Where do I apply?
So now I knew I wanted to go to grad school. That was only the beginning of a very long journey. There are thousands of programs nationwide and even more if you’re thinking of going abroad for school. Even if you know exactly what you want to study (like say metastasis in cancer biology-very specific!!), it is difficult to look at all of the available programs and even more difficult to rate them based only on their webpages. Of course they look great online; their advertising for themselves!!
Anyway, here’s how I did it. I went to my Puget Sound advisor/research advisor/trusted professor (all the same person) and asked, “You do microbiology. You know a lot of microbiology people. Where should I apply?” He gave me a lot of ideas and I took those and went and talked to other biology department professors. They gave me even more ideas of places to go and confirmed a lot of the ones I already knew of. Also, since I’m looking to become a professor, I looked up where my professors went because hey, it worked out well for them!! Then, I took to my computer. As a note on timeline, I got all these “idea schools” the spring semester of my junior year and then did all my “department research” over the summer between junior and senior year.
I went to the departments’ websites and looked up what research was being done there. I deleted any schools that I couldn’t find more than 5 people I would want to work with based on their research alone. I figured, if I couldn’t even find them interesting on paper, it wasn’t going to work out. Then, I looked for umbrella programs. You see, I don’t know exactly what I want to go into. I thought narrowing it down to microbiology was good! Ha! These programs will allow me to work in a variety of labs. For example, I found programs for a microbiology PhD that include possible labs in cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, medical biology, micro, and many more! This got me down to about 12 schools. This is WAY TOO MANY!! I then just talked more with my advisor and explored the internet more to find out what the cultures are like on those campuses. Location came into it too. I want to leave Washington State so U. Washington’s program wasn’t high on my list, even though it is a very good program. I also thought about how likely I was to get into these schools. It would be lame to apply to a bunch of “reach” schools and then end up with nowhere to go next fall. So, I ended up with 8 applications to do.
In retrospect, I wish I’d only applied to 5. FYI the 8 were (in no particular order): U. Washington, UC Davis, Berkeley, Stanford, Cal Tech, U. Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, U. Wisconsin at Madison, and Yale.
I wish I hadn’t applied to UW or Cal Tech because due to location/research available, I realized I didn’t really want to go to either. (I haven’t even technically heard from Cal Tech yet but my decision is already made). I also wish I hadn’t applied to Yale. I’m a West coaster through and through. I really don’t think I would have fit in there. Also, Cal Tech and Yale didn’t pass my 5 people rule. I was, unfortunately, wooed by their big names.
But in the end, nothing was hurt by me applying to so many (except my time was spent and my wallet was a little thinner). I tried to start my applications that summer but also FYI: programs don’t put up their applications until late August at the earliest, so don’t plan on getting them all done during the summer (though that would have been nice).
So, what I’d wished I’d known before applying: 1) Applications aren’t available until the fall. 2) Don’t let ANYONE pressure you into a program. It is only a waste of time for them, you, and those that have to read your application. And it IS the rest of YOUR life.