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Graduate Program Applications (Fall 2013)

Graduate Program Applications (Fall 2013)

Postby Ishmael » 11/15/12

Hello all,

I'm a recently graduated (May 2012) student with a B.S. in biology with a concentration in marine science. I've decided to take a year sabbatical between undergraduate and graduate schools (fulfilling once-in-a-lifetime dreams like working with horses [a.k.a. my "see-horse research"], road trips, etc. - not necessarily marine biology related) and will look to apply for Fall 2013 (probably for an M.S. rather than a PhD). My coursework follows the general line of undergraduate biology, including general and advanced/specific biology courses (zoology, botany, ecology, cell, genetics, micro, marine bio, phycology, etc.), geology, and math (but really only 1 semester each in stats and calculus). From what I've seen, certain grad programs are emphasizing physics (which I did not take [foolishly, in hindsight]) and more math than I took (again, foolish. But what's the old expression about hindsight?...). While this is disturbing and possibly disqualifying for certain programs, I'm not overwhelmingly worried since I have a fairly high GPA (one B from a 4.0) and a high academic drive that would allow me to make up those prerequisites. My general questions are more about the procedure of the application process.

First, to get to know a bit more about me, my interest is largely based in ecology and physiology-based investigations into macroalgae (community ecology, blooms, autecology and physiology of abiotic factors, etc.) and/or gelatinous zooplankton (or marine inverts more broadly - possibly cephalopods - with perhaps emphasis on invert/algal symbioses). I also completed an REU project in algal genomics and graduated summa cum laude and with honors (though I realize work/field experience and ingenuity are just as important). So now I'm looking into graduate programs - an elephantine task of whittling away and narrowing down - and hoping.

My first step was to look into graduate schools I knew of (and researched) that offered advanced degrees in marine biology/biology with potential advisors specializing in marine science. I also looked up names from my perusal of peer-reviewed papers concerning my research interests. Primarily, I'm looking at the advisor, rather than the school, since I think (and protocol seemingly dictates) that it is the prospective advisor I must connect with rather than the school. I've learned from my past experiences that I do not want to be caught in a research project about which I am not enthused, so I'm really trying to stick to professors who share my research interests (i.e. phycology, ecology/physiology, community ecology, symbiosis, etc.). I've sent inquiring e-mails to several professors but expect to only apply to programs with which I've achieved some sort of rapport with a professor. I also took a tour down the west coast recently and personally met several potential advisors.

Does anyone have any particular critique (constructive, of course) of the way I've gone about this graduate program search/application process? Any suggestions for more efficacious methods, or perhaps any counsel on programs to stay away from/try extra hard to get into, professors whose research may align with mine, hints about curve-balls during the application process/preliminary stages of graduate school, etc.?

Thanks a bunch! I look forward to reading your responses. (And feel free to message me about anything as well.)
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Re: Graduate Program Applications (Fall 2013)

Postby Ishmael » 12/11/12

Any thoughts?
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Re: Graduate Program Applications (Fall 2013)

Postby KristianT » 12/12/12

Ishmael,
Yes, from personal experience (I'm currently getting my PhD in Marine Biology after completing a Dual Masters), approaching a potential advisor is normally the more prudent approach. Advisors will not only be the source of funding, but your research in general. I'm a firm believer in that the name on your diploma isn't as important as what you DID at the school...i.e. publications, conferences, research, etc.
As for your interests, you should always try to work within your area of interest. However, it appears as though your experience might be somewhat limited. Based on that I would recommend you keep your doors open. For example, my Masters research was on Marine Geophysics, but my PhD is on invertebrate phylogeny (don't worry, there actually is a logical progression between the two, but here is not the place to explain it). My point being, as you look to get into the field, don't turn down potential opportunities because it initially does not fall into one of your categories of interest.
I think thats about it from me! It seems as though you are approaching this correctly, and I wish you the best of luck. If you have any questions, feel free to email me if you'd like: Kristianhtaylor@gmail.com.

-Kristian
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Re: Graduate Program Applications (Fall 2013)

Postby Izzy » 12/17/12

Hi Ishmael,

I agree with much of what Kristian has said - I'm also currently getting my PhD in marine science, and definitely, it's the advisor you want to talk to, though for masters programs it's not quite as imperative. In your case, since you obviously have a strong academic drive, your masters can serve as a number of things - one, you can try some neat new research - it doesn't always have to be exactly what you know already. A masters degree is 2 years - if you decide you don't actually fit with that, then there's room to change. But you can also use your masters to make up any holes in your undergraduate coursework - physics and math are very important to have in your background. Though, if you can convince an advisor that you're worth the investment, they will go to bat for you, and even if you don't have certain prerequesites or other requirements, you're in much better shape for getting into a program.

Good luck!!
Izzy
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