensively customize discussion of your past experience.
13th-Oct-2013 10:51 am (UTC)
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