Student Information

How to Choose a Grad School

For more detailed information on graduate school, an article entitled "Helping Students Get Into Graduate School" has been published by  B. A. Fischer and M. J. Zigmond in the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education (June). Fall 2004, Volume 3, Issue 1.

You'll need to narrow down what in what field of biology you are interested. Begin by talking to your professors and take advanced courses and research in those areas. Take as many upper level (300-400) electives as possible.  Avoid non-majors courses (1st year non-lab classes for non-science majors).  These will not impress potential supervisors in the way that upper level classes in specific fields will.  

Ask your professors where they went to school and how they made their decisions to enroll in a specific program. Make sure you tell your Ithaca College professors where you are thinking of applying. You will need to get letters of recommendation from them and the sooner they know your plans the better they can prepare. Don't approach them a week before the application deadline and expect to get a letter. Only ask professors who know you well - ones where you have worked in their lab or with whom you have taken multiple upper-level classes. Give them a current copy of your resume and clearly state to what programs you are applying and what your ultimate career goals are.

For graduate school it is the reputation of the department and not necessarily the overall ranking of the school that is important. Search the web for faculty and lab profiles for labs that are in your field of interest. You can often find good information by scanning the current literature to see who is publishing what. Next go to the departmental web site and look for other faculty working in similar fields. If you feel confident that you are seriously interested in a lab you can contact the faculty member. Be sure to have read some of their papers and clearly express your interest in their research. Some faculty may not respond and some programs place students in a lab after a preliminary year of course work so you will need to find out the details.

Do you have to write the GRE?

The graduate student catalog from each school will tell you about admission requirements, tuition costs, and courses available. It will also give you an idea of a timeline in terms of deadlines for application and for taking the standardized GRE test if required. The GRE general test is a measure of critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills while the GRE subject tests evaluate your knowledge within a specific area such as biology or chemistry. Practice booklets are available on-line through the GRE web site. Check the schedules carefully to make sure that you take the test in time for scores to be sent to prospective graduate schools before the deadlines for application.

Visiting a prospective school:

If you make it through the first level of screening you may be invited on campus for an interview. Expect to go on multiple interviews in the spring of your senior year. Some schools have a prospective graduate student program in February or March where they bring a group of accepted students on campus for a multi-day visit. Check with the Office of Admissions at the school. This is an excellent opportunity to meet and talk to professors and their students. Prepare before you go! Make sure that you can answer questions such as: Why are you interested in research in this field? What research projects have you done? What do you know about the research we do in our lab? Don't let your guard down - you are being interviewed even when the graduate students take you out on the town. Have fun but remain professional to avoid making the wrong impression.

Questions for you to consider:

Is it strictly lab work or is there a field component that might allow you to travel to exotic destinations? Do they have many graduate students or only a few? Is the supervisor near the beginning or end of their career? Sometimes it is not good to be the first graduate student in a lab, sometimes being the last can cause conflicts over deadlines. What sort of funding is available? You may be eligible for a full scholarship and a tuition waiver. Are graduate students allowed to chose their own projects? Is there an option to teach in undergraduate laboratories or to gain lecture experience? This is particularly important if your goal is to go on to become a professor. What is the course load like? What living facilities are available and would you want to live on or off campus?

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