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102: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement with Dr. Brian Rybarczyk

Please recount your life story, all of your future plans, and why this graduate program is uniquely suited to fulfill those dreams.  Limit your answer to 140 characters.

Okay, okay, the typical “Personal Statement” prompt on your grad school application is probably not that outrageous, but they CAN feel both cryptic and overwhelming.

Here’s a real prompt from a real grad school application at a major university:

In 1-2 pages, describe your career goals, research interests, past and present research experience, and why you’ve chosen the [Name Redacted] Program for your graduate studies.

This prompt can induce instant writer’s block in even the most prepared applicants.  So where do you begin?

This week on the show, we share tips for crafting the perfect personal statement that will highlight your grad-school-readiness and potential for greatness in a career beyond the degree.

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student filling out grad school application

101: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Knowing When, and Where, to Apply with Dr. Beth Bowman

You’ve studied hard, gotten good grades, and spent the last two years working in research labs on campus.  You’re feeling ready for that next, inevitable step: applying to graduate school.

In a perfect world, the next step would be easy.  You’d simply fill out an application, and submit it to every Genetics or Microbiology department in the country.  They’d review your application, and you could sort through your options based on which schools offered you an interview.

But of course, it’s not that simple.  Each school requires a different application form, and steep application fees can severely tax your meager bank account.

You need to do the hard work of screening up front, and only apply to a select group of programs where you can expect to be both successful and happy.

This can be overwhelming.  There are hundreds of graduate schools and thousands of individual programs and departments.  Where should you begin?

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100: The One Where We Celebrate

Graduate training has many milestones, but a few stand stronger in memory due to their importance.

You may remember the day you passed your comprehensive exams, officially becoming a ‘PhD Candidate.’ Or maybe you’ll remember the day you saw a paper you co-authored published in your favorite journal. 

And of course, every PhD remembers their defense – presenting years worth of work to an audience and receiving the committees’ blessing to graduate.

After each event, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate the achievement before pushing toward the next goal.  Maybe that means gathering with friends, popping a bottle of bubbly, and remembering the road that brought you to this point.

Well, at least that’s what we do with a milestone.  This week, we celebrate 100 Episodes of Hello PhD with a few of the friends we’ve met along the way.

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099: Skype a Scientist with Sarah McAnulty

“I was observing that there was this growing mistrust in science, and I couldn’t really understand why. I think that people just don’t trust scientists anymore, or at least not as much as they used to.”

As a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, Sarah McAnulty was struck by the anti-science and pseudoscience she saw in the news and in friends who trusted their internet-inspired juice cleanse more than they trusted medical research.

“It’s discouraging to see them not trusting us as a group, so  I looked to see where people could access scientists in their daily lives.  It looks like most of the pop culture references they have for us are either evil or socially awkward.  And even when scientists have noble intentions, you end up with Jurassic Park!”

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mother reading to baby

098: I’m in Grad School and I’m Pregnant! How to Have Kids AND a Career in Science

It’s no secret that graduate school and postdoctoral training are some of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging periods you will face in your career. Experiments fail, grant deadlines loom, and PIs push you to work long hours to publish or perish.

That’s why many trainees wait to start a family.  Time is precious, and the idea of staying up all night to record your experimental time-points is daunting enough.  Who has time to stay up all night calming a crying baby before rushing back to the lab?

Many students know they want to have kids ‘some day,’ and the six to ten-year grad-school-postdoc training period looms large.  They just don’t want to wait that long to start a family.

But is it possible to have kids WHILE you’re in grad school?

We asked an expert!

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