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164. The Essential Guide to Grad School Applications

Do you hear it? It’s the sound of hopeful scientists frantically typing out their grad school applications!

They’re pondering the best format for a CV, scouring University websites to learn more about each graduate program, and begging their research advisors to PLEASE make the time to write that letter of recommendation!

The silence you hear is the sound of trepidation as they sit down to write their personal statements….

This week on the show, we unpack the essential elements of a grad school application, and what you need to know before you begin.

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152. How Do I Explain the Bad Grades On My Transcript?

It’s time to open the mailbag once again to answer YOUR questions.

First, we read a couple of emails from listeners who have put Hello PhD advice to work in their training, and they’re already starting to see the benefits.

Nadia writes:

Thank you so much for your podcast. I discovered Hello PhD at the beginning of the pandemic and have listened to every single episode since. I have learned a lot and it has changed my perspective about my program and supervisor tremendously. Since listening to Hello PhD I feel less lonely and feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have joined multiple student groups and other organizations to work on my soft skills.

Kudos to Nadia! We want everyone to realize: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Whatever you’re going through, there are others just like you, struggling on parallel paths. Reaching out and telling your story is the only way those fellow travelers can be encouraged by your experience.

SciCom Opportunity

We also received a note from previous guest Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer, who chatted with us way back in Episode 92. At the time, she talked about her work in science communication, and particularly her work with iBiology.

Well, that work has produced an opportunity for other scientists to improve their communication skills:

I wanted to share that iBiology has a new and improved courses platform and that you can now sign-up for “Share Your Research”, our free, self-paced course focused on effective communication to help you give a good research talk. I was one of the course directors for SYR. The course focuses on providing scientists with practical research communication advice and as you go through it, the course helps you build a plan to help you craft a good research talk. Feel free to share with trainees and colleagues.

Thanks Mónica! Consider it shared!

What is a Research Statement?

A listener shared this question about their application:

Could you do an episode on writing a research statement?  I just stumbled upon this as a requirement for one of my applications and I don’t know where to start. I am not THAT deep into the subject, but I already included in my cover letter a brief summary of my latest research, why I want to do research and where I want to go with my research in the future and how this project would fit into that (very briefly). I don’t want to repeat what I wrote in my cover letter but I feel it is the same information.

Josh describes the expected elements of a research statement, and we attempt to untangle the types of information you’d want to include there, versus the more personal or motivational profile you might include in a cover letter.

No need to repeat yourself, just carve up the information and put it in its proper place.

How Do I Explain a Bad Semester?

Finally, we answer this email from Frances:

I am a first generation college student currently doing a Post Bac on a Diversity Supplement. I worry that my undergraduate grades will negatively impact my entire application. I know you both have mentioned how one bad grade in isolation won’t hold much weight, however what about a whole semester due to personal issues that could be explained? Would taking graduate level courses and doing well in them help show admission committees that I am capable of handling graduate level courses and my undergraduate performance was not indicative of my potential or is my past low performance detrimental to my application? 

It’s a really common question – so Frances, you’re not the only person with a less than perfect transcript! We recommend addressing the ‘bad’ semester directly, in whatever detail you feel comfortable with.

Life happens to everyone, and the faculty reviewers understand that grades can suffer when you experience a trauma. Sometimes, that’s an extended illness, the death of a loved one, or a bad breakup. Mental health episodes are common and occur for many reasons, so do what you can to express that the circumstances were difficult, and you’re ready to move forward.

It can also be helpful to have your research mentors address the issue in their letters of recommendation. Having a faculty member acknowledge you may not have perfect grades, but you work hard and get results in the lab, will go a long way toward impressing the admissions committee.

Well, that’s it from the mailbag. Until next time, keep sending your thoughts, ideas, and questions to Let’s keep the conversation going!

146. Ace Your Virtual Graduate School Interview w/ Dr. Beth Bowman

The letters of recommendation have been submitted, and review committees have assembled. But while this graduate school application season may seem familiar, the next steps will be wildly different from past years.

How will Universities conduct graduate school interviews during a pandemic?

And what can applicants do to prepare for these unprecedented times?

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