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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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087: How Do I Choose a PhD Program?

Some decisions in life are simple (“Yes, I want cheese on that burger!”) and some are difficult (“Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?”).

On that spectrum, choosing a University graduate program sits closer to marriage than it does to your lunch options.

First, grad school takes a long time – usually 4-6 years – and it sets you rather firmly in a career path that can be challenging to change afterward. It’s a life-decision.

Second, once you choose, you’re committing to a series of events and impacts that will be out of your control. You don’t get a “do-over” when the lab you wanted to join moves away or a postdoc picks up the project you learned about during your interview.

Take a cohort of students at any research university in the country, and you’ll find some that graduate with three first-author papers in just four years.  You’ll find others who never make it to the degree, either due to conflicts with their advisors, projects that don’t work out, or personal issues stemming from the stress of graduate studies.

So we know the stakes are high, but how, exactly, are you supposed to choose a PhD program?

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reviewing grad school application

084: The 4 Keys to an Effective Grad School Application

In every episode of Hello PhD, we explore science training and life in the lab.  But for every scientist, that saga begins with a grad school application.

Whether you’re ready to apply today, or would like to apply to a graduate program ‘some day,’ we share a few tips and tricks that will make the application process simpler and more effective.

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076: Should I choose a research focus BEFORE I apply?

Applying to grad school means making a series of difficult decisions: university location, reputation, lifestyle, and program.

But do you need to pick out a specific research topic before filing an application? Is it better to nail down a project and lab before you apply, or is it okay to keep your options open?

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065: Does the GRE Predict Which Students Will Succeed?

Though most of us have never served on a graduate program admissions committee, we can still appreciate the difficulty of their task: Given a stack qualified applicants, choose the few that you believe will succeed.

Where do you start?  Perhaps you check on each applicant’s GPA, or focus just on the GPA in their science classes.

Or maybe you trust the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  After all, it’s designed to measure a student’s readiness for graduate school, right?

Because reviewers differ on which metrics they trust most, it’s worth considering a scientific approach to admissions. Are there any predictor variables that actually correlate with student outcomes?

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